Compare and Contrast
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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
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
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”