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The Sri Lankan Melodies

September 2002 : Group size : 2 adults

We were to cover only a small part of Srilanka , but were excited.  Sadly I do not have many pictures to share.  A manual camera and a "those days" HANDYCAM is all we had.  We , therefore have very few pictures, which might display the essence, and give you a fair idea.  The videos, however, were converted to a CD , the whereabouts of which sadly remains "unknown" at this point in time. Luckily , due to my habit of making a record or a photo album of any trip / tour, I am today able to share the details.   " Sri Lanka " album is my very first one of them all and is therefore very special. 

DAY 1 :

We were on the 9:50am flight from Bangalore, which got us to KATUNAYAKE airport by 11:10 a.m. their time. The "AYUBOWAN" audio (meaning WELCOME in Srilankan) kept ringing in our ears and we had fun mimicking it the whole time. The Lankan people are sweet and so is their language.  The Sinhalese Tamizh is like honey to the ears.   A taxi drove us down to Colombo city centre. It took about 45 minutes to get there.

A Breakfast in one of the South Indian restaurants in Colombo, injected some life in us, after the onward journey.

I distinctively remember this particular incident in the restaurant. We ordered dosas (the crispy thin Indian Pancake) and coffee. In a short while, we were served coffee with a basket of big round vegetable bondas (Indian fritters with vegetable filling).."er...sorry, we didn't order those", we remarked to the waiter, who replied Kindly.." oh no, that's for free, it comes with every order".. Wow !! That basket was enough for a whole meal. We didn't need to order anything else other than coffee in fact :)). Soon the dosas made its way to our table. The food was really yummy.  It over filled our tummies and we had also learnt how to place an order in this restaurant,  in future.

The Taxi arrived at the said location in Colombo centre, to drive us down to BENTOTA, a beautiful coastal town, in which a resort for us was booked.  We got there by 3:15 pm.

The "TAJ EXOTICA - BENTOTA " did blow our minds off.   It is such a huge property.    It is a beach resort and sits right on top of the Indian Ocean. Our taxi wound up through the path, from the main gates of the resort, to reach the reception. There were perfectly cut and shaped trees and plants all along the way.  Highly impressive !

We were received with a special welcome drink at the reception, after which we were checked into our room on the topmost floor, with a huge balcony that looked over the entire property.  If you do get a chance just look up the property in the internet and you'll know what  I am trying to explain here.  Palms lined up uniformly, alongside the borders of the property building provided the aesthetic view.   We saw that there was a stage being set up and lots of work going on in the main garden.  We got curious and found out that the "MISS TOURISM INTERNATIONAL" contest was scheduled in exactly two days, which the resort was hosting.   Hmm.. interesting we thought.  We had landed there on the day of my birthday.  As they had collected our passport IDs, they had probably noted down our birthdays too.  Just after we settled down a bit and rested, there was a knock at our door, and LO ! they had a special Butter Walnut cake for me. Wow !! I can't stop raving about how delicious that tasted.   As we sat by our balcony, savouring this Chef's special masterpiece we saw how beautiful the beach side looked.  

We quickly made our way to the beach. It was the most peaceful walk we had in a long time. We were also busy covering the entire experience in the HANDYCAM. Regret the missing CD, though, which would have been a perfect record here.

Later, that evening, we headed for dinner at the PALMS restaurant and called it a day.

Day 2:

As early risers, we arrived for the buffet breakfast  again at the PALMS and filled our tummies to the brim.

We walked it up to the railway station, which was around 7 minutes away from the resort.  A small railway station, so clean and bright, well maintained with just a single train track.   We waited for the train which was supposed to arrive by 10 am, but was no where in sight.

We sat on the benches there waiting, as our eyes turned towards the wall-clock that read the time as " 11:15am. Ohhh....we realised our "only" wrist watch was slightly malfunctioning, as it was running 1 hour behind. Those were the days, no mobile phones as yet.  We realised soon that we had actually reached the station quite late and missed the earlier train. The next train was around 11:45 am. We waited patiently and soon the train arrived.

