Good day and a very warm welcome again to another post in the series dedicated to my trip to Sri Lanka in January – April 2014 which has become quite extensive as you can see. Should you wish to read the entire piece from the beginning, you can do so here.
28th March, 2014.
The day started with a lovely breakfast as you can see, I do love scrambled eggs on toast and the elderly chef did a particularly good version which brings me tot a small anecdote before I tell you about the day’s exploration.
By this time I had become firm friends with not only the chef but also D.G. Nalin aka Loku Bada (Big Belly) which is what he called himself so I am not being rude. We all used to sit and chat together although chef did not have too much English. D.G. had excellent spoken English but he said his written English was not so good. I would dispute this as we e-mailed for some time after I left but he asked me if I would check the menu for spelling mistakes which I did for him.
I had free access to the kitchen and often used to hang out there watching chef cook and picking up tips. If there was nobody on the reception desk, which was a frequent occurrence, D.G. had told me just to help myself from the fridge and mark it on my chit which I thought was very trusting of him.
One time we were chatting about the menu and the restaurant and he told me that they mainly only did breakfasts and a rice and curry set if pre-ordered in the evenings, mostly for groups if there were any staying. He didn’t want the hassle of freezers or buying in a load of food on the off chance of passing trade, which was hugely unlikely in his location, and which he would have to throw away.
He knew I had an interest in cooking as he saw how much time I spent in the kitchen watching chef and he asked if I could suggest any Western dishes to add without having to expand his larder greatly. Well, that was like a red rag to a bull for me and I set to it with a will, it became a little project for me and I loved it. The images above show what I started with and this is not merely a representative selection, this was the menu in it’s entirety so no pressure then!
I do not know what the figure was in 2014 but I have just Googled the word recipe and it comes back with 2.4 billion results. Obviously this includes every cuisine known to man but with my own limited knowledge and the wealth of online ideas to work with I spent the rest of my spare time in Kandy tinkering about with “my” menu.
I came up with a good selection of options that would be possible with the addition of a few non-perishable items to his inventory and would be easily prepared. I would attach the best recipes for particular dishes to an e-mail and send them to him so he could pick which ones he liked and could translate for chef, who was obviously consulted regularly. After all, he was going to have to cook the dishes!
During this awful period of being confined indoors in 2020 / 2021 my Sri Lankan friend Treshi and I have been amusing ourselves planning a dinner party for her friends and family and have just about got our menu sorted, cocktails and all. For various reasons I doubt it will ever happen but it is a fun diversion for us.
I love passing time doing things like this and I have to say I was extremely flattered that D.G. would even ask me even when I told him I had never so much as flipped burgers professionally but at the end of the exercise he pronounced himself well pleased and said he would get menus printed up and the necessary supplies in. I have no idea if he ever did.
Back to the day’s outing now. Jo had said she would call for me about lunchtime and we would go out and have a run round town which sounded like a plan to me. After a quick discussion we decided upon the National Museum of Kandy and went there by tuk-tuk. It was not far as it sits just behind the Temple of the Tooth and I had passed the back wall of it whilst walking up to the Garrison Cemetery a few days previously.
As you can see from the images there are vastly different prices for locals and foreigners and I have no problem with this nor the camera charge, museums cost a lot of money to run. What I did find somewhat excessive was the rather hefty 1,500LKR video camera fee, especially when I tell you what there is to video, which was frankly not much.
I should preface my description of the Museum by reminding the reader that this information is old now. A quick look online indicates that there appears to have been a major upgrade since I visited and it looks infinitely better now than it did then. As this is a historical account I can only speak as I found it which was disappointing.
The place was fairly run-down and dark which made the perfectly understandable ban on flash photography a problem. Even without it I would never use flash in a Museum anyway as a matter of principle.
I have deliberately included a couple of images here that I would ordinarily never publish to indicate the problem for the amateur lensman with an £80 compact camera although in general terms I cannot complain. My little Canon Ixus performed pretty well overall and I still prefer the convenience of something literally the size of a cigarette packet over a bulky DSLR.
The descriptions of the exhibits are trilingual (Sinhalese, Tamil and English) as most things are in Sri Lanka and so I shall allow you to read for yourself what the rather odd looking item above is. Poor old elk!
There is a history of exquisite wood-carving and the above images show some examples. The statues are of a Kandyan nobleman and noblewoman of the 17th / 18th century and the beautifully worked balustrade is also 18th century.
As we left the main building I looked at the “doorstep” I had walked over on the way in and not even noticed as the explanatory notice is on the wall inside the door.
This is a moonstone which is actually only a cast but is typical of a type found around Anuradhapura, a UNESCO World Heritage site, current capital of North Central Province and former capital of the country whose origins go back to the 10th century B.C.
The moonstone is a particularly Sinhalese architectural feature and you probably cannot see it in this image but it features lilies and other foliage, a procession of bulls, elephants, horses and lions and, last but not least, a row of sacred geese carrying lotus flowers in their beaks. At least that is what the notice here says but the “geese” are actually swans.
