Savouring Sri Lanka

Savouring Sri Lanka

Having gone to the Fish Market and selected Yellow Fin Tuna, Prawns and Seer fish, we returned to the outdoor kitchen at the hotel. It was day one of a two week Taste of Sri Lanka tour focussing on cooking and culture organised by Renaissance Tours Sydney.  Our guide/chef Paul van Reyk pointed out the different spices and ingredients;Turmeric, cinnamon ,ginger ,garlic ,chillies, cloves, curry leaves curry powder and so on to a total of about 15 components. From different combinations of these, cooked outdoors, came three exquisite and different  dishes. All were spicy but not macho hot. At first I thought that the food aspect of the trip might be boring as there was a chance that 15 days of curries would have reduced me to craving for a Hamburger. But just as an alphabet with 26 letters or a piano with a limited number of repeating notes can yield an infinite range of outcomes, so too it was with the wonderful spices used in Sri Lankan food.

We were a small group (13) made up of 4 overlapping “prior” friends. There were the Melbournes, the Sydneys, the Tasmanians and the Brisbaners. But quickly we were one busload who exchanged stories, asked questions, told jokes, learned about history, religion ,cultures and saw a lot as we followed the road from the coast to the highlands,  through the cultural triangle, into the wild life parks, onto the beach areas and into small villages and bustling cities. Traffic chaos was a constant but so were high quality hotels all organised by Jetwing tours(Sri Lanka). The tour guide Hetti and tour leader Paul swopped great  stories about Sri Lanka as it was in the sixties and as it is today and good humour was matched by high content of information. In the end the curry of memories from the trip includes very diverse ingredients;

  • An Elephant by the roadside when we were on Safari, spraying sand on its back
  • Birds of every  possible colour and size (we saw over 60 different species of which approximately 30 are found only in Sri Lanka-Hetti is a bird expert)
  • The smell of Tea in the tea making  Centre
  • The fireworks at a beach wedding (of a Yorkshire couple) we happened upon
  • The friendship  of locals when we made a toilet break at (unwittingly) a private house
  • The landscape defined architecture of Geoffrey Bawa and his brother Bevis
  • The devout believers who made the pilgrimage to the Temple that housed Buddha’s tooth in Kandy
  • The surprise of finding a visiting Irish music and dance group in our hotel in Colombo and the great session that followed after the ‘official’ concert
  • Swimming in the infinite pools designed by Bawa at the Lighthouse Hotel in Galle or outdoors in a secluded pool in Sigiriya 
  • The co-existence of Buddhist and Hindu  temples almost everywhere
  • The chants of Allah coming from the Muslim mosques as we eat under candle-light during a power failure in Galle
  • The school children everywhere all dressed in white
  • The Eagle, close by,  casually eating an Antelope rat (or a Mouse) it had caught
  • The beautiful brides (we saw at least 12) smiling patiently for the multiple cameras
  • The demonstration of how they mine for blue moonstone using methods from two centuries ago
  • The demonstration of ten different uses for coconut trees and coconuts
  • The blue flash of Kingfishers and the verdant Green Bee-eater birds
  • Drinking coconut milk, prepared for us from fresh coconuts ( using a Machete) at the side of the road,
  • Climbing  200 feet to the top of Sigiriya  to see the temple ruins and cave paintings…and the view
  • The massive reservoirs (tanks) built centuries ago to provide  irrigation

And so it goes on.  All on the trip could add a new top twenty list , but the general impression, I expect, is common to all; A diverse combination of vignettes that will last in our minds.

We did not visit the North where the Tamil troubles seem to have become a painful period of history and less of a today story. There was almost no sign of the military. Therefore, if a peace dividend is something tangible, it would appear that Sri Lanka is now reaping it and hopefully the benefits will be shared by all on the Island. Tourists (and their spending) visiting there will be an important part of a healing process.

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