Sri Lankan fauna

They had some animals in Sri Lanka. Some you might expect (elephants, monkeys); some you might not. There are wild dogs everywhere. Mostly pretty mangy and sad-looking. Not especially dangerous or aggressive, although a few of them did persistently follow us up and down the beach one evening.

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Yes, monkeys. Again, pretty common and usually safe, although you’re discouraged from feeding them. Cuter and more photogenic than flea-ridden mutts, in my view.

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One big surprise: the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kandy were infested with ginormous, screeching fruit bats. Fortunately they kept their distance. I also saw on more than one occasion dead bats hanging from electrical cables. They obviously grab hold of one with their feet, then dangle down and unwittingly touch the parallel cable below them with their head, closing the circuit and ZAP! Fried bat.

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Wild elephants usually stick to the jungle, although we were lucky enough to see one creep up behind our broken down jeep one night and cross the road (at the zebra crossing, obviously).

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Later, on safari, the road signs prepared us for the increased likelihood of sightings.

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Recent floods meant that many of the tracks in the national parks were difficult to pass. But there weren’t many alternative routes through the jungle so we usually just had to blast through, getting pulled out by another jeep when we got stuck.

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Peacock. In a tree.

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Monitor lizard, keeping an eye on things.

Monitor. Monitoring. Oh, forget it.

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Slightly larger reptiles, bathing.

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And then we hit the jackpot. Leopard! What do you mean, where? Look, right there. In the middle of the photo.

Ok, let’s zoom in a little, shall we?

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In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the leopard takes a mid-morning nap.

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After 20 minutes I was getting a little bored of this lazy cat, but fortunately she then woke up and started doing some stretching. Or perhaps it’s pilates.

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And all of a sudden she was up and walking straight towards us.

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Here’s the video shot by our guide while I was snapping photos.

Later we saw a group of four lounging on top of a rock. This is as close as I could zoom.

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Wild elephants. Still exciting in spite of the fact that we’d already been for a ride on a tame one.

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This tusked version is apparently quite rare in Sri Lanka. Note how it likes to play with clouds of butterflies.

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Note how close it’s getting to our jeep. Doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

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Breathe in…

We ran into (not literally, this time) the same beast later that morning. It walked very slowly in front of us, blocking our path. Then it shat and pissed on the road in front of us.

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Somewhat better behaved were the teensy tiny babies at the turtle sanctuary.

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They’re usually released into the wild shortly after being born, but some injured or malformed specimens are kept in order to give them a better chance of survival.

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I was surprised they let me hold one. Heavy and not particularly cuddly. The long-suffering expression on its face testifies to how many times it’s been unceremoniously manhandled in this way.

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Sri Lankan flora

I saw some pretty plants and flowers in Sri Lanka. Some in the temples:

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Some in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kandy:

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Some in Brief Garden, a private residence near Aluthgama whose grounds are open to visitors.

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This was my favourite. Apparently it’s called a Black Bat Flower.

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And some we saw on safari. Our guide pointed this one out to us. It’s called Glory Lily and it’s highly toxic and is often used by people wishing to commit suicide.

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Oh, and this particular species is in the genus Littonia

An island full of Buddhas

Before going to Sri Lanka I knew it was 75% Buddhist, but that still didn’t prepare me for the profusion and size of Buddha statues you find all across the country. Our tour included stops at several temples and archaeological sites, so we got to see a wide variety of them. Perhaps because of the particular branch of Buddhism popular in Sri Lanka they were all fairly slim and serene, compared to the fat, laughing version you often see decorating Chinese restaurants.

The weather was unseasonably rainy during the first week of our stay, but at least it was a warm rain so we didn’t catch a cold or have to huddle, shivering, under our umbrellas. In fact it wasn’t even that big a deal getting wet as you dried off again pretty quickly due to the heat, so my umbrella was mainly used to keep my camera dry.

Remember: shoes and hats off when you enter the temple grounds.

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One of our first visits was to the ruins of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.

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Within this site is a granite hill called Gal Vihara, out of which several Buddha statues were carved nearly a thousand years ago.

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I love the interaction between the design of the figure and the grain and pattern in the stone.

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Other statues are clearly designed to be seen from a distance, like this one, visible from the top of Sigiriya rock.

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Another highlight was Dambulla, which is famous for its cave temple. Near the entrance a golden Buddha watches over the museum.

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But the real excitement is inside, in a complex of five natural caves filled with statues and painted walls and ceilings.

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Our guide told us that one of these statues was recently completely repainted. Apparently it was considered to have been defiled because a tourist decided to climb up onto it and sit in its lap in order to have her photo taken. In fact all temples in Sri Lanka ask you, out of respect, not to have your photo taken with your back to a statue of the Buddha.

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Ceiling detail.

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Another temple in the town of Kandy.

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When I build my own temple you can bet the columns will be topped with golden elephant heads too.

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But I think possibly my favourite was the Kande Viharaya temple which we visited just outside the beach resort of Beruwela. And incidentally this is my favourite of all the photos I took on holiday:

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It’s the tallest sitting Buddha statue in the world (48 metres), and appears to have had a fairly recent paint job, as in all the other photos I can find online it looks rather faded. It was a hot day and the floor tiles scorched our bare feet, making us scurry across the complex looking for shade, much to the amusement of the harder-soled locals.

