Monday, May 29, 2017

In Search of Sri Lanka: Part 5: Elephants!

After many springtime detours, it's back to Sri Lanka--a day I will never, ever forget. Having left their watering holes in upcountry Minneriya, the wild elephants have recently migrated to Kaudulla Natural Park. We board our jeep and follow. 

Passing small farms and settlements, we enter the park, driving through dusty jungle terrain...

Until we break into the open and I gasp. There! Up on the hill...My heart stops. "Elephants," I whisper tentatively, not believing it. 

And another. 

A family!

We continue through rolling hills on the shores of a large lake. They are everywhere now. Great herds and small groups, all peaceful and protected.

Even solitary fellows avoiding the crowd.

I want to cry. No, honestly, I do cry, heart-filled tears. Look at these playful little ones!

We continue driving, doing a rough count of each of the groupings.

By mid-afternoon, I estimate we've seen three hundred elephants. Probably more.

Blissed out, we return to Sigiriya River Side Homestay, where we enjoy tranquil surroundings and superlative home cooking.

Here is the rear of the small family compound.

 The river is down a little path...

Our host, Indika, encourages me to try a foot massage--courtesy of the nibbling fish. (If you're ticklish, you might want to forgo this pleasure.)

Our hostess, Hansi, a skilled gardener...

And cook. 

I wish I could share the wonders of the multi-course meals that came out of her kitchen!

Next stop: In Search of the Past: Part 6: The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

Sunday, April 16, 2017

In Search of the Past: Part 4: Magical Kandy

It's been awhile. In case you don't know, writing can take over your life. Then there was that Honolulu conference. Now, let's return to Sri Lanka. 

One day way while researching book locations in the Kandy hills, I discovered a famous old hotel, Helga's Folly--a quirky marvel of art and antiques decorated by Madame Helga Desilva Blow Perera herself, a Sri Lankan aristocrat, former Dior model, and grande artiste. Above is a garden gate with the Sri Lankan lion, a unicorn, and the three monkeys advising us not to see, hear, or speak evil.

The entry.

Some interior fun. 

The hotel remains one of a kind, which offers:

LOVELY ADVENTUROUS SENIOR CITIZENS WITH AN OPEN MIND..LIVED THE 60's.. FEELING a prisoner? NOT READY for 'that' bath chair? NOT WANTING to burden 'loved ones'? TAX MAN kept at bay and NOW.. FEAR 'those loved ones' turfing you out? PATRONIZED? SURROUNDED AND YET FEELING ALONE? Helga's Folly welcomes Senior Citizens with adventure in their blood, wanting more than the bland, and not ready for the geriatric ward, with an all inclusive special rate for long stays. FEAR NOT... FORGET heating bills!!! NEW exciting door opens .. THINK an exotic place in the sun with like minded souls!! THE COOL of the hills, and jaunts to the coast. Bring your easel and paint. Cards at the ready. Ink pots full!! YOUR life ain't over, until you decide it is!!!

If you are on a budget, please let us know and we will try and ‘sort' something out for you. We could, given your entire budget, and what you propose to do, arrange a car,English speaking driver/guide, hotel accommodation etc, and not have any extras on this side apart from your personal shopping !

A view of the city and lake from the property.

A friend's mother, former Yale professor Ranjini Obeyesekere invited us to her artistic home for the best dinner of our trip. That afternoon she took us to a little known local site, the Degaldoruwa Cave Temple, hand-carved from the rocks. We climbed these steps in the rain.

The cave walls are hand-painted with stories of the Buddha's life.

Inside, we meet some young scholars and art preservationists of the government's cultural affairs office. The temple is a precious jewel as are its two Buddha figures. 

Here is the seated Buddha.

Back at the hotel, we are greeted by this fellow. 

Next: Real elephants and more Sri Lankan magic.

Monday, February 20, 2017

In Search of the Past, Part 3: Kandy and the Mystery of History

Kandy Lake and the Buddha on the Hill
As a lifelong traveler (originally through books!), I find that place is a key element in my writing. I've got to feel it.  

Queen's Hotel, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Photo by Dushyantha Large
Photo by Dushyantha Large
To research my latest novel, we have come to Kandy, Sri Lanka and are staying at Queen's, the same hotel in which my characters were billeted during WWII. 

It's a "heritage hotel," which here means period charm, but mind the electrical. The open-air Mountbatten Bar is inside the pillars, a cozy spot to ride out the occasional monsoon. 

Here is the lobby, all decked out for the holidays

Behind it is the lift. But if you're in a hurry, take the stairs.

I'm excited to be here, to eat in the same dining room my characters did, to drink in their bar. To sleep in perhaps the same room one of them did and, looking out the window, see what they saw.

I love to explore on foot, so the morning after our Botanic Gardens visit, I take a walk around the lake, the heart of Kandy...still reflecting on the mystery of the King's Pavilion, the scene of some important action in my book. Or is it?

A block from the lake, St. Paul's Church is on the corner of Temple Square.

Across the way, Maha Vishnu Devalaya is a shrine to Vishnu, sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus. 

Photo by Dushyantha Large
Photo by Dushyantha Large

At the rear of the square is the Royal Palace of the Kandyan Kings, which connects with the Temple of the Tooth.

Photo by Dushyantha Large
Walking past St. Paul's, I come upon a great white wall. Yesterday we were told the King's Pavilion was not in the Botanic Gardens (as I'd read) but near the Temple in town. I suddenly know: this is it! And how logical, here in the center of Kandy's complex of power, the British built their own official residence--now the Sri Lanka President's House, our tuk-tuk driver later confirms. (The Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha sits atop the hill.)

Photo by Dushyantha Large
Here is a peek inside the former royal estate.

Photo by Dushyantha Large
I know I've become rather obsessed by my investigation (which I will continue with the help of botanist Dushy Large after I return home). What fascinates me is it's a story of how history evolves. What was important then is not important now. Now, a former royal residence sits empty except for ceremonial visits by Sri Lanka’s president. It hides behind a great wall and falls away from history--to the point that many locals know little about it. I think of the forts we've seen, the changing regimes--Portuguese to Dutch to British to Sri Lankan.
Galle Fort, Sri Lanka
This story teaches me to approach my research with caution. However well-intentioned the writers of history are, they make errors. Who can possibly know every building, every character of the past. Names change, priorities change--and governments change. My research has led me on a merry chase, and I've learned just how elusive "truth" is.

Queen's Hotel (left), Kandy Temple Complex (right) and King's aka President's Pavilion (middle)
PS Back home, reviewing my photos, I discover the perfect shot for my mental map: Queen's Hotel (far lakeshore to left); Kandy Temple Complex (across lake on right); St. Paul's ochre tower (middle). And uphill to its left, a bit of white amid the green: King's aka President's Pavilion. Mystery Solved. Now what's next?

Next: In Search of the Past, Part 4: Kandy Wanderings