06 Sep British Ceylon Story
As I sat on the beach of Nilaveli, looking into the never-ending shallow sea ahead of me, I could hear the exciting tales of people about their tour to Pigeon island. With the sun going down my friend came up to me and sat with me before the newly lit camp fire.
I was to tell her about my stories around Sri Lanka. She is an English girl who was interested in British influence in Ceylon. She has a long dirty blonde hair to match her grey eyes and she wore denim shorts with a white tank top and a maroon cardigan.
Her eyes sparkled with the excitement she bore in her heart to know my country. Moreover she wanted places to enjoy and be carefree. I felt entitled to tell her a few things before she sees them for herself. We stayed silent for a couple of minutes enjoying the sun down, then she broke the silence. “It’s so beautiful.” She said without talking her eyes off of the view.
“Yeah!” I replied. In the next minute, she jumped off and turned to me like a little child sitting in front of a grandparent to hear a story. “I wanna hear all of your stories around Sri Lanka. When my dad told me of this trip and you guys, I was so happy to meet you and get my hands on this beautiful island.” She smiled widely as she spoke.
“So much enthusiasm over this little island? Just like your ancestors.” I smiled. My dad and her dad met at a business campaign two years ago and instantly clicked. Or so I’ve heard. But we haven’t met them before today. She seems so friendly for a first timer.
“I’ve a question. Do you know why we travelled so far to the other side of the island to start this journey? I mean we could’ve easily started from Colombo.”
“As much as Colombo is important in British influence, Trincomalee is where it all started. Now it would be unfair for my story if we didn’t start here.” I laughed at my little improvisation. Then I took a deep breath to start the little storytelling.
“Trincomalee is one of the oldest cities in Asia with a history of nearly a 1000 years. But when the Europeans started their voyages to the east this was what attracted them the most. Trincomalee harbor gave some sort of authority over the sea, to it’s owner since the beginning of it. With the battles of Portuguese, Dutch, French and British it became the most advantageous port in the whole world, I think only seconding to Singapore.”
“So the British was only interested in harbor the most?” She asked.
“Yeah! The harbor was their first motive, not the island. This was considered one of the safest natural harbors in the world!”
“Will we be going to visit it?” She asked with more excitement. “Of course. We’ll see more than Fort Federicks. We’ll have a nice bathe and do a little swimming in the shallow waters, like today, in Nilaweli.” I said looking at her.
“Yeah the Pigeon island tour was awesome” She smiled.
“We’ll do some whale watching, and visit the seven hot springs of Kanniya. We can visit the famous Koneswaran temple and a lot more ancient Hindu temples along with a walk down the town of Trincomalee. We can visit the hoods tower museum of Sri Lankan Navy and enjoy a nice view of the China bay from there.” I pointed out one by one the famous places counting them down with my fingers.
“Wow so much!”
“yet so little compare to the whole island. ” I completed the sentence for her and she looked at me with surprise filled eyes. I smiled and continued ” There’s another special place for the British Empire in here.” ” What is that?” She asked ” The Trincomalee British war cemetery, built to commemorate the British soldiers died during World War II. But that’s just a fact. Who wants to visit the cemetery on vacation?” I quickly changed my lines because I thought I’m the nerd boring a cool kid.
“Oh! By all means do mention more facts. I love to hear every little thing. Also, apart from these British altered places I’ve heard a lot about the Sri Lankan Royalty and warriors. I wanna know and see those too.” she said
” Yeah sure, Nothing beats the cool breeze through the tanks of the dry zone. An afternoon in these massive “in land seas” I said air quoting, “Is amazing, with a little walk in the village and through the fields.” I smiled to myself thinking of the beauty. “It’s the ultimate fantasy of every busy Sri Lankan.”
“Tell me more.” she joined her hands and took them closer to her face, “If I started telling you all, I’m pretty sure we’ll need more hours to this night.” I smiled.
“Oh! And once we part ways from here you’re gonna have to explore on your own.”
