After the trip to Colombo with the school group was over but for going back to Karainagar, we didn’t. We took an early train headed for the interior of Sri Lanka – and mountains! We were excited to be heading for mountains – the area we live in is hot, humid and flat, and we wanted to spend time in the mountains to see if there are any real lumps and bumps in Sri Lanka.
Yes, there are. Our train wound its way up to a little village called Ohiya by noontime, and we were met by the owner of the little shop/restaurant in town where we had lunch. Then we took a tuk-tuk (yes, it’s all pronounced ‘took’, so we took-a-took-took) to the Angel Inn, our home for the next few days. It was downhill from the train station, so after we ate, we moved into our small but fine cabin with bed and clothes rack and a bathroom with shower that was supposed to have hot water.
That kind of suggests the rest of the hot shower story, but we’re pretty used to taking the water as it comes, and in the mountains it comes colder than at sea level. The change from summer at sea level did not go unappreciated.
We explored up and down our road, passing homes, fields and paddies, enjoying views of the valley and the monkeys that traveled over our heads and chatted and chattered their way near us, if not always in sight. We were glad of the exercise, wanting to be sure that we actually earned the amount of food we ate. The dining room was a platform built overlooking the long deep valley behind the cabins, and the furniture was all made of wood hand-sawn, shaped, built and finished by the owner into comfortable and beautiful tables and chairs. The food was good and plentiful, and we had the company of other guests, from Portugal and Lithuania (a couple now living in England) and from Austria, so fascinating conversation flowed as freely as delicious food!
On the next day, we took a tuktuk up to Horton Plains – World’s End, a national park with mountains (including two of the highest in Sri Lanka). The tuktuk ride is about 20-25 minutes of lovely scenery, from farm fields, and lower forests through other climate zones of different vegetation, so every bit of each day at Horton Plains was beautiful and educational.
The park protects forests and grasslands for many plant and animal species that live only there. There’s a 9-kilometer trail/path around the area that goes past high points with views, plenty of birdlife, forested walks, waterfalls, and yes, lots of people on their school vacations. We walked that one day, seeing wonderful long views, especially from World’s End, a high point with sheer drop, offering a loooong view over the surrounding lowlands. As we walked further, we enjoyed waterfalls and rapids, grasslands and stands of old, new and renewing forests. We explored the park museum and shop, as well as enjoying some tea and biscuits to hold us over until afternoon when we could buy lunch from the little restaurant.
We especially enjoyed the arrival of four gona, a variety of deer who seem to like photo ops for the tourists – they give extra value, and we appreciate extra value for our money! Sri Lanka charges at least ten times for foreign visitors at national sites as for Sri Lankan citizens. But! On our second day at Horton Plains, our tuktuk driver went to the ticket booth with us and told them that we have residence visas, which saved us a lot of money – though we can’t complain too much about the full tourist price of 5000 rupees – that’s $35, and we certainly had that much enjoyment and satisfaction knowing that the money was preserving this area for future generations.
The next day we climbed one of the other two serious mountains in the park. We had heard that the higher of the two is quite challenging – a long walk over rough areas. It sounded like a typical day hiking in the White Mountains, but we didn’t have boots or other serious gear – like shorts and T-shirts that aren’t part of any proper Sri Lankan woman’s wardrobe, and therefore not of ours.
So we chose to climb the third-highest mountain in Sri Lanka, Mt.Totupolakanda at 2357 meters of height and about 3 km from the parking lot. Fortunately we said we wanted to climb Mt T on our way to the park, so our tuktuk driver took us to the trailhead. The climb was pleasant and easy, with a lovely variety of terrain, vegetation and views through the morning mists and fog. The relatively flat top was underwhelming – no views, and occupied by a transmission tower that was no lovelier than it had to be, surrounded by a cyclone fence that enclosed and collected trash. (Unfortunately, that’s the story of so many otherwise lovely and interesting places in Sri Lanka – cities, towns, farms, fields, paddies, yards, gardens, roadsides, forests, parks, historic sites, homes and building grounds. I suspect that Sri Lankans aren’t conscious of the trash and visitors can’t ignore it – especially those from places like the USA, lest we feel superior, that were blind to their own litter until relatively recently!)
Our morning hike and breakfast on Mt T , our road walk back were all rewarded with cool air, clearing skies and more gona in fields along the way! Back at Angel Inn we relaxed, read, washed and got ready for another great evening meal, and we were not disappointed!
We were up bright and early the next day to go to Sigiriya, a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site that features a huge 660-foot high column of rock that is topped by the ruins of a 5th century city complete with palace, surrounded by a fort, accessed by a staircase up the upper half of the rock column whose lowest steps are framed by huge stone lion’s paws.
At the foot of the column are extensive gardens of various designs. After the king who developed the top of the rock died, the area was used as a Buddhist monastery for nearly another 1000 years, and the ruins are very well-preserved and explained in signs in Sinhala (Sri Lanka’s most-spoken language), Tamil and English. The whole area is fascinating and beautiful, with many very well-engineered access and maintenance features that are as cleverly and beautifully made as the buildings and gardens themselves, thus enhancing the natural beauty of the area.
The next day we were off by train to return to Jaffna. There were no reserved tickets left for our travel date (we had checked several days before) and we were advised to pay for second class reserved tickets – without seats to reserve – and try our luck in the reserved coaches. There are usually open seats, and if you get one and no one disputes your right to it, you can show you’ve paid for the right to be there. So we did, and in the middle of this crowded SRO coach we met a wonderful extended family having a reunion on the train. A number of the family are deaf, and Lindley’s knowledge of some rudimentary American Sign Language was VERY helpful. The people were friendly, funny, helpful, entertaining – what a delightful trip we took in their company, sharing seats, taking turns standing and sitting, taking pictures, acting out comments, reactions, and the hearing members of the family finding some English to keep us all communicating. This family are live advertisements for using ‘differently-abled’ rather than ‘disabled’ to describe people who haven’t full use of what we so casually call ‘normal’ abilities. What a grand time we had being reminded, and we have stayed in touch by cell phone video conversations!
Eventually all this travel took us back to Jaffna and then to Karainagar, where we found the feline was no longer a kitty. He’s growing in lots of ways, our canine and feline adopted family members are growing in acceptable relationship, and the dog who hangs out with us, because he used to live at the parsonage when his owners were the resident church pastor and family, is growing used to all this activity and supervision! When the family moved, he didn’t and he’s ours now. He and the cat are surviving their relationship so far, we might say, so life shows no sign of peace, quiet or predictability.
Sure is interesting, though, and we wouldn’t have it any different . . . except maybe cooler.
Andy Jepson and Lindley Kinerk serve as long-term volunteers with the Church of American Ceylon Mission. Andy provides chaplain services and Lindley serves as a teacher at the Christian Theological Seminary and Jaffna College. Their appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.