Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2

Sri Lanka


Once again I am back in India (this seems to be happening quite frequently, recently) so thought I would tell you of my Sri Lankan exploits.

Due to the current civil war in Sri Lanka between the government and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers), there have been no ferries between India and Sri Lanka for the past few years. This has meant that apart from swimming, the only way to get to Sri Lanka is by air. Thankfully the flights are very cheap (my return trip that took me from Trivandrum (India) via Colombo (Sri Lanka) to Madras (India) was actually cheaper than an internal flight from Trivandrum to Madras without the Sri Lankan interlude. Unfortunately for the outbound leg of the journey there were no economy class seats available, so for a few dollars more (no reference to the Clint Eastwood film) I chose to fly out business class. This was my first time enjoying this luxury, unfortunately the flight is only an hour long so I didn't have an opportunity to abuse all the facilities. It was nice however to have the extra room, extra service, etc. So, when I arrived in Colombo, we (the business class passengers) had a luxurious bus awaiting us to take us to the terminal, where we were whisked through immigration, our bags were already waiting for us. Off we all went in our separate directions before any of the other passengers had even got off the plane, all rather nice.

From the airport I headed into Colombo, merely to get a train to Kandy, roughly in the geographical centre of the country, as well as the hub for the "cultural triangle", a UNESCO designated area that contains all the major sites of archaeological interest in Sri Lanka. On the train journey to Kandy I was sat next to an English lady, who lived in Kandy, a real colonialist. I hadn't previously realised that, that day was the first day of a cricket test match between Sri Lanka and England, taking place in Kandy. As a result there were apparently no rooms left in Kandy, as the six thousand England supporters who had come to watch the cricket had taken all the accommodation. She told me that I had no chance of finding somewhere to stay as she and some of her friends had put up some of the television crews that could not secure accommodation. Generously she gave me her number in case I really couldn't find anything she would give me some floor space. So, after these words of doom and a very scenic train journey we arrived and I set off to find somewhere to stay, first place I went, no rooms, as I was walking to another a tout found me and took me to somewhere, so after all the words of foreboding I had somewhere inside of half an hour. That evening some other Brits and I went into town for something to eat and then on for a drink. It was bizarre for me to go to the pub (called ¡°The Pub¡±) and it to be just like walking into an English pub, as all the punters were English and the whole ambience was just like a pub back home, including the big screen showing the days sports. How people ca travel half way across the world to watch cricket, a game which to me, is as interesting to watch as a particularly boring shade of grey paint drying in a very boring room.

In Kandy the holiest Buddhist relic resides, in the temple of the tooth. As you may have already worked out, the relic in question is one of Buddha's teeth, apparently rescued from the funeral pyre. I had a look around the temple, which is rather old and was there at the right time of day to see the ceremonial drumming. The tooth itself is within a casket within a casket etc. etc. like a Russian doll, but with more gold and jewels involved. Otherwise I spent my time in Kandy sorting out a new Indian visa, as the one I had would be running out imminently.

From Kandy I went to Dambullah, in order to get to Sigiriya, where there are the ruins of a palace perched on top of a rock, likened to building a palace on top of Ayres Rock in Australia. It is quite an incredible feat that these people built this thing about sixteen hundred years ago, including steps carved into the rock face and thrones and temples, carved into the rock itself, with some buildings on top of the rock. All in all, a remarkable bit of engineering. There are also a number of well-preserved frescoes of well-endowed topless maidens, basically fifth century porn. In the mirror wall (a very highly polished wall, hence the name) below there are a number of ancient Graffiti commenting on the attributes of the girls portrayed. Some of the graffiti being from jealous women who made comments to the effect that their men seeing these women don't want any real women. If you are curious what I am talking about check out the following web site: http://www.saadhu.com/sigiriya/

That night being a full moon, I went with a walk around the lake next to the guesthouse where I was staying. It being an artificial lake created by damming it a few years ago, there are some skeletons of dead trees poking out of the water that under the full moon light gave it a beautiful, yet eerie look. In Dambullah I visited some of the cave temples, where there are a number of Buddha images of a variety of styles within the caves, as well as some interesting Frescoes. One of the caves had only just been reopened after one of the Buddha effigies had been cleaned and repainted. Apparently an Austrian woman and her guide had decided to take some photos of the images (something prohibited) when a monk caught them. When they developed the film they found pictures of the woman topless making lewd enactments with a statue of Buddha, so having been desecrated so, it took three years to rededicate it.

Next stop was to Anuradhapura, site of an ancient city, there are a number of two thousand-year-old monuments, carvings and Dagobas (Buddhist stupas). Although interesting, it was a little repetitive, seeing so many very large Stupas especially considering the heat and the fact that I was cycling around on a rather decrepit bike. What was funny to see however was the flying foxes who, not understanding electricity decide to hank on some of the electric cables, but as they droop across the next cables down they invariably electrocute themselves, leaving their charred remains still clinging to the wires.

From Anuradhapura I went to Polonnaruwa, sight of another ancient city. This one however was much more interesting and varied including some reasonably well maintained ruins of palaces and temples and some very impressive carvings of Buddha in various poses, carved directly into the granite rock face, whose strata lends an interesting texture and depth to the carvings.

I then returned to Kandy, which was returned to a state of normalcy after the departure of the thousands of England supporters. I collected my new Indian visa and then immediately headed down to Unawatuna, which is beach resort that had been highly recommended to me.

The beach there is a cove, with a reef at its mouth and the water there is a clear turquoise. Very nice indeed for a few days chilling out, before heading back to India. I decided to enquire about the cost of scuba diving which being sufficiently inexpensive for some training, a training dive, and then a proper dive I decided to have a go at. During my training dive in shallow water (two to four metres deep) I found the whole thing very enjoyable, despite having got an anemone needle stuck in my finger, which was rather uncomfortable. It was peculiar interacting with the fish, in their own environment, but did see some nice coral and a sea cucumber. A short while later we went for a proper dive, this included the backward somersault off the boat that I had previously thought was just for show, but found to be a very simple an effective way of getting in the water with all the kit on. As we went down to about ten metres the sensation was quite different to the shallow bit of diving previously and it took me a little while to equalise, basically popping my ears underwater. Something I was a little concerned about as I have a history of ENT problems. Once I had managed the sensation of swimming about neutrally buoyant (neither floating nor sinking) was great and felt like flying underwater, suddenly the world became much more three dimensional as things can be in any direction above, below, or around one. During this dive we came across an octopus munching on a crab and some interesting crustacean, as well as some colourful coral and fishes. We then swam under and through the wreck of a cargo ship that had split apart on the reef about eight years previously. All in all an incredible experience, quite bizarre, but very comfortable. The colours of the fish and coral were not as impressive as some I have seen either in the Red Sea or in Indonesia, but the experience was great.

The next day I went to pay my bill at the restaurant next to the dive place, as they did not have change the previous day. Whilst settling up the dive master asked me if I wanted to go diving again as he was going out shortly, I said I would love to but didn't have much money. When I told him what I had to spare he reluctantly agreed to take me with him as he was taking a professional photographer who has just started underwater photography. So, off we went to his favourite bit of reef. Here the colours were a little more vibrant and there were more star fish and the like as well as a peculiar but beautiful crustacean, some bioluminescent fish (that had stripes that glowed as though they were in ultra violet light) and much better visibility. I was also a little more confident and comfortable and enjoyed the dive even more than the previous.

Unfortunately I didn't have more time to spend in Unawatuna, as I would have got my PADI license there. I had to get back to Colombo and get on a plane to Madras. This time flying cattle class, where I appreciated the difference a few dollars makes. The journey to the airport from Unawatuna was an odd one. I met a strange Swiss man who told me how much he dislike Delhi, but had never been. Then on the train he suddenly got up from his seat and came over and started yanking and pushing my bag until I asked him what the hell he was doing, when he seemed to suddenly come to his senses and sit down again. Then on the bus from Colombo to the airport the driver lost the top to his bottle of water. So, after stopping in the middle of the road and groping around for five minutes he decided to pour some water over himself and around the floor by his seat, very weird. At the airport my bag was overweight at check-in, although it was lighter than on the way out which had been fine. The lady at the check-in desk tried to do what she could, but to no avail. I then asked if it was cheaper to upgrade to business class than to pay the excess baggage charge. She then informed me that the excess baggage charge was only ninety-two rupees a kilo, for five kilos - a total of four hundred and sixty rupees (about four pounds / six dollars). I wondered why she hadn’t told me this sooner. She had been trying to sort out some way of amalgamating my baggage with someone else's to prevent the excess baggage charge for about an hour without success, to save me less than four quid. I went to pay the charge, but as I had no local currency left I only had credit cards to pay with. Unsurprisingly (considering how things were going) their credit card reader wasn't working, so after more faffing about they waived the charge. I was able to peruse the duty free shops before boarding the slightly decrepit plane, being the last of the A320s that Sri Lankan have (they have recently replaced all their fleet with nice new A330 and A340s). This thing was looking a little the worse for wear and hadn’t even had it's livery updated from the old Air Lanka scheme to the new Sri Lankan. The flight was uneventful apart from a trip to the toilet where the cupboards wouldn't stay closed so bits were falling all over the shop. So very different from the very civilised outbound journey. When I arrived in Madras I got a prepaid taxi straight to Mahaballipurum, where I currently am and from here intend spending a little less than a month in India before heading east to Bangladesh.

So, that is the story of my Sri Lankan sojourn. Regarding the disasters that have been occurring to places I have recently visited, considering there is currently a civil war, the president lost an eye in bomb attack last year, there are frequent bombings and protests, there have been two severe droughts in the past ten years, it will be difficult to tell whether or not my visit can do anything to make their situation worse. I would however recommend Sri Lanka as a destination. It has some fascinating and beautiful things and is much more relaxed and civilised than India it's closest neighbour.



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