Gem mining and tea with a Buddhist monk


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Asia » Sri Lanka » Sabaragamuwa Province » Ratnapura
May 10th 2014
Published: May 10th 2014
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Hello dear readers,



Well it's another day in paradise for me lol. Im had a restful nights sleep drifting off in my camp bed to the to the sounds of crickets, frogs chatting to each other and other local wildlife noises. All vet peaceful and not a car horn to be heard ahhhhhh!



So I got up had a shower in the shower block with the sun shining down and then had brekkie. Garlic sausage and fried eggs and toast. A lovely cup,of Sri Lankan tea and a plate of fruit. The sweetest small bananas inhave ever tasted and juicy fresh pineapple. Not so keen on the water melon and guava though.



So after breakfast I took to the water to go kayaking. We, me and my two companions from the Boarderlands team, were taken by truck to our starting point on the river. I was in a blue inflatable canoe whilst one guide had a dinky little canoe and the other one a full size orange one. I had my safety briefing and how to paddle turn left and right and how to go backwards, that but was easy going backwards I mean lol.



So we paddled down stream but as it hadn't rained too much over the last few weeks the level was low so there weren't too many rapids. We meandered for a little while and then came across a small rapid which I negotiated down stream ok. Then I had to attempt yo get back up. Well despite my best efforts an quire a few attempts I failed miserably lol.



So we continued to meander down stream back to the Boarderlands lodges. On our way I saw something in the water ahead of me in the distance. I immediately thought it was a crocodile. My guides had seen this too and went for a closer look, and said it was a crocodile. So a second of panic and then they said it was a water monitor which is basically a large water lizard, about a meter in length. We got quite closet to it as it swam along the river bank. We also saw an eagle of some kind.



We continued past the Boarderlands lodges further down stream where i got stuck on the river bed as the water level was so low, not cos I'm fat for those of you out there thinking along those lines lol. So I had to get out of the kayak and pull it ashore whilst wading in ankle deep water. When we got to our destination we hauled the boats on to dry land and carried them up to the road and the waiting truck which brought us back to the Boarderlands location again. A quick shower pack, say my goodbyes and off we go to our next destination.



My driver for the duration of my trip is a guy called Lalajit or Lala for short. He is 51 married to a school teacher and has two children, a girl 16 and a boy 14. He is full of knowledge about that island and, it's population, history, flora and fauna and wild life etc.



As we drove through the lush green countryside he pointed out various trees, birds, shrubs and crops along the way and we chatted about life in the UK vs Sri Lanka.



We arrived at the hotel where it seems I was one of 4 guests staying there as it was out of season. My room was very spacious and comfy, a bath, English speaking TV (CNN) and noisy AC lol.



It was very hot and humid in the mid thirties but with a lot of moisture from the recent rain. Good job I wasn't wearing any slap it would have been sliding off my face in seconds. I challenge Rimmel or L'Oreal to beat that lol.



It was quite a big hotel but did need some TLC, rather colonial in style with some aspects looking dated or worn. But was surrounded by well maintained gardens and even had an out door pool. I had a fantastic view from my room of the lush green jungle and countryside. The staff were very friendly and helpful and attentive too.



I settled in and didn't feel like lunch so headed for the lobby and the joy that is wifi in the sticky humid heat.



I had arranged to meet Lala at 4pm as he had offered to take me over t the gem mines and up to the temple situated behind the hotel. So promptly at 4pm we headed out.



The gem mines were just across the road from the hotel and we needed permission to enter. However there was no one at the gate so Lala went ahead to speak to someone he had seen. We got the go ahead and were joined by several of the guys who work the gem mines. They dig for precious and semi precious stones. They were a lovely friendly bunch of men who work the mines all their lives. It is hot, dirty, dangerous work, long hours and not much pay in the grand scheme of things. 84 men work the area we toured round. They explained how they excavate the seams, by digging the holes and shoring them up with bamboo, and the mines fill with water and then they pump it out and have to pan through piles of silt and mud, in a similar way to panning for gold, and sift through what is left looking for the gems. One of the guys gave me a demonstration and after 15 mins of washing the stones and sifting through he found about 3 semi precious stones.



