Welcome again to everybody and the latest in my series of posts about my first ever trip to Sri Lanka in early 2014. Thankfully it was to prove to be the first of several and it has become one of my more frequent travel destinations, not least because it is absolutely brilliant and I love everything about it which is as good a reason as I can think of for returning.
What I wish I could also say in these preambles to each episode is something new and possibly even interesting but after 200+ posts, which amazes me as I did not think I was that productive, it becomes a little difficult. It is almost as difficult as finding new ways to write what I am going to put down next and which my many regular readers will no doubt groan at. It is my standard advice to new / accidental readers to read the whole adventure from the beginning, which you can do here.
With that out of the way (yet again) what are we going to do in this post but I have already shot myself in the foot a bit here with the title which is somewhat of a spoiler. Hey ho, I said I was getting productive in my blogging, I never said I was getting any good at it. Do please come and join me.
26th January, 2014.
I had spend a slightly disappointing day on the Saturday in Unawatuna, not because anything untoward happened to me but because it is not really my kind of place. It is just a beach resort with very little else to see or do and I am not much of a one for beaches.
Whilst I had travelled a mighty four miles or so to get to Unawatuna, I thought I might cast my net a little further afield in search of somewhere else to have a look round and the fishing analogy is absolutely intended so close to the ocean. The casting of said net was approximately 24 miles and again I opted for the bus as being the more frequent option and less likely to be fully booked than the train but first I had to get to the bus stand as bus stations in Sri Lanka are known.
For no good reason I decided to walk a different way to catch the bus and was rewarded by the fairly basic murals you can see here which certainly brightened up what would have been an otherwise drab concrete wall. I have no idea what they are all about (help me Treshi!) but they appear to be sponsored by a toothpaste company so I am guessing they are some form of public health announcement. An interesting start to the day and I do not know how I had missed these before with my fairly extensive wanderings around Galle.
I made the bus station, found the correct vehicle and jumped on board. The two images above are included to make a couple of points about bus travel in Sri Lanka. In the left image you can see a Buddhist monk occupying the front seat near the door that might have potentially been occupied by the conductor on quieter stretches of a European route but conductors on Sri Lankan buses just do not sit down. If they are not collecting fares they are jumping off at every stop and shouting the destination of their vehicle to waiting passengers.
That particular seat seems to be reserved for monks and I have even seen pictograms on public transport here depicting the usual pregnant woman, old person with a walking stick, nursing mother etc. at “priority seats” but I have also seen a stylised depiction of a monk in his robes indicating that they are included in the priority groups which is fine by me. Obviously they never pay on public transport which is just as well as they do not carry money!
The right hand image shows what I believe is a Hindu goddess and this is very common on Sri Lankan buses, they all have religious icons of some sort on them, be they Buddhist, Hindu or Christian. I have never worked out if that denotes the belief system of the driver or perhaps the owner of the bus company but what I do know is that with the state of some of the smaller Sri Lankan roads and the standard of some of the driving I am glad of whatever help I can get.
The journey time was a bit over an hour and is pleasant as the A2 follows the coast fairly closely all the way so I took the opportunity to fire off a couple of images on the way. The sea and beaches are pretty obvious but what I really had not expected to see was an old prop aircraft parked up at the side of the road but, as they used to say, the camera doesn’t lie. Obviously it does now due to Photoshop etc. although camera fakery is a practice dating to Victorian times!
If you are at all interested this is a Hawker Siddeley HS-748 Srs2A/272 and what’s more it is a very plush looking 30 seat restaurant operated by the Sri Lankan Air Force at their base here in SLAF Koggala. It is amazing what you see on a bus trip.
I alighted at Matara bus station which is one of the more modern, better equipped and marginally less manic bus stands in Sri Lanka.
The island you can see in the image is the delightfully named Golden Island which also more commonly and much less attractively named Pigeon Island. Whatever it’s name it is home to the Paravi Duwa Temple which we’ll get to shortly, believe me. Before we do I need to tell you about one or two other things (three if truth be told) or I’ll undoubtedly forget them.