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Offerings.

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Buddha’s bum! I was puzzled by what look like windows or trapdoors in its back. Is it hollow?

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Of course if you want to get an idea of what Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and other sacred Sri Lanka sites are really like, you could just watch this:

Little boy lost

I remember a family outing to a forest in Devon with a river running through it (broadly similar to Tarr Steps). I was probably somewhere between 6 and 9 years old at the time. I was there with my parents, siblings, grandmother, aunt and uncle.

We were heading back towards the car park and I had run on ahead. Just before the car park I stopped and decided that it would be a funny joke to head up the hill a little and hide behind a tree. As family members gradually arrived back at the car park I watched from my hiding place as they started to look around for me. After a few minutes they started to get more worried and a couple of them headed back they way we’d come to search along (and in) the river. The more serious things got the less keen I was to venture down from behind the tree and to reveal myself, fearful of the inevitable tongue-lashing. But at a certain point it became unavoidable so I meekly trotted down the hill to where my uncle and gran were waiting while the others had gone off looking in various directions. These being the days before mobile phones we had to wait until they’d all come back before they knew I was safe and sound.

And this was back in the 1970s when parents were noticeably more relaxed about their kids wandering off on their own. I’ve experienced a couple of occasions where I’ve ‘mislaid’ a child and it doesn’t take long for the cold feeling to grow in the pit of your stomach and for your mind to leap to the darkest conclusions. Somewhere between thirty and sixty seconds.

So…yeah. Sorry, mum.

Life in the future

Recently I read a collection of articles by Arthur C. Clarke called The View From Serendip. Here’s the review I posted on goodreads:

I finally picked this off the shelf because some of it is about Sri Lanka. Unfortunately for me, not very much of it. It’s a random collection of articles, most of which have Clarke speculating on where technology, and specifically space exploration, will go during the last few decades of the 20th century. But his prose style is quite irritating: by turns dry and smug, with the occasional stilted attempt at humour.
Having said that, some of the predictions are remarkable. While he misses the mark on some things (he couldn’t have imagined the stalling of the space programme) he also basically predicts – in the early 1970s – the Internet, email, RSS feeds, social media and smartphones. For that alone it’s a valuable piece of history. It’s just a shame there wasn’t more about his life in and around the Indian Ocean (apart from a couple of snorkelling trips).

Yesterday I was driving the 10yo to an appointment and she put on the car radio. Some 60s-style jazz full of Hammond organ noodling came on and we listened to it for a bit. We had a conversation about how old-fashioned it was; how music has changed; whether old people (i.e. me) can like modern music too. Then she asked me what I had thought the future was going to be like when I was a child. I was stumped for a moment so I told her that I’d read and watched a lot of science fiction and that I was probably expecting things like a colony on the moon within my lifetime.

She said that she imagines flying cars will happen in the not too distant future. Then I explained about all the unexpected ways in which life has changed since I was young, and what things were like before mobile phones and the Internet.

Her final comment before we arrived at our destination was that she thought technology made people lazy, whether it be because they feel they can duck out of appointments at the last minute by sending a text, or because they don’t feel they need to learn facts or arithmetic because devices can provide the answer with a quick click or swipe.

Wasabi Kit Kat

My wife recently came into possession of a box of wasabi-flavoured Kit Kat bars. She scoffed them all herself, naturally, but one of her colleagues also had a few lying around and generously donated them to me.

The packaging is as pretty as you’d expect from the Japanese.
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Box interior. It originally held twelve pieces. They’re fairly small: thumb-length, basically.

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On the back of the individual Kit Kat wrapper is, ummm, a space for you to doodle? Write a shopping list? (“Need more wasabi Kit Kats”).

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The thing itself in all its pale green glory.

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And the taste? The wasabi flavour is definitely there, but combining it with the chocolate has removed its spicy kick. Which is the whole point of wasabi, as far as I’m concerned. This is wasabi for the kind of people who like alcohol-free beer.

Still, if this has whet your appetite wait until you read this review of 15 different flavours available in Japan, including pear, sweet potato, and tea.

Antici-pain-tion

Compare and contrast: Last Saturday I went to a friend’s birthday party. I had a few beers and got home around 1:30. I slept until 5:30, then woke with a pounding head. I was awake until 7:30 when I was sick. The pain was sharp, located in a precise spot just at the base of my skull, and impervious to Paracetomol. The usual “never again” thoughts passed through my head. Now when I’d had the drinks (although they were stronger than I’d anticipated) I knew that a certain quantity would be enough to have this effect the next day. But somehow that’s never enough to stop you.

Then yesterday I took my kids for vaccinations in anticipation of our trip to Sri Lanka at the end of December. One of them in particular was very upset about the idea of a small amount of brief pain, even knowing that it would be over in a matter of seconds. The suffering, at least in terms of physical pain, was much less than mine, and yet the emotional stress was that much greater. It’s like the opposite of those old “delayed gratification” experiments. We’re more upset at the idea of a little pain right now than the strong possibility of maybe even greater pain in the future (even if only a few hours in the future).

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