Friday, November 1, 2013

HOT SAND: An Adventurous Time in Saudi Arabia.

Welcome back friends!

This time I'm writing, not something about Sri Lanka especially. It is about the book I started writing in 2004 while I was in Saudi Arabia, and finished in Sri Lanka in 2011. Saudi Arabia is a world of extremes. There you can see luxurious life and instant death, sandstorms and bitter cold, loud-mouthed but soft-hearted people, and mobile phones having Islamic prayers for the ringtone and pornography in the memory card! You'll see tall and fat Saudis growling, "Ya habibi, kaif'al haal?" (My dearest friend, how are you?). Saudi Arabia is a big stretch of fine sand which is heated in the furnace of the sun. I named the book, "Hot Sand" and published it recently as an eBook exclusively for Amazon Kindle eBook Reader.

http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Sand-ebook/dp/B00GA9GZ1I/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1383323721&sr=1-1&keywords=Hot+Sand
Hot Sand is all about the life of foreign workers, especially the Southeast Asians in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Going to Saudi Arabia never sounds fun. But I was lucky to be a software engineer, a job considered to be of higher status, so that I got enough facilities and ample free time to travel around. I had the chance of meeting various people of different trades, belonging to different societies and coming from different countries. They were mostly from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, where Indians only have vast differences from State to State from North to South.

My good Indian friends Hasnain and Irshad were behind 80 percent of this book. I mostly traveled with Hasnain. They taught me Urdu, a quantity of Islam, and guided me on living in that land of extremes. With my experiences and experiments I learned to live with people of all nationalities without making any of them feel that I am a foreigner.

I use my name as Mohan Dharmaratne for the books. Hot Sand contains the fun and adventure of a Sri Lankan along with the narratives of the history of Saudi Arabia, and the customs of the Saudis.

You can read Hot Sand online for free at Amazon Kindle eBook Store. I would appreciate your comments and reviews on the book.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Adisham Bungalow: Dream of a homesick Englishman.

Well, I'm writing after quite a long vacation. This is actually something to read. It's about a mansion in Sri Lanka built by an Englishman on a land 5,000 feet above mean sea level. This mansion was famous among the villagers of Haputale by the nickname 'Laksha Bungalawa' (The Bungalow that took one hundred thousand rupees to build) about 80 years ago.

Sir Thomas Lister Villiers

Portrait of Sir Thomas Lister.
Sir Thomas Lister Villiers was one of the last few British statesmen in Sri Lanka that belonged to the colonial times. He was a descendant of an elite family in Britain. Sir Thomas seems to have loved adventure, for he chose to try his life in Ceylon (a British colony those days) even when he had the opportunity of settling down in Britain as a statesman after his higher education. He arrived in Ceylon in 1887 with only 10 sterling pounds in his pocket and started his life here as a trainee planter at an Estate in Norwood. In two years he became an Assistant Superintendent, and in four more years he was appointed as an Estate Superintendent. In seven more years; that is in 1900, he purchased Dickoya Estate as a partnership with his brother, making himself a proprietary planter.

Putting an end to his 18-year long career as a planter, Sir Thomas Lister joined the George Steuart Company in Colombo in 1905, and became its Chairman in 1928.


The Dream-home; Adisham

The Adisham.
All this time, Sir Thomas Lister Villiers had a dream. He was homesick. He wanted to build a home for himself which will remind him of being in the village of Adisham, Kent County, England, where he was born.

View Larger Map
He selected a piece of land of ten acres within an isolated mountainous area covered with natural high forest, 5,000 feet above mean sea level, close to Haputale. This forest area, called Thangamalei is a wildlife sanctuary today.
Entrance to the Thangamalei Wildlife Sanctuary.
Sir Thomas started making a road to his future ‘dream-home’ through the forest in 1929.
Sir Thomas Lister got his ‘dream-home’, the Adisham, by architects R. Booth and F. Webster according to what is called the ‘Tudor Style’ to which the Leeds Castle in Kent was designed. The walls were built using locally produced granite. Its roof is covered with Burmese Teak tiles. Most household items were imported from England. Sir Thomas’ portrait which is hanging in the living room was done by the famous painter David Paynter. Sir Thomas Lister and Lady (Evelyn Hope) Villiers moved to live in this mansion in 1931. Lady Villiers too was a painter, and a number of her
Views from Adisham Garden.
paintings can be seen hanging on the walls of Adisham Bungalow today. Sir Thomas used a Daimler car and he had a British chauffeur employed for that. The extension on the left to the mansion was the chauffeur’s quarters.

The Adisham Today

Product outlet at Adisham.
When in 1949 Sir Thomas Lister left Sri Lanka he sold his dream-home to Ms. Rukmani Beligammana Wijewardena in 1951. After ten years the Sylvestro-Benedictine Congregation of the Catholic Church of Sri Lanka bought it from her. It is used as a monastery ever since, and the fathers came to reside in Adisham Bungalow in 1961. Adisham is maintained and controlled by the Benedictine fathers now.
Sir Thomas's Chauffeur's Quarters turned to a Guest House.
The quarters used as Sir Thomas’ chauffeur’s residence is used today as a Guest House administrated by the Benedictine Monastery. There is also an outlet of various products originated from Adisham. Cordials, jams, chutneys and toppings made out of the exotic fruits from the orchards (originally cultivated by Sir Thomas) are available for sale at this outlet.

The Adisham Bungalow is open for the public only on weekends and Poya days. Each visitor (children or adults) will be charged Rs.25 as an entrance fee. Snacks and soft drinks are available for the visitors at the small canteen adjoining the Adisham Products outlet. Call (+94)057 2268 030 if you would like to book a room in the Guest House for a stay at Adisham.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bomburu Ella Falls: A Beauty in The Central Hills.

“Wake up guys!”

That was Gune, my batch mate at the English Teachers’ College, Peradeniya. Hetti (Jayathilaka Hettiarachchi) and I were at Gune’s sister’s home at Welimada, sleeping, when Gune shouted to wake us up at 6.00 am on 26th January 1998. That day our plan was to visit Bomburu Ella, a breathtakingly beautiful waterfall hidden in the jungles of Uva-Paranagama electorate.


View Larger Map

The charming Bomburu Ella village.
We prepared Salmon-sandwiches for the hike with the help of Gune’s sister, and parceled them. I had a dark green knapsack that I used for most of my hikes, and we packed the food and water in it. We set off to Welimada town, which is a few minutes away from Gune’s sister’s house. My two cameras were packed in a separate bag, and that was carried by Hetti and Gune (W. M. Gunawardena) time to time. One camera was loaded with an ordinary 36-shot film reel while the other SLR was loaded with a colour transparency film reel which I needed to prepare for an environmental slide show. The SLR camera was a Russian-made Zenith equipped with a Photosnaiper 300mm tele-lens. Those gadgets were packed in the green knapsack, which was on my shoulders.

Reaching Bomburu Ella Falls

On the way to Bomburu Ella Falls.
Bomburu Ella falls comes to the line of sight at the 2nd Mile Post on Welimada-Boralanda Road. This is the only place you can see this wild-beauty from outside the jungle.

From Weimada we could secure seats of a 332-Bomburuella (via Uduhawara) bus, which took us to Bomburu Ella village. That was a journey of about 15 kilometers, along a wavy road. The bus passed Himbiliyagaha Maditta, reached Walahamulla Juction and turned right towards Uduhawara. From Uduhawara, the bus turned towards Bomburu Ella village. At Bomburu Ella bus-stop we got down and started the hike through a charming village.

A small canal that flows from the waterfall to the village guided the three of us. The canal brought water for the cultivations. We walked a little more than a kilometer along the canal when we started hearing the roar of Bomburu Ella falls (or Perawella Falls, as some people call it). The 50 meter-high Bomburu Ella falls is fed by the waterway coming from Bomburuella Reservoir, which is located near the Pedro Scout Camp in Nuwara Eliya. Bomburu Ella falls is considered one of the widest waterfalls in Sri Lanka. To my eye, St. Clair Falls looks the widest in Sri Lanka. If so, Bomburu Ella Falls must be the second widest waterfall in the country. It is a small ‘cataract’ waterfall. Water comes thundering down at the foot of Bomburu Ella, smashes on the rock slabs, and sprays a huge cloud of water droplets into the atmosphere. When you stay a little while near Bomburu Ella Falls you will be covered with a coat of water droplets, and a few minutes later your clothes will be soaked entirely!
Trekking along the canal towards Bomburu Ella.
Bomburu Ella Falls.

If you visit Bomburu Ella, plan first. Take only the essential things with you, like food and water. Use eco-friendly material to wrap your food, and once you are at Bomburu Ella, remember that it is not a place to dump garbage. Bring back everything you take there; even the eco-friendly wrappers, because it is a thing of beauty which you must preserve for generations to come.

Happy hiking!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

1998 at Kokkilai: A Tour That Was Impossible!

Thennamaramwadi fishing settlement at the Thissapura-end of the Kokkilai lagoon (1998).

It was 1998, and the war against LTTE was heated up. It was only two days after the LTTE blew up a vehicle bomb in front of the sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic, Kandy. I was on my way from Kandy, heading north, towards Padavi Sri Pura. That was the last Sinhala village before Welioya, which was bordering Mulaitivu controlled by the terrorists.

I was with Hetti, my batch mate at the Teachers College, who was from Padavi Sri Tissapura (a little beyond Sri Pura). We were in a small Delica van, which we got into from Anuradhapura with a few others who were heading for the same destination. Those days after 3.00 pm, the only means of transport from Anuradhapura to Padavi Sri Pura were Delica vans operated by private van owners. They would load their vans from Anuradhapura Bus Stand and speed up along the deserted road via Medawachchiya, Kebithigollewa, Padaviya, and finally to Sri Pura, a distance of about 80 kilometers within a couple of hours.


