(ENG) Sri Lanka travel documentary

Just arrived in Sri Lanka and we get on a bus to reach Galle, a colonial fortified town in the south. The bus air con is provided by the doors which are kept always open. I loved at first sight the colourful people and the many tuk tuks that are around. All Bajaj like the one they we drove in India 10 years ago. This is going to be the year of the tuk tuk

 

We arrived in Galle and immediately found the worldwide known Tuk Tuk Polo championships. In short 2 teams playing polo but using rickshaws rather than horses. Animalists will be happy. We were able to watch and increadibly interesting match berween the yellows and the greens. The tournament has international attention thanks to the presence of 8 tourists. Another sign that this is going to be the year of the tuk tuk

 

Galle is one of the most beautifully preserved colonial cities i Asia. The village dates back centuries ago when was trading with the Greeks, the Arabs and the Chinese. The Portuguese landed here in early 1500 and stayed for 140 years until Galle was taken by the Dutch. The Dutch fortified the city and built most of the buildings that can be seen today. The entire Old Town inside the walls is a jump back in the past. But the beauty of this town is that it is not just a tourist attraction. Singhalese people live in the historical centre which is still lively. The fort was took over by the British in 1796 but left the old town untouched as they made Colombo their most important trading port. Today Galle is a truly multiethnic city with an important Muslim community. The white cathedral that you can see on the left of this pic, is in reality a mosque. I thought it was originally a church but could not find any reference to that

Every morning, this man walks from his nearby home to the walls of Galle's fort to watch the sunrise. The Indian Ocean is in front of him and the sound of the waves should be the soundtrack of this picture. It does not matter if the day is cloudy or not

 

These are meant to be the iconic stilt fishermen. So iconic that they made on the cover of the most recent Lonely Planet. The reality is that they are no loger fishermen. The real fishermen rented the stilts to these charlatans, who pretend to be fishing only if tourists pay them money. They were so fake that one of them even had a dead fish attached to the hook and was claiming to have just fished it. A clear example of how mass tourism can spoil communities and traditions. We looked for 30 miles around Galle and could not find a single genuine stilt fisherman. The real fishermen were the ones pulling and repairing their nets or taking care of the their boats. A really though job in stark contrast to the one of posing pretending to fish

 

The train is my favourite way of transfer. It brings you in the city centres, dont't bother you with check-in and liquids, allows you to read, walk and chat while travelling. And if you don't fancy any of these, you can always watch the landscape outside. And trains outside Europe are always superb ways to watch the past and the present of the country tou are visiting. We are excited as in two days we will be taken this blue train here that crosses the central area of Sri Lanka, where there are the main tea plantations. For the moment, it's just trainspotting hoping that the train will work in two days time

 

Yesterday we had an incredible train journey through Sri Lanka central hills. 6 hours to cover 170 km. We passed trough an almost infinite number of tea plantations in the heart or the world tea industry. Sometimes the scenary resembled the Tuscan hills with Chianti wine vineyards replaced by tea bushes. This was the reign of sir Thomas Lipton back in the 19th century, the founder of today's famous brand

 

Sri Lankan rail tracks are not just a railway but also a proper pedestrian highway. Walking on the tracks early morning, you can encounter a humanity that just woke up and is moving into the daily life. Children going to school, men walking to work and women going to the market. The train comes 4 or 5 times a day at regular times. It acts like an alarm clock and it deliberately slows down and alert the pedestrians well ahead

 

The first part of our trip focused on the colonial history of Ceylon. The Dutch fort of Galle and the tea plantation of the central hills, represen a legacy of the colonial times. This part ended with our visit to the British cemetery in Kandy. Now the focus is on the traditional Sri Lanka. The cave temples of Dambulla summarize 2000 year of Buddhism in the country. Similarly, the citadel of Sigiriya (where we took this pic) shows the ruins of some of the old Sinhalese kingdoms that ruled the Pearl of Asia for centuries. The citadel, known as the Fortress of the Sky, is a sort of Asian Machu Picchu

 

Today we visited the ruins of Polonnaruwa, the second most important capital of acient Sinhalese kigdoms. The city had is golden age around 1000 AD. The kingdom flourished when he started building water reservoirs and irrigation systems that are still in use today. Similarly to what we learnt in Angkor Wat (Cambodia) a few weeks ago, the ability to control the water gave the economic advantage to expand the reign. It also reminds me how little I know about the non European history and how European-centric was my education. The ruins are very interesting and the archeological site covers a vast area that we discovered by bike. The area contains a royal palace (meant to be 7 storeys high), an audiance hall and many Buddhist temples, monasteries and stupas. A hindu temple is also present and still used today to show how the two religions inhabited the area for centuries. Strangely enough, very few tourists ventured here. The site was mostly for our own and most of the tourists were locals, in particular kids from the schools around. This made our visit much more enjoyable and interesting than the one of the most magnificent Angkor Wat

 

The impression I got is that Sri Lanka is a very multi-ethnic and multi-faith society. Mosques and churches can be found alongside Buddhist and Hindu temples. And while Buddhist temples are the majority, they incorporate also some Hindu deities. What surprised me in particular was the numerous Muslim community (10% according to the stats) well integrated and with a long dated presence confirmed by very old mosques, schools and centers for Arabic studies. The original Muslims were Arab traders that settled here starting from the 7th century AD. They were controlling the trade routes in the Indian Ocean until the Portuguise started to fight them during the 16th century. Back then, local Muslims had to flee in the interior where they were welcomed by the Sinhalese kingdom. More recently, additions cames from the Malay and Javanese muslims brought by the Dutch and the British and by the movement of people following India independance. And the Sri Lanka official flag contains a green band represent Islam and the Moorish ethnic group

 

 

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