Spiritual awakening.....

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Asia » Sri Lanka » Central Province » Kandy
April 22nd 2012
Published: April 22nd 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

It has been a few days since I have been able to write. They have been filled with much adventure and good times. I haven't had a chance to sit down alone and meditate on my thoughts. After waking the next morning post casino romp, David and I had breakfast at the hostel and packed our things. I was going to attempt to purchase a train ticket to Kandy, something they had done a day earlier. I had hoped there was one left for me. We met Mariom in the lobby. She was accompanied by her friend from France, Audrey, a pretty brunette with a stern look. She had been on a flight from France to Doha to Colombo. Much like my own experiences with lack of sleep prior to my arrival, she had a similar experience. She didn't exude the same enthusiasm as Mariom, but I was going to give her the benefit of the doubt. I would like to say that our adventure began without a hitch, but at wouldn't be backpacking. I tried to pay for my room, but the counterman was taking forever. He didn't seem to know the procedures to cash out. We were on a time crunch, needing to leave at 845 for our 945 departure. To top it off, our taxi to the train station was not there yet. After much coaxing and cajoling, I paid my bill, but the taxi had yet to arrive. I spotted a very small hatchback taxi. Getting all our baggage in for four and the passengers was going to be tough. I tried negotiating a fair price, but to no avail. I was unwilling to pay what he was asking. We grabbed our things and headed toward the main road, walking uphill and trying to hail cabs as we limbed along. Finally, the original cab driver I tried negotiating with earlier pulled alongside and agreed to my asking price. We were already running late and I had yet to stand in line and purchase a ticket for myself. As most vehicle rides of any type in Sri Lanka go, it was precarious at best. We sped along the coastline to the translation with plenty of time to spare. I was relieved, but still slightly concerned about procuring a seat on the train with my compatriots. I approached the ticket counter, grabbing a copy of David's ticket to show ticket sales. He quizzically looked at me. And my request. I asked for the exact ticket on the train in my most raucous and friendly manner (as if that would help). It seemed to work though, as he began searching online, confirming my seat on the first class train car. I told him that I would have kissed him if glass wasn't separating us. I figured he wouldn't understand my joke, but I blew him a kiss through the open hole separating us. He laughed, as did the others I was traveling with. I was ecstatic that I would be joining such a lively and fun group. We finally found the correct train car, as the first one we attempted to board was far from tourist class. Happy at the idea that our car was air conditioned and clean (the spoiled travelers that we are), we excitedly took our seats. There was one other English couple on the train car, plus the servers and workers. The ride took approximately three hours. We chatted, filmed, took pictures and slept. Upon our arrival, we needed to secure a ride to an area with cheap hostels, we hadn't booked a room anywhere.. At first, I tried to negotiate a ride to downtown Kandy, but David found out that a bus ran into town for 20 rupees, about 15 cents. We arrived by the lakeside. It was considerably less humid in Kandy than Colombo, but still hot, especially with the baggage that we had. After asking directions and looking at the map, we walked in the general direction of an area with cheap hostels. After passing a few and failed negotiations, I found a hostel to my liking and negotiated a price with the pretty owner's wife. She agreed to 1500 rupees a night for each, about $12 a night. We asked for two doubles and the girls and guys split up into two rooms. We sighed in relief, asked for a couple of beers, and sat on our balcony with good intentions. It was about 3pm when we decided to head out and visit the Temple of the Tooth, The country's most important Buddhist temple. It is said to house the tooth of the Buddha, which was rescued after his cremation. Anyone that possesses it is said to have the right to rule Sri Lanka, as wars have been fought over the relic itself. We walked around the impressive structures, but decided not to pay the modest fee to enter the actual structure housing the tooth relic. Afterwards, we found a local place to eat, a Muslim restaurant, and shared a meal. After walking around the crowded downtown area filled with shops of all types, including a KFC that I wanted to try, we decided to retire early. We were still all completely exhausted. Audrey had not slept yet and I was still in the throes of weeks of not sleeping well. I passed out on my stomach by 9pm. Again however, my sleep was constantly interrupted. I woke up almost every hour until 130am. From then until 5am, I lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling. I could not shake whatever was preventing me from peace. I eventually rolled out of bed at 4am to read one of my books. By 5am, I was able to close my eyes for another hour and a half. Mariom had arranged a van tour for us the previous day. We were going to see all the Buddhist temples near Kandy. I appreciated her effort, as she secured a great deal for all of us. We visited many sites, including temples and an Ayurvedic Garden. I cannot do any of these sites justice, or remember all the details of names. We visited the Dambulla Cave Temples, created in the first century BC. The ascent to the caves themselves took quite some time and energy, but it was worth it. I felt a serene spirituality here. The view over the