Trishaw details

When driving in Colombo or anywhere else for that matter, I instinctively check the blind-spot just before I turn. Inevitably there is a previously invisible three wheeler ready for a collision. I was stuck in traffic when I noticed this one sneaking up on me. At least it had an interesting design. Now its blogged (see picture below) for all the world to see.

Detail of three wheel taxi, Sri Lanka

A more common detail of Sri Lanka’s three wheel taxi’s is the winged skull fastenings around the back that hold down the roof cover. Clearly visible in my old swathika taxi post.

What other details have you noticed?

Strange Trishaw

This is possibly the strangest trishaw I have spotted so far. Odd how just one element of its design can change the look. Perhaps its just me. The picture is below for you to decide. Verdict goes in the comment box,

Odd Trishaw rear window

Sly trishaw graphics

One rare alignments of the planets I spot a gem on 3 wheel AND I have a camera ready. The image below is a outcome. Its not splashy by any means but check out the fun combination of details. And of course the chrome. Very few trishaws are cool without chrome.   The location is somewhere in the outstations I think along the A6. But enough with the trivial details. I will let the picture tell the story. The flicker page of this image has the details marked out. Click on the image to check them out. Even add your own notes.

 Che Taxi Sri Lanka

A good weekend to you all. Banzai! Banzai! Banzai!

People watching Colombo Sri Lanka

People watching in Colombo is more interesting in December. Hordes of expatriate Sri Lankans here – resulting in gobs of family “get togethers” around the season’s pre-sex parties. I am on leave after many months at the yoke and I have been assigned to the family transport pool. My official responsibility is getting expiate family members around town alive through the terrors of Colombo traffic. The role has given me a perfect seat to sniff the aromas of Sri Lankan social life in the early 21st century.

Of course pecking out this kind of post is utterly dangerous. There are plenty of slippery slopes into stereotyping especially when it comes to describing visiting expats. Cultural variation is a very subtle thing. We tend to notice it in petty variation from our “local” standards – such as wearing Bermuda shorts and Nikes outside the house. American, Australian and UK accents are dead give always from that carefully cultivated Colombo accent of not sounding “go-day” while not sounding foreign. Proper pronunciation of Sinhala half tones is the key indicator.

The best place for all these observations is the Odel near the eye hospital – that island of first world department store shopping. Besides Odel, I’ll be doing a House of Fashions (should I say Gas Chamber of Body Odours?) run. I don’t want to think ahead about the parking ordeal that awaits me so that’s’ another post.

The annual pilgrimage to Odel is a fixture of my chauffeuring duties. This time I made a successful attempt to stay away from the expensive yet tempting book section. The interesting characters local “hip dudes” with their bangles and fancy hair hanging out with the hip hop dressed friends from abroad. Addressing each other as “Machan” in affected upper class British accents.

Inevitably, we meet some visiting “aunty” from abroad with an “uncle” (almost always in a polo shirt) tagging along. The only thing I am not fully comfortable with about these meeting is the cheek to cheek hug/kiss ritual. It is sort of French/Middle eastern but it feels quite awkward. Thankfully these chit chat (which mostly involve the women) don’t drag on. Everybody has somewhere else to go and chances are the conversation will reveal that we are all destined to meet at the same pre-sex party. Not an easy thing to manage as you might think.

Social coordinating during this time frame is similar to a mission to Mars. You got to plot trajectories of multiple bodies moving through vaguely defined and radically changing schedules. One person’s schedule change can wreck the calendars of other. Further complicating things is the insane politics of people to meet and people to avoid. Ironically, the whole thing requires you to have a highly organised yet utterly flexible schedule. The processing complexity is enough to melt a supercomputer.

One of the many things I have realised this “season” is that there are too many good people in my family in exile. When they do get here, the maelstrom of the “social scene” never really lets you spend quality time with all of them. I pushed my mingling skills to the max at the last dinner but somehow it felt flat.

Before I finish I’ll through out an odd sociological situation I have noticed. Visiting couples split up for the duration of their visit – with each person staying with parents. It creates this bizarre if not fun “dating” situation. Along with the politics of how many lunches and dinners you have had with each other’s parents. I knew about this before but the reality of it has hit only recently after observing it from close range.

Thus ends a skimmed version of my amateur anthropology. I am sure I am not the only Sri Lankan blogger noticing these things. Please do share interesting social habits/trends you have noticed this “new year season”.

The comment box humbly awaits your input.

What’s your favourite view in your home town?

Mine’s the view facing east towards Havlock Road down Lester James Peris Mawatha (formerly Dickman’s Road). Seen from the Duplication Road traffic lights. You can view the location on Google Earth until I lug a camera that way. Which won’t be anytime soon. I no longer go that way these days. Even when I did, there was no time to loiter. The only decent spot to fully comprehend let alone enjoy this view is from the middle of the road. Preferably from the relative safety of a charriot snared by a red light. 