” You won’t be staying for the whole trip?” She asked
“I don’t think so, because my mom has to get ready to go back to school, in a week” she looks down a bit and said. “Well then I’m gonna miss your guidance.” l laughed at her compliment but then I felt I was rude, but I was underestimating myself, in a way.
“I’m sure you’ll get a much better guide than me.I’ll ask dad to find someone who knows much more than I do.” I patted her back smiling. And then it was awkward. So I started to talk. “But I could tell you about two of the very special kingdoms. The first and the last of Sinhalese reign. Drum rolls please.” She made the sound of a drum roll and gestured smiling.
“Anuradhapura and Kandy.” I announced. “Actually I don’t have to narrate it all to you. When you get there, you’ll see and hear for yourself, of unbelievable things in our history. ”
“But at least give me an over look of the places.” she said anxiously. I felt so proud seeing a foreigner’s desire to know my motherland.
“Okay- first off Anuradhapura. That’s the first capital and one of the oldest, yet steadily populated cities, of well-preserved ruins, that lies alongside the sacred Buddhist temples.
“Wow! I can’t wait to explore them all. Feels like it’s out of a movie.” She said.
“Every single building tells it’s own story and adds , beauty to our island.” I smiled remembering my visits to nearly 20 places and ruins, exploring caves and mountains and hearing the villager’s speak of legends. It definitely is an out of movie experience.
“Even the modern technology is shocked of advancement of Sigiriya rock fortress and the whole world is dazzled by the beauty of the Ruwanwelisaya, at night when it’s peak lights up.”
“Go-on, Go-on! This is the best campfire story ever!” I could see her eyes sparkle with amusement. “But I’ve hardly told you any…..”
“It’s okay, The story is yet to finish when I visit them.” She said. I got curious, I was waiting anxiously to ask her, “I know Sri Lanka’s been over the world for some amazing tourist destination but still, why would you, a UK gal, be, so interested in visiting Sri Lanka after all these years?”
“It’s no wonder-fact. Simply I think this country should be everyone’s dream destination. A British should know, that after all these years, they need to step out of their country and explore, like their ancestors did. That’s what I think. After all a little bit of our legends are here too, like the Mount Lavinia place and Robert Knox. They were British. The most desired tea and Cricket was a British invention!”
I looked at her, surprised, now. “Okay… So I guess I don’t have to do an introduction to all those places. You know much.” I smiled. “It’s not much but considerably a fair amount of facts.”
“But that fair amount is what drew you here, right?”
“Absolutely, I felt like, if I wanted to know more, I’m obliged to follow our past and that knowing more, brought me here.” She said with a serious voice.
I was proud now, to say, “Sri Lanka is a mixture of everything. I would proudly say that. You see, there ain’t no place that deliver boring history lessons in a excitement filled bash. The stories, the legends, zest of the beaches with all the entertainment!The whole island is like a unique amusement park.” I
I went silent and thought, of her wonderful interest. She was waiting for me to continue.
“The last kingdom of Ceylon is Kandy. It is where the Royal reign ended with British capturing the upcountry, very tactically. Because in that time, without the tactics, nobody could capture Kandy in a battle. Kandy warriors had guerrilla fighters and surrounding of rocks and hills, supported them.”
I was proud narrating. “It is also the home of the most venerated Buddhist relic. The Sacred Tooth Relic. Every year a wonderful feast is held to commemorate the Relic. It’s like a cultural pageant. Moreover the National museum unite the British and Sri Lankan history. You might know, the first railway network was introduced by the British to transport tea & coffee from the hill country. The journey of the railway history is stored in The Railway Museum and also The Highway Museum holds the first road construction equipments since the British era. There’s a number of tunnels on route from Colombo to Hill Country pioneered by the British. It’s no wonder that the British had a hard time with Kandy and Hill Country.” I smiled.
Her eyes were fixed on me as I narrate my stories. Silently she was only listening and indicates me to go on. “Even with all that heavy historic places, the Hanthana Mountain and Horton plains hikes as well as the Peradeniya Botanical Garden and the Kandy lake will bring the exciting adventure and, the amazing views will leave you astonished.”
