Sri Lanka is another place we never visited and never imagined visiting! We took a full day tour in Colombo, the capital city. It is formerly called Ceylon – from the time of British rule – and you probably recognize that Ceylon tea is a major export, as are spices of all kinds.
Shanaka is our guide and he talked first of the variety of religions represented here. It is mostly a Buddhist country, and the four corners of the flag represent the Buddhist values of compassion, kindness, happiness and equanimity. He is a Catholic and he said that the country respects and honors people of all religions, and that, although he is Catholic, he believes in reincarnation. We had two practicing Buddhists on the tour – they are traveling on our cruise – and they could add a couple of things but were very impressed with his knowledge.
We visited the Kelaniya Temple, a religious center that the Buddhists hold especially hallowed because Buddha is said to have visited here. The three things that are needed to be a Buddhist temple are the stupa (the dome), the bo tree (a tree that is part of the ficus family that is held to be a holy tree) and an image house. Inside the temple image house there was exquisite artwork depicting the history of Sri Lanka. Photos of that artwork were not allowed but you can look up images on the internet. Amazing, every inch was covered.
It did make me a bit squeemish to take my shoes off – as was required, because the the temple is big and a lot of it is outside where stray dogs roam. They keep it pretty clean, but I did scrub my feet and shoes when we came back to the ship!
This is the end of one of their monsoon seasons also, and it is the first time we encountered any rain. And did we have rain! It came down in buckets and really impacted the traffic. This is also a city of contrasts – some slums and run down buildings, but also the beautiful residential district of Cinnamon Gardens.
Nevertheless, we perservered and went on to visit the National Museum where the collection of art objects and antiques beautifully expresses the island’s culture. Again, no pictures were allowed inside. You could buy a special permit to take photos or videos.
We had a traditional Sri Lankan lunch at the Taj hotel, which was beautiful! The name of the restaurant was “On Golden Pond”!
We passed a playground with this elephant slide… looked like so much fun, I had to have a picture.
After lunch, we visited a Hindu temple. I think all of the 300,000 gods they believe in are represented here! Hinduism is not the major religion, as I mentioned, but it was introduced during the reign of the Tamil kings in the second century BC and is the second most popular religion here.
We ended the day with some shopping. They are known for gemstones, but I wasn’t in the market for them, so I just bought a few small souvenirs. I do have a small collection of magnets that are useful on the metal walls of our cabin, so I added an elephant one to my collection.