Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Fringed by the Indian Ocean

 Yala National Park is home to a wide range of wild animals. 

We stayed for 3 nights in our own little jungle chalet within this national park.

Grey Langur monkeys danced on our rooftop, 
wild Boar grunted around the veranda,
 and a large male elephant was seen lurking in the bushes when we left the chalet to take an early morning safari. 
We loved the little green Bee-eaters flitting around in the bushes, 
along with this handsome Jerdon's baza with his crested tuft of black feathers,  
and this Brahminy kite.
How discreetly these snoozing young Indian Scops owls blend in with their host tree.
This handsome Painted Stork is searching around for frogs and lizards, but has a listing of 'near threatened'. 
The variety of wild fowl and bird life in Sri Lanka is quite spectacular, it must surely be paradise for any serious bird spotters. 
It is early morning, all looks tranquil and peaceful within this pastoral scene, but rather ominously we have just spotted two very large crocodiles lying in the reeds close by.
Suddenly our Ranger zooms off down a track - perhaps he has been notified of something on his radio!

What a special find! a cute reclusive Sloth bear. However, my initial excitement is tempered by concerns for this lovely little bear as there are no more than 500 of them left in the wild. Although insects, ants, and termites make up their staple diet, they also need the nuts and fruits that they find in the tropical forests, and these as we know, are being destroyed at an alarming rate. 
The mother bear carries her young cubs on her back until they are 9 months old, but Sloth bears, including their young are excellent tree climbers should they need protection from predators. 
Suddenly our driver is off again - the ride is fast and bumpy - we all hold on tight.
We have found a very relaxed, beautiful, large leopard sleeping in a Weera tree.  
Let's leave him sleeping peacefully - it is still early in the morning, and our breakfast awaits.
*****
This is my final post from Sri Lanka - a teardrop shaped volcanic island set in the Indian Ocean and home to a very diverse range of animals and plant life. 
The Golden Shower Tree - Cassia fistula
 We saw a huge variety of vegetables and different fruits, many of which were completely unknown to us. We gained the impression that anything sown in Sri Lanka's rich volcanic ground flourishes.
huge Jack fruits
Many different types of nuts and spices grow in Sri Lanka.
 nutmegs still dressed in their lacy mantles of mace - these three were found simply lying around on the ground at our feet

Brugmansia suaveolens
Flowers that I grow in my garden that require my
 tender, loving, care, grow like weeds in Sri Lanka. 

Dig a 20ft shaft through the volcanic soil and stone, and you might find moonstones.
Dig a deeper mine and you could be rewarded with Rubies, Amethysts, Garnets or cornflower coloured Sapphires.
A cute baby Asian elephant
Sri Lankan stilt fisherman
සමුගැනීමේ ශ්රී ලංකා
This beautiful script is Sinhala and the translation reads - 'farewell Sri Lanka'

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Temples, Tea, and Forever England

















Sri Muthumariamman Temple -  ceremonial (Gopuram) gateway
Hinduism was originally the dominant religion in Sri 
Lanka before the arrival of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. Today the Tamils make up the main Hindu population in Sri Lanka. 
Over 70% of Sri Lanka's population practice Buddhism. Just over 12% are Hindu, almost 10% are Muslims (mainly Sunni), and 7.5% are Christians (mainly Roman Catholic) Less than 1% are atheists. 
The tower of this temple, covered in 1008 statues of Hindu deities, was a wondrous piece of Sri Lankan Hindu architecture to view, especially to our unaccustomed western eyes.  
The Sri Muthumariamman temple is dedicated to Mariamman, the goddess of rain and fertility. The prefix 'Muthu' means pearl. 'Mari" means rain and 'Amman' means mother. 
It was interesting to learn that this temple is used by both Hindus and Buddhist. 
SriRamajayam Hindu Temple also known as Ashok Vatika is believed to be situated in the very forest where Sita, wife of Lord Rama, was kept captive by King Ravana after he abducted her from India. 






























The temple is an important stopping place for Hindu devotees as they pass through the valley. Many climb down behind the temple where the Hindu belief is that rocks in the valley below represent where Sita lived and the flowing stream is where she bathed during her abduction.   
Further downstream there is said to be a large footprint on the riverbank made by Lord Hanuman, a devotee of Lord Rama. He came to her and gave her King Rama's ring and promised that King Rama would save her. 
Lord Hanuman
It is a complex, epic Hindu tale but if you are interested you can read about it here
We headed on into the mountains above Kandy where tea plants grow and flourish.
In 1867, 17 year old James Taylor from Scotland, introduced the tea plant to Sri Lanka. He had learnt the rudiments of growing tea in southern India, and so began the birth of the Ceylon tea industry. The plants prospered on the hillsides of Kandy, and quickly established themselves as an important source of revenue. 
Thomas Lipton, a Scottish millionaire, made his fortune by owning and running a chain of grocery stores across the British Isles. He visited British Ceylon in the 1890s whilst on a journey to Australia. There he met Taylor, and it was agreed that Taylor would supply Lipton with tea for all of his British stores. The arrangement eventually led to Lipton distributing Ceylon tea throughout Europe and the USA.  











