Connect the dots

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Island Formerly Known as Ceylon

Exactly three months later we made our reluctant exit from India. However, we didn't get very far. Right across the Palk Strait lies a country with distant ties to India, but definitely a culture that stands on its own.

Already, the evening drive from the airport revealed less honk, more use of the turn signal, lane discipline (???), and friendliness (and 80%+ tropical humidity) more akin to South East Asia. 

We awoke to the traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of string hoppers (nests of rice noodles), egg and chicken coconut milk curry, pol sambol (shredded coconut, chilies and spices) and sauteed onions at the stylish Lake Lodge in Colombo.

We made a plan to head to the center of the country to visit the cultural triangle. Before leaving Colombo, we visited the Gangaramaya temple with it's colorful Buddha, enjoyed the sunset at the Galle Face Hotel and green, and ate dinner at the Gallery Cafe, the former offices of Sri Lanka's foremost architect, Geoffrey Bawa.

Buddhist temple complexes follow the same plan: you have your requisite dagoba or stupa representing the Buddha sitting in meditation; a larger than life Buddha statue (or 2 or even 20) in standing or reclining position; and a Bodhi tree in the courtyard, easily identified by the prayer flags and a gate surrounding it and representing the place where Prince Siddhartha achieved enlightenment and became Buddha.  But Sri Lankan temples also retain Buddha's birth religion, Hinduism by keeping statues or images of Ganesh, Vishnu and the fierce, peacock riding Kataragama near by.

Although we loved the space where Geoffrey Bawa created his iconic "tropical modernism" style, we were less impressed with the menu. In fact, the couple next to us left their curry untouched and while the food was edible, it couldn't match it's surroundings. Exhibiting her drawings was Belgian artist but long time Sri Lankan resident, Saskia Pantelon.

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