Sri Lanka Part 2

Day 6 was a rest day in Kandy and in the morning we went to the temple of the sacred tooth relic for the offering ceremony. This is the Buddha’s tooth and it is housed in the Royal Palace complex and much revered. In a noisy but well-ordered ceremony people made offerings of food and flowers ; we didn’t see the tooth itself, this was kept behind a well locked door.
In the hotel there were signs telling guests not to leave food out on the veranda because of the monkeys. I thought a pair of cycling shoes left out to dry would be OK but on my return found only one shoe. After searching the grounds I quickly had to nip out and buy a pair of running shoes and change the pedals .
It’s interesting to watch how staff operate in the hotel. They have a computer to keep tabs on all bills but then go upstairs, collect all the bills and add up using a calculator and present a hand written bill. People love to operate an informal system parallel to a formal one.
President Rajapaksa changed the constitution allowing him to run for President a third time ; he was popular because he helped to stop the war but much brutality occurred and there is a possibility that he may be indicted on war crime charges. Election posters showing him dressed in long white robes and looking like a US evangelist were everywhere and there were little signs of the opposition party. But he became unpopular because of corruption and nepotism and in the subsequent election in January he lost his place to the opposition; a triumph for democracy.
Day 7 was a long day in the saddle covering 85K and 1500metres of climbing on 2 long climbs but at a lesser gradient than previously. We lost Brandon for most of the day after he took a wrong turn. Once we got up into the tea plantations the riding was wonderful.
It’s very easy for us to say that the country is picturesque and beautiful but for the people living there life can be tough. The lady tea pickers were often gaunt and aged, they earn maybe $8 a day, and many people have no running water and electricity.
There was much evidence of the British Raj .We stayed the night at an old manger’s house on Hatton’s Tea Estate , 1380 metres high. Here the majority of the people are Tamils and look different with darker skin and many of the ladies wearing saris.
The morning of day 8 was wonderful, as close to a cyclist’s paradise as there can be. We climbed gradually uphill allowing us to look at the scenery, take photos and keep a steady pace in mild sunshine. The tea plantations are sculptured up the steep hills and we stopped and took many photos of the ladies picking leaves. We then had a tour round a tea processing plant, in general it looked old and safety issues didn’t seem to be a priority. We gradually made our way to the top of the pass and then descended 21 kilometres in pouring rain. The descent was white knuckle stuff, steep, fast through forests and round hair pin bends and like most roads in Sri Lanka you never knew whether you would come face to face with a lumbering Tata bus.
By now Marshall was being sick and suffering from enteritis, and with it still pouring down we transferred to the hotel by bus.
Day 9 was our final day’s ride. This was a quiet uneventful ride along a river bank for most of the day.
Altogether we had two days riding without rain, the first and last.
Finally we had a rest day at a nice hotel Ranna 22 by the beach. We normally arrived at these smart hotels where the beautifully dressed staff in sarongs and saries line up to greet you with drinks and towels. They took a step backwards when they saw these bedraggled , wet, smelly cyclists appearing.
On our last day in Sri Lanka we drove to Galle and spent a fascinating few hours strolling around the narrow streets of old Dutch houses in the old fort area. Then we drove on to Colombo via an empty new toll road with lots of road signs warning of peacocks. The centre of Colombo was surprisingly well developed with parks and modern buildings but horrendous traffic out to the airport.
So I finished this with one cycling shoe, a left hand that didn’t work properly after the hectic braking down the hills, a bag full of smelly cycling clothes and a lot of good memories. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country with steep hills, wonderful smiling people and a lot of rain.

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