At first glance it looks like just another chaotic street in a third world city. Untill you notice white and gold spire of the Isipatanaramaya stupa rising above the chaoas. It floats above the grubby roof tops and tree tops like a profound thought. During late afternoons the white lower stem glows in the ripe mango orange light of the Colombo sunset. Its pinnacle is transformed into gold. There’s a serenity in this sight that elvates you above the everyday madness. Untill you are brought down to “reality” by the impatient honks of the savage behind you. The light has turned yellow and it is time to go.

I thought a quick paragraph could explain why this view (glimpse) is my favorite in all of Colombo. But words fail me. A clear sign that certain mysteries should be savoured without rudly demanding explanations.

Enough about me – what is YOUR favourite view in your home town ?

Coolest people in Sri Lanka

I won’t name names only describe Sri Lanka’s cooled elite as a demographic. Which I will name towards the end of the post. I’m sure you will find it terribly terribly shocking. To deflect blood curdling enraged comments by those left out,  here is how the coolest people in the land qualified for the title. This group dominates Sri Lanka’s coolest people because they enjoy access to air-conditioning in three major areas of life: work, regular travel, and the home. For more background on this classification you’ll have to read my earlier post on how to find out if you are cool.

Air conditioned transport is an essential requirement to enter the upper sections of the cooled castes. Those without the privilege  must sweat in public transport – even if they toil in an air conditioned workplace. Naturally the world of the cooled and the wheeled have their own hierarchy. Its grades measured by the degree of privacy and who pays for it.

Lets start at the bottom. Where you will find the “high end” office transport van. I say “high end” as most “office transport” vans I have seen on the commute are non air-conditioned sardine cans. The “high end” designation is acquired by the virtues of air-conditioning, larger capacity and carrying less than a full complement of passengers. The best example I have seen of this rare breed are the wagons hauling airline crews to and from the airport.

The most basic “personal” transport  is the office supplied chariot. It must have 4 wheels to qualify. Trishaws don’t make the cut but the Ceygra three wheeled car will get you in the door IF it has air-conditioning. It is a safe bet that even the no frills work issue chariot has air-conditioning. Nominally the office chariot comes with a fuel allowance that permits one to actually use the air-conditioning. Saving gas by lowering the window has many inconveniences. Such as attracting beggars at traffic lights and involuntarily partaking the aromatic Colombo traffic. The additional benefits of the office supplied chariot is a cheaper run to the next Hikkaduwa beach party. At the cost of being  enslaved 24/7. Considering the cost of gas and inflation such chains are eagerly sort and gratefully accepted.

From the eager junior executive to the lordly company director rises an incremental incline of entitlements, privileges, and all important minor details. Other higher end benefits includes the chauffeur – discussion of which is outside the scope of this post. Trailing them are the swarm of anonymous commuter cars. Often reconditioned or economy models. Paid for with sales of ancestral lands or life time serfdom to a finance company.

Dominance of cool transport is the preserve of the political class – the aristocracy. It is not restricted to the courtiers favoured with the fat ministry or department. Parliamentarians are quite adapt at being creative with their allowances. Specially when it comes to duty free chariots.

The most visible beast at the top of the transportation heap is the palanquin of a government minister who can commander a slice of the ministerial budget for the latest delights of Mercedes Benz or Bavarian Motor Works. Proofed against bomb, bullet, and rock to protect the honourable hide courtesy of taxes milked from your shrivelling purse. We must of course sacrifice for the safety of our elected rulers without wasting money on non essentials like education or health care.

More circumspect creatures at this level include an assortment of self made millionaires. But they unlike our Lordships, pay taxes for their palanquins (so we’d like to think) – even if some of them get their money through cosy relationship with the right courtier.

The ultimate symbol of power in this category is the courtier’s convoy. Jeep loads of special forces and armed goons cutting a swath trough  clogged streets. To ride through the heat, humidity and frustration of daily life in such glorious comfort communicates power. It demonstrates your imperviousness to the environment. You are untouchable and comfortable and the shits in the gutter will let you stay that way.

Air conditioned transport is only a minor expression of power. The ultimate is the fully air conditioned home. In the polluted chaos of the urban third world, a fully air-conditioned home symbolise immense power extending far beyond the piddling costs of buying, installing, and maintaining the decadence of central air-conditioning. It means you are a person with the means and status to defy the cruelties of your environment.

I have yet to encounter this mythical creature. It is supposed to exist, containing elevators and upper floor swimming pools. At this level you have to be a personage embroiled or connected to politics – if you are not in the upper tiers of a major industry.

