Hello once again and thank you for your continuing interest in this series of posts which deal with my first trip to Sri Lanka in 2014. I say continuing interest although I know there may be some of you who have landed upon this page by way of some sort of internet search on a particular term and so I shall offer my usual advice that if you want to read the entire piece from the beginning then you should begin here. It is a long read but I hope it is an interesting one for you.
If you have been following or have just read through then you will know that I was in Kandy and enjoying it hugely. It is at this point that matters become somewhat synchronous as they so often seem to do with my travels.
In writing terms, I have now entered March 2021 which marks one year exactly of pandemic house arrest, be it self-imposed, medically required or more usually Governmentally dictated. Sadly, I now live in a police state where ill-debated measures have given the constabulary virtually unlimited powers that Stalin, Pol Pot or Hitler would have admired. If you want to see what happens on my trip in much happier times then please read on.
In terms of my Sri Lankan trip I have now entered the month of April, the fourth calendar month of my wonderful trip and was now just about a week away from having to fly back to a cold and wet UK from the tropical paradise I felt like I was floating around on the “teardrop” of this paradise island. If you do not understand the term teardrop, just look at a map!
I find it interesting that the very word paradise comes from an old Iranian word meaning an enclosed garden. I suppose you could say that Sri Lanka is a garden due to it’s hugely verdant nature and that it is enclosed by the sea rather than walls or hedges and this is one of the many things I have learned whilst under house arrest, o many of our English word are of Arabic origin.
During my confinement I have been watching online documentaries for hours on end and, whilst I still despise those responsible for knowingly (that is the operative word and proven beyond doubt now) unleashing this havoc upon the world, at least I have learned a bit. I still think it is far too high a price to pay for a little knowledge that I could have obtained anyway.
The 1st April, 2014 seems to have been another of those “nothing days” where I did not take a single image but I assure the reader that again I do not consider it wasted time. A day just hanging about with newly found Sri Lankan friends and having a beer or two can never be a waste of time in my book.
With the benefit of time and not having to rush from one place to another I could afford to spend a day just chilling out. I remember the days when I had to charge around like a headless chicken because I only had a limited amount of holiday time and I always wished I could have stayed longer. Now I could.
I am sure that some of my readers will have noticed the date, All Fool’s Day, but I assure you that there is no significance to this!
2nd April, 2014.
I promised you a walk round the garden (more than once) and this is what you shall have now. Jo had taken it upon herself to show me everything worth seeing within a viable radius of Kandy and I was not going to argue. She had all the paperwork, knew the place inside out and I was so glad of her company and assistance during my trip. I would never have experienced half the things I did if not for her and her friends and I thank them all.
Today Jo told me we were going to the Botanical Gardens and I trusted her judgement. OK, for me Botanical Gardens represented a place in Belfast just across the road from my school where we used to sneak off for a smoke at lunchtime.
I think my botanical experience consisted of one crop of half-decent betroot grown c.1972 and a few trays of watercress cultivated on blotting paper on a window ledge, Capability Brown I am not but it looked like I was destined for a day in the garden. Whilst it would have never been something I would have chosen for myself, it was yet another day out with Jo that I greatly enjoyed.
We jumped a tuk-tuk (yet another one of Jo’s numerous mates) and headed off to Peredinaya, a mere five miles or so from the centre of Kandy and, although it was once a satellite of that ancient city, it is now very important in it’s own right. It is home to one of the premier Universities in the country and you may remember that I previously told you about the female architect taking time out from designing that seat of learning here to make the memorial clock in Kandy close by the Central Market.
As I was much too stupid to go to University, I shall not talk about the academic centre here but I will tell you about the Botanical Gardens which, if you have read my previous pieces on Sri Lanka, you can probably guess has a massive history.
On the way we stopped for a cup of tea and this yielded a wonderful image which you can see here and which, in a Western country, would have you running for cover. It is what it is, to use a ridiculous term, so just get on with it and enjoy. You might get blown up if it rains, which it often does, but then again you might not.
Another image is of the kitchen, which I sneaked an image of and which was, in typically Sri Lankan style, extremely basic, utterly spotless and I just knew they could produce wonderful food there.
Some of the electrical contrivances I saw in Sri Lanka were potentially lethal but, on the principle that people do not generally want to kill themselves it works fine, just do not touch anything unless you have to! I know I have done similar things onstage so I can hardly pass judgement, gaffer tape and faith solves a lot of technical problems.
The history of the gardens here dates back to 1371 and the reign of King Wickramabahu III and let us put this in context. The Americas had been “discovered” and abandoned by the Vikings and Columbus was years away in 1492.
