To conclude my travels throughout Asia this year I take the train to Colombo Fort Train Station.
My travels are coming to an end. Slowly slowly coming back to what people generally call reality.
It is August 2017. Soon i will be going back to Europe. I have about one week left in Sri Lanka. One week. Why not check out some beaches and temples? Take some rest before heading back to Colombo and Negombo 😀
Along the coast I ride for about an hour until I reach Galle. I walk about aimlessly. There are quite a lot of tourists here. Most of them Dutch. Which makes sense as this is a Portuguese Fort built in 16C fortified and extended by the Dutch in 17C. I feel as if I have seen enough of Galle after about two hours. There are old churches and antique stores, the beach is not far and the view is terrific.
All of this, though, as interesting as it may be for someone interested in it – for someone who’s really into it, seems to be not much more than entertainment for the many. An opportunity to take a selfie and another, and another. Some proof to show to others: “Look at us, we have been here.”
Before and after Galle I chill out at the beach. Driving or walking around aimlessly is what I like most these days. Nowhere to go in particular feels great. Of course, there is also a certain restlessness in the mix. As soon as I sit down somewhere I feel like I wanna explore what is behind the next hill or what the next bay has to offer. On my offline map it only says “blowhole”…
In Kandy it is time of Perahera, the Buddhist festival. What is being celebrated, though, I couldn’t find out, really. (Something’s to do with Buddhas tooth being shown around… sammā-sambuddha would surely be amused…) Musical performances, people dancing, processions, and everything is pretty much over at around 9 p.m. when somewhere else, parties haven’t even started yet 😉
Next day I rent a scooter and go northeast to visit Hunusgiriya Waterfall and explore Knuckle’s Range via Panwila-Huluganga-Bambarella. On the way, I stop several times cuz I meet friendly locals waving at me and pointing out a cemetery in the middle of tea plantations, guesthouse owners inviting me for tea and a chat. Sometimes I also decide to have a rest and snack some delicious vegetable samosas, checkout a tea factory, and enjoy the view over the hilly terrain.
At 5 p.m. I still have not reached Knuckle’s Range. It is getting dark (and chilly) soon so I make a U-Turn and go back to Kandy. On the way back I come across a ceremony at a temple in Madawala, a small village. I stop and sit down with the locals. Three monks come to chant and one of them gives a dhamma talk in Singhalese after that. A man called Bandara invites me to have dinner with his family.
When i finally arrive in Kandy, I notice how noisy it is because of Perahera. Many buses, construction sites, loud music, neon lights.
… … …
One of the things I like about Sri Lanka, I mean… apart from the delicious food, the hospitality of the people, the diversity of the natural landscape … is the transport system. Given there is so much talk on the web about the special train ride from Kandy to Ella I decide to see for myself if all the hype is justified.
Ella is a beautiful place to be for a couple of days, a week even. There are opportunities to hike, e.g. Ella Rock and Little Adam’s Peak. Also, a nice walk to Nine Arch Bridge along the railway tracks. I was lucky to have an Indian friend named Vineeth at my side who knows a lot about fauna and flora (among other things). He pointed out the names of birds, butterflies and reptiles along the way and gave me the chance to hold a snake in my hand. Thanks, bro, in case you happen to read this, I had a great time with you and lookforward to meeting you in India 😅
Also, I have to say, I was really happy to stay at Ja’s place called “ostello”. Located on a hill with a wonderful view on Ella Rock and a sunrise to make the fresh Ceylon tea smell even more intense, this place is my base for some days. I am very grateful for being around like-minded travellers, have inspiring conversation and enjoy my breakfast which was different every day.
When we return in the evening the ostello is fully booked. Nevertheless, we can stay as friends and even get breakfast for free the next morning. Oh my Buddha! Thank you, Papa Ja!
Together with Pranavan, a fellow Vipassana yogi at Dhamma Kuta and student in Jaffna, I pay a visit to the Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya. We are there for around 4 hours to walk about, meet some Austrians, see flying foxes and indulge in the splendour of natural surroundings.
Tending the garden, the temple within prompts me to visit some holy sites in the north of Sri Lanka. Not the far north… just a couple of hours bus ride to reach Anuradhapura, ancient city and capital of north central province. Historically, it is closely connected to Mahinda, the son of Ashoka who had taken refuge in the triple gem after being overwhelmed by the atrocities of warfare necessary to secure and expand his empire in 3rd century BC.
