Thursday, September 27, 2007
Sunday, September 23, 2007
The good friend arrived much later than the expected time due to some technical snag with the aircraft. And, as usual, much has happened since then. Planned, unplanned and foiled plans. Let me tell you about a couple of them.
Friday evening brought in a major experience of the ‘Rock’ side of
The band is called ‘Sage Merlyn’ and it consists of 3 fat and happy brothers. One with his awesome throaty (Louis Armstrongish) vocals, another at the lead guitar with extremely some extremely taut guitaring and the third one at the keyboards. When we waked in, they had just started playing a solid rock rendition of ‘Sandman’ (
They sang their renditions of some great tracks but what bowled me over completely was how they turned a sentimental number like ‘Diamonds and Rust’ (Joan Baez) in a powerful rock number. I’ve never been to a better night-club in my life. A couple of hours later, I had joined them on vocals for a few numbers by Cat Stevans and the personal favorite ‘Dust in the Wind’ (
The early morning trip to Sigiriya Fort and Minnariya Tank (a natural reservoir) forced us to leave the music and those three happy and high brothers.
The long awaited trip to Sigiriya / Minnariya Tank began at from the hotel lobby. Sigiriya is an ancient fortress built by an insecure King on the top of a mountain and Minnariya Tank is a natural reservoir famous for its elephants. Both these places are close to each other and the plan was to cover them both with one night’s stay at the guest house near the fortress.
The trip ended in the hotel lobby at of the same day and the stupidity of the driver assigned to us by the car-hire company was responsible for it. I don’t want to get into the frustrations of those 2 hours over here. I had to cancel the trip to get some peace of mind for the two of us.
Since then, it has largely been a shopping based weekend with a dip in the pool. Magical Laphroig, purchse of some good DVDs and
I haven’t given up on the plans climbing up the fort and going to the reservoir. It shall happen in my next trip to the island, which will be soon.
The photograph above is of the vocalist of Sage Merlyn.
Friday, September 21, 2007
Sri Lankans consume a lot of sugar in their cuppa and it can become very frustrating at times, especially when you are used to half a teaspoon of sugar. After the first couple of days, the woman who is responsible for tea / coffee, in my office had to be asked to give sugar separately. Her name is Shakuntala and she is always ready with three questions, whenever she sees me. They are, Tea? Coffee? or Water? She lost everyone she had in the Tsunami of 2004 and she is always full of smile and service.
What we call as ‘black tea’ is referred to as ‘plain tea’ over here and it’s more popular than the one with milk. One can expect the quality of this tea to be usually good (if you can discount the amount of sugar in it) even in the cheapest looking joint.
The hill station of Nuwara Eliya, near
Though its of fine quality, I’m yet to taste anything close to the Darjeeling variety of Orange Pekoe. But, Shakuntala’s smile and readiness to serve makes up for it.
I will be getting samples of the Ceylon Tea for some of you and then you can give me your opinions. For now, a good friend from India is expected any moment. Charmed by the Diaries, he is flying down to be here for the weekend.
The photograph above is of Chagas gift. The kettle belongs to the Hotel.
Monday, September 17, 2007
The musical landscape of
Type two is the film songs from old Sri Lankan movies and interestingly, most of them are set on the tunes of old and popular Hindi film songs. If you are into old hindi film songs, you can hear the familiar melody of a ‘Teri Aankhon Ke Siva Duniya Mein’ or a ‘Koi Saaghar Dil Ko Behlaata Nahin’ to the unfamiliar Sinhalese lyrics. In fact, when I started humming the Hindi lyrics of the song playing at a local restaurant, my Sri Lankan colleagues got very fascinated.
Type three is what plays in the cool night-clubs of
Type four is of the Classical variety and is a mix of North Indian and Carnatic style of classical music. Frankly, I'm yet to hear anything from this genre anywhere in Sri Lanka, but I’m told that its there.
Type five would be the current songs from Bollywood. SRK, Aishwarya Rai, Hrithik Roshan are popular and young kids download this material on their mobile phones. These kids, usually aren’t the western night-clubs sorts.
The Japanese muse, Karaoke is big in
More on the famous
Sunday, September 16, 2007
The road from
The village where we had work was about 40 km away from
The journey from Village Green to ‘many many years back in time’ took me an hour. The drizzle had stopped by then.
History suggests that
Once inside the fort, I was transposed into another world. The city inside is one of the world’s best-preserved colonial landscape with its understated, sleepy charm. Its low-rise streets are lined with old churches and Dutch colonial villas, many of which retain original street-facing verandahs, their white plaster now stripped by sea breezes and weathered to a peeling grey and yellow. Interestingly, the city was left unharmed by the Tsunami. Amongst the many churches inside, stands the very atmospheric Dutch Reformed Church. Built in 1755, its one of the finest Christian architecture that I’ve seen. With its enormous canopy over the pulpit and the attractive, ancient organ, the place saw me spending an hour inside it. The floor is covered in ornately carved memorials to the city’s Dutch settlers in English as well as Dutch, illustrating the brief life expectancy of the island’s early colonists. Although I’m a non-believer, I found calmness inside the ancient structure. Perhaps, it’s my love for all things old.