Our destination was "HIKKADUWA". We bought the not-so-expensive tickets at the railway station. It was a hour and half train ride along the sea-coast.  The train was not so crowed and we were lucky to get the perfect seats. The Indian Ocean lay glistening under the sun. The ride was beautiful and calm.

We got out of the railway station and there were  a few tourist guides , who seemed helpful and sweet.  One of them guided us with a list of endless possibilities. First we were lured into getting on to a "glass bottomed boat" so that we could view the colourful fish swimming in the Ocean.  It was an inexpensive ride and seemed somewhat unique at that point in time.  The ride lasted about half an hour and we kind of enjoyed viewing colourful fish through the "not so" transparent floor of the boat.   The glass was old and smoggy.   We still managed to get a fair view of different varieties of these finned creatures.


As we got out of the boat the boatman introduced us to a " Tuk Tuk * "  driver ( *a public, 3 wheeler, transport vehicle very similar to the Indian AUTO). He played our broker and helped us fix a price with the enthusiastic and kind "Tuk Tuk"  driver, who offered his services to us for the rest of the day. This fella promised to show us as much of the area as possible, which seemed worthwhile.

STOP 1 : We sat in the airy vehicle as he drove us around the beautiful coast, soon to reach a rugged muddy path inside the town. In a short while we were at the MASK museum. It was without a doubt touristy. After a quick look around the museum, we entered the shop. There were colourful masks all over the shop , displayed in all shapes and sizes. The history behind it and the mask making process is what caught my attention.

A Lankan Mask Magnet - the GURULU Raksha

History : In the ancient Kingdom of Visala was the evil prince MAHA KOLA. His father, King Sankapala, had killed his mother and therefore Maha Kola swore vengeance against his father and the kingdom of Visala. Maha Kola's crown was adorned with serpents, out of which he extracted poison and spread in the entire kingdom a deadly disease that took 18 forms.

The then doctors and medical practitioners frantically researched on an immediate cure and also aimed to stop this havoc. They attributed  each of these illnesses to a demon, naming 18 such demons, who they believed caused these diseases. The diseases were collectively called SANNI - the main head.  They  desperately needed something to control these evil forces.

A Mask Maker was then summoned for the job. His duty was to depict a controller of  each of these demons, invoke forces that acted against the particular demon to completely  control him and thus helping to ward off the underlying disease.  From then on, mask making became inevitable.  This  belief continues as a tradition even today.

To understand this concept better :- The GURULU RAKSHA pic which is posted above is an EAGLE or HAWK face. These are the birds that prey on Snakes. So any disease that was believed to be spread by the Naga Raakshasas ( snake demons) would be warded off by invoking powers of the bird that preys on them.

Mask Making : The masks are categorised into 3 types. The Raksha- used for festivals and processions. The Kolam - used for stage plays and performances and the Sanni - the brief history of which is already given above.

Masks are made from the bark of "Kaduru" - timber tree. The wood is carefully cut into pieces and further cured, smoked and dried for almost a week, till they are fit enough to be handcrafted into various masks. There is no machinery ever used in making these masks. The paintings on these masks are exactly as per specifications available in the ancient scriptures found on "Ola-leaves", that are still preserved.  

Amazing isn't it? We bought a few of these colourful faces for people back home.

STOP 2 : Our next stop was at a 1200 year old, Buddha temple. The inner sanctum of the temple was so peaceful. The sleeping Buddha pose is similar to the " Anantha Shayanam" pose of "Sri Ranganatha swamy" found in the Indian temples. The material and the natural colours that were used to make this statue of Buddha, seemed to keep it intact to this day. The quality colours used on the wall paintings inside the temple, ensured their brightness, even though the wall seemed to be chipping off. The colourful murals were mind boggling. We met the monks at the temple. The youngest of them all, was a 8 year old monk who offered to display to us the ancient religious scriptures handwritten by hermits of the 7th century. After a walk around the temple and soaking into the unbelievable silence, we took leave of the Buddha.

