Having done it so often, I find myself running out of new ways to welcome you to the latest post in this series regarding my 2014 Sri Lankan trip and it is becoming equally difficult to find an original method of advising new readers that it may be useful to start the series from the beginning which they can do here. Please consider both things done and believe me, my greeting is sincere and my suggestion well-intentioned.
Let’s get on and see what we can find next.
9th February 2014.
The 8th had been an interesting if somewhat sobering day’s sightseeing but after the apparent “black hole” of the previous two days when I had done nothing, it was a bit of a relief.
I had my exploring head on again although that did not stop me spending most of the day lazing about the hotel where I took this lovely photo of my mate Weeresera, or Weera as he is known to his friends and I am glad to count myself one of those. He is the occasional sous chef seen here doubling as laundryman. He also served as maintenance guy, barman par excellence and gardener, a bit of everything really. No matter what he was doing, he always had a smile on his face, he was irrepressibly happy and I was very fond of him.
I cannot remember if my one piece of planning for the day had been suggested by Nihal the manager or if I had read it somewhere but I wanted to visit the Weherahena Poorwarama Rajamaha Viharaya which is quite a mouthful but is the name of a temple. Weherahena refers to the area (it is not really even a village) which lies about three or four miles Northeast of the Fort. Viharya simply means temple, I have no idea what the middle two words translate as. Thankfully I always heard it referred to in English as “Big Buddha Temple”.
In other circumstances I would have considered walking up there especially as I could have followed the Nilwala Ganga (river) for a part of the way but I was conscious time was against me and so I took the bus which was easily done. Here is what I wrote about the viharaya at the time.
Visit the big Buddha.
“I should start this tip by saying that I am no expert on comparative religion, indeed I am no expert on anything but I have noticed a trend in Asia which seems to revolve about building the biggest Buddha image possible and this piece refers to one of these attempts.
It is in the village of Weherahena, not far from Matara which houses an absolutely massive Buddha image which is impressive although obviously modern and it is this that provides the slight problem for me.
Certainly, I am glad I saw it, certainly I know that Buddhists feel compelled to construct the largest Buddha images possible (I have seen huge images in other Asian countries) and I would never decry that in the slightest way. I lived in Northern Ireland in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and I know exactly where the road of religious intolerance leads.
Perhaps it has just not been properly explained to me but I have an idea that if a particular place has some money then they construct the biggest Buddha image they can afford regardless of whether the location ha s any religious significance or not. I have tried my very best to find a religious history for this place and failed miserably. I know that legend records that the Lord Buddha visited Sri Lanka up to three times depending on what text you read but can find nothing of any holy visit for Weherahena.
Whatever the historical and / or religious significance of the place may be, the statue itself is mightily impressive. Apparently it is 39 metres which is about 120 feet in proper parlance, it literally boggles the imagination as you approach it. In much the same way as the Taj Mahal in India, it becomes more impressive as you approach and you find your eyes drawn ever upwards, it is immense.
To put it in perspective, if you walk to the top to be level with the Buddha’s head (which you can do at no cost) you are the equivalent of a five story building up. Apart from the sheer immensity of the statue itself, the views around the surrounding countryside are worth the climb even on an overcast day like this was.
There is no charge for entering the temple complex although, as always, donations are very welcome for the upkeep of the temple. The mobility impaired traveller would be able to enter the complex and view the image but there are no facilities to go to the top of the statue.
To get there you can take a tuk-tuk which will not cost a huge amount. I did this on the way back but got a public bus on the way out which was infinitely more fun. Go to the main bus stand in Matara and ask for the bus to Weherahena, you will be pointed in the right direction and it is literally a matter of pennies to get
That is what I wrote at the time but I have learned a few further bits and pieces since, not least that the temple now has a very professional website which was not available to me then. I was correct in my surmise that it is not a very old structure as it was built in the 20th century, largely with Chinese and Japanese money. This apparently accounts for the stylistic influences from the type of Buddhism practiced in those countries although such subtleties are not obvious to me. It is also the largest Buddha image of the modern era and the first “tunnel temple” in the world.
I had a quick look round Weherahena, such as it is, but there really was nothing else to see so I headed back into Matara in search of a beer and a bite to eat, absolutely in that order! I decided on another guidebook pick, just for something new, and that was the Pearl Cliff Hotel.
Great food, inexplicably quiet.
“I had read good things about the Pearl Cliff in my guidebook and had decided that I was going to treat myself to a meal there one evening when I was in Matara. When I say treat myself, all these things are relative, I had a wonderful meal with a couple of beers and it still came to a lot less than £10 ($15US).
I had been to see the big Buddha image that day and didn’t really feel like walking, especially in the dark, although I am told the views as you walk up here from the Beach Road (perhaps one to one and a half miles) are hugely rewarding during the day.
I was deposited at the front door by my trusty tuk-tuk driver and looked about to see, well absolutely nothing. The place was as deserted as a hermit’s address book. It was obviously a top-notch place, beautifully lit, spotlessly set out, the whole bit. I wandered into what I take to be the lobby a bit lost and was greeted by a man I subsequently found out to be the owner and a delightful chap he was, too.
I informed him that I would like to dine and he asked me whether I would like to do so al fresco as the evening was warm (frankly, it had been stinking hot all day!) and I was duly escorted to a table outside under the cover of a huge gazebo sort of affair.
I seated myself, ordered the obligatory beer and perused the menu which carries the usual Sri Lankan standards as well as a more Western orientated selection (pasta, omelettes etc.). Even for a place of this obvious quality, the most expensive dish was about 800LKR (£4 or $6US) so not over-priced at all.
The hotel building itself is very pleasant and designed in the colonial style. It was originally a bungalow constructed for the then British Governor and has been in service as a hotel since 1996. It is well worth having a little look inside at the public areas as much of the original charm remains, indeed even if you were not dining it would make a lovely place for a drink.
Of the menu items offered, the one that caught my eye was the kankun. I had read about kankun and wanted to try it but had not previously had the opportunity. It is an aquatic plant and the taste is quite difficult to describe, I suppose the nearest Western thing I could liken it to is spinach. It is very pleasant and I have seen it offered in various ways including being tempura battered which was interesting.
In this establishment I opted for the kankun served with chilli which was hot enough but not excessively so. I also ordered a devilled dish which, similarly, was nicely spiced but not to nuclear levels.
As I was finishing my meal, a small family group of five or six local people came in for a drink and they were the only other people I saw in the couple of hours I was there which surprised me as it really was rather a good restaurant and I recommend it”.
I did walk home afterwards for my by now customary nightcap and bed. Well, it was all downhill on the way back.
In the next post I shall visit a location of geographical significance plus the big lighthouse I said I might speak of here but this post is now long enough. I shall also explain a matter I mentioned a few posts ago and tell you why I was a little sad. If you fancy some of that then stay tuned and spread the word.