I should share with you my overall impressions of Matara, written back then in 2014 although I warn you there is a slight spoiler in there.
Nothing to do and a brilliant place to do it.
“I initially visited Matara on a daytrip from Galle and for whatever reason instantly fell in love with the place.
I must be honest and report that there is little to see or do here, nor is it a huge tourist destination but it just appealed to me and I later returned to stay rather more days than I had anticipated.
Matara is just one of those wonderful places that draws you in, makes you part of itself and at the end of it you think, “What did I actually do there”? Apart from the nearby Mirissa with it’s excellent whale watching opportunities (coming up for you in due course), there is not much in the way of attractions and yet I became completely enamoured of it.
I offer this introduction in the interests of fairness as I would not wish to falsely portray Matara as the travel hub of Sri Lanka. What it is, simply put, is a lovely little old colonial town that is great to kick your heels in for a day or two, or in my case considerably longer”!
Like much of Asia, Sri Lanka just wouldn’t be Sri Lanka without elephants and I had literally just stepped out of the front entrance of the bus stand and there they were. Two magnificent tuskers were being led along the busy A2 road I had just left and seemed totally unperturbed by the whole experience. I suppose they just know they are the biggest thing on the road and everyone is going to keep out of their way. If you want to see a short video clip of these superb prehistoric throwbacks then have a look here.
At this point I will also tell you about something I saw within a few yards walk and will which come as no surprise to most of you. Original notes as always.
Lest we forget.
“I have made no secret here in my writings that I was in the armed forces and that I have an interest in military history, war memorials and commemorations. I have also mentioned in my other Sri Lankan pages that this country was, until about five years before time of writing (March 2014) in the grip of a bloody and brutal civil war which claimed far, far too many lives.
Having been brought up in Northern Ireland at the back end of the last century, it is something that resonates deeply with me. I make no comment on the rights and wrongs of the Sri Lankan conflict as I simply do not know enough about and refuse to pass judgement on something I don’t know about. Would that all ncontributors to the internet adopted the same policy.
I am fully aware that this tip will only be of interest to a very small minority of readers but I feel it is worth doing as it commemorates the ultimate sacrifice made by many men in defence of their country. I think that is worthy of a minute or two of your time if you are passing.
The war memorial in Matara follows the typical Sri Lankan pattern of a soldier in a fairly aggressive martial pose standing atop the plinth with the names of the dead and the dates of their deaths. It is the sheer number of these that move me.
Presumably, they are all local lads and Matara is not that big a place yet the list seems to be almost endless. If you have served, it will get to you, it did me. If you have not served, I think it is worth pausing to remember the men who bought you the freedom to roam this wonderful travellers destination in comparative safety.
Directions: Directly opposite the bus station on the seafront beside the bridge to the island temple”.
Paravi Duwa Temple.
Now all that is out o the way let me finally introduce you to the Paravi Duwa Temple as promised and this is another place that is bugging me slightly because, try as I might I can find out very little about it. I have put the images into a slideshow for tidiness sake and I’ll try to explain about the temple as best I can.
The first image is of the rather splendid new cable suspension bridge leading to the island and which dates to 2008 when it was built to replace an older structure destroyed in the 2004 tsunami I spoke of in the previous post.
Most of the temple buildings on the island are new and there was evidence of ongoing construction when I was there but my problem is that I cannot discover whether they replaced older structures damaged in the tsunami or are just a completely new concept. Perhaps the entire complex is some sort of memorial of that cataclysmic natural disaster, I really do not know and believe me I’ve tried.
I know it is easy to just keep staring ahead at the island as you cross the bridge but look around because you get a good view of the decent beach on either side which looked a lot better to me that Colombo, Wellewatta or even Galle. The island is not huge but I think I counted nine different buildings with Buddha images. Sadly, due to the steps which there are a lot of as you can see, this site is not great in terms of accessibility.
