Friday, June 20, 2008
This year Poson Poya, fell on Wednesday, June 18th 2008 and therefore was a midweek day. There was no exodus of the Colombo middle class to provincial 5 star hotels for a weekend of fun and therefore these hotels were empty. I went to the Deer Park Hotel around 8.30pm the night before Poya to have dinner and the lights at the entrance were switched off and I was told the Restaurant also was closed. I suspect they did not even have one guest.
Earlier that same day after climbing the Dambulla Cave temple where the power had failed, and we just had to view in poor light, we went to Heritance Kandalama for tea and a light bite, and even there it was eerily empty. The staff all seemed lost and wandering about polishing the floors and practicing bar skills like throwing the bottle over the head for want of something better to do. This is the best time of year for all those hotels as the air is dry, there is no rain, and the wind keeps the whole place beautifully cool at all times with no mosquitoes. A short drive thereafter to Sigiriya and the climb seemed even easier than before with all the new ladders in place and one section for ascent and another for descent making all much easier than my first climb which was as precarious as one could make it following the contours of the rock holding onto rusty chains.
We settled into the Giritale Hotel for the night, primarily because of the unmatched location, where only one other room was taken. The stunning view in almost any other country would keep this place full all year round and as I mentioned earlier this is the best time of year to be there. Walking out at dawn on Poya morning into the lobby in my sarong and banyan seemed quite natural as there was no one else, not even hotel staff hovering around. The morning pot of tea was ordered and enjoyed with the birds-eye view of the birds especially the Brahmini Kite.
What I am trying to say is that we have some of the nicest hotel locations on the face of the planet and they are all empty, dead, almost forgotten, and there is no reason why our glorious tourist industry should blame terrorism, as it is just the excuse. I was telling this friend, who was with me that for me the first impressions of a country count an awful lot in making up my mind about a place, and that all the travel agent has to do is to whisk the traveler straight from the airport to these locations as the flights arrive at dawn and they can get here in a few hours, which will give the impression especially in June of a lush peaceful tropical paradise far removed from the media spotlight that appears to cloud one’s thinking. It is just marketing skill that can turn a threat into an opportunity and then give a tourist the holiday of a lifetime, which is all we should strive for, so that their word of mouth is better than any marketing plan in luring more to our shores to enjoy the immense range of interest we can offer the true explorer.
The Poson Poya morning trip into the Polonnaruwa ruined city was a carnival of hand tractors and trailers packed to the brim with people on a day out with beautiful parasols keeping out the hot midday sun from their faces. It is enough to melt the heart of the observer to see the patience with which these people endure the bumpy ride with no apparent discomfort, so they can partake in all sorts of activities of the day.
Near one of the ancient ponds there was this snake charmer with two cobras and one python, see photo attached with a throng of people surrounding watching the proceedings. There were hat sellers, ice-cream sellers, clairvoyants and palm readers and an assortment of vendors seizing the opportunity to make a buck.
The various food Dansalas were everywhere so no one need go hungry today as every bit of food was free!! The biblical view of the thousands of older ladies who had come to partake in the religious ceremonies at the famous Gal Vihare were all seated all along the hillocks having their packed lunches provided for them by some well wisher.
The flowers on the offering table at the Buddha statues were so serene and natural as would be expected in any religious place. The relatively modern version of the Buddhist flag was everywhere and the very same flags were also used to flag down the traveler to imbibe in some refreshment.
What was more surprising was that all along the road all the way from Polonnaruwa to Godagama, there were these Dansalas where no one need be hungry as there was food for the asking. The crowds seem to all have decided that they were all going to eat out today, with no one cooking at home for once. Everyone in the country seemed to be on their way to a free eatery near their homes, with the usual mode of transport being the tractor-trailer. It is a nightmare scenario for a motorist to navigate between parked vehicles in the middle of the road as no one seemed to care where they stopped, but every one seemed to enjoy themselves and that was all that mattered a nation in a sociable, jovial, eating, singing and dancing mood.