Since arriving here in Sri Lanka events have been tumbling over each other as one day kaleidoscoped into another. After the amazing birthday party just a few days after our arrival, we had a memorial celebration for three kind and generous people who died some time ago but were responsible for many generous acts during their lifetimes. It was simple, solemn and sincere with seven Buddhist priests in their saffron robes creating a huge splash of colour and adding an aura of great reverence as they sat in a row of high-backed chairs quietly fanning themselves with traditional fans shaped like giant pepal-leaves while the senior monk spoke about the deceased and uttered prayers to which the small family gathering responded. Mind, by European standards, a family of forty-eight descendants of the surviving matriarch would be pretty unusual, and hardly considered small.
Last Saturday we all set off on a family pilgrimage to Kotaragama Temple set on the top of a mountain that was accessed through dense jungle surrounding the slopes of the mountain. Thousands of other pilgrims had the same idea. Many went on foot and climbed up as well as down on the single stone track. I was among others who were taken on a newly concreted road in specially adapted four-wheeled drive safari-jeeps designed to ferry a seemingly endless stream of pilgrims up, then returning for more after carrying others down.
Once there, I have to admit, it was too crowded for me. I had to ask to be taken down almost as soon as we got up. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of claustrophobia in the crowd milling around as they ascended and descended steep stair cases to get from one level to another. The viewing platforms afforded magnificent views but much was obscured by a heavy mist.
We eventually returned to the very comfortable motel until the evening when we went to a second temple at nearby Sithulpauwa. This was smaller but exquisite. Set on top of a smaller mountain we were able to climb up the huge rock that formed its base.
This rock was itself an amazing phenomenon because it was possible to see the swirls of mud that had helped make it millions of years ago. The rock was part of a massive mountain range that stretched as far as the eye could see; like the humped backs of so many undulating giant elephant covered with jungle greenery.
Once on top and standing on the level, meditation-area, it was possible to view all the paths leading out of the jungle to the lake which lay at the foot of the rock and behind the temple. We were rewarded with sightings of two elephants coming to drink as well as watch them enjoy a dust bath, and to capture all on camera for the record.
Returning to our motel via the jungle reserve, we were thrilled with sightings and photographs of peacocks and hens; wild boar and monkey families, as well as an elephant with his head and trunk inside the doorway of a single-decker Leyland bus. The drivers of these vehicles sit directly opposite the doorway and as our car went round the bus we witnessed a very nervous driver getting ready to vacate his seat, (wild elephants can be temperamental) but all was well, the great beast was simply scrounging some tit-bits and the bus soon caught up with us – and I had another once-in-a-lifetime photograph.