One of the best parts of the day was when I encountered the two young monks you can see in a couple of the images who were having a jolly old time pushing each other round in a wheelbarrow under the benevolent eye of the two workers. The adults only had a few words of English and I obviously have no Sinhalese or Tamil so verbal communication was not really an option but it did not seem to matter.
The young holy men were fascinated by my camera so I gave them a go on it, hence the image of my ugly mug in here but I try not to do it too often. It seemed to give them immense pleasure snapping away at everything in sight. I should probably explain the second wheelbarrow image with the Virtual Tourist flag and that was all to do with the excellent website of that name which I speak of often here.
One of our idiotic little pastimes on the site was having friendly competitions to see who could get the quirkiest VT flag image. The flag was really light and very useful in your pocket as a surrogate handkerchief / sweat rag (pardon my indelicacy) or whatever. I could not resist this – two cheerful young Buddhist monks, a wheelbarrow and the flag, it was too good to pass up. I have another good one coming up in a few posts from now.
I should explain the golden footprint. This is a cast of an impression in a rock on Sri Padaya aka Adam’s Peak in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. Buddhist teaching has it that Buddha flew to every country where his teachings would be taken up and left these often huge and stylised indentations which became places of reverence. There are over 3,000 accredited examples world-wide and over 1,000 of these are in Sri Lanka which indicates that country’s importance in the Buddhist history.
You know I love big and obscure words so here is a good one for you, such an indentation is an example of a petrosomatoglyph and I must try and remember that, you never know when you might get a chance to drop it into casual conversation. I wonder why the spell-check on WordPress doesn’t like it?
The only problem with the Buddhist assertion that this is a genuine footprint is that the Hindus are equally convinced it belongs to either Hanuman or Shiva and the Christians and Moslems cannot decide whether it belongs to Adam (of Garden of Eden notoriety) or St. Thomas. I’ll let you make your own mind up.
I have never been to Adam’s Peak but I have walked up the smaller (3,743 ft.) Little Adam’s Peak outside Ella, which is named for it. I’ll tell you all about it in due course but that is years away yet! Leaving my new robed chums I recovered my footwear and set out to see what else Matara had to offer.
Walking back past the bus stand complete with statue outside I could see a clock tower in the distance which was obviously of some antiquity and European design. I knew that Matara had a long colonial history so I thought I would go and have a look but the closer I got to it the more obvious became a potential problem to my investigations in the form of the rather stout wall you can see in the image. Hmm.
I didn’t really fancy scrambling over it and I thought the local constabulary, charming as they normally are, might have taken a dim view so I cast about for a gate which I quickly and thankfully found and there I was in the old Fort with all it’s history. Here are my brief notes from the time about the clock tower.
Another historical mystery.
“Undoubtedly one of the major attractions of Matara is the old Fort area, which I find rather atmospheric, and which was built by the Dutch during their colonial period in Sri Lanka.
Standing a proud 12 metres high above it and visible from just about anywhere in town is the gleaming white clocktower and it is this that provides the mystery. I always like to research my tips as I like them to be accurate as possible and it was whilst so doing that the mystery mentioned in the title of this piece surfaced.
Various websites, including what appears to be a semi-official Matara one, state that the tower was built by the Dutch. My guidebook, however, states that it was built by the British and this seems to be supported by the (English language) inscription on it which supports. Also the date shows that the British had been in control here for years.
It is certainly true that colonial Britons appear to have had something of an obsession with time-keeping so I think I shall credit (if that is the right word) my countrymen with it’s construction.
You can’t go inside which is a shame as the views must be impressive from the top but it is worth a quick look before going on to explore the rest of the Fort”.
I did not know it at the time but I was in Court Road and the reason for this you can see in the right-hand image. This pleasant colonial building is the Southern Provincial High Court and indicates Matara’s importance in the Southern Province. Although Galle is the Provincial capital, Matara is one of the three District capitals (the other is Hambantota) and it has a number of administrative functions of which the dispensing of justice appears to be one. I was to spend a good proportion of this trip in Southern Province and I do like it there.