The UK was under Norman (for which read Viking) occupation and most of Western Europe was a series of tiny, impotent principalities with Italy some 450 years away from being a nation state. Most of the Iberian peninsula and even parts of modern France were under Moslem Moorish control.
For us in “the West” things were pretty crude and yet the Sri Lankans were setting out to build beautiful gardens. The arrogance of my country, which I am still extremely proud of despite everything including burying my friends for, still staggers me.
A further ignominy for my nation is that we destroyed the temple built here after our subjugation of the local people in the Kandyan wars which I have mentioned before. The Sri Lankans were laying the foundations for the beauty you will see here and we called them “savages”, it is beyond belief.
Whilst the origins of the gardens were laid all that time ago, it did not really take off until 1821 when a colonial type called Alexander Moon used it to plant cinnamon and coffee. This was before the coffee rust blight I have also mentioned previously and which led to tea as an alternative crop and ultimately Sri Lanka’s bigget export.
1843 brought cuttings from Kew Gardens in London, Slave Island in Colombo and the Kalatura Gardens under the auspices of a man with the very appropriate name of Gardner and then his successor called Thwaites.
Regular readers of my posts will know that I usually place images of what I saw directly above the paragraph(s) to which they refer but in this case I have had to change tack a little. The simple truth is that I took so many images that I need to split them up and so you have a few above. I really never thought I would enjoy the Gardens so much nor take so many images.
At this point I had been in Sri Lanka for nearly three months and in a strange and probably contradictory fashion I was seeing the most amazing new things on a daily basis. They had become what I expected of this most amazing country. I thought I had attuned myself to the country and still every other day seemed to bring a new delight and such it was with the Gardens.
I have included the images above which are not chronological but which make a very valid point about Sri Lanka and the problems it faces, mostly to do with the aims of the ruling dynastic family I have mentioned before.
I trust my readers to be observant enough to spot a recurring name on these grand stones and, if any further proof was needed as to who now “owns” Sri Lanka I would suggest a look here. If you want to know about it on a scale larger than Sri Lanka look at the entire piece in the link. If you want to know specifically about Chinese imperialism in Sri Lanka and the role of the Rajapaksa tribe, look at about 25 minutes onwards.
If you want a broader view of the Chinese desire for world domination, which proceeds apace, I do recommend you watch this entire two part documentary. You will see, amongst many other horrors, the Han Chinese driving native Cambodians out of Sihanoukville, a town I also love, have visited more than once and where I saw the first ripples of this Han tsunami some years ago. I remember the pig’s ears and intestine soup fondly, not knowing what it foretold.
The link I have provided above is a documentary, not British so there is now colonial hangover there, it is German from the respected DW channel which I was actually able to access in several places in Sri Lanka.
I have mentioned the pernicious Chinese influence in Sri Lanka, as indeed in over one third of the world (65 countries and counting), and I would encourage the reader to look at about 25:30 of the link I have provided. If you want to learn about this global domination bid then just look up “Belt and Road Initiative” or “BRI” on your browser of choice.
I would actually recommend a look at the whole two part documentary as it encompasses the Chinese subjugation of Burma / Myanmar, again a process I have witnessed, also parts of the Indian subcontinent, Middle East, parts of Africa and just about everywhere else in the so-called “undeveloped world”.
Geopolitics is by it’s very nature depressing but we ignore it at our peril. I would confidently predict, as do many other much more intelligent people than me, that China will control the planet we inhabit within a century from now and without firing a shot. Thankfully I shall be long dead when it happens. Certain British primary (elementary) schools are now teaching Chinese which will undoubtedly be essential for world trade a decade or two hence but I cannot help but think, “How have the mighty fallen”.
I should probably tell the reader that I do not know a dahlia from a dandelion from a daffodil, my botanical knowledge stops at “that’s a rose and that isn’t” and so there will be little in the way of technical detail here, you are certainly not going to get the Latin name of every flower, bush, shrub and tree that I saw although I shall include some when I remembered to take an image of the sign.
Having put my complete lack of facility in the field of horticulture on offer here I should tell the reader that I spent all of that afternoon with my lower jaw firmly planted on my chest, the place was almost obscenely beautiful. I am a fairly hard-bitten old sod and don’t do “beauty” easily but this place was sublime.
Unusual as it is for both Jo and I, who are both fairly verbose and I am not being disrespectful to the lady here, we hardly spoke a word as we walked around. I suppose you could say (pun intended) that we were both fairly speechless. There had been a group of local school children at the entrance but they dissipated almost immediately as youngsters do when under the alleged control of teachers outdoors!