Lesser mortals can perhaps make do with a box in condominium tower. Or a sparingly used wall unit in a single room of their hovel. Diligently purchased at the duty free via an incoming relative or a rare off island trip. At this condo dwellers and single unit air con users are irrelevant.

I suppose it is obvious by now who the coolest people in Sri Lanka are – politicians.

Particularly those of the inner court, their provincial catchers and assorted hangers on. Abandoning integrity in politics has never been so rewarding or easier. It makes the very concept seem silly specially since not having any is an requirement of entry. I suppose there must be the odd acceptation. I hope there is.

I’ve drunk too much ginger beer while eavesdropping to bother with the details. The stories are too incredible  for fiction. You’ll be lucky to get just a bludgeoning if you try following the paper trail. If the facts are published there’ll be the usual anger in the letters to the editor and a small demo somewhere. Perhaps a blog post of rage here and there. But in the end we’ll all just shrug and turn eagerly to the cricket scores.

Ridi Vihare – Silver Temple Sri Lanka

Ridi Vihare -“Silver Temple” in Sinhala – is a historic cave temple on the road to Sri Lanka’s ancient cities -an easy day trip away from Colombo. At first glance it looks like a large well supported rural temple nestled in the lush landscape. Looks are of course deceiving. Its treasures are subtle and hidden from impatient eye. First You have to get there.

Map to Ridi Vihare from Colombo via Kurunagala

The map below shows the route to Ridi Vihare from Colombo. The Temple is located at Ridigama (Silver Village). Yes there’s a theme ;) The Colombo – Kurunagala segment of the route uses uncongested secondary roads described in an earlier post.

Route to Ridi Vihare via Colombo - Kurunegala

If you can’t make it, the alternative is the lovingly photographed book Ridi Vihare – The Flowering of Kandyan Art’ by SinhaRaja Tammita -Delgoda. Sunday Times has a review of “Ridi Vihare – The Flowering of Kandyan Art“. Its not cheap but worth it. That’s easy to say since our copy was bought with wedding gifted Barefoot vouchers.

We got to Ridi Vihare in the blazing afternoon heat and had the place to our selves and the neatly uniformed bare footed civil defence guy with a T56. He had the sanity to stay in the shade. We barbecued our paws on the burning sand. White lotuses were bought from the flower sellers outside the gates. Mrs C had packed a bottle of coconut oil & wicks for the lamps. Both our upbringings make it is hard to think of any religious place purely as a tourist attraction. So we do the usual Buddhist things before wondering around.

The lavishness of the “Ridi Vihare” book’s photographs makes the ordinariness of the temple more striking. No towering chunks of ancient history scattered about. It is quite easy to miss the oldest rock cut structure in the temple complex. It is the medieval cave/shrine that hides the visual fire works. However the doors were locked and nobody was about.

Then a shout and burly character came scampering out of the monk’s quarters, keys jangling. Its a care taker type person who with profuse apologies unlocks multiple doors. Inside the first cave it is deliciously cool. We’d prefer to quietly drink in the sights. But our benefactor launches into a rolling recitation of the temple and the cave. Very similar to the Sinhala priests (“Kapuralas”) of the Hindu shrines found in Buddhist temples. It sounds he’s memorised the whole thing in rather officious Sinhala.

He is very thorough about the details. We would have missed the Dutch tiles with Christian motifs and an ivory inlaid doorway if he hadn’t pointed it out. The inward facing Makara thorana is rich in glowing reds & yellow in one of the image houses is a particularly. Supposedly the only one. All a magical contrast to the “practical” feel of the agricultural landscape we drove through. Flash photography is not allowed to protect the ancient paint. Tripods are out to protect the floor. Unless you are very steady to pull of long exposure shots, it is best to keep the camera in the bag and just absorb the sights.

Unfortunately I don’t have the time to locate the pictures and flickr them. Anyway, there’s plenty of better ones on the net. For pictures, has a page on Ridi Vihare with good images and a historical overview. Predeep Jeganathan has an atmospheric black and white. If you got links to more on the web feel free to post them in the comment box :)

Despite the visual delights of the main show, I am drawn to peripheral details. I felt an odd empathy with the expressions on this ancient looking incense burner. Took too many pictures of the door handles. Knelt longer than I should on hot paving to frame an minor craving. Eventually it was time to go. Our guide had already unlocked a box of souvenir cards which we dutifully purchased. On the way out we detoured to the lonely Stupa. A quiet peaceful place with mountain views. No grand monuments.

The mobile interrupts the peace. Will we be back in Colombo for dinner? I make the necessary promises as we head to the chariot. The road back was clear & sane. There’s even time for a brew outside Naramala. We sip it surrounded by cheerfully golden paddy fields waving hypnotically at us in the wind.