Home > Buddhism, Hindu, Sri Lanka, Travel, Trekking, Uncategorized > What Brits will do for a good cuppa…

What Brits will do for a good cuppa…

A short trip to one of the most expensive rocks in the world, Sirgriya Rock, saw us back on Sri Lanka’s well trodden tourist circuit. As rocks go this is a pretty special one complete with Buddhist murals and temple ruins. Upon completing the half hour climb to the top we were surprised to meet friends that we had travelled Thailand with 2 years previously! Small world, big rock.

On we went to Kandy which we had fond memories of from our previous visit. We were dismayed however, to find that the hotels had more than doubled in price and that there was a general snobbishness about Kandy that we had failed to recognise before. When we took our clothes into the laundrette the man commented, ‘oh, these clothes are really dirty’ to which I enquired if it was the norm in Kandy to bring only clean clothes in to be washed? Rich Sri Lankans filled the local Pizza Hut and patisseries, feeding the stomachs that hung out over the distinct Kandian saris. After a dance show and some fire eating to which we were promised the President would attend (he did not), we decided to move on.

Our next stop was Ratnapura, the ‘city of gems’ from which we would take the long route to the top of Sri Lanka’s holiest mountain, Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak. But before we could start another epic journey up a mountain Carl, under the influence of the wheeling and dealing Germans at our hotel, announced that he was to dabble in the gem business. I was not pleased that my boyfriend had taken to calling me ‘Rodders’ but when I saw the ‘gem market’ which was in actuality a group of Sri Lankans dressed in grey holding some fools gold in their hands, I knew the dream was over. We retired to our guest house for some tea and to prepare ourselves for the climb.

Not much preparation was needed as we were to climb the mountain as the pilgrims did, with no shoes on. It wasn’t until our ascent was underway that we became aware that everyone else possessed shoes and that we were getting some rather strange looks. The monks in their Nike sandals found our plight particularly strange.

Our route of choice was seldom completed by foreigners. Most opt for the short but steep three hour climb from the opposite side of the mountain that Carl and I had completed on our first visit to Sri Lanka. On that occasion clouds had obscured the sunrise over the hills and our hopes for clearer skies this time were tarnished by the down pour that struck a measly five minutes into our climb. We took shelter in a local house. A young boy briefly looked up from his homework and down at our mud soaked feet that we shuffled awkwardly to hide. We had approximately 10 hours until sunrise and a climb of 8 hours ahead of us so we made ourselves comfortable until the storm passed.

We emerged into the darkness outside, our bare feet apprehensive about the muddy ground below. All apprehension gave way as the path developed and perfectly formed, newly created steps appeared and remote lights guided our way. We met with few but always friendly Sri Lankans on the same trail; all were surprised to see us but welcoming non-the-less and keen to practise their English. We played catch up with a group of young monks who would stroll past giggling as we sat sipping tea and munching biscuits on one of our many stops, only for us to over-take them again when they were doing likewise.

An enjoyable slow climb was interrupted by Carls cries of ‘leech!’ half way up the path. Upon further inspection with my trusty head lamp I confirmed that the tiny black object on his leg was in fact a leech. ‘Stand back’ he told me, chest puffed out and grin emerging. He recalled one of many Ray Mears episodes that he’d watched back in the UK and told me to stand back while retrieving a lighter from his pocket. The theory is thus: the leech reacts to the flame by curling up and loosening it’s grip on the skin. However, this very method attempted with hairy legs and highly flammable mosquito repellent achieves a slightly different affect. As our monk friends watched, Carl set his leg on fire, shrouding our presence in yet more mystery. Finally Carl plucked the small leech free from the forest of his leg hair and the echoes of my laughter slowly calmed.

Two hours from the top and just after our twentieth tea break the new path we had been following disappeared and remnants of old crumbling steps remained. Clambering through mud and over small boulders after eight hours of climbing steps was a tiring undertaking but eventually we reached the top a little before sunrise. The shrine on the top had received a make over of silver paint since our last visit and the view point was full of shivering tourists and Sri Lankans alike. We wanted to tell them that we’d taken the hard route but instead settled for being able to ring the bell of the temple twice to mark our second ascent.

We waited along with the others for the sun to reveal the mountains below us but it soon became apparent that we were in for another show of clouds. I was marginally excited as one cloud perfectly resembled a camel; a sure sign of tiredness and not a good sign as a long descent awaited us. Although the motion of the sun rising failed to impress, the downwards journey definitely didn’t. Climbing a mountain in the dark to have it’s vicinity and scope revealed to you on the journey down is fascinating. A sea of clouds below us gave the mountain its deserved feeling of enormity. Giant Buddha images we had only witnessed the outlines of emerged next to tea houses and the greenery seemed to change with every turn. From shrub bush, to forest, to tea plantations and evergreen rice fields. Our enthusiasm dwindled slightly on hour six of our decline. By the time we reached the bottom and crawled onto the packed local bus back to Ratnapura we were literally falling asleep. It was an effort to make it up to our hotel and the enthusiastic welcome of our host was met with only grunts.

Some fresh Sri Lankan tea and curry soon replenished our vigour and we decided that we could fit in one more ascent, to the seat of the famous tea mogul Thomas Lipton before our departure from Sri Lanka. Since England were not doing us so proud in the cricket world cup that plagued conversation on our trip, we decided to honour our Britishness another way.

We took a bus to Heputale where we began our walk in a lacklustre fashion, with a short bumpy bus ride to a tea factory in the midst of the plantations. After the idea of gem dealing and survival skills had been drained from his head, Carl toyed with the idea of becoming a tea-tycoon. ‘Cockman’s Tips’ he mumbled to himself as we were shown round the tea factory. No sampling allowed.

After our tea factory tour we made our way through the beautiful green hills stopping to say hello to the Tamil hill workers picking with distinction and loading the fresh green leaves into the baskets on their backs. It was a long walk but a beautiful one in which we passed small Hindu Kovils and Christian churches left over from the British era. ‘Lipton’s seat’ marks the spot where Sir Thomas Lipton used to sit and admire his tea plantations, and of course there is a small tea shop taking advantage of this fact. We sat looking out, over the tea estates and into the clouds sipping our tea and dipping our biscuits. It was a beautiful spot and a perfect way to end our Sri Lankan travels, although once again we were to leave with a feeling of ‘we’ll be back’.

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