Wednesday, February 8, 2017

In search of the Great Chronicle!

Nasreen Sultana Mitu

Campfire at Wilpattu
It was not a full moon night, but the young moon was there; with bright shining stars around it. We were sitting beside a campfire in Wilpattu, the largest national park of Sri Lanka. Under the naked sky, we were listening to the mysterious humming of the forest. Our guide Udaya, was talking in his meditating voice, about the great chronicle- the oldest historical document of the world, the history of Sinhala.

Let’s start from a bit earlier. We two (cartoonist Mehedi Haque and me) have been planning of our Sri Lanka tour since the beginning of 2016 and finally could manage to make it in October. In primary plan, it was only Sri Lanka, then we decided to include Maldives in the loop. It was an eleven days trip altogether that kept us looking forward for a longer plan. 

Buddha statue
Both of us are a bit allergic about package deals (mostly because they often forget to put enough time for sleep in their schedule, and you cannot alter the plan once decided), so we decided to plan it in our own way. Sri Lanka is a diverse country with beautiful tea gardens, colonial footprints,natural wonders like forests and beaches and their most exclusive ancient ruins that takes you centuries ago. We decided to focus on the cultural triangle and visit the ancient ruins in there. The cultural triangle consists of the major spots of attractions of history and culture including- Anuradhapura, Kandy, and Sigiriya. Well, we skipped Kandy, the most popular tourist destination in our final plan. Instead we booked a safari deal in Wilpattu national park (do not get confused with the term, national parks are actually what we mean by reserved forests).Sri Lanka has a number of national parks, we chose Wilpattu national park as it was near Anuradhapura, our next destination. 

So, the plan was final! We bought the tickets and it was official! Hurray!! When packing our bags, one of the best decision we made was we decided to take only backpacks and no heavy luggage. That helped us to move freely and using the local public transports. 

Colombo; Just arrived!
Our trip started in Colombo. On a hot sunny afternoon, we stepped from the Bandaranaike international airport. In Colombo, we chose the old town area Pettah to spend the half day we have there. Pettah is really old, kind of similar to the old town of Dhaka, but cleaner and roads are wider. First thing we noticed was the pleasant smile the people wearing on their faces. After having lunch in a local restaurant, we explored the old city by walk and auto rickshaw. There are lots of structures from colonial period, beautiful Hindu temples with colorful ornamental statues on all over them, Dutch churches, beautiful mosques and delicious street foods. Our hotel was just near Pettah fort, from where we were to take bus to Wilpattu on next morning.

We started for Wilpattu in early morning, it took a few hours to reach Wilpattu junction. Our first public bus ride was an eye opener for us. The bus was crowded with people from all trade. Some people had to stand when all the seats were filled up. Much like Bangladesh or India, but the difference was- there was absolutely no chaos, no eve-teasing, no rip-off by the conductors or the passengers. Yes, Civilization is not always related to economic growth we again realized. 

Udaya briefing us
Udaya, our guide for Wilpattu greeted us with his warmth at Wilpattu junction. He gave us a brief but extensive lecture on Wilpattu and eco-tourism policy in Sri Lanka. Our tent was ready; surprisingly, that night we were the only guests in that camp. That camping experience was beyond our expectation. We took a half day safari at early morning; spotted deer, squirrel, magnificent leopards, deadly crocodiles and lovely birds. 

We had to say goodbye and leave for Anuradhapura. Already we were mesmerized by the history of great chronicles. So could not wait to visit the sacred city of Anuradhapura. Here I should give a brief about the great chronicle. 

‘Mahavamsa’- the Great Chronicle; we first heard of it from Udaya. This incredible historical wonder attracted both of us, so later we did some research by ourselves. Written as a long poem, this is the oldest and longest authenticated document of any civilization in the entire history of mankind. It covers the period of the first arrival of Indo-Aryans to Sri Lanka in 444 BC and ends with the king Mahasenain 352 AD.No wonder why Lankan people are surprisingly knowledgeable about their own history, culture and heritage. We visited Anuradhapura, ancient capital of Sinhala that flourished for 1300 years. On 10th century it was destructed in invasion and gradually were covered by dense jungle. After it was discovered in 19th century by the British government, the ruins of this magnificent civilization were restored. This city was originally established around a cutting from the originalBodhi-tree (it still remains and open for the public). In the golden age of Anuradhapura, the city was a cultural hub of Buddhism; there were palaces, monasteries, beautiful mountains and sites. Students from far lands came to study in here. But the prosperity of Anuradhapura attracted other people as well. South Indian invaders attacked several times and finally it was destroyed in 10th century. 

Mihintale, Anuradhapura
Those 4 days were like a time-lapse journey for us. It was thrilling to visit Mihintale; we felt Goosebumps when viewing the sunset over the Mihintale stupa, as the same old sun was in the sky on that very day when the first monk arrived at this very place and had that historical conversation with the king of Sinhala. We stayed at a guesthouse in Dambulla, just in front of the large golden Buddha. Dambulla caves were amazing. 
Lion fortress- Sigiriya

We planned a day trip by tuktuk to Sigiriya rock fortress (Lion fortress), the ‘Alakmanda’ built on the 5th century by the weird king Kashyapa; who chose to betray his fate. Arranged everything man can imagine on earth, he wanted to live ‘heavenly’ in literal meaning. But his guilt of killing his own father followed his footsteps. King Kashyapa was killed by his own brother’s army whom he deceived once. The ancient frescos of Kashyapa’s 500 wives still have some remaining on the plastered wall- though mostly ruined by the Buddhist monks in later days. Also the remains of the beautiful landscaped gardens, water channels, graffiti resemble the worth and aesthetics of the King. 

We wished we had a longer trip but the home was calling. We left Sri Lanka ending our 7 days trip, with great memories of the compassionate land. And if you, reading this piece right now- want to visit Lanka and experience locals, you should not miss the opportunity to take the public buses. Jump onto the public buses, take a seat, talk to the person sitting next to you, enjoy the silly Tamil music videos on the monitor, embrace the smiles every person have on their face. That is Sinhala my friend- welcome abroad!

(This travelog was published in New Age Xtra, weekend supplement of daily New Age; on January 2017.)

No comments:

Post a Comment