When we used to take photographs using film, we would describe an especially full or scenic day as a “3 roll day.” Today was one of those.
We started at the Temple of the Golden Buddha. The Dambulla area is laced with caves and an early king built a Buddhist temple within the caves after he hid here in the 1st century BC. There are five caves in all here and each is filled with Buddha statues in various poses. Every square inch of the walls and ceilings were covered with colorful frescoes. They were in such good condition that it was hard to believe that they were almost two millennia old. Outside the complex is a more modern temple where a gorgeous wedding couple came to be photographed.
Our guide Prabarth was careful to teach us proper Buddhist temple etiquette. No hats allowed. We could not enter without taking off our shoes. The fastidious among us brought special temple sox; the rest of us threw caution to the winds and stepped where millions of bare feet had stepped before. An official nearby kept our shoes safe - for a fee, of course. Inside we were allowed to photograph the Buddha statues, but not to take pictures of one another next to the statues. You are also not supposed to turn your back on the Buddha, rather difficult when there are Buddhas everywhere. When I asked why there were so many, Prabarth said that you are supposed to keep your mind focused on Buddha while you are here. Everyone’s mind wanders no matter how they try and the surroundings would keep Buddha prominent in your mind no matter what.
Not too long ago, we would hear about “Ugly Americans” and try very hard not to be them. We would try to respect other people and not make nasty remarks when we saw things that were not as good as they were at home. We would try to dress in such a way that would not offend the locals and go to the back of the line. There are few Americans here, but the Eastern European/Russians seem to have taken our place. They wore shorts into the temple and took photos of one another with the Buddha, even after Prabarth gently told them this was not appropriate. They butt in line and have loud conversations and seem oblivious as to their effect on others.
Prabarth wanted us to have a real Sri Lankan lunch today, so we had a meal without cutlery. Our group shared twelve bowls of varied vegetable, most we had never heard of, chicken and small fish. After piling our plates high with rice, we put samples of each dish on the rice and were supposed to mush it into balls with our fingers and shovel it into our mouths. A key component which we did not notice right away was to take enough liquid or curry sauce from each dish to bind the rice together. It felt strange to be eating all these soft, wet foods with my fingers, but most of it did end up in my mouth - not the case for all of us. So far I would have to say that we have had many things that were OK to eat, but I will not go home wishing I could have them again.
Then we went to a batik factory and were given a demo of how this process works. You start with white cloth and pour delicate lines of melted wax on any areas that you want to keep white. Then you dye the fabric with a light color, yellow perhaps. Then you apply more wax to the areas that you want to keep yellow and dye again with a darker color. Depending on the complexity of the design, it can be waxed and dyed many times. At the end the fabric is dipped in a caustic solution that takes the wax away. Most of us were recruited to model batik garments to one another in a sort of impromptu fashion show. Some of the wall hangings were especially tempting, but the shortage of wall space at home kept the wallet shut.
Then we got to Kandy, a picturesque town surrounded by steep mountains that keep the livable space confined. The traffic congestion was fierce as we worked our way around the man made lake that is the centerpiece of this town. The lake was dug under the leadership of the last ruler of the Kingdom of Kandy before it was captured by the British in 1807. When some local chiefs protested because their people objected to working on the project he had them put to death on stakes at the bottom of the lake bed. The island in the middle of the lake was where he kept his harem.
Thanks to Prabarth we had front seats at the traditional dance performance, a colorful melange of athletic moves accompanied by enthusiastic drumming. At the end the dancers moved to the floor inches away from us to eat fire and walk across coals. Their assistant kept fanning the goals to make them glow red, blowing embers on our feet. We felt like we were walking on fire ourselves.