Tour of the South & Centre with LSR; Day 2, from Hambantota to Mahiyangana

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During the autumn of 2014 the Trek and Run team journeyed around southern and central Sri Lanka for several days before they took part in the Colombo Marathon. We were supported on our journey by the following companies, who provided the resources we needed to make the best of our time there.

I wanted to take more time at the Uva Kuda Cottages breakfast table; not only was there a huge amount of food, it was so good I couldn’t bring myself to leave any of it. I didn’t think that the previous night’s dinner could be surpassed but here was a plate-load of fresh sweet banana, coconut pancakes, excellent deep fried veggie samosas, sticky rice formed into crescents with a brown semi-sweet filling, the creamiest dhal and spicy, deep fried idli cakes…

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The sky was clear though and, knowing it was monsoon season and the clouds wouldn’t stay away for long, I made as short a work of the delicious feast as I could and was on the road before 8.

We drove for ninety minutes, past water buffalo wallowing and wood apples and salt piled up at roadside stalls alongside the particular curios and sweets for which the Hambantota region is renowned. Hambantota isn’t a major tourist destination, yet, but the airport is newly built with great capacity, nearby Tangalle beach is superb, the Kuda Oya Cottages are less than an hour’s drive away and the area offers a variety of wildlife viewing at a choice of four national parks so it’s just a matter of time really before this region becomes as popular as the west coast of Sri Lanka already is.

The call of peacocks had been a feature of our cottage stay and now we saw them frequently as we drove.

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“The peacocks prosper here in the south as they’re considered a vehicle for the god Skanda, the brother of Ganesh, and the main god here,” explained my LSR guide, Veekee. “Skanda is worshipped at Kataragama temple, and it’s there that we’re going now.”

The first notable monument we passed was the Yatala Stupa, near Tissa, built in 161BC by Duttugamon as he made his way north to liberate Sri Lanka from the invaders.

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Then a short while further on there was another stupa, built by Duttugamon’s father, where a line of monks filed towards the stupa – the older ones sheltering from the fierce sun under bright umbrellas – and a vendor gathered bunches of fresh lotus for pilgrims to buy as offerings.

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Soon afterwards we arrived at Kataragama, a temple complex where people of all faiths worship side by side. There’s more joy and authentic celebration of life on show here than at any other temple I’ve ever visited. Here are some of the photos and video I shot there to show you more.

First, a short film I made.

And here are some images I took.

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You can read more about Kataragama here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kataragama_temple and here http://kataragama.org/

After spending several hours at Kataragama we drove inland and north – with Yala national park, a home to elephant and leopard, on our right – through swarms of white, yellow and red butterflies and occasional sightings of other animals…

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…on past Randevela – where in 1658 the Singalese forces had defeated the Portuguese invaders – and the lovely Ravana Falls and up towards Elle through cloudy forest, mist and rain.

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We stopped at Ella briefly to take in the magnificent views, looking back the way we’d just driven…

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…and then the land became flatter with placid lakes, until we arrived at the temple of Mahiyangana, the first place the Buddha had come to in Sri Lanka.

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It was quiet, a few services were going on in the Saman temple (Saman, the guardian of Adam’s Peak, is the only truly Sri Lankan god, the others that are worshipped on the island are all of Indian origin), several vendors were selling charms and blessings…

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…and en route to the main stupa I paused to buy a teak ring and honey collected from the forest by an indigenous Vedda man.

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We were due to visit a Vedda village but Veekee had admitted that it was a commercial place, where you first had to engage an interpreter who fixed a price according to what you wanted to do and photograph. And then some reconstructions would go on, like, the Vedda pretending to hunt with bow and arrow. It sounded hideous. I understand a need to make money but perhaps a better way is to offer home stays, so tourists can really get to understand something of the forest way of life and know the people personally, rather than just pay to make photos that will no doubt look posed and rather nasty. This paying for the pose type of tourism doesn’t benefit anybody. The tourists get soulless photos and the locals get to consider us as nothing but walking and very stupid ATM’s, and whilst that might be of benefit for their stomachs their souls also have to be fed, which they won’t be if our actions encourage them to think of other human beings like that.

So I was happy to trade with the Vedda man in this way. I had a ten minute talk to him, bought his products for a relatively high price and in exchange he was happy to pose for photos. Now my photos mean something to me. This was a chap I had a small connection with, and I shall remember the time we sat together when I look at the photo in the future.

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There was nothing at the stupa on a cloudy afternoon for an unbeliever like me, nobody was making colourful offerings, so I took a few more photos, including one of an excellently carved moonstone…

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…before we drove onto the resort, the Soraboya Gedara.

It’s when I visit other resorts that I can see clearly the high standards that LSR hold in their own hotels. The LSR staff are always friendly and efficient, for example, whilst in the Soraboya Gedara the atmosphere was a little odd, with the staff acting as though they didn’t quite know what they should be doing at any given time. In front of my room five men where dehorning a large red deer, who lived inside the gardens. The poor thing had cancer and they were doing it a good turn, but to have them dehorn it in the most bloody manner and then quarterize the wounds with heated knives, perhaps they could have waited until they were free of guests to do that. Then, as I was taking a photo of the deer, which recovered quickly (the men had done a good job, it’s not the sort of thing guests really want to be seeing though, or hearing)…

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…a local guest burst out of his room swearing awfully at a young waiter who was running away across the lawn, it seems he had been peeping through an open window. And then there was the food; it was pretty woeful. There’s no excuse to have such bad food on offer when your country has a rich cuisine and no end of fresh ingredients. Luckily, the restaurant view was superb…

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…and we had something outstanding to look forward to the next morning. Just down the road was Soraboya Tank, where the attraction was to be two sluice gates, each carved in 166 BC from a single piece of rock by – legend has it – one of the ten giants of the king Duttugamon, and also an extensive nature walk. It was going to be another amazing day in Sri Lanka.

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If you’d like to know more about LSR, please visit www.lsr-srilanka.com

The cottages we stayed in can be viewed here www.lsrhotels.com/kuda-oya-cottage-site.html

If you’d like to discover more about the service offered by Sri Lankan Airlines - www.srilankan.com

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