Day 29 - Temples, Tea and a Tuk Tuk

Trip Start Aug 13, 2012
Trip End Oct 31, 2012

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Flag of Sri Lanka  , Southern Province,
Tuesday, September 11, 2012


A day of sightseeing and a bit of "look see" with our new friend Mr Gayan around the broader Galle area today, who picked us up promptly after a top breaky at Deco, and we headed off for our second day in Sri Lanka, an amazing place for sure. 

We first went to visit a Buddhist temple called Yatagala Raja Maha Virharaya, "the Temple in the Cave", a place where novices and monks have been practicing and learning for over 1,500 years, and there is even a Bodhi tree there that was grown from a cutting from the original tree under which the Buddha first became enlightened! The Temple is an amazing place to visit, it's a place with a deeply spiritual vibe in the air that gives rise to a feeling of peace and being at ease with the world. All you have to do is stop look and listen. Nothing flash or "up in lights" about it at all, it's a very simple unpretentious place that resonates goodness and simplicity. I was very touched to have been able to go there, and so was Mandy and Mr Gayan who also clearly had a great time. I think Mr Gayan was really happy that we were so interested and he was able to tell us the many things he knows about the topic and place. He even arranged for some novices to come and give us a blessing, a rare and gracious thing to have done on the spur of the moment. An absolute gem of a place for  anyone half interested in history, religion or specifically, Buddhism.

The temple has now been recognised as an historic site of importance and there is a restoration fund in place, and in typical fashion they are building and fixing it piece by piece as and when they get enough money, no money they stop, and wait for a little more. We gave the caretaker about $15 toward the fund and he was over the moon with it, and promptly wrote us a receipt and had the donation witnessed. The Buddha specifically forbade his ordained followers from even touching money, let alone accepting it, one of the very few things that he insisted his followers should not do (the rest is a choice), and some orders to this day are still very careful about how they handle and accept donations and cash (generally via a trusted non-ordained follower, hence the caretaker). 

We then headed off to do the classic thing in Sri Lanka, visit a tea farm, indeed the Virgin White Tea Plantation at Kathaluga, a must do for sure. This one sets itself aside by being a specialist in White Tea. I had thought that this activity would perhaps be a little tourist "cheesy", but once again I was very pleasantly mistaken, and found that the plantation is a place where a true old art is still being practiced at a very unique "cottage industry" type place, albeit the area covers over 200 acres. The staff were very genuinely pleased to have us visit, and to our delight we found that this is no mass market endeavour, and that these guys are having a serious go at maintaining a legacy and a history. Once again it's a first class place that is very understated, found by travelling along a bumpy old road about 15 mins off the highway, if you can call it a highway.

I had never heard of Virgin White Tea before, and the story goes something like this; many moons ago in China the Emperor would send virgins with satin gloves and ceremonial robes to cut only the finest early shoots with golden scissors, and only the Emperor was allowed to drink the tea, and or presumably to ever shag the virgins. Things have changed a little bit, and the gloves and gold (now plated) scissors remain, which we were shown in action. We had a great time getting the run down on the whole end-to-end process of producing and making "the tea", as they proudly told us things like they produce 23 varieties of tea that all come from the one type of plant. We had a hoot, and it was interesting to note that this was the first place that we had visited so far where women are employed to do any "work".  

Seems that women only have jobs outside of the home in Colombo and the bigger tourist areas, and that the traditional ways remain strongly intrenched elsewhere. Mostly very poor illiterate ladies working there we were told, but once again these simple folk showed good grace and shy smiles at these strange foreigners looking about. We must seem so filthy rich and lucky to those dear souls. Difference here in Sri Lanka to Vietnam in terms of "I go to work and you stay at home" is that the women is the boss at home, and as Mr Gayan has said "oh yes sir, this is the case in all homes here, hahaha, oh yes we know this one for sure sir hahaha".

We then had a nice feed at Unawatuna beach at a gaff called UBR, and watched the swell rise and thunder into the long sweet coastline, a lovely sight to see. The Unawatuna area, which is just to the south of Galle, looks to be the "beach hotel and tourist villa" development area at this end of the country, and the small backpacker places are popping up as are the beachside hotels and flash villas, and even the odd disco! Clearly the market is just beginning to move, and the range on offer is of course, not as yet, anything like Hoi An or Krabi. These are early days for this market in this part of the world, and the war in the north is not that long over. I would image that this area would be just lovely to stay at and "cruise like the breeze' if you are a "beach person", and it's very cheap too to live if you go a bit "native" and stay away from the westernised places, especially for food. But overall this area is not for me. 

The Fort at Galle is something very special, and that's the place for us right now, it's so very unique and well worth spending more time in discovering all of the nooks and crannies, the like of which I have never seen before. As an example, there is not a single place selling booze openly, you must ask for it, there is not one "Pub", and there is not a Thai style quickie mart anywhere to be seen (in the Fort area, but there are plenty of places just outside in Galle town itself). It's old style heritage to a tee, and the Dutch and the English have left a fabulous historical legacy here.

After lunch, once again the Ramayana popped up out of the blue.  We headed to the Peace Pagoda which is huge "Stupa" that was built in conjunction with the Japanese, and a Zen Monk now lives there on site. It sits on the far end of Galle harbour on a hill, indeed legend has it that it's the piece of land which Hanuman (Monkey) brought and left here from the Himalaya, when Rama and his army (which included the Monkey army) were trying to rescue Sita, the damsel in distress who had been abducted by an evil lord. 

The very end of the point is a natural lightening conductor, and it regularly gets clobbered during storms,  just to remind us that Hanuman is about and that he is watching the goings on, and he is making sure he's the only one up to shannanigans. The statue of him at the Pagoda is just lovely, and it's another very simple special place, with the most beautiful views back to Galle.

On the way back we stopped at the fish market on the beach near the main town, and what a place that is. The daily catch set out for sale in the open, dudes bellowing out the price, birds and cats watching waiting for an opportunity, traffic heading past tooting away, it's a very busy "eye opener" well worth a visit. Whilst us tourists may look a bit odd, the locals seem to find us a bit odd and they leave you be. As we took off I asked Mr Gayan where a man could buy a Lion (the local brew), and he said "oh sir, perfect timing, I know all the cheap spots" and he pulled up and took me across the road to "the local", a very small hard to see shop, with bars on the windows and security all over the place, no advertising nothing. 70 cents for a long neck of Sri Lanka's finest, that's Fenderson cheap.

Perfect dinner at Deco on 44, followed by a wander about the Fort in a tuk tuk for 15 mins for a laugh and a last look see at the cricket games going on at every vantage point and corner, a great chat with the staff who were just lovely, and they just made you say "I'll be back. When are the Aussies next playing at Galle?" 

We'll be back, no question about that, that gaff is one of most amazing hotels that I have ever stayed in, 8 rooms only in an old updated colonial mansion, with never less than 10 staff on hand at any time of the day or night. Peaceful, relaxing, absolutely at ease with the world, even a bit understated too.

My kind of place to end my kind of day.

We had a wonderful day, we did and saw so much. I have decided to do my entry for today a a photo story. I'm sure Rick covered everything really well.
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