Day -06 - 23-Dec-2015 (I continue From Here )
Very early in the morning, as Jaffna is waking up, I leave the town on a bus with my fond memories and curious to explore further. Tadashi has left back to Anuradhapura by train. The bus is speeding and a tamil song is playing on the stereo. I feel like I am traveling in some part of Tamilnadu. The views outside are beautiful. Several birds are flocked around ponds, lakes and backwaters.
Mannar is a small town. As you enter this tiny island connected to the main land by a bridge, you see the Mannar star fortress built by the Dutch, now in ruins.
At the bus station, a vendor is getting ready to setup his shop by the road side. The vegetables look double in size than the ones in India. I wonder if they are organic or not.
The route to Talaimannar has some Baboba trees by its side. It is believed that arab traders from Africa had planted them here. I had first read about these trees in my French class books and then the novel "Le petit prince" gives it a different meaning.
At Talaimannar, I make a mistake of getting off at a wrong cross. The bus normally goes to the Lighthouse or the pier and then comes back to go to the village. I get down at the village cross. But then board the same bus again when it returns back to the cross to go to the village. Again, at the village, I get down at a wrong place and head to the place called Adam’s tomb. A small stone with defending around it. I fail to reach the beach from here. There is a navy camp here that blocks entry.
I return the way I came and take interior roads to get to the beach. I am stopped by a boy who guides me to the beach but also offers me a boat ride to the Adam’s bridge or Ramasethu. I say Lrs2000 and he says Lrs5000 for the ride. A few years ago, Navy had opened a ferry service to the last island before Adam’s bridge. An accident, it is said has stopped that service now. Today, the fisherman can illegal take you there. I contemplate if this journey is worth my time and money. At one end, I am delighted to see the bridge that is believed to have built by Lord Rama but on the other, I do think that past is fascinating only when we give it that importance. To me, reaching the tip of this land was sufficient. So I refuse their offer and head to the beach. Standing at the shore, I Look at the sea. On the other side of this shore is India. I visualise Lord Rama landing here perhaps with an expression of anxiety and determination to bring back his kidnapped wife. As the water touches my feet, I feel untied with everything that might have happened here.
This apparently is also a place of constant dispute between Indian and Sri Lankan fishermen. People tell me that fishes just jump and fall into the boats here. There are thousands of them in this area. Many Indian fishermen are arrested by Sri Lankan navy here.
While returning back to the bus stop I stop at a small restaurant. Here I meet Vinod. He speaks Tamil like the majority of the people in Mannar. He has worked in Qatar and has had lot of Indian friends. He can speak Hindi and so we converse. He asks me, If I feel safe here and if I am not afraid of theft. I tell him that so far I have met only nice people here. He tells me that I should not trust all tuk-tuk drivers, some cheat. Then like Indians, he chooses to ask personal questions - "Are you married?", he asks. I choose to lie as to avoid explanations to strangers. The response is - "True, if you are married would it be possible to come alone?" I smile. "You can find a nice girl here", he adds. "But unfortunately you won’t find an Engineer girl here", he realises. He checks if I have money to pay for my tea and vada or should he be paying my bill. I thank him for his kindness and we part after he wishes me safe travels ahead. It is interesting that when you travel alone, many locals choose to strike a conversation with you. It is this experience that was always missing in my previous travels.
In the bus, I speak to a college kid who has returned home during holidays. Coincidentally he too asks me if I am married. Again I choose to lie and the same response returns - "You could not travel alone if you are married, can you?", I smile back and feel so happy to have a wife who lets me be who I am. I remain considerate of my responsibilities as well as a husband to balance things.
The bus ride back is entertaining because of the conductor sounding serious but passing funny comments to passengers. His responses during a search for a boy called Mani who is asleep is particularly funny. He asks the old man the boy is traveling with to have held the child's hand all the time and then screams the boy’s name and asks him to come from wherever he is.
At Mannar, I board a bus to Anuradhapura. I miss going to the famous Thirukkeeswaram kovil (One of the five Shiva temples in SL). At Anuradhapura, which now is a familiar town, I stop at a small bakery cum Restaurant for lunch. A very sweet lady serves me some rice and curry. It is interesting to note that in Sinhalese culture, the women own shops and they do most of the work whereas Jaffna and the north was similar to India where the men are sitting in the shops.
I board a bus to Dambulla. Reach there by 7:30 PM. Take an auto to the guest house suggested by Lonely planet which are all around the golden temple. But this place is full. I check two other nearby hotels and learn that they are full as well. But the tuk-tuk driver is a kind one. He stops for me and tries to help me find a hotel. He then speaks to an owner and finally tells me that there is one on a street opposite the temple. This place is slightly interior but at a walkable distance from the main road. It is called Summerset hotel. An extra polite lady there tells me that they have a room in the main house for Lrs 1300. But if I wanted a better quality room, I could stay in the outhouse for Lrs 2000. I think that since I would not spend a lot of time in this hotel, I could rent the cheaper one in the main house. I settle in and find out that the room is not only bad, but the toilet is shabby and the door is broken. There is no hot water service either. I choose to change my room to the outhouse which are much better. Now the husband of the lady has also arrived. He is completely drunk. He asks me to watch TV and change channels if I wanted. Just then their maybe 6 or 7 year old daughter comes running naked and screaming. "My Daughter will be here always playing around.", he says. "Of course, I can see that," I think.
I switch to a better room and throw myself to bed. This has been a long day. I badly need to rest. If I am tired traveling in buses I think of Lord Rama and his army who had to walk all the way. How difficult were those times, I wonder. A long tiring day has come to an end, or so I think.
A loud scream outside my room wakes me up few minutes after I have slept. I wake up and open the door and see the lady carry her noisy daughter away from the outhouse to the main house. I realise that the girl was screaming at my door. Tired, I go back to sleep. At around midnight, I hear fierce banging at my door. In shock and frustration I scream at whoever is outside. I open the door to find the owner there. He asks me for Lrs1000 advance and tells me to explain it to his wife in the morning. He smells alcohol and it is obvious that he needs more money to drink. I deny him any money and tell him not to disturb me as I am extremely tired. He keeps pestering me for the money. I refuse and close the door. I hear him scream with frustration and then ride away in his scooter. I suddenly realise that I am the only client in this guest house. There are no houses very close either. I must admit that this scares me a little and I soon update my whatsapp status with the name of the hotel so that my wife knows where I was last at. This is an agreement we had to share my location. I fail to sleep until he returns an hour later. I contemplate plans to vacate this place in the morning. I listen to the voices outside until it finally dies. My tiredness makes me fall asleep even with a possible danger. What a nightmare!
Route - Jaffna - > Mannar - Talaimannar -> Mannar - > Anuradhapura - > Dambulla
Route - Jaffna - > Mannar - Talaimannar -> Mannar - > Anuradhapura - > Dambulla