Chennai Journal
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Sri Lanka

Marty and I spent the weekend in Sri Lanka, which is only about an hour's plane ride from Chennai. (It surprised me to learn that it has been almost 35 years since the name changed from Ceylon.) Sri Lanka was badly hit by the tsunami a year ago, but as our stay was limited to Colombo and an inland trip to the hill spot of Kandy, we didn't visit any of those areas. Although the road to Kandy was every bit as chaotic as what we experience in Chennai, Colombo was considerably more urbane, with modern electricity, sidewalks, and much less honking. Plus the motorcyclists wore helmets, which few of them here do.

On the way to Kandy, we stopped at the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, where abandoned and orphaned elephants are cared for and many returned into the wild. There was one poor guy who had lost one of his back feet stepping into a land mine, several who had had their tusks stolen, and one who was old and blind. We got there in time for the baby feeding, and at 10:00 a.m. the elephants are herded down to the river for bathing. You can see me next to a young fellow ---the little ones are not at all shy--and the keepers helping with the bathing in the river below.

A steady downpour kept us from exploring the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy where (supposedly) a tooth of Lord Buddha, snatched in the nick of time from his funeral pyre, is encased. The rain and clouds had Kandy completely socked in, so we also weren't able to see much of the scenery---according to the guidebooks it is quite beautiful. But the rain did let up long enough to permit a short stop at the Royal Botanical Gardens, which feature a gigantic fig tree, lush flower gardens, and beautiful tree-lined boulevards.

Besides the weather, the other downer in our stay was the hotel in Colombo---the Galle Face, which other than its views of the ocean and the park at the left, has little to recommend it. Built in 1864, it was obviously once a grand old colonial place---kings and queens and even Gregory Peck all stayed there. But it has obviously been resting on its laurels for at least 15 years---frayed carpeting, leaky plumbing, and very tired furniture. The air conditioning in our room had no controls, and we had to practically beg for an extra blanket. The worst insult was this morning when we were having breakfast on the veranda and both of us got up to refill at the buffet---only to have a flock of crows land on our table looking for leftovers! If ever you make it to Colombo, try another place.
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