So much has happened in the last twenty-four hours it’s difficult to know where to start. Maybe at dinner last night then, when we met the nine other members of Sujan’s Eleven. We all sat facing each other along a table, reciting first names and hometowns, drinking Lion beers and mango lassis, and eating curry.
“It’s best to order a meat or fish curry,” explained Sujan. “You get all the same dishes as for a vegetable curry, but an extra protein one too.”
There was no shortage of crockery. A little dish with mango chutney, another with potatoes, a third with spicy sambol, and one massive mother crock of steamed white rice.
“You can eat as much rice as you want,” said Sujan. “And always remember you order RICE and curry, not curry and rice. For here, rice is the king.”
Later, upstairs in one of the hotel’s meeting rooms, he ran through logistics of the trip. A slight rearrangement of the train journey on day 10, followed by an increase in leisure activities on day 11. No eating with the left hand, unless the right one is inconvenienced. All elephants have right of way on the highways, followed by tipper trucks, buses, and finally the tuk-tuks and the motorcycles. No snoring after midnight, and no early morning runs. In order to see things at their best, we would be leaving early most mornings. Although not so early to avoid a full breakfast – with the Sri Lankan omelette highly recommended.
And so followed our second night in Sri Lanka and very full next day. The omelette was perfect, a chilli hit to wake us up. The bus had just about enough room for my bag. And the traffic was a game of linear pinball as we weaved and dodged between two wheels, four wheels, six wheels, and recumbent sleeping dogs.
After several hours hard driving by Dharme, a patient yet inexhaustible man, we stopped at a beautiful lake next to the city of Kurunegala. Sujan told us this was his hometown, a place that always made him feel nostalgic. Its three hills are named after an elephant, a tortoise, and an eel due to their shapes. Two cows grazed close to the lake, while inside the restaurant bright orange goldfish swam in an ornamental pond.
Then onto our lunch stop, where there was the choice of a lavish buffet or various curries a la carte. The portions were enormous, plates as big as an elephant’s ears. At this rate we’d weigh twice as much by the end of the week, and goodness knew what we’d look like at the end of the month.
The high point of the day had to be the cave temple at Dambulla . A steep path animated with monkeys, dogs, and tourists led to the entrance, where we removed our shoes to tread barefooted through five caves, each one more spiritual than the one before. There are over one hundred and fifty statues of Buddha altogether, carved out of rock and plaster, then painted in rich yellows, oranges and gold. So wonderfully atmospheric, so incredibly ornate, as we wandered and took photo after photo. This was a place like Westminster Abbey, the Hagia Sophia and Notre-Dame, reaching forward and backward in time. Words cannot describe it. Hopefully a few photographs will suffice.