Monday, August 22, 2016

Ceylon Dreams II: Temple Stroll

Breakfast was served in the kitchen, with the door firmly closed to prevent Daisy from eating our eggs. There were string hoppers, steamed rice noodles, to be had with potato curry and coconut, chopped and fried with onions and red chilies, an absolutely delicious combination. The bread was thick and charmingly uneven, wholesomely dipped in the runny yolk of sunny-side up eggs, fresh juice and a cup of dark brewed steaming Ceylon tea.
Just remembering the breakfast is enough to lighten the dreariness of a Monday at work!

Our hostess cautioned us to avoid the roads between 12 to 2, which is heavy traffic time due to the schools getting off around then and we promised to be back well in time for a taxi ride to the train station, since we were leaving for Kandy the same day.

We took a tuk-tuk to one of the more popular temples. Like Thailand, the tuk-tuks in Srilanka were snazzier versions of the Pakistani rickshaws, clean and neat, fairly standardized in solid colors save for a few outliers that had Bob Marley seat covers or elaborate tiger-printed backdrops. Most of the tuk-tuks had a subtle religious icon inside but there were many that had symbols of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam altogether, showcased next to one another, warming my heart and blowing some cool peace into my mind.

It was a humid day with some clouds and a forgetful breeze that stirred every now and then to keep the temperatures from soaring too high. As we walked towards the sweet white dome of Seema Malaka, a temple that rests on the placid dark lake, a gangplank distance from the sidewalk, we saw men string red, blue, green lights on trees, probably Christmas decorations that turn the area into a twinkling shiny happy town at night.

A beautiful dragonfly, a startlingly ugly duck with its spattered textured neck and bright red beak, a friendly, calm Buddha amidst the old branches of a large tree and the quietude of the inside hall – about 45 minutes well spent I think. Then up the road and across to the less solemn, eclectic Gangaramaya. The temple was huge with smaller complexes in between that included a platform with a tree as its center, pieces of red, blue, yellow cloth mystically blowing in the wind, the scent of incense sticks around the trunk as people sat and prayed around it; an indoor room with bright paintings depicting holy stories and yellow idols at the altar. There were two small museum/gift shops that housed small statues, paintings, antiques and brightly lit holiness, and inexplicably, two antique limousines that tourists could not sit in but lean awkwardly with for their compulsory photographs.

After our walk around the interesting compound, we decided to stroll around in the city, stopping by a shop to drink a brightly colored cola. It was icy cold, which felt excellent since we had started to sweat by now – seemed to be building up for rain.

I loved the polite traffic – even in the main city, people stopped their cars and bikes to let you cross the road, something which always fills me to the brim with overwhelming affection and gratitude (ah Karachi, how you make me appreciate things others take for granted!). We randomly came across Victoria Park with its many trees and manicured grass and slightly sinister uniformed guards who stood silently till someone sat on the wrong bench or lit a cigarette. In my case one serious guard (policeman?) came to tell me I was too old for the dancing fountains. And I had already rolled up my jeans in preparation for a run through the bubbling water spouts!

There was a strange cave-like aquarium (Rs20 per head!) that we went through with surreal fish staring at us from their blue-lit water tanks, green, red, transparent, with wide eyes and billowy gills. A short warm walk through the park and we were on our way home. 

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