View Larger Map

The next day Hetti and I had breakfast from his home. Hetti called Gamini, one of his good friends who was a navy officer working at China Bay camp at that time, to join us. When Gamini arrived, we set off to Thennamaramwadi, a place on the land-side of Kokkilai Lagoon, where there was a small temporary fishing settlement of the fisher folk from Negombo and Chilaw. Those people came to this war-beaten area to fish when the waters are rough in their home seas, putting their lives at grave risk. Thennamaramwadi was also the landing site of the Sri Lanka Army motor boats that come from Kokkilai Camp which was located right on the other side (the sea-side) of the lagoon. The Kokkilai army camp was on the Mulaitivu side of the lagoon-mouth. It was surrounded by water on three sides and the jungle of Mulaitivu on the fourth. The army boats came to Thennamaramwadi mainly to take essential supplies like food, beverage and fuel to the camp.

Three of us (Hetti, Gamini and I) were waiting for a boat from the Army Camp!

Set off to Kokkilai Camp in an army motorboat. (From Left: a soldier, Gamini, a soldier, a soldier, Hetti). Thennamaramwadi ferry is straight behind and fading in the horizon.

Finally it came. Gamini, the one having connections started talking to the soldiers in the boat. He said that he is from the China Bay naval base, and introduced us as his good friends who would like to visit Kokkilai army camp and see the bird sanctuary. The soldiers called their camp by military communications equipment. After long conversations and verifying Gamini’s identity from China Bay naval base, the Brigadier who was in-charge of the Kokkilai camp permitted us to come!

Near the wrecked helicopter.

Gamini, Hetti and I got into the boat. There were three soldiers in-charge of the boat. They had automatic weapons with them, to use in case of an LTTE attack. Three of us were strictly advised to lie down in the boat and keep our heads down, if we happen to come across a speeding LTTE gun-boat crossing the lagoon. The boat briskly took us away into the lagoon. Thennamaramwadi ferry was seen smaller and smaller every second. Our boat was pushed forward by a 40-horsepower outboard engine.

Fallen hero: SLAF MI-24 attacked by LTTE, floating in Kokkilai Lagoon (1998).


The soldiers became friendly with us on this 45-minute journey to the other side of Kokkilai Lagoon. They said that it was just a few days after a deadly attack launched by the terrorists to get the Kokkilai camp. They were even surprised that under such unfavourable conditions the Brigadier allowed us into the camp. The soldiers explained us how hard they fought with the enemy to protect the camp which was ever important for the security of Tissapura and the adjoining villages, and the Pulmoddai Mineral Sands Corporation. They had a secret to show us. They took us around a few small islands in the lagoon to show us an SLAF MI-24 helicopter gunship floating in the lagoon. It had taken an LTTE missile fire from Mulaitivu jungle, while flying over the lagoon. After shooting down the helicopter, LTTE had tried to drag it to their area. However the army boats were guarding the wrecked helicopter round-the-clock.

Once we landed on the other shore, the soldiers took us to the Brigadier. He welcomed us warmly and facilitated us to go to the beach, and see whether there are any birds left! Mulaitivu and Pulmoddai are on either side of the mouth of Kokkilai Lagoon. The camp was on the Mulaitivu side. Those days the lagoon mouth was shut by a natural sand-ridge that occurs once in every year. We walked on the beach of pitch black mineral sand called ‘monazite’ which is purified into Ilmanite (Iron Titanium Oxide) at Pulmoddai Mineral Sands Factory. We crossed the sandy ridge over to the Pulmoddai side, but the soldiers who accompanied us said it was not a good idea to walk about at that place because LTTE cadres might be watching us. Therefore we turned back. On the way I saw a few migrant cranes fishing in the shallow water. That was all what remained in a once-a-bird-sanctuary. Though we could not see any more birds, the journey gave us great memories that still live in our minds.

Thanks to Hetti, Gamini, the soldiers and other officers of SL Army because, if not for them this tour in Kokkilai Lagoon would have been impossible in 1998.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Egg & Sausage Picnic": A Quick Recipe On the Go!

This recipe was a kind of invention, a result of smart thinking what to make with some ingredients which were the only available things at the time. The fancy name was coined by Harin, my nine-year old son. Here's the recipe:

Bread slices being roasted...

You need...

One loaf of Sliced Bread.
Three (3) eggs.
Three (3) sausages.
A little chili powder or black pepper powder.
Some salt.
(One chopped green pepper, if you have - I didn't have this when I first tried the recipe).

How to make...

  1. Fry the sausages and slice them.
  2. Beat the eggs, add a little chili or pepper powder, (and chopped green pepper) and beat well again.
  3. Heat a frying pan and put a slice of bread on it.
  4. Pour two tablespoonfuls of beaten egg mixture on bread slice and spread it all over.
  5. While the egg mixture is absorbed into the bread slice, place a few sausage slices on it, and let fry.
  6. Turn the bread slice over and let fry the top side as well.
  7. Do the same to all bread slices.
Now the tasty "Egg & Sausage Picnic" is ready! Try it out and drop a comment.

A Budget-traveler's Guide to Polonnaruwa

Hi friends!

