Hello again and welcome to another post in my Sri Lanka 2014 series, I do hope you are enjoying them. A quick word to any new readers who may have just dropped in here other than by way of previous posts. If you want to read the whole journey from the start, you can do so here.
18th February, 2014.
I was up and about fairly early Tuesday morning, well early by my standards, and after getting ready I went downstairs for my morning coffee which I decided to take on the lovely verandah. It was duly served and just look at it, proper 5★ hotel stuff. The Savinrose certainly punches above it’s weight in the ★ ratings online but I rarely trust them anyway. It was really quite delightful and then the binmen turned up.
I have included the image here to make a couple of points. I have no problem at all with the collection of rubbish / refuse but in the UK there are certainly females involved in this work, they are few and far between but it seems to be the norm in Sri Lanka. It is the same as when I see women doing hard physical graft maintaining the roads in Asia, which seems common but so odd to my Western eye.
The second point is that I believe all refuse collection here is on a commercial basis whereas where I live it is the business of the local authority. I must say that I have never seen a tractor and trailer used for this purpose but I suppose it makes absolute sense.
With the rubbish carted away and the coffeepot drained it was time to head out and see what delights Tissa had to offer this day and they were to prove to be many and varied.
I did not have far to walk until the magic began and I came to a small, unremarkable but attractive Buddhist stupa, such a common sight in Sri Lanka.
I knew it was a bit of a hike into town but that was no problem as I knew my walk would take me past a rather more impressive temple on the way which I had seen on my tuk-tuk rides before.
I eventually came to the Yatala Wehera (Vehera) also known as the Yatala Dagoba, which sounds a bit confusing but both terms are generic for temples or shrines. It is the Yatala word that defines this wonderful structure. Dating to the third century BC it predates any of the fine Christian or Moslem architecture and yet it is this great antiquity that leads to debate as to it’s provenance.
Some scholars hold that it was built by king Yatala Thissa of Ruhuna as he was born here whilst others contest that it was built by king Mahanaga to give thanks for the birth of his son, the afore-mentioned Yatala Thissa.
Either way, you don’t have to be a student of toponymy (another great word and one I have used before) to work out where the town gets it’s name from. Just to further confuse the issue it has been known historically as Mani Chethiya and Yattalaya. It seems that everything has multiple names in Sri Lanka.
There is something of a historical mystery attached to the stupa as there have been several relic caskets found inside the stupa but no actual relics so it is unclear what is actually venerated. It is believed that the King of Ruhuna offered the stupa to Arhant Arittha Thero about 200 BC. An arhant is one who has achieved enlightenment / nirvana but not yet full Buddhahood. At this time Ruhana was one of the three kingdoms of Sri Lanka and comprises mostly present day Southern and Uva Provinces with small portions of Eastern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces.
The Yatala must be held in deep reverence as restoration of it was commenced in 1883 and continued for over century and I suspect it still continues as my abiding and my undoubtedly somewhat facile impression was that it could do with a coat of whitewash but it is not the stupa itself that intrigued me but what surrounds it.
The main structure is enclosed by a moat, which I have also heard described as a lily pond for reasons which are obvious when you look at the images. Regrettably the lilies were not in bloom when I was there but I have seen images online and it looks beautiful. The walls of the moat are extensively decorated with a series of elephant heads which are in a very good state of repair.
As if all that were not enough, there are a large number of standing stones and I wondered then, as I do now, about the concept of such religious symbols.
Just a couple of days ago, whilst taking a little break from my blogging activities I watched a documentary about prehistoric culture and religious practice in Europe of which standing stones form a huge part. Think Stonehenge, Avebury, the Callanish Stones, Carnac etc. etc. The Outer Hebrides and Tissa are separated by 5775 miles (yes, I looked it up) and the respective stones by belief systems and almost three millennia and yet the idea is broadly the same, it intrigues me.
Is there something in the human psyche that equates the often apparently superhuman effort required to raise large lumps of rock into unnaturally vertical positions? Does some primal programming persuade us that the gods, whoever they may be, are propitiated by the sheer physical effort involved? I am not nearly smart enough to venture an opinion but there seems to be a commonality here and I have not even mentioned Easter Island!
I spent quite a bit of time here, snapping away and completely alone with only the road noise of the nearby road for company and it was very pleasant.
