Posted by: tim ellis | July 31, 2010

Friday April 23rd 2010

Cultural Show

I collect my packed breakfast (I’d asked for no cheese), check out, and meet Pradach, my driver/guide for a 6:45 departure. When I tell him I’m from Birmingham he is pleased – his brother and sister-in-law are senior lecturers at Birmingham University!
We set off , and as we head in land, he points out a variety of Sri Lankan cash crops as we pass them by – rice, coconuts, rubber, cashew, banana etc., before arriving at Pinnawela for the Elephant Orphanage. I open my packed breakfast – it includes sausages (which have never been part of the normal breakfast served at the hotel) and, of course, cheese sandwiches!

Pinnawela Elephant OrphanageThe orphanage started with just 5 Elephants, and now has over 60, including an old male tusker, and a female who is missing a front foot, the victim of a bomb or mine in the civil war. Some of the elephants seem to be wandering freely, while others are chained. Bottle feeding is at 9:15 – two baby male elephants are bottle fed. Members of the public can deed them (for a price). Only one of the pair is actually fed by the public, the other is fed exclusively by the keeper. Both are shackled on quite short chains, and the one not fed by the public, in particular does not look too happy with this state of affairs. We leave this part of the site and wander over the road to a viewing area overlooking the river. The elephant herd is bought here ar 10:00 – while we are waiting a passing Sri Lankan reads my palm (uninvited) – he tells me I will live a long time, to at least 97, and will be healthy and rich. I will marry a good woman and have 2 intelligent children. He also tells me I am generous, then asks for a tip, any money, for his first reading of the day. I prove him wrong about the generosity by giving him the princely sum of 4 rupees – this will get him 1 minute of internet access in the best cybercafé in Negumbo! Maybe if I live to be 97 I’ll send him more money!

On the way back to the car is a snake charmer with a spectacled cobra, but we don’t stop. We do stop the car just outside of town for two porcupines being taken for a walk on leads, and I buy a couple of quills off the owners in return for being allowed to take a couple of photos.

The next scheduled stop is a tea factory – a free visit with a guided tour, which explains how the tea is dried and graded, followed by a free sample (I much prefer this at a brewery or a distillery, not being a tea drinker…)

We arrive at Kandy itself, and our first port of call is the Botanical Gardens – a British innovation and, I am told, second only to Kew Gardens. There is a large variety of native and foreign trees, shrubs, grasses, bamboos etc., an orchid house and some resident wildlife. The ever present palm squirrels, naturally, and also lots of fruit bats, some of which must have their watches set wrong, as they are flying around in the middle of the day!

Then to a jewellers with a small museum and film about gem mining in Sri Lanka, and a salesman desperate to sell me all sorts of beautiful, but expensive jewellery. (It’s probably very reasonably priced if I actually wanted any of it, but nevertheless…). This is followed by another shop famed for its shirts. I could, apparently have had a silk shirt made that afternoon for around £35 – again, an offer feel I can refuse, even it it is a bargain price – though I do by a couple of (off the peg) linen shirts.

It is raining quite hard now, so we go for a (late) lunch before heading off to the Temple of the Tooth, built by the kings of Kandy to hold a sacred Buddhist relic – a tooth of Lord Buddha, brought here centuries ago from North India. It has had a long and colourful history, having been fought over by various Sri Lankan kings, taken to India and brought back, then taken by the British and given back. The temple was bombed by terrorists during the civil war, but is now restored, and in addition to the relic and main temple, also houses a museum, the old royal audience chamber and a small Hindu temple as well. (There is a Catholic church just over the road, I don’t know where the mosque is to complete the set).

After the temple we go to the cultural show – a set of folk dances in colourful costumes, all to the beat of traditional drums, and ending up outside for a fire-walking display. Then finally to the Hotel Topaz.
As it is my Mum’s birthday today, I decide to give her a call rather than just an e-mail. I think about asking at reception, but there is a singer in the lobby, so I go up to my room and dial the operator – they can’t put international calls through, so I’ll have to go down to reception! Thankfully the switchboard is on the floor below so I am not competing with the cabaret, but then both the operator and I have to go back up to reception to sort out the bill!

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