I hope you are planning to visit Polonnaruwa next weekend. If your budget is a bit tight, you might be thinking of a way to overcome the situation. Don't worry. I too faced the same difficulties, but managed to balance everything successfully. Read this, and decide for yourself:

Polonnaruwa Moonstone

1.

Do not hire vehicles. You can rely on public transportation. There is a good traffic of private and SLTB buses to the ancient city now. Catch one of them. If you start off from Colombo, Kandy, or a main city as such, you would certainly get a seat until you get to Polonnaruwa. That's comfortable enough.

When you reach Polonnaruwa, get down at the Bandaranaike Circus (Pola Junction). This is where you get tourist accommodations. Here you can choose from a cheaper ‘Pilgrims Rest’ to a hotel room which is more expensive, according to your budget.

The road deviates to two directions from Pola Junction; one towards Polonnaruwa New Town, and the other (road to Batticaloa) runs towards Kaduruwela where the hospital, Railway Station and the Main Bus Stand is situated.



View Larger Map

2.

Look for good and cheap accommodation. When you visit Polonnaruwa, your aim is to visit the historical sites. Therefore you won’t be staying much at your accommodation. So, why waste money on a room that you would only use to keep your baggage and to sleep in the night? You only have to get a room at a place very close to the historical sites and the main bus route, so that you would not need to use hired transportation (such as Three-wheelers) to get to the place you stay. That’s saving money! There are guest houses, cheap (but ok) hotels, and pilgrims’ rests near Pola Junction and on the First Canal Road. These places are the closest to the historical sites of Polonnaruwa.

3.

Visiting the historical sites too can be enjoyable, time-saving, and money-saving, if you manage the task carefully. The ancient city of Polonnaruwa spreads over 16 to 20 square kilometers, and that makes it impossible to walk and see everything there. The high temperature in Polonnaruwa would dehydrate you easily. If you are traveling alone, the best option is to hire a bicycle and ride all over the ancient city at your own pace. If you have a small family (you, your spouse and a small child) best thing is to hire a motorcycle (Scooty-Peps are there for hire at the entrance to the historical site).

I always prefer a motorcycle to a Three-wheeler because, a Three-wheeler would charge the same or more than the amount charged for a motorcycle; but on the motorcycle you are the rider and that gives you freedom of traveling and choosing where you need to stop and spend time. They would charge about 1500 for a Scooty-Pep from a local tourist. This amount can be a little more from a foreigner. Remember to take a bottle of water one-and-half litre size, especially when you choose to ride a bicycle. Enjoy a few drinks of freshly made orange-juice from the village ‘Cool Spots’ along the roads within the ancient city. Orange juice helps keep you re-hydrated.

4.

When you are a budget traveler it is important to choose a good place to get your meals. It is always advisable to not to get meals from the hotel or guest house you are staying, because they bill you at the end of your stay. Meal charges get added up and you get a ten per-cent service charge plus a few more taxes over it. On the other hand, the meal prices too can be higher than ordinary at those hotels. At Polonnaruwa I had meals from a place called “Gemi Gedara” which offer buffets at breakfast, lunch and dinner at quite reasonable rates. This restaurant and a few others are there at the Bandaranaike Circus, so you can try meals from one of them and save some money. There is also a vegetable-soup seller selling soup in a white Three-wheeler every evening, right by the side of the 1st Canal Bridge. His soup is tasty and can be considered a meal itself!



Little-known Things About Well-known Kataragama.

The Uva-Wellassa Rebellion

Sri Lanka becoming a British colony, and its first fight against the colonial rule; the Uva-Wellassa Rebellion, both occurred at the dawn of the 19th century. The period after Uva-Wellassa Rebellion seems to have been miserable at Kataragama, and Uva at large. Robert Brownrigg, the Governor of Ceylon visited Kataragama on April 5th 1819 while on his tour through Uva and Central provinces which were devastated by the British colonial military. Medical officer John Davy who was in the team accompanying the Governor recorded his experiences in the book, “An Account of the Interior of Ceylon and of its Inhabitants with Travels in the Island”.

Part of the oldest photograph related to Kataragama Shrine. This was taken in 1819 when Governor Brownrigg visited Kataragama after crushing the Uva-Wellassa Rebellion in 1818.

Davy was expecting to see a grand, mansion of a shrine at Kataragama, which can justify its fame all over the Island and beyond. But he was disappointed to see poverty and deterioration everywhere. There were a lot of small huts in the village on the left bank of River Menik. A division of Malay soldiers under a local officer’s command was stationed there in those huts. These soldiers might have been used to crush the village-level self-sufficient economy of the local Sinhalese who were dwelling in Kataragama during the Rebellion and the period right after it. Basnayaka Nilame and the 12 Kapuralas (servants of the god) had gathered to Maha Devale (the great shrine) premises when the Governor’s convoy arrived. Davy says that their faces looked gloomy and frustrated. The reason for it might have been that they had to welcome the very person who destroyed the Rebellion in which they had their high hopes of winning the country back.