Walking on I came to a fork in the road so which way to go? I chose left because it looked to have less traffic on it and it was a decent choice as it took me along the Southern edge of Tissa Lake (or should that be Tissa Wewa?) which is a lot bigger than the Debara Wewa I had visited the previous day. Although it takes it’s name from the town, it is not actually the biggest lake as both Yoda and Wiriwala are larger but who knows how lake naming goes?
I evenmanaged a bit of ornithology and I have included the member of the Corvid family for my friend Lynne who is into such creatures but if anyone can help me with the identity of the lighter coloured bird is I would be obliged.
Keep walking Fergy, it will soon be beer o’clock. As I approached the rather grand archway you can see I was sure that it must be religious as so much in Sri Lanka is and due to it’s ornate decoration but not a bit of it. As you can see from the second image, it commemorates the opening of a new road between Tissa and Kateragama in 1987, the very same road I had travelled the previous day. I thought it was pretty splendid.
By now it was most definitely beer o’clock and as I have mentioned before and in sharp contrast to Kateragama you never have to look too hard for a pit-stop in Tissa. The first such oasis came in the form of the Lake Side Tourist Inn Hotel (quite a mouthful but it covers all the bases) which looked very pleasant and so it proved to be as the images hopefully show.
I went in and quickly procured my first breakfast beer. Yes, I know it was about 1300 hours by now but my first couple always count as breakfast. I remember years ago in Los Baños in Ecuador where I was a very regular patron of the Hard Rock Café, although I am sure the official franchise know nothing of it. The young barmaid was an absolute darling (her husband and infant child were charming as well) and I used to have a standing joke with her.
The Hard Rock opened at midday precisely and I would often be sitting outside waiting for that happy event. I speak minimal Spanish but I had worked out that “una botela de desayuno, por favor” roughly equated to “a bottle of breakfast” and that was what I ordered. She never failed to laugh at it, although it was probably out of kindness and joined in the gag. If she saw me empty she would ask, “una mas botela de desayuno, Señor Fergy?” even if it was midnight which caused some confusion amongst the locals if they weren’t in on the joke. I digress, as always.
You will notice from the image above that I quickly set up my office as I planned to avoid the rest of the afternoon sun productively engaged in catching up on my writing. You may well wonder what my thinking was in lugging my netbook and lead around when I was out sightseeing so I’ll tell you.
I was planning an evening working, drinking and eating, probably in the excellent Tissa Hotel which I mentioned previously. I would have been quite happy to do so in my hotel but regrettably they did not serve alcohol so I had to be elsewhere.
The afternoon did indeed wear on but I thought I’d walk back into town before the light went and so I set off again. When I saw the structure in the image above I initially though it was a bus shelter but it appeared to be facing the wrong way. What was going on? It was only when I got up close that I worked it out.
I had seen people bathing in the stream here earlier and Asians seem to have a knack of public bathing whilst retaining their modesty completely, it is an art. I had never seen anything like this before though, a changing room for you before you have a quick sluice down. What do you change out of and into?
As you can see from the second image it is not only humans who get the treatment as the stream also doubles as the local car wash. The chap here is washing down one of the many off-road vehicles you will see in Tissa. It is the base for exploring the nearby Yala National Park which is one of the biggest tourist draws in the country due to it’s great diversity of flora and fauna including elephants (obviously), leopards and crocodiles.
This image is of no particular significance but I have included it here because I love it. The very docile beast didn’t even seem to0 mind getting the occasional peck on the head which probably removed a parasite for two for it.
It had been a wonderful day sightseeing so far but Tissa was saving the best until nearly last for me. I have to stress that I was not using my guidebook, I was just wandering where the notion took me and with the intention of trying to find the Tissa Hotel, when I came upon the Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara. To be honest, it is difficult not to find it as it is very impressive with it’s 186 feet height and 550 feet circumference which makes it one of the largest in the country.
This is a temple of huge significance as the site was consecrated by the Buddha himself on his third visit to the island when he meditated here with no less than 500 arhats (see above). During the third century BC the Emperor Asoka of India sent a number of Buddhist missionaries to Sri Lanka, amongst them his son Arhant Mahinda Thera.
As always with matters religious and historic there is some debate about the relic(s) supposedly enshrined here now or in the past. It is claimed that the Buddha’s tooth which now reposes in the magnificent Temple of the Tooth in Kandy was held here for a while and it is further claimed that the frontl bone (skull presumably) of the Buddha is here although other sources claim it was here once but was removed to another temple in Trincomalee.
