Friday, 3 May 2013

A ride to a Sri Lankan temple

Abridged version published in July-August issue of Wanderlust magazine.

 “You like to go for a ride?” Raja asks.
I peer into the open-sided shed to see Raja’s mean machine gleaming red in the dimming light. The New Lion is Raja’s pride and joy and he’s keen to show it off.
Earlier I had visited the ancient civilisations of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, marvelling at the soaring columns of stone, the carved moonstones, the crumbling temples and the giant Buddhas carved out of rock faces.
At nightfall, my Sri Lankan hosts and I had visited the great stupa of Anuradhapura, taking 10 minutes to circle its perfectly rounded circumference. We’d relished the coolness of the stone beneath our bare feet in the sultry evening as we lit oil dishes and incense sticks and offered up perfumed Jasmine. All around us ghostly worshipers floated by in swathes of white. On the steps, a female priest preached to a group of followers who listened with rapt attention. Above orange-robed monks provided a splash of colour in an otherwise white and sky-black world.
 At dawn, we’d driven past blood-red lakes carpeted with lily pads. When I awoke, we were somewhere deep in rural Sri Lanka, bumping along a canal road, the riverbed dried out but for patches of muddy water now the sluice gates were closed. Still families bathed in the remaining stretches of water or thrashed laundered clothes on rocks. Once, a kingfisher flew across the canal before disappearing into the rainforest, while egrets stood like graceful ornaments on the water’s edge.
Eventually we’d reached the small hamlet of houses owned by Raja and his brothers. I’d eaten oil cakes with tea, showered in the garden in a bathing cloth and brought out the whole neighbourhood who came to gawk at the pale-faced westerner racing the lane on a child’s bike.
Now Raja drags out his mean machine, the vehicle that has transformed his life: a three-wheeler tractor.  No longer does he need to harvest the paddy fields with a scythe. Forget the ancient civilisations - this is progress.
“Come, Madam Helan. We go!” Raja’s children, nieces and nephews cry. The fathers gather round in their western, collared shirts and patterned sarongs, smiling encouragement. The wives nod emphatically. 

Raja’s son jumps onto the trailer, sweeping it out with a broom for the foreign visitor. “Climb on,” the cousins implore me, pulling me up. The trailer is crammed with shouting, giggling children. Someone waves a giant tortoise in my face and we’re off, puttering along the jungle-edged lane in the dusky evening.
We arrive at the village square as night falls. The school is in darkness but light is radiating from the temple. Inside garish statues retell the story of Buddha’s journey to enlightenment: encounters with an old, a sick, a dead and a holy man.

Outside again, one of the children runs across the dusty square to switch on the lights surrounding the Buddha shrine. Bulbs flash on and off, but Raja’s revving the engine - it’s time to go home.


  1. its nice blog,I Like Images,Thanks For Sharing with us.
    vietnam holidays

  2. Hi, your blog is great. I hope you don't mind but I nominated you for Very Inspiring Blogger Award:

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.