The British also gave the lands of Maha Devale as gifts to the local traitors who supported them to defeat the Rebellion. But, soon after the military protection was taken off the Sinhalese Kapuralas have come and regained the administration of Kataragama Maha Devale. Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devale stayed a Buddhist shrine since 161 BC when King Dutugemunu built it and handed over to Sihnalese Buddhist Kapuralas descending from the generation of General Nandimithra. The gold Sannas book of King Dutugemunu which contained all rules and regulations pertaining to the administration of Kataragama Maha Devale is believed to be hidden inside a rock cave at Horabokka.

John Davy says that he did not see a house with people or any recent cultivation on his way to Kataragama. There were no human beings walking on the roads. Houses seen here and there were ruined. Paddy fields were abandoned. Davy had seen a human skull under a tree with a piece of rope hanging with it. What else could have been there for John Davy to see? During the Rebellion Governor Brownrigg unleashed an imperial terror on Uva Sinhalese, which let their soldiers have a killing spree. Innocent Sinhalese, from babies to old men and women were killed. Their homes, paddy storages, and paddy fields were burnt down and the domestic animals like cows and bulls were killed and eaten. Uva Sinhalese were subjected to these crimes in order to terrorize the entire population, to make them poor, to make them starve, to make them physically and mentally weak and thereby prevent another possible rebellion against the British colonial government. Kataragama was left with a population of about 40 people. They belonged to the families of the feudal servants of Maha Devale.

Esala Festival in the 19th Century

In those early years of the 19th century, people came to Kataragama only during the Esala festival season. June, July and August are the hottest and driest period for Kataragama. In this merciless climate, scarcity of food and water would drive the wild beasts mad. Yet, the pious pilgrims traveled very long distances; through unfavourable geographic conditions, unpopulated lands, jungles full of venomous dry-zone serpents, wild elephants, leopards, bear, wild boar and most of all, mosquitoes; to the holy city of Kataragama. Devotees who came from India would sail to Trincomalee harbour, and from there they started walking via Batticaloa, Akkaraipatthu, Ampara, Thirukkovil, Sangaman Kanda, Uraniya, Pothuvil, Arugambay, Pānàmà, Okanda, Kumana, and crossed Kumbukkan Oya to enter Yala. From there they passed Katagamuwa and Vallimathagama, crossed River Menik and reached Kataragama.

Even after such tiring expeditions pilgrims were left with a completely dried-up River Menik. This made things go bad to worse. Without a good supply of water nobody was able to maintain personal hygiene which in turn made way to cholera and diarrhea. Mosquitos brought in malaria to make things worst. With all these odds against the pilgrims the entire pilgrimage was at stake. There had been occasions that epidemics broke out in Kataragama during Esala pilgrimage season and a lot of people had to die on roads.

Cholera!

Such epidemic breakout occurred in 1858 is prominent in the recorded history of Kataragama. Cholera broke out among the pilgrims, and many men, women and children began dying on roadsides. This caused panic among all. Those who came from far off places of the Island even started running away from Kataragama leaving behind their sick relatives and friends, even forgetting the noble motives that brought them there. The infected individuals who were among the fleeing groups too might have finally died somewhere unknown to them, and their infected excretions might surely have helped to spread the disease to more and more people. Cholera spread out from village to village like wildfire. A recorded 76 dead bodies were found along the 28-mile road from Hambantota to Tangalle in 1858 Esala Season. In the Esala season of 1869 there were 28 corpses in Kataragama, on the streets only. Consider the number of deaths which might have happened on the way and in the jungle. Those dead bodies were consumed by leopards and jackals. Death in Muruga’s territory is blessed for Hindus, and it makes them to have a better afterlife, so they were rather happy and have had courage until the last moment of their life.

The Great Kataragama Shrine today. (Compare this with the 194-year old picture at the top.)

Due to the risk of breaking out epidemics the colonial government decided to limit the number of individuals entering the holy city of Kataragama during the Esala festival. Pilgrims needed to obtain a permit from the Government Agent of the particular area they lived. Those days, the Government Agent of Uva or Hambantota had to inspect the conditions at Kataragama at every pilgrimage season. They had to inspect whether the devotees observe what was called as the ‘Camping Rules’. First of the rules was to stay in the camp during the night; second was not to jump into the river from the bridge; and the third was to strictly use toilets and nowhere else for calls of nature. Toilets were actually pits dug in the ground, probably covered around with woven coconut leaf. Soil dug from the pit was kept close to it with a few coconut shells to cover-up the excreta in the pit. Pions were employed to show those toilets to people, and to make sure they do not use any other place for this requirement. Prisoners were brought there to keep the area clean. A medical officer too was stationed at the pilgrimage site to give free medical aid to anybody in need. Big containers of drinking water were set up along the roadside for the use of pilgrims. Such primary measures of hygiene were started to be taken in 1871 and 1872. With them the death rate of Kataragama pilgrims by cholera was gradually minimized.