entrance itself, where we had began our ascent, was amazing. I snapped many photos and bowed in meditation many times at the sleeping Buddha statues housed inside the caves. With each step, I walked purposefully and meditatively. Why, I have no idea. It seemed to be the right thing to do at the time. I began understanding what it was to truly be in the moment, no rush, no outside influence. It was calming and contemplative all at once. I snapped many photos and took much video, but I know that nothing can capture the serenity and spirituality felt here. We also visited the Golden Temple, a impressive modern 100ft tall Golden Buddha visible from the main road, at the entrance to the cave complex. My camera could not completely envelope what I was staring at from below. I again bowed and repeated a mantra to the structure. I was not yet sure of the specific ritualism involved in Buddhism, but I performed what I knew and with great intention. The highlight of the day, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, was Sigiriya (lion rock), a towering rock outcrop that used to house monks around the base of the impressive rock structure, and had also been the site of a royal palace of a former king. The large rock itself was transformed into a recumbent lion, of which only the impressive paws remained. Upon Entering the entrance and paying the exorbitant $30 fee (well worth it, I guarantee), we began our walk toward the rock. The complex was not just used as a palace, but a defensive fort for the murderous king that created it. Entering the complex itself, we say symmetrically shaped ponds, water channels and fountains. Further along, we took many pictures of the Boulder and Terrace gardens. Caves prior to the entrance were used by reclusive Buddhist monks in the 3rd century BC. David and I hung back to explore some of the side treks, while the girls proceeded upwards.
It was hot and humid with the 2pm sun at our backs. The steps were high and short, the walk up filled with wonder as we watched the landscape unfold behind us. I could see from the entrance why the location was part of UNESCO. On the way, visitors were holding onto the rails because the ascent was steep and stairs narrow. You could see fear in many of the faces, especially those descending. Something happened to me here though. I had always been afraid of heights, but would always be one of the first ones, whether in the Fire Academy, or theme park, to attempt anything heights related. I just wanted to conquer instead of it conquering me. As I ascended, I had no fear. There was nothing to conquer. I felt a certain serenity. Life and death didn't seem to matter. It's not that I didn't want to live. It was simply the fact that death wasn't scary. It had no power over me because the fear of it didn't exist. It is quite difficult to explain. Audrey had stopped just short of climbing the final part, the recumbent lion, due to vertigo issues. I offered to carry her on my back because I knew she would be missing out. But she politely declined and the three of us proceeded to the very top. We walked up what can only be described in the guidebooks as a vertiginous ascent. Again, those descending had white knuckled grasps on the rails and looks of certain death on their faces. Those ascending didn't appear much better. However, surprisingly, I ascended effortlessly. I didn't want to think about it too much for fear that my own fear of heights would return. I simply stayed in the moment, step by step, meditating on my thoughts. We finally reached the top, and as David would say later that night, we each death with the summit in our own ways. Mariom sat down breathed, and took it all in peacefully. I found a suitable spot on a ledge, stood tall, closed my eyes and breathed deeply, feeling the wind on my body, hearing everything, feeling everything. We stayed up there for quite a long time and we each didn't want to leave. We snapped photos and took video as we soaked up all the summit had to offer. There was a 360 degree view of everything below. Wow. I shot a short video of me practicing Muay Thai. Then, we decided to head back down to meet Audrey. We walked back down to the car park to meet our driver Sanjeeva, or as I called him, Hollywood, because he was constantly on his earpiece and flirting with Mariom. He was very touchy freely with her in the front seat, but she took it in stride. We made many jokes about their future wedding and how lucky she was. She gave Audrey the middle finger a few times as we laughed at her expense. We returned to the hotel and decided to have a beer before dinner. We sat on the porch and talked about the day. A short time later, we decided to go to a Chinese pub/restaurant owned by an Englishman that married a Chinese woman in China. It had a very Western rooftop feel to it. We really appreciated the decor and the vibe. It was called the Slightly Chilled Lounge. Prices were reasonable, the people were lively, and Michael, the owner, was a serious blast. We had so much fun laughing and talking. We had really good food when it finally showed up, and we had lots of drinks to celebrate our wonderful day. I had so much fun with the trio that I offered to pay the tab. They hesitated at first, but i finally convinced them that it was something that i really wanted to do. We closed the restaurant by 11, returned to the hostel, and had another couple of beers on our porch. All in all, it was our best day in Sri Lanka because we finally saw the history and culture of the country. We said our goodbyes to the ladies, embracing and kissing them goodbye. They were headed east, David and I planned to stay one more day. We made tentative plans to meet up Galle, an idyllic beach town on the West coast. It was sad to think that we may not all be together again.

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