The moonstone is not merely decorative and represents Saṃsāra in Buddhism which is the eternal cycle of birth, a life of suffering, death and rebirth. The cycle can only be broken by by achieving enlightenment. All the various flora and fauna represent aspects of life and death and I shall not bore you with the whole thing but the swans represent the distinction between good and evil.
The exhibit that interested me most in the Museum was a display dealing with the “Robin Hood of Ceylon”, born Deekirikevage Saradiel on 25th March 1832. As a youth he went to Colombo and gained employment as a barrack boy in the Rifle Barracks, HQ of the Ceylon Rifle Brigade who you may remember from a couple of posts ago. Here he learnt a lot about rifles naturally and so he took some with him when he was dismissed for theft.
He established a base on Utuwankande hill near Kegalle and soon gained the nickname Utuwankande Sura Saradiel or Saradiel, Hero of Mt. Utuwan. He and his followers, principally his lieutenant Mamale Marikkar, went on a spree of robberies and were known for stealing from the British and their supporters. This pleased the local people who were opposed to the British presence and they were further gratified when Saradiel gave some of his plunder to the poor, earning him the “Robin Hood” soubriquet.
Eventually his violent exploits led to the death of a local merchant and Saradiel was arrested but released for lack of evidence. He was arrested for robbery near Negombo during which apprehension he stabbed the police informant to death. Whilst awaiting trial and in echoes of Maru Sira, who we met on our trip to Bogombara Prison, he escaped from Mahara Prison, returned to his mountain hideout and began a series of highway robberies on the Kandy / Colombo Road.
Police tracked him to his mother’s home and in the ensuing shootout he escaped again. It seems his time working for the CRR had served him well.
On 21st March, 1864 police again surrounded him at house in Mawanella where another shootout ensued. Saradiel was wounded early in the encounter but the shooting continued and his accomplice Marikkar shot and killed Constable Shaban making him the first Sri Lankan police officer killed in the line of duty. To this day the 21st March is the day upon which fallen police officers are commemorated.
The pair were tried at Kandy Assizes, sentenced to death and hanged in public on 7th May, 1864 in the days before the gallows were moved to Bogambara Prison. Folk hero or murdering criminal? As always I shall leave it to the reader to decide.
Before we leave the Museum, which was opened to the public in 1942, I should just mention that it is housed in the Palle Vahala building which was formerly the King’s harem. I am sure it was much better decorated then!
We left the National Museum of Kandy and were wandering back towards town when we found another Museum that I had certainly never heard of and I do not think Jo had either, the Museum of World Buddhism which looked much more impressive externally that the Museum we had just left.
Internally it was equally impressive but I am afraid I am not able to show you as photography was forbidden for some reason. It is part of the Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic complex which is probably the most sacred Buddhist site in Sri Lanka and one of the most important in the world.
Although I am not a Buddhist, that religion / philosophy (the so-called experts cannot even agree on that) has played an important part in my travels. I do not mean in a spiritual sense although I always find a great sense of peace in a Buddhist temple, as I do in a church, mosque or whatever else but merely because I have travelled in so many predominantly Buddhist countries.
I have long since lost track of the number of temples I have been in, the number of prayer wheels I have rotated, the number of incense offerings I have made and so on and not least the number of Buddhists I have met. I like to think I have a fair working knowledge of Buddhism and it’s spread but, as always in a Museum, there was much to learn and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
It was getting to about “sundowner” time but on the way Jo had to pop into the large shopping centre on Dalada Veediya which is officially Kandy City Centre but known to everyone as KCC. Whilst we were there we stopped off for a fruit juice from Roots, one of a well established chain that started in Colombo in 1997 and consistently win awards so if you see one of their 27 outlets in either Greater Colombo or Kandy it is well worth a visit. Don’t ask me what this purple concoction is as I really cannot remember.
After that it was off to the Royal Bar and Hotel which, as I have previously mentioned, was fairly much our home base. I must say that I would have liked to have a drink in the rather grand Queen’s Hotel at some point but, due to it’s proximity to the Temple of the Tooth, they are not allowed to serve alcohol to non-residents. This is a feature of all bars within a certain radius of the Temple in that they close in the afternoon (between 14000 – 1700 if I remember correctly) for the sale of alcohol. There are ways round this!
We had the necessaries and you will be glad to know that after my cocktail and pizza aberration of a couple of days previously I was back onto chicken tikka and beer! Jo had something else (pictured) but what it was only her or the chef could tell you, I cannot remember but it looks tasty, as was all the food there. The freshly made breads are particularly worthy of mention.
I have included this image separately, not because I want to inflict my ugly visage upon you but I want you to see how I had commissioned a T-shirt with my image on it, I think it is a good likeness! OK, I am joking but there is a bonus point for anyone who can tell me what it is, most of the writing is obscured by my hands.
After that, it was a tuk-tuk up the hill and another nightcap and chat with “Big Belly”, undoubtedly tweaking my fledgling menu. Sri Lanka in general, and Kandy in particular because of the religious significance, really are not nightlife destinations and I was getting quite used to early bedtimes.
In the next post I try a very odd dessert, watch some amazing dancing and go for a stroll around the garden so stay tuned and spread the word.