Amongst the many churches inside, stands the very atmospheric Dutch Reformed Church. Built in 1755, its one of the finest Christian architecture that I’ve seen. With its enormous canopy over the pulpit and the attractive, ancient organ, the place saw me spending an hour inside it. The floor is covered in ornately carved memorials to the city’s Dutch settlers in English as well as Dutch, illustrating the brief life expectancy of the island’s early colonists. Although I’m a non-believer, I found calmness inside the ancient structure. Perhaps, it’s my love for all things old.
The day ended with me witnessing a town becoming absolutely empty in less than 10 minutes…an experience which will remain with me for the rest of my life.
Powerful earthquakes had hit
Rest of the evening was about the drive back to
The first photograph is of the beautiful dutch church from inside and the second one is of a street in the fort city.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
A week before coming to the Isle, I quit smoking…something which I’ve never attempted in the last 15 years of my smoking career. And, barring two occasions of temptations, I’ve been easily successful from staying away from the stick. One of them was the evening at Anuradhapura, mentioned in previous post. The next one happened at one of the restaurants of Taj Samudra.
I usually take my evening meals inside the comfort and convenience of my room, but this particular evening I decided to step out and check the eateries of the hotel. ‘Navaratna’, the popular Indian restaurant looked awfully crowded, driving me to the place next door, The Steak & Grill House. In a dramatic contrast, the place had nobody inside except a lady sitting on the pianoforte and softly playing ‘Lara’s theme’ while a couple of waiters watched her. The lady was playing quiet well. I had found my place!
In the course of the evening, she played a lot of my requests, and except for the extremely difficult ‘Moonlight Sonata’ they were all rendered very well, the best one being the peaceful ‘Air on the G String’ by Bach with its intertwining harmony and melody. Bordeux was great, as usual and the food perfectly went along with it. I text messaged to my friend in India,
“She has music in her fingers
While, I have a fork in mine.”
And suddenly, the evening felt incomplete without the white stick between my fingers. I asked the waiter for one and he replied that I will have to pick up a complete pack.
So, I remain a non-smoker. And you know what…it feels nice and healthy.
I left the pleasure-filled evening by thanking the lady who had made it so. I was humming the difficult sonata in my mind, trying to get it right.
With tomorrows dawn, I shall be headed towards the ancient port city of Galle in the southern part of the Isle. Its famous for its time-warped streets lined with historic Dutch villas. More on that in the next page of the Diaries.
Monday, September 03, 2007
They will always keep the door open for the next person, they will always ask you if you slept well, they will try to sense every expression on your face to assess what you want; they will listen to whatever you are saying and then they also listen to the unsaid. That is Zen!
The Sri Lankan hospitality is astounding, almost magical and motherly. Back home in the city of Mumbai this kind of experience is unheard of. The last time I felt like this was with my parents as a child and with certain good friends.
With frequent halts for conversations along with some extremely sweet Ceylon tea, we reached the UNESCO heritage city of Anuraadhapura by the evening. It’s a town full of Buddhist history and ruins from the 4th century BC. Legend has it that it was the fabled capital of the Asura King Ravana in the Ramayana.
Smirnoff, bought at the local Cargill superstore gave us company for the night at a local resort called Nuwarawera Rest House. Sitting next to a lit pool and a 'witchy looking' tree, we did full justice to the famous brand of Vodka and the evening. A black cat kept walking around our feet. We talked about various superstitions, clients, marriages, love and personal philosophies.
The next morning saw us turning into tourists. Sri Lanka's largest Stupa called the Jetavanaramaya belittled me with its size and grandeur. At a height of over 400 feet (120m), it is the tallest stupa in the world, largest brick building ever built, and 3rd largest structure in the ancient world, after the two largest of the Great Pyramids of Giza. Next stop was at the Mahabodhi tree, which is said to be the sapling from the original Bodhi tree from Bodh Gaya, a town in Bihar. Interestingly, Bodh Gaya happens to be the city of my origins too. Sadly, this important temple is very ill-maintained. Some more ruins from the BC era, around the city and we were on our way back to Colombo. A little halt at a charming, seaside village of fishermen was beautiful. Because of the paucity of time, we excluded the famous Sigiriya Fort and Elephant Sanctuary for another day.
By the time, I reached the hotel, I was extremely exhausted. A couple of drinks from the Red Label gifted by my friend Mr Shaffie proved to be of great help. It put me to a sweet and dreamless sleep.
Today was pretty critical and successful in the context of work.
And thats how the world's tallest Stupa, completely made of bricks, looks like. Notice that its top is broken. It was discovered in that state in early 1900s.