Assistant Government Agent of Hambantota, Mr. E. A. King writes in 1870 that Kataragama reminds him of a small unpopulated and ruined village in Ireland. He says that there were a lot of huts spread out by the side of the main road, and those nobody was living were rented out to Chetti, Muslim, Malay, Sinhalese and Tamil sellers who come there in the festival season to open their stalls. Brass items such as cups and saucers, trays, plates, lamps and bells of superb craftsmanship were for sale there at cheap rates. Kandyan pilgrims who came to Kataragama spent their money mostly to buy domestic equipment like pots and pans, cotton clothing, and rice that was sold at 18 to 19 cents per measure (Seruva). Venison, deer-hyde, salt and honey were abundant for sale at Kataragama during the festival season those days. Salt was among the top of the bestsellers.

There had been incidents that Kataragama Esala Perahera was carried out without a tusker to carry the sacred icon of the God. The records made by the government officers say that in 1872, the Basnayaka Nilame requested a tusker from the government, and while having one at Buttala the government had rejected his request. This proves that in 1872 there was no tusker for Kataragama Maha Devale. In the years 1897, 1907, and 1908 also there had not been a tusker in Esala Perahera. In 1907, the tusker who was ready to carry the God’s statue in the Esala Perahera suddenly died of starvation a month before. For all those Esala parades without a proper elephant, the kapuralas had prepared a fake elephant using big barrels fixed to a cart, and covered with black clothes and decorated to look like an elephant. The casket with the God’s icon was kept on it and the relevant Kapurala was riding the fake elephant while someone was pulling it!

Kataragama pilgrimage permit system was stopped in 1925 with the development of medical and other infrastructure facilities in Kataragama.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rice, Lap, Wheel and Tea; a taste of Sri Lankan English.

We Sri Lankans have a habit of shortening long words for ease of use. The latest of such ‘shortened’ word is ‘Anivah’, which is the curtailed form of the Sinhala word ‘Anivarya’, meaning ‘compulsory’. This shortening habit of the Sinhalese does not confine to curtailing seemingly difficult and long Sinhala words; they would happily drop out one word from the original two-word English terms as well! This post is about a few such tricky English curtailed forms mass-used in Sri Lanka of which the foreign travelers are advised to be aware of.

Picture: megaanswers.com

Rice; the standard meaning is the food that is prepared by boiling chaffed paddy seeds. But ‘fried rice’ is referred to as‘rice’ in Sri Lanka’s common roadside restaurants. They have mercilessly dropped out ‘fried’ from ‘fried rice’. They will offer you ‘chicken rice’ for chicken fried rice, ‘seafood rice’ for seafood fried rice, and so on. In some smaller food joints they call ‘fried rice’ as ‘Pride Rice’ or ‘Fright Rice’ or simply ‘Fight Rice’. Whatever it is, you must understand that it means fried rice and nothing else. Sometimes I feel that we are unknowingly venting our anguish towards the British for their bloody rule on us for 133 years, by torturing their language!

Picture: www.maximumpc.com

If anyone in Sri Lanka asks you, “Have you got a lap?” or “Did you bring your lap?” or “Can I use your lap to send an Email?”, do not get scared. That’s how, many guys nowadays talk about laptop. Here they have circumcised ‘laptop’ to a mere ‘lap’. When the USB Flash Drives arrived in Sri Lanka, people here started calling it the Pen-drive considering its size, just as calling ‘pen-torch’ and ‘pen-knife’ for small flashlights and knives. Soon, the pen-drive became very popular and the ‘drive’ part was dropped out. Now if someone talks about a ‘pen’ in Sri Lanka, it is 80% certain that he must be talking about a flash-drive and not a writing pen.

Picture: www.lovson.com

Three-wheeled taxies are a popular means of transportation in Sri Lanka. When they first came to the country we called it the ‘Three-wheeler’, but the term was soon cut-short as ‘Three-wheel’. Even ‘Three-wheel’ was too much for many of our guys. Ultimately, ‘Three-wheel’ also faced the ground reality. They kicked off ‘three’, and the vehicle of the commons became the ‘Wheel’. Today, hundreds of ‘Wheels’ hit the streets of every Sri Lankan neighbourhood everyday. Someone would say, “I bought a Wheel!” Don’t worry. If you don’t have a car, just hire a Wheel and travel to every corner!


For most westerners ‘tea’ means a refreshing black liquid brewed
Picture: www.journeykitchen.com
using dried fermented buds and young leaves of the tea plant. When milk is added to ‘tea’, westerners call it ‘milk-tea’. The situation in Sri Lanka is the other way around. Here, ‘tea’ actually means ‘milk-tea’. If you go to a roadside restaurant and ask for a ‘tea’ you would definitely receive a ‘milk-tea’. If you need a tea without milk you got to ask for a ‘plain-tea’!

That’s the way of us Sri Lankans. You got to learn Sri Lankan English. Knowing it can sometimes save you thousands of rupees and hours of time in Sri Lanka!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Thashayeni.

 

(By Vadivel Balendran)

The text you are about to read will be interesting, eye-opener and applicable to your life not because of its vocabulary, grammar or structure of sentences, but because the bondage between I and Mother Nature.

