At Beragala we take a more modest road. Wheeling gently downhill through the fringes of the jungle, I find it easier to concentrate on Lai’s commentary. He points out the towering hora trees and kitul palms, areca nut trees and the occasional large ficus religiosa, sacred to Buddhists and known as the ˜Bo Tree’.
In Wellawaya, at the foot of the mountains, Lai stops for tea and what the cafe advertises as ˜short eats’. Here, we are almost at sea level, and the road to the coast is arrow-straight. Lai sets the car in full flight across the plain, and the hills shrink away behind. We pitch and yaw on the Cambridge’s ancient suspension.
Thirty miles an hour proves a good pace at which to travel. With all the windows down, there is just enough breeze for what Lai calls ˜Sri Lankan air conditioning’ to work, and I have time to study the roadside. Sri Lanka is an unselfconscious country and much of daily life is conducted outdoors. I watch events unfold: columns of children in their white finery return from Sunday school at the monastery, men chew betel and chat, families eat, women do the washing and rice is gathered. When I see what looks like a funeral procession – to complete this digest of Sri Lankan life -I ask Lai about the line of people, led by drummers. ˜Yes, a funeral,’ he replies. ˜Everybody is going to the grave, sir.’
Lai’s English ranges from straightforward, slightly antiquated speech – as if from a primer – to delightful, subtle The Austin Cambridge on the road from Haputale to Beragala. Above, a Tamil woman picking tea. Above right, coconut palms in Hambantota
Holiday in Sri Lanka Gallery Photos
Holiday in Sri Lanka