India to Sri Lanka

We finished off our trip to India by dipping our feet in the Arabian Sea, visiting the church that was built by the Portuguese in the early 1500’s, visiting a Jewish synagogue, and shopping in the spice and sari market.  I purchased a traditional handwoven sari, bordered in gold.  

Vasco de Gama actually discovered India, and the abundant and wealth producing spice plantations way back in 1498, just after Columbus inadvertently discovered America.  The Portuguese built a church shortly after his arrival and he was eventually buried there. It’s fascinating learning about the early spice trade and the earliest countries to participate–China, the middle east, and then Europe.

We took photos of the Arabian Sea on our overcast morning.  Nice to dip our toes in such an exotic body of water. Next, we visited a Jewish synagogue adjacent to the spice market.  There are only six remaining Jewish people in this area of India.  Most apparently left for Israel when it opened up for settlement.

We shopped for spices and saris and books, enjoying our last day in India.  We ended the day with another cooking class, and, after an abundant lunch, were not able to eat much.  It was delightful to get to know the Indian family who hosted us in their home.  They were wealthy by Indian standards with a five bedroom home, air-conditioning and a flush toilet.  They had a separate bedroom for the wife’s 89 year old mom.  "She is almost 90,“ she said.  "We need to take good care of her.”  The wife works two jobs–teaching 3 and 4 year olds in a “kindergarten” private school and then coming home to prepare and serve her cooking classes and care for her mother.

We were sad to say goodbye to Biju who was a wonderful guide, knowledgable and always willing to answer our questions and assist us to find and do what we desired. On Wednesday, we rose at 4:00 a.m. to get ready and be driven to the airport.  We had several hours to relax before boarding the plane for Sri Lanka.  Sri Lankan airlines had some fun new features on the plane.  On the screen in front of you, you could watch the scenery go by below the plane and the scenery in front of the plane–I guess on something similar to GoPro cameras.  We saw the water below us and then the lush greenery which is Sri Lanka.  

Upon arrival, we greeted our bus driver Andrew, cheerful and friendly.  We drove on narrow side roads through gorgeous scenery, mile after mile of bright green rice paddies, surrounded by coconut palms and jungle growth and, in the distance on both sides of the road, mountains rising above the jungle floor.  The peaks of these mountains rise 8-9,000 feet.  Men were working out in the rice paddies, manual labor accomplished with a simple hoe.  The fields were dotted with white egrets. 

We arrived in Pinnawalla just in time to see the elephants crossing the road. These are “orphanage elephants,” rescued when they are lost.  They are fed and cared for and twice a day, they walk through the streets and are taken down to the river to bathe, splash and be splashed by a big stream of water arching over the river.  They are led down to the water and taken back across the road by men with long sticks who make sure they don’t bother the tourists and don’t stray from the water.  These elephants were having the time of their lives!  There were a couple of baby elephants guided by the adults, playing in the water.  What a unique experience.  

After driving again for a couple hours, we arrived at our beautiful resort hotel, complete with a pool, walkways to separate “villas” and an abundant buffet for dinner.

Today we will climb a large rock called Sigiriya, an iconic landmark.  This was a 5th century AD fortress where the ancient king ruled, complete with a lion’s paws entrance and beautifully painted murals, still intact.  On the top of this massive rock fortress, terraced gardens are still grown, watered by some of the original cisterns.

Next, we will enjoy the ancient caves of the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the walls covered with murals depicting the life of Buddha. And, to end the day, we will go on a guided tour of another spice and herbal garden where will  witness a cooking demonstration and eat lunch there.  Then, we will drive back to Colombo-a 4.5 to 5 hour drive.

– Susan Manser

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