I know this is entirely predictable but if I tell you that it was now nearly 1300 hrs. you will be able to guess immediately what happens next. Got it on one, it’s beer o’clock. Well, I had been on the go for hours in the hot sun and I hadn’t had my breakfast beer so I thought I deserved one. The only problem is that Matara in general is not overly endowed with drinking establishments and the Fort area could be reasonably described as an arid region so it was going to be any port in a storm and what a port it turned out to be.
I saw a sign indicating the Nawathana Hotel, obviously right on the beach so I thought there was at least half a chance there might be a bar and with only half a chance I was only half right. There is no bar as such but you can get a beer here and there are plenty of lovely spots to sit and enjoy it, overlooking the sea or even on the beach if you like.
After a wander round, glass in hand, and a few images I went back to an area beside the kitchen where the manager was sitting for a bit of a chat. Before you ask, yes I did ask the young people for permission to photograph them although I think the young lady was more willing than her beau.
There didn’t appear to be any guests to speak to but it turned out the manager’s name was Nihal and he was a great guy, there will be more of him in future posts.
During our conversation he gave me his business card and told me that if I ever wanted to come and stay to contact him directly and not use a booking site as he would give me a discount and he would not have to pay to commission to the bookers. At that point I had not even considered Matara, it was just a daytrip for me but, then again, I hadn’t even considered what I was going to do that afternoon never mind tomorrow or in a week’s time.
I pocketed the card, we chatted some more and the afternoon wore on. And on. It looked like sightseeing was effectively finished for the day which again was only half correct. Just before five o’clock (yes, I had been sitting there for four hours by then) we becoame aware of an increasing amount of noise including a lot of drumming.
Nihal went out to the road to investigate, came scampering back and told me to come quickly and bring my camera, which I did and what a colourful sight greeted me as you can see. The flags indicated to me that it was a Buddhist religious procession although I had no idea what the significance of it was and neither did my “new best friend”. Well, that was the rest of my sightseeing done not 30 yards away from where I had been sitting.
It was probably Dutch courage which would have been appropriate in an old Dutch fort but I even got adventurous and rattled off a couple of video clips which you can see them here and here. After the mental exertion of all those camera settings I thought I’d better have another beer and so I did, more than one in fact.
Apparently I took my leave a couple of hours later and even managed to negotiate my way back to the bus stand without mishap which is surprising in itself. I have been on many Asian buses, day and night but this was the first post-sundown bus of this trip and it was a bit of an assault on the senses.
First of all it was a complete heap even by local standards although it did get us there. There a battery of flashing lights at the front of the bus and what I presume was Sri Lankan pop music pounding away with everybody chatting loudly and laughing, it was great fun. I did not take a still image but you can have a look here if you want the full sensory effect.
Back in Galle I was tempted by the Sea Green again as it was so consistently good but I thought I should really try somewhere else for a change and so I opted for the Fort Dew Hotel in the old Fort area which had looked pleasant from outside. When I got in I suppose I should have been surprised that the place was empty except for the staff table but I was just getting used to that now.
I was also getting used to extensive menus and this was no different so it took a while to wade through it. In the end I went for devilled chicken, well ludicrous amounts of chilli always seem like a good idea with a few beers onboard. I wonder how many million vindaloos and phalls have been ordered because of beer! I always like to see an open kitchen as it proves they have nothing to hide and this one looked immaculate. There was even a bit of EPL football (soccer) on the TV to amuse me, Chelsea vs. Stoke if you are interested.
A gentle stroll up the hill to my digs rounded off what had really been a rather pleasant day, not to mention burning off some calories and on the way I started considering a day or two in Matara for a better look round, who knows?
Now, I don’t want you lovely readers to get too excited but the next post will be another Fergy special offer of two for one or even possibly three for one including another little trip so stay tuned and spread the word.