My motto being “Believe in Mother Nature she will never let you down”, Mother Nature has never let me down at any instance in my life. I am going to share many stories with you so that you will also understand what belief and believing in Mother Nature really means.

There is a small waterfall somewhere on the slopes of Mount Pithurathalagala (the highest mountain in Sri Lanka towering 8,281 feet) where I pray to my Nature God. My friend Suresh Dharmaratne and I uniquely named it as Divine Falls. (The exact location of the Divine Falls is undisclosed to save it from garbage-dumping weekend picnic freaks). Suresh is my batch mate at the Peradeniya Teachers’ College.  
Divine Falls.

Out of thousands of my stories that wrap around the Divine Falls, I am now sharing the story about my daughter who is a millennium baby born at the Nuwara-Eliya hospital.

I got married Vanitha (Vanithamalar Balendran nee Renganathan) on March 18, 1999 soon after returning from the Teachers’ Training College. As it happens to any woman, my wife also conceived a baby and was paying regular visits to the hospital for checkups. After few weeks of periodical visit to the hospital the doctors were able to predict the date of the new baby's arrival. That was happy news to me and was very proud of becoming a father for the first time in life. The predicted date was January 07, 2000. 
The medical checkups continued and my wife was given all the necessary instructions and medicine to ensure her health and the child's. At every visit to the hospital, my wife was informed about the progress and the good health condition of the child. So she returned home happily with a smiling face.

The days passed, and it was the 31st day of December 1999. As a practice I went to Divine Falls for two reasons: one is to pray for the prosperity of the coming year and the other is to bring a bottle of water (divine water) for the Pooja the next day 1st of January, 2000. I prayed Mother Nature and suggested the following, “Oh! Mother Nature the birth date of my child is predicted to be January 07th , but I would prefer it to be January 05th as it is my birthday as well and I would be the most happiest person if she is born on the 01st of January, because she will be a millennium baby.” Soon after that suggestion I filled the bottle that I took with water and setoff with thousands of dreams for the coming year. 

When I returned home it was about 09.00 a.m., leaving the bottle of water in the Shrine Room a engaged myself in the household chores as my wife was few days ahead for confinement. Around 02.00 p.m. one of her friends brought lunch for her, string hoppers and chicken curry and after their usual chit-chat my wife had the meal and continued with some usual ladies stuff while I was busy with my own work. Her friend left at about 04.00 p.m. and remembering that she has a husband come to me with a smiling face and wanted to know whether she could give me a helping hand. Having completed most of the work I thanked her in return with a sarcastic smile (as men always do) and wanted her to go to the room and rest for a while.

Always a whistle was hanging around my wife’s neck so that she could blow it to call me whenever she couldn’t shout out to call me. I was outside watching the children playing cricket outside my house and heard the blowing of the whistle and rushed to the room.

She told me that she was getting a slight pain and was little puzzled. By that time my mother was also there, as she also knows about this whistle business. As my mother and I were trying to something about the situation one of my friends U.A. Ranjith entered the main door of my house. I was glad to see him there at that time and understanding the situation he wanted to know what could he do to help me. I wanted him to find a vehicle to take my wife to the hospital and wanted my mother to get things ready. 

Since my wife had kept everything ready it was not at all a problem for me to find thing to be taken to the hospital. The vehicle arrived in about half an hour by then my mother had done everything possible to keep my wife calm by giving some indigenous (home made) medicine. 

It was about 6.30 p.m. in the evening when we arrived at the hospital and after going through all the procedures of the hospital my wife was admitted to the maternity ward at about 7.15 p.m. I returned home with my friend Ranjith and had a small ‘shot’ it was a happy and an exiting moment for me. My friend left my place around 10.00 pm. and it was I and my mother at home chatting for hours and hours and went to bed.  Sharp at 12.00 midnight I was awakened by the sound of the crackers although I was not fast asleep, from that moment onwards sleep didn't come to me.

Early next morning, January 01st of year 2000, I was the first visitor in that ward. Guess what? My wife has been taken into the labour room.I left the hospital leaving all the food, tea and other things by the side of her bed. I saw my mother-in-low and other relatives and friends at the hospital and I informed them about the state of affairs.

At last when it was time for the next visit I rushed to the ward. I was surprised! My child had been the seventh to be born on that day and already she had received several presents from the hospital and other organizations.

She is Thashayeni Balendran, a child who brought fame to her father.

Please tell me something so that I could share the other stories as well.

Galaha: A Day's Sightseeing.

A spectacular view of Galaha from top of a mountain in Loolkandura Tea Estate.

Galaha is a small town located among the hills of Sri Lanka's Central Province. It is about 30 kilometers from Kandy, and an ideal location for sightseeing reachable within a couple of hours drive from Kandy.

A view from Galaha Road.