Some of the mines go down 60 meters plus and have to be dug out by hand. No hi-vis vests, no hard hat or steel toe capped boots, in fact no shoes at all! I saw how they lived in tin huts and all ate together. They get up at 5am to start the pumps to get rid of the water which has come up from under ground streams and then start work around 8am and work as long as they can. All around the site are pumps and hoses and electrical cables, the plug sockets are just covered over with a bit of plastic to stop the rain getting in. The HSE would have a coronary if they saw it lol.



We chatted about the job and how hard the work was, living conditions, how long they had been working there. They showed me some of the semi precious stones they had mined and told be about some of the big gems they had mined. They also said they sell to the gem dealers who then sell on to the public at extortionate prices and they don't get that much money for them. Also the mine owners also take a cut. The miners do all the hard work and risk their lives for very little return. Whilst we were chatting there was a small land slide where some guys had been working a couple of minutes earlier so it was a lucky escape!



We said our goodbyes to the sound of the bread van passing, like the ice cream van only selling bread lol.



We then took the path up the hill that goes up round the back of the hotel. Although it was hot and humid we didn't mind the walk and it was nice to get some exercise. We passed some houses on the way and said hello to the occupants. We also passed some rubber and tea plantations. The views were lovely we could see the jungle side around and I the distanice and the mists coming down from the mountain tops.



We walked to the top to see a holy/sacred tree growing there and a statue of Buddha. The tree is from a tree which was brought from India. That tree was taken from the original tree under which Buddha found enlightenment, so it's all very holy to the Buddhists.



Shoots are propagated from the tree brought over from India and then after special permission has been granted the shoots are sent to various locations in Sri Lanka. It's vey hard to get them but the Buddhist monk who looks after the temple has friends in high places and kept asking until he got one. It was brought to the temple with a lot of pomp and ceremony and blessings. It was cultivated for 6 months before being planted. It has now grown around 5ft in 6 months. It's grown in soil from a silted river bed and watered every day several times a day by visitors to the shine and tree. So it was shoes off and up to see the tree at the same time as the Buddhist monk was there. So we chatted via Lala who interpreted. I was allowed to water the tree which is supposed to bring good luck.



The monk then invited us into his office/home to show us the story of how the young tree made it's journey to its new home From the photos on his wall. He also showed us photos of his visit to Thailand and Burma. We were then invited to take tea with him. He makes very nice baby tea just how I like it although it was loaded with sugar. We also had a cracker of the Jacobs cracker variety lol. He was asking me a few questions and vice versa. He showed me the address of his friend who is a chef and lives in Bracknell. I said it was a couple of hundred miles from where I live. He has been a monk since his teenage years and it was his choice to become a monk.



As a parting gift he tied the string around my wrist and chanted a blessing to bring me luck, and he also gave me a copy of Buddhist teachings and his address here in Sri Lanka so I can write to him. One for you Sandy lol. In return I gave a donation to help towards the building of a new pagoda for the site.



It's was starting to get dark so we walked back down to the hotel in the fine rain which had started.



As I was virtually the only guest in the hotel I ordered my food so it would be ready for when I was showered and changed. When I was done and dusted in my room I came down to eat and the heavens opened and there was a massive down pour which lasted ten minutes or so. This cooled the temperature down for a short while and generated a small breeze to,see the heat. Later on a bat came flying in for a while catching the insects and then flew off again. I had the best meal, chicken breast in mushroom sauce with veggies and fries. Yummy!



I then headed to my rather orange room. In need of a face lift as it was a little 1960s in colouring - orange and brown with a touch of navy blue thrown in for good measure but clean and comfortable but with very noisy AC lol.



Next chapter coming up



Xxx

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