“Wow! I’m imagining it all and so far you’ve mentioned like a hundred of places but still I’m not even slightly tired.” She broke her silence. I sighed smiling because deep down I thought I was boring her, I felt like I was just blabbering. I couldn’t believe her excitement and interest to visit and explore Sri Lanka.
“But, as it’s too late now I think we should sleep.” I told her, smiling inwardly and was about to stand up when she dragged me down.
“Hey! Don’t leave me hanging. Finish up your part of the story then I’ll fulfill my eternal hunger to visit all those places.” Drama queen. I thought. “Don’t you think a British, specifically a modernized version, is ought to know all of this colonized island, which, I might add, a global tourist sensation?”
I smiled because she is asking my own question to her back at me.
“Not to advertise or to be egoistic, I think, a British should visit Sri Lanka just as a travel goal. Because of its own past and present Sri Lanka is different from other colonized countries. While most of the countries let go of the British influence, we embraced it. We added our own ways to the British ways and developed it for our own. Yet, the enemy of our Sinhalese Kings became our friend. I personally think, no other place will be so, friendly and offer an unbiased hospitality.” I smiled and continued, “If the people of the empire where the sun never sets visited the granary of East, once, in their life, they’ll surely find enchanted by its unique beauty.” I said proudly using best statements about the two nations.
“Yeah, you’re right. I’m already enchanted! And I, can’t wait for tomorrow.” We smiled, looking at the fire, didn’t even knew how time has passed, until, my brother called us inside for dinner.
While on the dinner table, our parents were talking about visiting Nuwara Eliya tea estates. I joined the conversation. “But, I thought we’ll be going to Anuradhapura and Kandy area.”
“Well…, we will. But your plan across the country consumes much time and money. We were hoping to divide the journey to two. With that as a reason, then, they can visit next year to.” My father said. I turned to my plate then I felt a nudge. My head popped to the direction where my hand was nudged. It was her. She wanted me reason with my dad but even I know my father’s reasoning is valid and true. So I shrugged my shoulders to her to indicate I cannot do anything. She sighed and turned to her dad. “But dad, it would be useless now that we’ve come so far up to here.” Her father smiled and said, “No, my dear, we’ll go by train and have a nice time.”
“We’ll go to Kandy first, if you like, and then from there, by train to Nuwara Eliya.” My father explained making us feel happy and excited but I saw her eyes, still down. I patted her hand, “Don’t worry! My story is yet to finish.” She smiled. I thought to myself, while silently digging my food, I’d tell her how wonderful it is to go on a train ride to Hill Country.
When we finished our dinner, our parents went to their separate rooms, greeted by us, my brother to my parent’s and we girls to one room. After we changed to our night suits, we sat on our separate beds, “okay! Finish up your story!” She smiled. I know exactly what that smile means. She is pretending.
“See, you don’t have to worry about missing one or two parts of the journey. You could still visit them next summer.” I said. But she was silent.
“Well, the train ride is gonna be awesome.” She lifted her head. “You think?”
“I don’t think. I know.” I smiled. “Kandy to Ella is one of the worlds’ most beautiful train trips in my opinion. You get to enjoy fritters, corn, fresh mangoes and pineapples.” My eyes closed at the word of these yummy snacks. “The scenery is…” I was searching in the back of my mind for the perfect word. “…breathtaking.” I smiled because it really is the right word.
“The tea bushes in acres of land like one green carpet and ladies picking tea leaves and the journey through tunnels and bridges, is, just amazing.” With that being said she seems interested. That sparkle in her eyes were back again.
“What do you know about the tea plantation in Sri Lanka?” I was glad now that she asked about it because , no Sri Lankan is there that’s not proud enough about the world renowned tea business in Sri Lanka.