STOP 3 : The ever smiling "Tuk Tuk" driver then drove us to the world's only natural MOON STONE MINE. This Mine had some unforgettable display of precious "moon" stones and exquisite jewellery made from it. The raw form of these stones are basically white in colour with a kind of shimmer on it similar to that  found on  Mica. The kind guide offered us a tiny sample of such stone for keeps.   A walking tour of the Mine enlightened us of the traditional mining process undertaken, to fish out these stones.   Large wooden lifts ferried the miners in and out of the mines deep down. The stones were then washed thoroughly and cut into shapes. Then came the polishing. This part of the process gave the stone its transparent, water like look and hence the name "Moonstone".

STOP 4 : Now , feeling a bit more educated from the Mine visit, we put on our smiles and boarded our TUK TUK to get to our next destination - The Lagoon.

We paid up for a 3 hour private motor boat ride, to enjoy the beauty of the Lagoon. This Lagoon consisted on 20 and odd islands, each one special in its own way. The MONITOR lizards were spotted by us. They were huge in size. Our Helmsman ensured that we spotted plenty of them on our way. As a part of the exciting journey, the boat waded through a small stream that meandered through the forest , covered with thick trees above us. We spotted water birds and monkeys. It was eerie to cover this part of the journey though.

ISLAND 1 : We chose to stop over at just 2 islands, the first stop came in the form of TEMPLE ISLAND. (not the one in the picture above which is just a single temple and the smallest of all temple islands found on the Lagoon) The one we visited was only big enough to accommodate one Monastery, run by 5 Buddhist monks. . It was just like a little dot on that gorgeous little island and here we found ourselves sitting in the grand hall of the Monastery where the temple of the Buddha lay nestled. Experiencing the Buddhist chants for a while seemed to energise us. We then donated a little money to one of the monks there before we made our way back to the boat.

ISLAND 2 :The next stop was at the "CINNAMON ISLAND". This island was even smaller than the previous one, but it contained the precious, rare and authentic Cinnamon trees. We could smell strong cinnamon in the air, even before we got to the island.   Wow !! The island hosted only ONE family of 8 members, all of them who worked hard the whole day processing the Cinnamon barks to make it edible and fit enough to be sold.   Our guide cum boatman led us to their house- the only one on that island, while also telling us that the family had their own boat to ferry themselves to connect with the outside world.  A smiling , senior lady, sat working at these special, aromatic tree barks as she tried explaining to us, in her own language, the entire process.  Her son soon came into picture and rendered the more understandable "English" version of her summary.  We were offered some cinnamon tea and were also free to buy the whole spice from them .  We bought a few packets for home use.  We were amazed at the fact that though they sold this expensive spice from this tiny speck of an island but still led a very humble life.

We got back on our little motor boat and were ferried back to the banks in an hour. There awaited our TUK TUK operator, asking us "Did you enjoy the boat ride?"

STOP 5 : He then walked us up to a TURTLE FARM on the beach. Oh ! it was lovely to learn a lot about the sea turtles. The tiny ones were bred here and then put back in the ocean when they were big enough to be on their own. Some of the bigger ones were still sheltered here for various reasons.  The guide in the farm explained this animal's way of life and also allowed us to carry turtles in our hand. I was happy to carry a turtle weighing 11kgs. It was a colourful, brown, heavy creature that stayed still in the grip of my palms. I had to instantly put it back carefully in the water tank before my hands dropped by its sheer weight.   I was then offered to carry a 3 month old baby turtle. It was the size of my inner palm and rested peacefully . I spent a short time staring and observing this incredible creation, before I returned it to its home.

This was the last stop of the day. We were then dropped off at the railway station, in the TUK-TUK, from where we took the train back to Bentota. A fruitful day indeed.

