My final 10 days in Sri Lanka have involved more manic bus journeys. Most notably the moshpit that is the Dambulla to Anuradhapura bus. I spent most of the 3 hour journey standing up with my hand over two massive petruding bolts waiting to penetrate my skull as soon as the bus crashed. The likelihood of this was high seeing as the driver was texting for most of the journey while bombing it down the road at over 90mph. We stopped for 10 minutes to allow what can only be described as a freak show to board. An old man came on and started talking away with his eyes closed, when he finished speaking he opened his eyelids to reveal two mangled eyes... everyone on the bus dug into their pockets for this guy. The next person to board didn't get as much sympathy, she was an elderly woman who started singing away showing everyone her hands which had been deformed. I managed to get a seat next to the bus driver for the rest of the journey, well, I say a seat, this was a flat area next to the driver where I had to sit cross legged with a windscreen for me to go through (seatbelts in Sri Lanka? you got to be kidding!). It was uncomfortable but I got a good view of the near misses and the bus driver texting. It seems the buses are a free-for-all for anyone who wants to make a bit of cash. I saw one guy selling a bit of card with multiplication tables (he sold a few!) then you have people all dressed up with their drums and tambourines who start signing away and banging the hell out of their instruments for an hour - just what you need on a 3 hour bus journey.
Yesterday's journey back to Colombo I was sitting on the back seat looking down the aisle. A man boarded from the front, I couldn't work out what was wrong with him but he wasn't walking. He was dragging himself along the floor on his bum, his legs were around his head and he was using his hands which had sandals on them as feet! It was the most bizarre sight as this man made his way slowly down the aisle getting closer and closer to me, it was like something out of a horror movie. For those of you who like Family Guy, it reminded me of old Herbert's dog, Jesse.
I managed to get my visa for India in Colombo. It was a 19 hour round trip from Kandy in the centre of the island and my first taste of Indian beaurocracy. I had applied for it 2 weeks ago and it somehow took them 8 hours to put a sticker in my passport. Everyone in the waiting room was aware how far I had travelled and how long I had waited and I got a round of applause as my name was called and my visa finally granted! The train journey back to Kandy was packed and everyone as usual was staring at me. Its never hostile, I smile and they smile back and then we will get talking about cricket or they will ask me the usual questions, where you from? you married? you have girlfriend? why not?! Their English is usually limited, one thing which makes me laugh is their pronounciation of Coke, they say Cock. You want a cock sir? you like cock? Anyway I digress.... the train wound its way up the mountains for 3 hours through lush green jungle and I was presented with the most amazing scene of the valley below. A thin layer of mist hugged the floor but not so much that you couldn't see the lights from the small houses dotted around the surrounding hills, the full moon provided the lighting, there was a sprinkling of stars and voila! It really was magical.
In the centre of the island is a pillar of rock called Sigirya which stands in the middle of a flat plain and reaches to a height of 150 metres. It is the remnants of the magma chamber of an old volcano. Over millions of years the softer rock of the volcano was weathered away leaving the harder rock which had formed in the magma chamber exposed. Sounds boring but a king came along and decided to build a palace on the top and the remnants of this can be found if you are prepared to hike up a lot of steps. It was pretty gruelling in the heat but worth it. I also got to see saw some of the hornets which are humongous wasps which have recently attacked and killed tourists at the site.
A fellow traveller told me an interesting story about the tsunami which hit the south coast of the island in 2004. As you probably know, before the tsunami struck, the sea receded for about a kilometre before it advanced and flooded the coastline. The locals had no idea what was happening when the water retreated, they thought it was a miracle and started running out collecting fish and claiming areas of the land where the sea was as their own! crazy.
As I have said previously the people in Sri Lanka are incredibly friendly. In the 4 weeks that I have been here everyone has greeted me with a smile or a handshake. A taxi driver gave me a 50% discount as he liked the British. An old man offered me his apple on the train which I politely declined - he wouldn't take no for an answer and I really didn't want to take an apple of someone who was clearly very poor and an apple which I wasn't going to eat! I took it and put it in my pocket to avoid further blushes! I have even had people give up their seat on the bus for me (again politely declined). 37 hours on trains and buses and it has cost me £9 - thats about 3 pints!
I won't bore you with the rest of what I have done, walking, temples, ruins and curries (food here is awesome). I can highly recommend Sri Lanka, I think it will be the next big thing. Similar to Thailand, cheaper and without the seediness.
I'm off to Delhi tomorrow, Imodium at the ready.....