“Oh! I know much.” I said. And proudly started telling all the facts O learned. “The first non commercial tea plant, brought by a British, is planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya and the first tea estate is Loolkandura in Kandy. It was about 20 acres of land of tea bushes at the beginning. Some of the world’s finest tea is grown at an elevation of about… 4000 feet and more in the Hill County. During the 1880s, when the colonial economy was built completely upon the coffee enterprise, the enterprise collapsed due to less workers. And.. guess who saved the day!” I smiled widely “Tea.” She shouted. “Yes! Tea, grown in the Loolkandura estate was just in time to save the day. Since then tea and Ceylon became best pals. Up to today the planters and the government learned a lot in developing this crop, to an export worthy, through trial and error. Today tea is the largest export crop, solely managed by, Sri Lankans, producing more than 300,000 tons per year by providing every luxury for tea to be exported. And that, was the introduction to Railway network in Sri Lanka.”
I took a deep breath in finishing my huge history on tea to find a silent listener of sparkling and excited face. She smiled brightly.
“I was just recording it all in my phone, so that I could show it to my friends and maybe do a documentary while I’m traveling. I’m actually is excited as much as I was before dinner. Thank you for bringing that back.” She said.
“It’s not me who brought back your excitement, it’s the island’s beauty. I just told you what’s and more that’s waiting to be explored.”
“Tell me, what’s more than tea and train rides in hill country?” She asked.
“Well, there’s more to that I can’t fathom to tell. There’s the Sinharaja rain forest – the only rain forest in Asia. A living, breathing, legendary ecosystem. Then there’s, Horton Plains National Park that hides the World’s End in it, to be discovered in a great hiking adventure.” I said counting up my fingers pointing out one by one, the famous places I’ve visited. “Then again I’ve heard a lot of hiking destinations. Also the hikes to see waterfalls is an exciting journey.” I said smiling and remembering my visits to Bambarakanda Falls and Dunhinda Falls.
“So much to see… but…” I felt the regret in her voice, as she fell to her bed, looking up at the ceiling, she was deep in thought.
“But little time. right?” I asked. She looked at me and smiled, humming.
“Even I haven’t seen everything.” I said. She looked at me with surprise.
“Yeah, I’ve barely seen anything. Everything I told you is what my history lessons taught me how I’ve planned to visit places but even I didn’t get time to visit them all in one trip. So don’t worry, you can visit here anytime and the places looks just as beautiful as they are as always.”
” My dad wants to hurry back to Colombo. I think he has some business meetings and things. I’m really sad because while we are there, I’ll be sulking in my room with nothing to see.” she said.
“Don’t say like that. There’s plenty in Colombo. It was the first capital of Ceylon though it’s a commercial capital now, its colonial buildings brings the old world charms back to life. Every building there, paints a picture of what life might’ve been like in those times. Some of the famous British buildings along with many Europeans’ are there in Colombo.” I said. “I’ve known a few place because even to me, Colombo is foreign. Most of the British residents lived in Colombo 7- Cinnamon Gardens. So the place is filled with colonial buildings. The infamous Galle-face hotel, National Museum, Colombo University building-all are virtually unmissable. What else would a British need other than admiring their own architecture in a foreign country?”
She laughed at my last comment. “Yeah, we could be a bit egoistic.” She stood up on her bed and pointed her finger at me , saying, “You peasant! How dare you live in our royal mansions?”
I laughed at her dramatics. She too laughed and sat down.
“But we are the ones to be proud as we embraced our colonization and restored your architectural and used it for our economy. Everything is ours now!” I said with a little arrogance in my tone in my last sentence beating her earlier dramatics. We laughed in unison at our childishness.
“But I’m sure while you’re in Colombo, a little tour around the simple places like The General Post office, The Lighthouse and The Old Senate building will bring you joy in exploring their history. Now! Get to sleep and dream of my story.” I said
“Yeah! Good night. Thank you for all the info. I’m sure I’ll love every single thing about Sri Lanka.” She said, turning off the lamp of her side and covering herself with the duvet.
I sat there for what seems a minute or two, wondering how much would she enjoy this wonderful little island. Then I switched off my lights and went undetected er my duvet. The last thought that ran in my mind was how lucky I am to be here explaining all of my beautiful island to a foreigner much less an old enemy and a new friend to see so much passion in her eyes to explore. After all she is a British. Her excitement is the same as her ancestors. I hope her friends would like it and visit here too. Why wouldn’t they?
I went to sleep with images of my little trips around Sri Lanka.