Day 3 :

A taxi was ordered to take us to the capital city COLOMBO.  We got dropped at the HSBC Colombo first, to complete a personal foreign currency transaction. The Driver then rode us to ODEL shopping Mall. It is here that we saw the cricketer Stephen Flemming of New Zealand team. We were thrilled. Couldn't get to meet him personally, though. The Mall had a lot to offer, but we were not on a shopping spree. In fact, the Srilankan airlines, along with their introductory offer had given us free ODEL shopping coupons for SLR500 each. We picked up a T-shirt and a  silver finger ring for those coupons.  We looked around the Mall till about lunch time. We landed for lunch at KFC.  

The next stop for the day was at Majestic City, another mall, by which time we were quite bored. Quite surprisingly, this Mall seemed bigger and better than the most raved about ODEL. We are not shopaholics. We did lots of window shopping.

Sri Lanka is synonymous to its PEARLS. Some of the world's best pearls are found in the country. The driver drove us to STONES & STRINGS - a famous jewellery store dealing with exquisite pearls. We made a quick purchase. He then suggested that we stop by at the COMMON WEALTH GEM COMPANY, which was a well known factory, for its precious gems and jewels manufacturing and wide display. We were not disappointed. Apart from the jewellery, we were in awe of the paintings and handicrafts made of various coloured, original precious stones and gems. The display gallery had wall paintings hung in various shapes and sizes and glittered away to glory. I was amazed at the way these stones were used in those paintings. Few of the stones were even powdered as required, to get the exact texture and colour.  They were way to expensive to be owned.  Nevertheless, we took a few videos with due permission and remained happy.

We were dropped at the Resort by 5 pm.

The Pool and Garden area was bustling with people, preparations were going on at its peak and we could hear the microphones and speakers being tested " check 1 , 2, 3 " " Check 1, 2, 3"!! We stood having tea at our balcony on the last floor, as we watched the events develop on the ground floor.  There was a lady named Judy practicing the song " ..Baby one more time".. sung by Britney Spears. She sounded so similar and so good . By the end of her practice session that lasted an entire hour or so, we were humming it ourselves. The live band accompanying her,  played along fabulously.

Oh... my...God.!.. the event was scheduled to begin at 7.30 pm. We got ready with our Handycam to shoot the entire event from our balcony. Excitement knew no bounds. An employee at the hotel confirmed to us that that the event was the FINALS of the said contest. We were sure to see many beautiful models . Tables were being set for dinner at the garden. White cloth was being tastefully wrapped around every circular table and the chairs surrounding it. There were decorated red flower vases and candles being placed on them. We decided to order our dinner in the room, as we didn't want to miss even a small page of the entire event. We had an un-interrupted, unparalleled view of the entire stage which we were sure that no one else enjoyed.

Soon the event began, and loud music and voices surrounded the entire resort. The audience gathered around to cheer the event. The resounding applause for every beautiful contestant that came up and walked the ramp, never ceased to stop till the end of the programme. It was like a typical beauty contest.   We enjoyed our aerial view till the very end.  The Britney Spears song sung by Judy was a big hit.  The crowd couldn't stop tapping their feet and clapping along.  The final round with the 3 top contestants was sensational.  It is something else to watch these events LIVE, rather than on TV.  We kept guessing and betting on who would win.  The final contestant received huge prize money and many gifts.

The day ended on a high.

Day 4 :

It was the last day of our stay at this wonderful resort. We were up quite early and were ready to hit the buffet breakfast table. To our surprise, the Models still seemed to be around and were at breakfast too. We couldn't take our eyes of them. We didn't waste this chance of getting to see them from such a short distance. Most of them had flawless skin as smooth as butter, we felt. They were all tall and absolutely beautiful. We didn't get to talk to any of them.

After the breakfast session, we walked around the resort to capture the last few finest moments. We spoke to a few hotel boys and appreciated what they did out there the whole time. It was an eventful morning and quite a laid back day.  A little after lunch, we checked out of the hotel and made our way to Colombo Airport. We reached the airport by 6 pm and our flight was scheduled at 1 am. As there was plenty of time on hands, we had the opportunity to shop at the "duty free"shops at a leisurely pace. We had light dinner at the airport before boarding our flight.

Short but sweet trip. We hope to go back again someday to explore lot more of this beautiful country. Good bye Lanka !


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