Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Friday, April 03, 2015

19. Sri Lanka, Indian Ocean

Our ship, the Nautica, arrived and docked very early in Colombo. At 5 AM it was still dark outside when we heard the engines rev to bring us closer to the dock. The first Oceania tour started at 6.15 am. One could leave the ship at 6 am already if one wished, literally at dawn’s first light. This close to the equator, the day has 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night time. The change between night and day is 6 o’clock, more or less. The transition happens fast. Within 20 or 30 minutes night becomes day and vice-versa. This is an ungodly hour for a retired guy like me to be up and about. I slept in. I got up at 8 am. That is more like it for me.

After a good breakfast we finally got off the ship at 9.30 am. OK. Now what do we do? We have not booked an excursion. So we again negotiated with a taxi driver to give us a city tour, 2 hours for $50,-. Some wanted $80! One never knows what one gets for the money. Does the driver speak sufficient English? Is he a good driver? Does he know the town well? Etc.
Gangaramaya Temple

We lucked out, our young driver turned out to be OK. He had nerves of steel. His driving style was not aggressive yet some situations required me to close my eyes and just pray. The people drive like that over here. Sri Lanka is not India, but it is close. I think traffic rules are just suggestive laws here. Loose dogs, people walking in the roads, hand carts, slow tractors, double parking, mopeds squeezing in and out between cars, buses, narrow streets, no lane markings and drivers on cell phones all
Gangaramaya Temple
add up to near chaos. At least there are no holy cows on the roads. Colombo, in fact all of Sri Lanka is mostly Buddhist.

Our first stop this morning is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Colombo. Gangaramaya Temple is a tourist attraction. Large, colorful and busy, it non-the-less, has strict rules. No shoes are to be worn in the holiest sections. Admission will be charged. Donations will be appreciated. It is a mixture of Hindu and Buddha. Officially it is
Gangaramaya Temple
Buddhist, but there are sections with Ganesh and Rama statues. The monks wear orange robes and their heads are shaved. For a good donation one gets an armband made out of white cotton string. I even received a gilded crown on my head for about 10 seconds. The whole affair is very strange. Carol and I had a ball taking tons of pictures. Three musicians played drums and a flute. The visit to the temple had a carnival atmosphere. The temple made money I am sure. Was it a spiritual center too? I
Gangaramaya Temple
can't say; I only saw a few people praying. It was a good and interesting stop, probably the high-light of our own excursion.

Gangaramaya Temple

Gangaramaya Temple
Note the Starving Buddha
He Fasted Before Achieving Enlightenment
Gangaramaya Temple

A Monk in Gangaramaya Temple

The port itself was impressive. At 8 km long, it was a beehive of activity, packed full of containers, cranes loading and unloading ships, trucks moving to and fro, all orchestrated and organized. It made me wonder what was in those large containers. What could possibly ship
Busy Port
in and out in such volume? There is also an expansion of the port going on that will bring the whole harbor area to a total length of 20 km in just 2 years from now. The pace is very, very busy. Yet the port is neat, swept clean, well-organized and well-guarded, too. Police gates only let authorized traffic use the port. Constant patrols keep non-harbor personal and traffic out. Our taxi driver had to have a special permit to bring us back to the ship. We only spent about 3 hours ashore.

Hindu Temple
Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, is a large city of approximately 3 million people. It is a business center with government offices, hotels and traffic and all of it so full of life. Some old buildings of the Dutch settlers from the late 18th century are hidden. The British, before independence in 1948, were the main rulers who ruled Ceylon (the old name for Sri Lanka) since 1812. Before the British, were the Dutch and the Portuguese.

 Some scientists believe that man has lived on this island for 500,000 years; some modify this to 125,000 years. For sure is the fact that humans have lived here for a very long time. The history of Sri Lanka is full of rulers, dynasties, conquerors and wars, way too many to list. Even the indigenous people, the few who are left, were not originals from prehistory. An often conquered land, Sri Lanka today is a Social Republic, with very well educated people and well situated in today's more modern societies.

Too bad we only stopped a few hours and could only see the smallest part of this historic island. Given another life time and freedom from monetary responsibilities, I would prefer a longer visit to Sri Lanka and time to study in detail this fascinating Island. The taxi trip we had was just a hint of all there is to see in Colombo and beyond. Maybe the next time I come back here I can dig deeper into Sri Lanka.
It was a good stop, there is still much to learn.

No comments: