Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Colombo Temple Time

My feet hurt. Today I walked 18 KM around Colombo in a brand new pair of cheap-ass, Bangladesh made running shoes.

The train station is a 10-minute walk from my hotel (hotel is easier to type than home stay). It sits beside the massive and gorgeous Mount Lavinia Hotel. Superior ocean side suites that will run you $67 a night. Yes sir, you read that right. Private beach and ocean view rooms with balconies and all the amenities a high end hotel will give you for $67 a night. Remember this is peak season.

I bought my ticket to Colombo for 200 Rupees and wandered over to my track. I had half an hour to kill so I started reading about the Tsunami of 2004 and how it affected the Mount Lavinia area. Well it did! What I did not know was that there were two waves. The first was two metres and the damage was minimal. It was when this wave was pulled back into the ocean exposing the sea bed as it receded. The people rushed out to pick up the fish and lobsters that were suddenly available, not realizing the danger. The second wave came in at what was reported to be 800km/h with a height of up to 30 metres, that over 100 feet.

As I stood pondering all of this  a friendly local came up to me said hello. He asked the standard questions. "What country are you from?", "Are you staying in Sri Lanka a long time?", " How do you like Sri Lanka?" Friendly and not pushy. This was something I was expecting since every blog and travel story on Sri Lanka mentioned that it happens all the time. As we chatted  I said I was just reading about 2004 and wondered how it affect Mount Lavinia. He got a bit lost in thought and then said "It was terrible". He pointed to the top of the retaining wall that was behind us. "That was the height of the second wave". I was dumbfounded. People did not stand a chance.

I did not pursue it so we talked about things to do in Colombo. It was Sunday so the city would be quiet he said. I wondered what "quiet" meant. The train pulled in and he suddenly took charge of me like I was his sole mission. Come come as he pulled on my shoulder. I obeyed. It was not anything to be afraid of. I knew he was looking out for me with honest intentions.

We chatted about going to Colombo and in the end he was awesome. He made sure I got on the right train and had a seat. We sat together and quietly talked about Colombo and Sri Lanka. Arriving in Colombo he made sure to take me to the exit and gave me advice and where to go and what to do. He then went back into the station to wait for his next train. He was heading north and got off the train just to make sure I was OK. Who does that?

The second wave was as high as the overpass
Mount Lavinia 5 Star Resort. $67 a night
A friendly local who just wanted to help me get to Colombo
The view out the window
Colombo Station. Not very busy I was told
We needed a selfie to say good bye

I left the train station and stepped out to a world of tuk tuks, taxis, touts and vendors all wanting my money. Welcome to a capital city. They were not overly pushy and easily ignored but as a foreigner coming off a train into a capital city I do have “ATM” plastered across my forehead. From Niagara Falls to Colombo, street hustlers all have that same sleazy and creepy look and feel. I needed a coffee.

My goals today were simple. Explore this city and see a few temples. It was a Sunday and the city was eerily quiet. My first stop was The Gangaramaya Temple. It was made in the 19th Century and is said to be the most important temple in Colombo. Now I have been to Buddhist temples in quite a few places. Tibet, China, Nepal, India, Bangladesh and now Sri Lanka. It amazes me that when ever I go to a fairly ornate Buddhist Temple it is always the "most important temple of some region". For Christians it would mean there is a Vatican in every main city in every main country that adheres to that religion.

Regardless, it was ornate, beautiful and a nice way to start the day. There was a nice museum near the exit that was almost as beautiful as the Temple itself. The artifact were impressive. Now Sri Lanka is known for it's elephants. Some of the tusks that were displayed were easily 8 to 10 feet long.

Tuk Tuk in Colombo. Cheap and fast
These elephant tusks were 10 feet long
The of colors of Buddhism
The of colors of Buddhism

A short walk away is Beira Lake which sits in the middle of the city. The Seema Malakaya Temple sits beside the lake. I found it a fantastic mix of ancient beliefs surrounded by modern architecture. It is used for meditation and relaxing and not for worship. I hung out here for a while just chilling and resting my now aching feet. I hate wearing cheap shoes and usually that is the one thing I will always splurge on. The first sign of any Merrells and I am pulling out my credit card.

Now the walking really began. It was time to find Temple of Sri Kailawasanathan Swami Devasthanam Kovil. The oldest temple in Colombo I figured it deserves a look. Well this beauty put me through my paces. I had about a 5km walk and it was a nice day. I strolled, stopped for coffee and iced tea and do what you do when you wander around doing nothing. Well do you think I could find this baby. I am addicted to my phone GPS now and it was making fun of me. It had me going one direction, then the next and then in a circle. The minions inside my phone were having an excellent time.

The issue was that I needed to go down a a dusty side road beside the main rail lines which was not on the map as a road but a trail. As I got near the GPS settled down and said mockingly "turn right". Now this is a trail that you would look at and usually think "Nope. That is a road from a scary horror movie". I went down it anyways because Google GPS/Maps said it was OK.

It wound behind tall trees and abandoned buses. A few Tuk Tuk drivers were sleeping under the shade of the trees and did not pay me any notice. I felt fine for about 10 minutes, humming nervously to be brave when I came upon a freaking cement factory. What is going on? This was where the road bandits would get me and deposit my corpse in the wall of a new building. As I went past the "factory of doom" the lovely colors of the top of the temple made an appearance against the blue sky.

It was worth the effort as these things usually are. Colorful and ornate it was surrounded on three sides by I guess you would call them "slum dwellers" of a shanty town. Slum meaning the poorest of the poor. As I passed each person smiled and went about their business.

I ended up having a chat with one old guy who approached me, hobbling on a makeshift cast. He said he had family in Canada, as every Sri Lankan seems to have. He was cheery and just wanted to talk about Canada or anything other than the Temple.

The surroundings were oddly lush considering the location and the train sounds were muffled. It was peaceful and I could understand the desire to setup up house here. There was little car traffic but he said "it gets very busy sometimes with tourists and big buses". It comes as no surprise that even a random impoverished old guy can pull off a bit of English. This was a British Colony for a couple of hundred years.

I walked confidently back down the scary path and headed to the train station. I walked past the "not yet open to the public" Colombo Lotus Tower, claiming to be the tallest free standing tower in South Asia. It looks impressive and the photos of it lit up at night are nice. Maybe next time.  I wandered through the floating market (shitty) and in and around a few streets of the chaotic Pettah district. I had no intention of trying to buy a train ticket and wait for my ride back to Mount Lavinia in the chaos of the train station. I hailed a Kangaroo, the greatest ride sharing name ever, and made my back to the quiet seclusion of my rental. It was a good day to get my travel eyes open. It was time to head south to the warm beaches to do a bit of diving.

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