Compare and Contrast

Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Sri Lanka  , Western,
Thursday, January 5, 2012

How well I remember those dreaded English Lit classes where we had to “compare and contrast” anything and everything, yet here I am immersing myself in the same exercise on an almost daily basis.

It was with some apprehension that I returned to Kandy - the town where Gerry, Michael and I spent some of the best years of our lives. Fortunately, the anticipated sadness never materialized, but instead their animated spirits urged me on to explore the city with its memories.......and of course to compare those memories with current realities.

The train wound its way through the tropical landscape featuring coconut estates, rubber plantations, and lush paddy fields, and it was a relief to feel the cooler air as we climbed steadily to a higher elevation. The two sari-clad sisters sitting next to me were intent on sharing their snacks, while the Muslim family across from us insisted that I switch seats with them at various intervals, to ensure that I get a better view of the layer upon layer of mountains in the distance.

Nestled in a flat-bottomed bowl surrounded by lush, often misty and sometimes very steep hillsides, Kandy Lake will hopefully always retain its exquisite beauty. The same cannot be said of the city itself, now abuzz with sprawling and noisy markets, an ever increasing population, and a burgeoning tourist industry. I discovered this the hard way, having to change guesthouses three times in ten days due to “all those foreign tourists” that were definitely not part of the landscape twenty years ago.

I had fully expected to be a “tourist”myself for a week or so in Kandy, but my friend Shireen contacted a colleague of hers who organized visits for me to a number of orphanages in the outlying areas of town. The differences between the orphanages I visited here, and Rachel’s Children Home in Lesotho were quite profound. Although there appears to be little government support for the welfare of abandoned children in either country, the Sri Lankan orphanages have obviously attracted more financial support through community and/or religious institutions here and abroad, resulting in living conditions far superior to those in Lesotho.

Christians make up only six percent of Sri Lanka’s population, yet certain aspects of Christmas are celebrated by one and all - particularly in the urban areas. Wandering the streets of Kandy, I was constantly aware of the sound of Christmas music projected from the shops, and couldn’t help but notice the children eyeing the plastic Santas and the glittering decorations, whilst munching on their rotis and waddais...........and sometimes even their chicken legs from KFC!!

Not wanting to miss any of the three Christmas dinners awaiting me back in Colombo, I arrived early at the train station only to find that there wasn’t a ticket to be had. The place in fact was teeming with Sri Lankans and their mountains of luggage, all eager to join their families in Colombo for the holiday season. Fortunately, I had years ago learned the art of “travelling light”, so simply hoisted my small pack onto my back and went in search of a bus. What was formerly a two hour trip from Kandy to Colombo has become a four to five hour gruelling stop-and-start journey, with drivers dodging the oncoming traffic and passengers breathing in the polluting fumes. I however was quite content to sit back and observe the things that haven’t changed - like the village where dozens of brightly-dressed women still sell cashews from individual stalls along the roadside, or the village full of tempting mounds of pineapples, and also the village noted for its woven cane furniture, easily visible to all passing motorists.

Yes I arrived in plenty of time for all the Christmas feasts, shared with my Buddhist, Hindu and Christian friends alike, and always featuring a delicious variation of rice and curry. We did however make a real break with tradition on New Year’s Eve, as Tania, her mother and I dug into an eight-course seafood dinner at Casa Colombo - an upscale boutique hotel. Not even a hint of turkey for me this Christmas season, but I definitely didn’t miss it. At $15 a kilo for the imported  frozen bird, turkey appears only on the plates of the wealthy.

And so the days get ticked off one by one, passing far too quickly. I have become rather adept at figuring out the local bus system, and for less than a dollar a day can make my way to the inviting beach at  Mt Lavinia, or to the bustling markets of Pettah where many colourful Hindu kovils (temples) provide a stark contrast to the serene white of the Buddhist temples, or to Cinnamon Gardens where Colombo’s rich and powerful live on elegant tree-lined streets.

In case you’re awaiting some personal comments related to the political situation in Sri Lanka, you can rest assured that I’m not about to make any incriminating statements. Yes, I am quietly listening to the varied and vociferous opinions of the Sri Lankan people, and I fully expect the sentiments in the north to be quite different and perhaps even stronger. Let me simply leave you with a quote from the editorial column in the Daily Mirror: “Many independent analysts believe that what we have now is a negative and fragile peace”

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Charlotte Anokwa on

What a trip! Wonderful pictures, too. You have become true global travel. I am happy for you, Sharon. Best wishes for the rest of the trip.

Margo on

What fun to revisit Sri Lanka via your blogs! I'm so grateful for the wonderful descriptions and beautiful photos. It's almost like a mini-visit to a place I have loved for so long. I was traveling on the train with you and experiencing all of the amazing colors of green one sees on that trip!

I'm so happy that the trip is full of good memories and old friends. I'll be reading with delight and great interest!!

Love to you, Sharon.

Lila Engberg on

Oh Sharon! I am happy for you - enjoying Christmas and New Years, and the beauty od Sri Lanka. May every day be good!!! Love, Lila

Liz Jennaway Eaman on

So happy to hear that this is an enjoyable odyssey for you and wonderful to share your travels yet again. I look forward to your updates!

With fond memories of times that we shared with you

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