Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Greetings from the Cultural Triangle in Sri Lanka

We've been without internet for the last three days and nights hence no posting.  I'll make up for it now!

Our driver, Mr. B., is driving us at a very sedate pace through the tumultuous roads of Sri Lanka.  I use that descriptor to refer both to the traffic and the state of the roads.  There are lots of bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, cars, vans, trucks (small and large), and buses on the road, and along with pedestrians...well, there have been a few hair-raising experiences but we feel we're in good hands.  Some of the roads are full of potholes and he slows right down to a snail's pace to protect his precious car, a Nissan station wagon.   It's amazing to us to see the risks that some drivers take, especially bus drivers--they don't always come to a full stop to take on or let off passengers, and we've seen them overtake others (and us) on corners at what seem to be break-neck speeds.  We haven't witnessed any accidents however.

I'll now insert a selection of images from the last couple of days when we explored the ancient ruined Sri Lankan capital cities and monestaries (from 1000 - 2000 years ago).

The Cave Temples of Dambulla were cut out of an enormous granite outcrop about 160 metres above the surrounding countryside (a very steep 10 minute stair climb).  These were first established about 2100 years ago, and later embellished and restored around 1200 AD and then 500 or so years later, and right up into the 20th century.

The protective entrances to the caves

A small shrine next to Cave 1.  Note the rock beneath the wall--this is the same rock out of which a reclining buddha is carved in  the first cave temple.

The reclining buddha's highly decorated feet.  This figure is carved out of the rock.
Anuradhapura, the royal capital and Buddhist centre of Sri Lanka for over 1000 years, until laid waste by Indian invaders in 993 AD.  The city was finally abandoned in 1073 in favour of Polonnaruwa (which we visited the following day) and fell into ruin, being reclaimed by the jungle but still inhabited by reclusive monks.  The British "discovered" it in the 19th C.  Restoration and archeological explorations have been on-going since the 1950's and with some vigour since it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1980.
Abhayagiri Dagoba, still under scaffolding.  You can just make out some vegetation near the top which hasn't yet been removed.  This restoration has been going on for the last 5 years or so.  Note the pilgrims dressed in white--this is a holy Buddhist site.

Carved staircase and balustrades at the entrance to monk's living quarters, Jetavana Monastery. 

The carved dwarves 

A moonstone at the base of the stairs for rubbing your feet clean.  Some of these were very elaborately carved.  This is a simple one.

Jetavana Dagoba, restored.  About 70 m tall.  

A carved Gana or obese dwarf which were all over the site.

Entrance to the Royal Palace

The Twin Ponds, restored, and home to lots of little fish and turtles.  We stopped to watch a brilliantly coloured Kingfisher catch a fish and kill it by repeatedly dropping it on the deck.
  Visiting Anuradhapura was a day of continually taking off shoes and socks and walking on scorching hot paving stones.  When entering any of these sacred Buddhist dagobas, temples or shrines, we had to leave our shoes at the entrance and take off our hats--a bit of a challenge in the heat of the day!   ("Mad dogs and Englishmen....")

The Ruvanvalisaya Dagoba, completely restored and painted a gleaming white.  A major pilgrimage site--many people dressed in white particularly older women in white saris.  We decided not to enter, because we weren't pilgrims, and contented ourselves with a view from the outside.  I also decided I wanted to keep my shoes and socks on!  Note the elephant heads--most are modern replacements--on the outer face of the terrace.

Elephants supporting the platform of the dagoba just as in Buddhist cosmology they hold up the earth itself.  Or, as the Rough Guide points out, they also helped in the construction of the stupa by stamping down the foundations.
The next day (no pictures--they're still in the camera) we spent at Polonnaruwa which was where the Sinhalese retreated to when Anuradhpura fell.  This is a more compact site, and we were able to hire bicycles to explore at our leisure.  This place too was abandoned to the jungle for about 7 centuries until restoration began about 50 or 60 years ago.

These last four days have been an intense exploration of ancient and medieval Sri Lankan culture.  While Europe was in the dark ages, the Sinhalese kings oversaw huge engineering projects notably dams for irrigation.  Their buildings, like those of the Romans, incorporated lavatories and urinals to keep waste water away from drinking water.  They must have employed a tremendous number of skilled craftsmen such as stone carvers, incorporating beautiful features into all their buildings, whether on stair cases or supporting pillars or the many images of Buddha and other deities.

We've had some interesting meals, and some disappointing ones too which is to be expected.  Some of the surprises have been meals at cafes known as "Bakers".  Walk into the shop and you think you're in a bakery, faced with glass cases of baked goods.  And then walk a little further into the seating area, and there will be a steam table full of "Rice and Curry".  We just point and ask for single bowls of whatever looks interesting...green beans seem to be available all the time as well as dahl, plus rice.  The staff are a little nonplussed that this is all we want, rather than taking one of everything, but we insist, "Yes, this is what we want".  The Sri Lankans all eat with their right hands, scooping a bit of rice and vegetable or meat together and then into their mouths, all without the aid of a roti or chapati as the Indians do.  We are always offered spoons!  Thankfully.  We're pretty sure our driver would prefer to take us to more tourist-oriented restaurants as he did on our first day (to a lovely open air building with a buffet, but there was way too much food and it was very expensive even by Canadian standards...)  We have had to be firm that we prefer to eat less and more simply.

Our hotel here in Kandy has WiFi so I'll post again tomorrow.  Thanks for all your notes.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this, Janet - fascinating.