The tea picking work is carried out by the local Tamil population, but the task is far from easy. They climb up and down the high mountains all day long carrying sacks of tea strapped around their heads. The tea pickers pluck what is called a 'flush' (two leaves and a bud) from each plant, but the leaves have to be picked carefully. If they are too big they are too tough; if they are too small they are not economically viable. Once their sacks are full they then take them down to the plantation where they are processed within the hour. 

Having visited all of the different stages involved in sorting, drying, and preparing the leaves before they are packed to sell, we finished off the visit with 
'a nice cup of tea'
 
Travelling on even higher up into the mountain we finally reached our destination, Nuwar Eliya, which sits 1,868m (6,128ft) high on Mount Pedro, which is 523m (1,715ft) higher than Ben Nevis in Scotland. The town was established by the British in the early 19th century, and is known as Sri Lanka's 'Little England'. British Colonists travelled up regularly from Colombo to Nuwar Eliya to enjoy the benefits of having a fresher, cooler climate and thus escape the hot oppressive weather in Colombo.
Nuwar Eliya appears to have retained much of its Victorian appearance. There is a well maintained park, named after Queen Victoria, a fine 18 hole golf course, and a large mock tudor Post Office still dominates the centre of town. Curiously, life in Nuwar Eliya continues much as it did during its British heyday. The racing stables still train jockeys, breed horses, and race them around the Royal Turf Club racecourse - the highest track in the world. There are many outdoor programmes available such as Trekking, Cycling, Bird-watching, Fishing and Air rifle shooting.




We stayed at the Grand Hotel built in the 1800s, a large mock Tudor style mansion which previously was the former residence of Sir Edward Barnes, the Governor of Sri Lanka from 1830-50. It is located in the hills looking down over Nuwar Eliya, and set within perfectly manicured gardens. The all male staff have impeccable manners and wear elegant white Mandarin style tunics with long white sarongs. The building itself still retains all of its bygone grandeur with carved wood panel lined walls, marble fireplaces, elegant chandeliers, and the food is both delicious and beautifully presented. 


Yes, that is a large football at the entrance to the hotel - Sri Lanka too was suffering from World Cup Football fever!

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Kandy

The origins of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya on the outskirts of Kandy date back as far as 1371. They extend to almost 150 acres, and are filled with a huge array of Sri Lankan plant life.
We were given a small guide to the gardens, and I 
noticed a painting on the back cover done by Botanical Artist, Marianne North.  I have always loved her paintings, and enjoyed the thought that she had been here in these very gardens painting the trees and flowers in 1876. 
Orchid Houses are always interesting to visit, and this one was no exception
This happy couple kindly let me take their photograph
We had our first short splash of rain during the whole trip in these gardens, but luckily we found shelter quickly. As soon as the rain stopped the sky turned blue and the sun reappeared again.

Along the side of the river is the bamboo collection where they have the largest bamboo in the world growing which comes from Burma (Dendrocalamus giganteus). The stems attain a height of 40m and the average growth rate of new shoots is 30cm a day. 
After lunch we headed off to visit the Royal Palace in Kandy which is now the Temple of the Tooth. 
The temple houses the tooth of the Buddha which was concealed in the hair of an Indian princess and brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century. It is an object of great reverence for Buddhists the world over.
However, on arrival we changed our minds about visiting the temple. The soles of my husband's feet had had enough. This very large building which had been the Royal Palace is filled with many rooms, courtyards, steps etc which all have to be negotiated without shoes.
As we were making our minds up on where else we should go the skies suddenly opened up and sent down an almighty torrent of rain, the second and final rainfall of the trip. The sky was blue, the sun out, but in the blink of an eye it was like standing beneath a fireman's hose continuously for 15 minutes. It took my leather shoes 5 days to dry out, and I wondered whether or not I would ever be able to wear them again. It was an experience, which made us laugh on reflection, and something we shall never forget. Just as suddenly the rains stopped, the sky turned blue, the sun appeared, and everyone continued with whatever they had been doing before.
We climbed the steep hill behind the temple to visit the British Garrison Cemetery which gave us a poignant glimpse of Empire days. The epitaphs showed that those who are buried in the cemetery were from many corners of the British Isles - Limerick in Ireland, Inverness in Scotland, Guernsey, Liverpool, and London etc. As we wandered around reading the tombs we quickly realised that the Colonial lifestyle is not all about hunting, shooting, fishing, and lavish cocktail parties. The headstones revealed to us just how hazardous the early 1800s were for those living away in far off exotic lands. "Three infant daughters each died in consecutive years of cholera"; "John Spottiswood Robertson, died 1870, the seventh and last known death of a European to have been killed by a wild elephant in Ceylon"; "Captain James McGlashan, aged 26 years old, who fought valiantly at the Battle of Waterloo, but died of malaria in Ceylon"; "William Robert Lyte 19year old grandson of Rev.Henry Francis Lyte, author of the hymn 'Abide with Me'. 
As we were strolling around the cemetery reading the tombstones, an elderly man suddenly appeared wearing a sarong. He turned out to be the caretaker of the cemetery, and he began talking to us in his eloquent BBC English. We discovered that his name was Charles Carmichael, a Sri Lankan, but with some Scottish and Indian ancestry. He told us about several of the tombs, and how he tended and cared for the graves every day of the week throughout the year.