To reach Galaha, you have to pass Galaha Junction which is at Peradeniya, and take the road that runs through the University of Peradeniya towards Mahakanda. This is the Galaha Road. From Mahakanda Galaha Road starts rising up, allowing you to see a fantastic view of surrounding villages and towns like Hindagala and Gampola below. Ambuluwawa peak at Gampola can be clearly seen from Galaha Road, passing Wariyagala.



A fuel filling station on the roadside passing Galaha.

The road to Galaha is not a ‘state-of-the-art’ highway. It is a simple, asphalted road. Galaha road passes the paddy fields of Hindagala and enters the Pinus plantations. Although Pinus plantations are harmful to the natural environment of the Kandyan hills, it gives the area a flavour of a European scenery.

Through the Pinus plantations...

If you do not have homemade snacks with you, they can be bought from small roadside snack huts. Of course the snacks are Undu Vadai, Dhal Vadai, and Coconut Roti with Katta Sambol (a strong chili sauce) which are great hunger-killers.

Loolecondera Tea Estate.


A part of the first 5 acres of tea planted by James Taylor in 1867.

The best destination in this one-day trip is Loolkandura or ‘Loolecondera’ Tea Estate at Hewaheta. Hewaheta is about ten kilometers away from Galaha town. Loolkandura Tea Estate is the first ever tea plantation of Sri Lanka which was inaugurated by James Taylor, a British immigrant, in 1865. He spelled the local name Loolkandura as ‘Loolecondera’, and that name is still being used on the name boards of this Tea Estate. This is the birthplace of ‘Pure Ceylon Tea’ which is a tagline that has won international fame. There is a big history in Loolecondera Estate. It still preserves the ruins of the historical log cabin where James Taylor lived and hand-produced the first load of Pure Ceylon Tea.


The one-and-half century old fireplace of James Taylor's log cabin.

The small kovil in front of the entrance of Loolecondera Estate and the small stream that flows beside are a cooling sight. The stream is full of rocks, and clean, cool water flows through them making a pleasing sound. It’s a good place to have refreshments, a beer, and a bath.

Children having fun in the stream...


Sunday, May 12, 2013

The 10th Century Palace of King Parakramabahu.

The ruins of the palace of King Parakramabahu the Great standing in the citadel.

Polonnaruwa was the second kingdom of Sri Lanka. It was inhabited since the period of Anuradhapura kingdom. Agrabodhi-IV (673 – 689 AD) and Agrabodhi-VII (781 – 787 AD), Kings of Anuradhapura Kingdom, had palaces built in Polonnaruwa. Polonnaruwa had been the main area of paddy cultivation while Anuradhapura being the centre of administration since 1st century AD.

The ancient Entrance to the citadel of Polonnaruwa.

In 1065 AD, King Vijayabahu-I (1065 – 1120 AD) put an end to the 70 year long invasive Chola regime of Raja Raja, and became the supreme ruler of Sri Lanka. He had to spend time and resources extensively to reconstruct the reservoirs, irrigation system, monasteries and other important constructions which were let to destroy during the Chola invader Raja Raja’s rule. Therefore, there is no building in Polonnaruwa which could have identified as King Vijayabahu’s palace.

King Parakramabahu the Great

King Parakramabahu the Great (1164 – 1197 AD) was the next king to launch a massive development program in the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa. He built a city with a Palace, a Royal Conference Hall, ponds for water-sports, temples, hospitals, and marketplaces, fortified with giant outer walls and a moat around it. Parakrama Samudra (or the ‘sea of Parakrama’) was the gigantic reservoir built by King Parakramabahu the Great, by combining five smaller existent reservoirs. He constructed or repaired 165 dams, 3910 canals, 163 big reservoirs, and 2376 smaller reservoirs, according to the chronicles.
Inside the Palace: walls and some of the rooms.

The Palace

King Parakramabahu the Great built his luxurious palace called ‘Vaijayantha Prasada’, a seven-storied building with one thousand rooms in it. The remaining parts of the palace today show evidence of three storeys (see the top picture). The Chronicles have described this palace as a building in heaven, and that is the reason why they called it by the name ‘Vaijayantha Prasada’, after the abode of God Sakra.
Two-inch thick 10th century plaster with decorations still remaining on the Palace walls.
The grand entrance of the palace is facing east. After the entrance, there is a vast lobby that spreads all around the palace which is believed to have been under a roof when it was built. Huge wooden baulks were used to support the weight of the upper storeys. On some walls the ancient plaster can still be seen.

Magha Attacks

The palace of King Parakramabahu was destroyed twenty eight years after the death of the king, by the Tamil invader Kalinga Magha who arrived in Sri Lanka with 24,000 strong army from India. Kalinga Magha was a tyrant and an oppressive ruler. He completely destroyed Polonnaruwa, massacred the people, burnt down temples and libraries with ola-leaf scripts. Magha looted all the wealth of Polonnaruwa and ported to India. Magha did not leave the majestic palace of King Parakramabahu. He burnt it down. The metal used to build the palace melted by the extreme heat of the fire and dripped down, making huge metal balls. These metal balls can still be seen in the palace premises.

Molten metal balls: tyranny of Kalinga Magha.