After a walk down a beautifully manicured road (why do they need a road here?) we came upon the first remarkable sight, a bamboo grove. OK, no big deal, a bamboo grove, there are bamboos allover Asia. These are Dendrocalameus Giganteus and the Giganteus should give you a clue. Originating from Burma / Myanmar where I had seen these wonderful plants before, they can grow to 130 feet as you can see in the image of the notice.
The monsters are very aptly named as they are are indeed gigantic and I had trouble fitting them into the shots. This is the largest bamboo in the world and at it’s peak growing period it gains a scarcely believable one foot per day. You could probably sit and watch it grow over the course of an afternoon which, if you compare it to something like the Great Basin Bristlecone Pine which can take an astonishing 5,000 years to fully grow, makes it a fairly rapid developer.
We walked through long, very colonial styled gardens as befits the founders of this garden and wherever you looked there was something to feast the eye on.
Naturally no day out in Sri Lanka would be complete without some monkeys running about and there were plenty to be seen here. Our closest relatives are not stupid, probably unlike ourselves, and they had obviously worked out that there were rich pickings to be had here from the visitors where they didn’t even have to work to get food.
I know monkeys are seen as a nuisance by many Sri Lankans and they are when they start trashing rubbish bins etc. but they are undeniably cute and I could not resist this image.
I do not know what these are but I thought they were attractive and took some images. I do not even know if they are part of the host tree or merely some sort of parasites and, as always, any help from my dear readers would be much appreciated. I did initially think they were wood-apples from which Sri Lankans make a lovely drink and an equally tasty jam but they are the wrong colour. I suppose I shall just have to add botany to the very long list of things I need to learn about.
We had wandered a fair way by this point and so stopped at the old house which now serves as a restaurant for a bit of a rest and a soft drink. No alcohol is served here regrettably but the view over the grounds from the upper level verandah more than made up for that lack.
Obviously in a country where cooking and the spicing and herbing (is that a real word?) of food is such an art form, there were a couple of herb gardens and even without resorting to mortar and pestle there were still some delightful aromas.
If you look at the image above you may well conclude that I was drunk or just being typically incompetent with the camera and either assumption would be totally reasonable but look closely. You will notice that the building in the background is perfectly level and for some reason that I still cannot fathom, all these trees were bent at an almost unbelievable angle.
I had initially though that it must be the effect of wind but these were the only trees in the entire garden like this. Just another one of Nature’s many little mysteries I suppose.
I did rather like the look of this tree which, if you are interested is the Fragraea Fragrans or Tembusu native to Malaysia. I thought it must be a nightmare to keep so perfect but apparently it only needs trimmng once a year. Having said that, I would not like to be the poor sod in the cherry picker doing the top of it.
We spent a good amount of time wandering about and thoroughly enjoying ourselves and, by unspoken agreement, were heading back to the entrance and our tuk-tuk home when we saw the Orchid House.
I know, I do not get into flowers as such, they are just things that grow, look pretty and then die, but this place blew me to pieces and I went on a complete camera frenzy. I knew that orchids were much beloved of poets and artists but I was totally unprepared for the beauty I witnessed there and which I think requires a slideshow as you can see here.
I could possibly name one or two sites in my luckily quite extensive travels but few would rival this. As I said, I am not into flowers but this place was literally “something else”. I went on a totally lunatic shutterfest and was so happy later that I did so considering my previous lack of images.
I have had a fairly charmed life which I certainly do not deserve. I have been lucky enough to swim with a baby dolphin in the wild on the Great Barrier Reef, I have dived in the Gulf of Thailand, walked the Annapurna Trail and watched the sun rise over Everest and set over countless Western horizons.
I have seen more things of great beauty than I can even recall now but if pressed to compile a list, the orchids in Peredinaya would certainly be in my “top ten” and I don’t even like flowers! Just have a look at the images and judge for yourselves.
I think that if pressed even further my favourite plat of the lot was the wonderfully and absolutely accurately named Heliconia Rostrata or Lobster Claw which you can see above.
Messrs. Ruiz and Pavon who classified the flower obviously knew a thing or two about matters crustacean and, by way of a totally useless piece of trivia, it is the national flower of Bolivia. I just thought you might like to know that and to add another couple of pieces of lobster-related trivia, did you know that they urinate through urine-release nozzles right under their eyes and they have blue blood? That is something for you to drop into your next dinner party conversation although probably not advisable if you are having lobster thermidor as a main!
As with most visitor attractions they have very carefully sited the gift shop where you have to pass it and we did have a quick look but didn’t buy anything. Our trusty tuk-tuk driver was waiting patiently for us in the carpark which, as you can see in the image above, was packed to the gunwales.