Together with Yuna, a french woman living in Barca, I venture forth to explore the area by bicycle. We see Bodhi trees with people sitting in a circle around it, chanting, praying to it as a wish fulfilling sacred magical plant. We come across white pagodas being renovated. We watch playful monkeys in trees and we wash our feet in the nearby river. It is hot and we’re sweating a lot. So the refreshment is more than welcome.
I enjoy my time in Anuradhapura a lot. The place I am staying at is called Lucky Holiday Home [affiliate link that is]. I highly recommend it. I find it hard to leave.
When I start a journey I usually start with a meditation retreat to collect myself, to be clear about the purpose of the trip. Similarly, when the journey comes to an end, as it must, I conclude my travel period with a meditation retreat to gather mind and body and to reflect on the many experiences I made throughout the trip.
Therefore, I choose to sit down and digest the myriad impressions at Dhamma Kuta Vipassana Center on top of a hill near Kandy. Especially after tending for the dogs and cats at Tikiri Trust I find this is a great way to understand raw existence and the suffering and compassion and love I have encountered there. Remaining silent for 8 days after so much barking at the animal shelter to come to terms with the lot of all beings, including my own.
I took care of dogs and cats for about a week along with local workers, a french girl volunteering, and Padma.
Working at an animal shelter near Kandy certainly opened my eyes once again to the lot of the lesser fortunate ones. Well, in fact, the dogs and cats who came to Padma’s place are the more fortunate ones. They are washed, fed, oiled with neem and coconut oil if they have some skin disease, and wherever they shit and piss, it’s gonna be cleaned up shortly. They are cuddled and taken on the lap if they allow it. Most have wounds, inner and outer, be it a lost friend (Rosie), an experience of being kidnapped (Charly) and being beaten into submission, being abandoned.
At this place around 160 dogs and 60 cats (July 2017) find some rest. Finally, they don’t have to fear some person who intend to hurt or harm them in any way. What a relief that must be! To find, after years and years, a place where you are welcomed, a place called home.
Here are some impressions of where I volunteered. Just amazing how much they hunger for affection…
This world is beautiful. This world is cruel. Both statements are true and untrue. It all depends on what the world is for you and me. I think the world gives each and every one his/her share. I also think that sometimes that world is considered ‘unfair’.
In which way is the world something you have extrapolated from your experience, something you get estranged from? In which way have you incorporated your experience to create a world you really like to live in, and: is your perception something you take responsibility for?
And how much time do you find to play, my friend?
Visiting the famous temples – UNESCO world heritage since 1991 – is only one of the highlights of my stay in Yogyakarta or, as the locals love to call it, Jogja 😉 I find the price gap between locals and foreigners exaggerated. Locals pay IDR40,000 while foreigners pay IDR520,000 to visit two temples. I struggle at first, but in the end I accept it. Tourism is a market, and as such its game rules of Supply & Demand simply have to be acknowledged.
At Prambanan Temple (originally built in 9th century CE, like Borobudur) there is a museum with artefacts, statues, photographs, and also a film to watch about history, architecture and the epic story named Ramayana (part of Bhagavad-Gīta).
Candi Borobudur is impressive. There has been a lot of work involved in the restoration and conservation of this temple. Its construction presumably took place between 800 and 900 CE. Original purpose unknown. Much folklore and mystery revolve around abandoned Borobudur until part of it was restored in 1911 by Theodoor Van Erp. Another period of renovation took place between 1975-82 by the Government of Indonesia and UNESCO. Today it is part of UNESCO World Heritage and used for annual ceremonies like Vesakh and as a tourist attraction with must-see status. (Be aware, don’t let anyone tell you what you have to see or what you mustn’t miss out on! Remember you can always practice JOMO)
I am very lucky to find such hospitable, generous and thoughtful hosts here in Jogja. Dhika picks me up from the bus station. Having arrived at his newly created home he shows me my room. I am tired after ten hours night bus ride from Malang. So he lets me sleep in a big bed for a couple of hours. When I wake up, food is served by his amazing sister Dini.
When I arrive I intend to stay for 2 nights. It all turns out otherwise. In the end, I stay for more than a week and skip volunteering in the north of Jogja.
We cook together. Eat together. We visit temples and go to the beach. i also get the chance to give Ohashiatsu treatments and learn some more Bahasa Indonesia with them. Whenever I mention what I would like they always find a way to make me happy! Sometimes even to the point where it’s almost uncomfortable for me because it seems they change their own plans and practice renunciation only to make my life easier.
I am so grateful to have friends like you who treat me like family. You are mosdef three reasons to come back and visit Jogja again. I will check the sixpack, Dhika, and we go up Mount Merapi, finally!
So … what’s the most important tourist attraction of Indonesia?