Sadly the temple fell into disuse during the Dutch colonial period but restoration eventually began in 1858. I n 1882 the British Governor of Ceylon visited the temple and appointed Walpita Medhankara Thero as the chief religious authority which is a situation I find incredible as it shows the absolute power of the colonial authority. The concept of a British, presumably Christian, administrator deciding on a matter of such Buddhist religious magnitude is so alien to 21st century thinking.
The restoration was eventully finished in 1900 when the “consecration” (I do not know the Buddhist equivalent term) was caried out. As is common Buddhist practice, the very pinnacle of the stupa contains a precious stone and in this case the gem came from Bohemia in the modern Czech Republic of all places.
Whilst the main stupa is certainly eye-catching, it was the ancillary structures that again attracted me most. There was a Bo tree, any amount of Buddha images (both statues and painted), prayer flags, the whole gamut of Buddhist devotion which you would expect in such an important site. Even the gate post is impressive as you can see.
As I left the temple I thought that must be the sightseeing over for the day but I thought wrong (appalling as that grammar is but using the vernacular) as I shortly thereafter found what looked to me rather like some sort of huge insect dwelling and I am not being at all disrespectful here.
The images show what I mean. I do not know if this is a stupa under construction and the associated Buddha images all look very new, or whether it is meant to look like this. All attempts online to find out anything about it have failed miserably and so I would issue a plea to any of my readers who may be able to assist. I do hate loose ends.
That was the temples and nature finished for the day but there was still something magical to come and I don’t mean dinner although that was brilliant as you will see.
I was taking an image of something or another when the little lad you can see in the images came running up to me, all smiles and pointed at my camera. No problem, I showed him it and let him hold it. Then he indicated that I should take images of him whereby he proceeded to execute a series of cartwheels all of which I duly recorded. After each on one he would run over to see the results and either his efforts, or more possibly mine, did not please him but he insisted on repeating the process over and over again. I didn’t mind as I knew I could delete whatever I didn’t want later (I didn’t).
Eventually he pronounced himself satisfied, or maybe he had just got tired, but by then we were not alone. Obviously the Tissa pre-pubescent comms. network had somehow operated and his sister / cousin / little chum had appeared complete with the most wonderful hairstyle as you can see. I have to say that these youngsters were not at all shy and within a couple of minutes I had a brace of budding papparazzi on my hands.
If the two of them were natural born posers, that was nothing to their latent photographic leanings. They were not at all shy and made it known, obviously without a word of a shared language, that they wanted to use the camera. OK, and I can just hear sharp intakes of breath from most readers now. You did what? Gave some youngsters your camera? Yes, I did.
I had worked out they would not be able to outrun me, unfit as I was, if they had larcenous intent which I strongly doubted. They could have broken the camera but the chances were that they were less likely to do so than I was!
Worst case scenario was that if something went horribly wrong I could get a new compact, I think this one had only cost me about £80 in a sale, it would be worth it. I wasn’t worried about losing my images as I regularly uploaded and I could re-walk my route the next day to re-take the day’s images if necessary. OK, it would be a pain but easily done.
I gave them a 30 second crash course on the zoom and shutter which is all I ever use, I leave the thing on fully auto and let it do the thinking. You can easily tell which ones the kids took as I am in them! I have deliberately not cropped or straightened their efforts so that you can see what a good fist they made of it as I have had to tidy up most of my efforts.
As travel memories go it is one of my favourites. Nothing grand, totally spontaneous and the evident pleasure they were getting from this new game with the funny looking white man was enough to soften even a heart as hard as mine. My travel gods, of whom I often speak, were definitely perched on my shoulder that day.
It was a very happy Fergy with a considerable spring in his step that strode out in search of beer and food. I found the Tissa Hotel with no problem as Tissa is not a big place, ordered my beer and decided on the rice and curry for my evening meal. All that walking had given me quite a hunger. I’ll let the images speak for the meal which was delicious if typically huge. Remarkably, I even had a bit of company and European company at that which was something of a rarity.
A few more beers and a bit of “tippy-tapping” on my netbook and it was time for a tuk-tuk home and another early bed and great sleep.
In the next post I go for a much shorter walk round Tissa and I shall probably slip in another day as well so stay tuned and spread the word