Thursday, October 31, 2013

Heading toward Yala

An alternate title "A full day from Nuwara Eliya to Nanu Oya to Ella to Yala"

We stayed in Nuwara Eliya for 2 days - it was a jumping off point for Horton's Plain and the train to Ella. We enjoyed exploring small towns and were pleased at the opportunity to walk around Nuwra Eliya. The town was somewhat scruffy, but it had a memorable traffic circle.
Roundabout sponsored by Asian Paints
(but I doubt that they got naming privileges)
After we left Horton's Plain MIn Nuwara Eliya Mahesh, our tour agent, asked if we wanted to see a dairy farm. Of course, we did. We stopped at Ambewela Farm, but it was closed for a holiday. We were more successful at the nearby New Zealand Farm. The scene was bucolic - rolling hills with gazing cattle - but inside it was all business. The farm did not give guided tours and the signage was minimal. Our driver chatted with a worker who told us a little about the operation.

The first stop was the milking barn. Cows were in stalls eating hay. They were lined up, moved to another stall, their udders were washed, and they were hooked to a milking machine. When they were finished they went back to eating hay. Just beyond the milking room was a small laboratory, but we could not tell what its purpose was or what it was doing.

Cows lined up in the milking barn 
The farm consisted of rows of sheds with separate sheds for recently born calves, calves being weaned, and heifers. In each shed the calves or cows were in stalls either lapping up formula or eating hay. Another shed had three enormous bulls who provide semen to impregnate the cows. As far as we could tell they did not spend time outside their stalls Male calves are sold shortly after they are weaned, although the male off spring of a very productive cow may be kept to later serve as a stud. 

Cows eating. So when do they get to taste fresh, green grass?
The farm also raised rabbits and goats that were sold, primarily for meat. The farm produced edam cheese. Several weeks earlier in KL we had spoken with a member of the Jain community. He said that while Jains drank milk, milk-drinking was being discouraged because it was cruel. What we saw wasn't physically cruel, but we felt sympathy for animals who had such a confined and bleak life.

The road from Nuwara Eliya to the train station at Nanu Oya. We were scheduled to leave at 9:30, but Mahesh and Damith, our driver, assured us that Sri Lankan trains are notoriously late. Our two car, all 3rd class train arrived at 11:30. The limited snack bar had vada and roti. Sri Lanka's roti are oat cakes eaten with sambal - it is very filling. The "Foreigners wash room" had a small waiting room, filled with European back packers, and "Western" style toilet. Earlier in our trip we saw wash rooms labelled "wet" and "dry." According to an Indian friend Asians prefer wet wash rooms. I asked Mahesh - he found my question odd and expressed no opinion.

The train had two passenger cars; they filled up quickly with tea workers and 6 foreigners (including us). Throughout the trip as we traveled at the edge of cliffs the Italian tourists hung out the open door for "thrilling" pictures. Here are some of our photos from the trip.

Boy on the train
Our train heading into a tunnel
Seen from the train
Another view from the train

After arriving in Ella we drove to Ravana Falls with our final stop at a hotel in Yala.

In Ella

View on the drive to Yala

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sacred Temple of theTooth, Kandy

By the time we got to Kandy we were "templed out" and considered skipping the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic. While our tour agent was happy to add side trips or rearrange the schedule, he would not consider dropping a stop. As we walked to the temple we were glad that the stop remained. The temple was alive with devotees and other visitors.

Vendors selling flowers to devotees
At the entrance to the complex we met our guide, Hazantha Deminen. Over the years we have had many excellent guides, but Hazantha is a man that we will remember the longest First, his hair cut! How could we forget it? Then as we walked he would introduce a topic or an item with "my dear madam and sir."  He was the youngest licensed guide we have ever had. No problem, he was knowledgeable, well versed on the temple and Sri Lankan Buddhism, and easily engaged with us.  He is a university student studying urban history.  If you are in Kandy, we recommend tracking him down.

The relic is a canine tooth of Buddha rescued from his funeral pyre in 483 B.C. In the 4th century CE an Indian princess brought it to Sri Lanka. Legend has it that she smuggled it in her hair. The tooth was kept in Anuradhapura  and later moved to Polanuras. In his article Godwin Witane describes why the tooth spent centuries being moved around, "During Lanka's reign of nearly 150 monarchs, the Sacred Tooth Relic had to undergo many a travail taking refuge in numerous secret places to ensure its safety from invaders for it is said that whoever possessed the Tooth Relic had the divine power to govern the country."

Princess & her husband bringing tooth to Sri Lanka
From Polanurus

Finally in the early 19th century it came to stay in Kandy, where it is encased in seven golden caskets. Each year at Kandy's Esala Perahera festival (held in July or August) on the 6th night procession the relic casket, but not the tooth, is carried by a "royal" elephant. The festival is similar to the older Desara festival in Mysore. Unlike Mysore the elephants that carry the casket are relatively anonymous.
To better digs in Kandy 600 years later

The second entrance has two guard stones and a moonstone. The main entrance was damaged in 1989 by a  Tamil Tiger bombing. It has been rebuilt. The guide's mention of the bombing, the damage, and number killed (16) was the only explicit mention of Sri Lanka's civil war we heard during the trip.

As we entered the shrine we heard the sounds of drums. They are part of the rituals held daily at 5:30, 9:30, and 18:30. We were tempted to stand and watch, but Hazantha moved us up a crowded staircase. There we joined an crowd neither a queue nor  a mob, waiting to see the relic casket (Devotees in the queue see the casket for 15 seconds.) Seated in the front were white robed devotees who had contributed to the day's devotions. (Each day a large quantity of rice and vegetables are prepared for distribution.) We had a brief view of the casket and then moved on. (The casket is only exposed for viewing at the above noted times.)

Drummers - tusks are from deceased royal elephants

Viewing the casket
As we left we decided to skip the museum. Probably a mistake. There was too much to see in Kandy for 24 hours. If we returned we will spend several days - revisit the temple, go to the museum, and visit other temples in the area. (And of course stroll through the Botanical Gardens.)

Leaving the temple flanked by Buddhist flags