Easter was approaching although I do not know the dates of the school holidays but there certainly seemed to be a lot of children, immaculately turned out as always, in the Gardens. Perhaps it was an end of term treat or whatever and the sound of children’s laughter only added to what was a fairly lovely afternoon.
Even now, writing about it all these years later, I find myself smiling at the memory of that day and surely that is why we travel, to make memories. Too philosophical by half, Fergy, back to the narrative.
We went back into Kandy and a few well-earned drinks in the Royal Hotel and Bar, our generally agreed base which was as good a place as any in town certainly.
It is undoubtedly wrong to think in such terms but I found it impossible not to think like a Victorian or Edwardian colonial whilst sitting in the beautiful enclosed garden out the back as the day faded into night. I would never adopt the mindset of a colonial looking down on the “natives” but it is very difficult not to let your mind wander at such times and imagine, just imagine…………….
It had been a wonderful afternoon and many thanks to Jo for dragging me out to the Gardens. It is something I would never have thought of doing myself but the day wasn’t over yet and there was another great experience in store.
Jo had an engagment that evening and so I knew I was dining alone. D.G. had asked me that morning, as he always did,if I would be dining in and I had said I would as I really wanted to see chef at work again. As I mentioned previously, I was spending a lot of time in that kitchen and loving it.
Then he asked me what I would like for my evening meal, sod the menu which I was still studiously re-designing. The rice and curry set was obviously appealing but I was being given carte blanche to order anything I wanted. Imagine that, deciding on your own meal hours before the event and having it bought in specially.
Kandy is slap bang in the middle of the country and nowhere near the coast (although nowhere is too far from the sea on this small island) but there is freshwater fish available as well as the sea variety which can be trucked up on ice in a few hours. Do not ask me what particular variety the fairly unappetising looking fillets pictured above were but chef had been dispatched to get the best and freshest from market that day and he certainly did not let me down.
Digression time. I remember once in Luang Prabang going on a day’s cookery school where we spent the morning in the market and then cooking and eating (and eating and eating!) for most of the afternoon. I think I put on about 10 lbs. that day and it cost me about $50USD which sounds a lot in that country but I did not mind a bit. The school, which was run by a Western woman, was the main means of support of an orphanage so it was as much a charitable donation as it was a fee and it was worth every penny.
Here I was, in Kandy, being given a free lesson in Sri Lankan cuisine from a guy that obviously knew his onions if that is not an appalling pun. In another image you can see chef’s spice tray but that was only a fraction of what he used, he was producing all sorts from various recesses in the fairly small kitchen.
Be honest now folks and tell me you don’t want to tuck into that and I will cheerfully call you a liar. Due to the lack of a common language communication wasn’t exactly easy but I was applying my old favourite, the “sniff test” to try to guess what the various herbs and spices were. Here is yet another piece of Fergy philosophy for you.
“Best by”, “sell by”, “best before” dates, and why there are all these designations is beyond me, are merely there to encourage food waste which I hate, and increase profits for the shareholders of retail multi-nationals. Apply your nose, which is what it was designed for, and if food smells even slightly odd, bin it. If not, eat it. Simple as that.
Not so long ago I made a perfectly edible curry out of ingredients that were all “out of date”, by years in some cases. I did not set out to do this, it was only later I discovered what I had done. Obviously fresh is infinitely preferable but defeating the nightmare of globalisation wasn’t a bad option.
Back to chef now. He cooked and seasoned and tasted (essential when cooking, always have your tasting spoon to hand and never double dip!) and eventually came up with the thing of beauty you see in the right hand image. In truth it took no time at all, it was not a boeuf Bourgignon or a slow braised lamb shank but I can tell you that the speed of preparation did nothing to detract from the flavour, it was utterly beautiful.
I have to say that I would have been more than happy with rice but Chef was still pandering to my Western palate and served it with chips (fries). I should also mention here that I have now completed two residential three-month cookery courses courtesy of my dear friend Treshi, who makes the best white curry in the world and I shall accept no argument upon that point. I have learned a thing or two but the chef at D.G.’s guesthouse certainly set me on my way to an appreciation of Sri Lankan cookery. Thanks, mate.
After that it was a surreptitious loosening of the belt, a few more beers and a bit of work on “my menu” before heading off to bed for another night’s peaceful sleep. I think that you will agree this was a fairly good day out by anyone’s standards and yet it was just completely typical of the type of experiences I had in this most wonderful of countries.
In the next post I rather regretfully leave Kandy, head back towards the airport and get ready to get home but there are still one or two things left to see so stay tuned and spread the word.