For my final week in Sri Lanka, I lived at Kanduboda Siyane International Insight Meditation Center. I had been looking forward to this retreat for some time, and was a major highlight of the trip for me. Under the tutelage of my wonderful and beautiful teacher, Rev. Wimukthi, and with the guidance of the Center’s head monks, I studied and practiced vipassana meditation.
Practicing vipassana, meaning “insight”, meditation has had a profound effect on me. I know I will always remember this one, simple week so fondly. The people that I met, the food I ate, my simple room… Sometimes when I close my eyes I can see it all so vividly still.
That was one of the first questions I was asked upon arriving to Sri Lanka. Foolishly, I said yes, and I was promptly handed a warm roll of bread, stuffed with spicy, curried vegetables (called a vegetable bun, a common breakfast staple). It scorched my mouth, much to my surprise, and I was instantly awake, despite landing at 3:00 AM in the morning, and being jostled around a car at sunrise.
My taste buds never rested for the remainder of my trip. Most meals ended with me in a pool of sweat, three or four glasses of water sloshing around inside me, and begging for some delicious, sweet pineapple or watermelon to put my mouth at ease. I wouldn’t trade the pain for anything in the world though. These curries are as delicious as they are spicy, outrageously so.
Note: This recipe is relatively small (about two servings as a main dish), but bear in mind that the most traditional Sri Lankan meals are comprised of up to five different curries at once, along with rice, papadums, and sometimes a small salad.
Sinhalese Dhall Curry (as taught by Karuna)
100 grams (about 1/2 a cup) of lentils, soaked for 30 minutes
1 small onion, sliced or diced
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup coconut cream
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp mustard seed powder
1/2 tsp chili powder, more to taste
10 curry leaves
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
In a saute pan, sweat your onions and garlic on medium heat. Add liquids and lentils. Stir in the remaining ingredients, mixing well. Stirring often, cook on medium heat for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and let simmer until sauce thickens, stirring as needed.
Serve with rice. To be especially Sinhalese, eat with your fingers :)
Okay. So I have been back for a month, officially. I have to be honest; readjusting to coming home was extremely hard for me, and I am still trying to get through it, taking it day-by-day.
When I first embarked on my journey, I was riddled with reservations and self-doubt. I was worried about being lonely (more than I was worried about being alone, and before I even started thinking about the safety issues that could arise as a solo female traveler). Now, for the month that I have been here, I have only felt lonely for the handful of times that I was especially homesick. Besides these rare occasions, I have been lucky enough to often be in good company, and so gradually loneliness fell by the way side. When I am alone now, I savour it, sit with it, take the time to reflect.
Around 5500 steps.
We climbed and summited in about 3.5 hours,
about 7 hours of walking total.
Well, its almost been a month, and it has seriously flown by. I’m wrapping up my time with the elephants this week, and I’ve gotten to do a lot of surprise activities. Perhaps a reward for being such a hard worker? I’ll go with that…
I got another chance to bottle feed the babes, instantly making us life-long friends. I helped clean out the closure for one of my favorite elephants; in addition to being blind, and having a bullet still lodged under his skin, Raja is the oldest elephant at the orphanage, and has exceeded the average age of Indian elephants (he’s estimated to be 80, most Indian elephants live to be 70 or so). One of my favorite things to do after the big herd marches back up to the orphanage from the Maha Oya River, is helping to bathe the smaller, sick herd. Tikiri always spoils me with trunk kisses. She loves it when you blow in her snout, and she blows right back! Dumari loves laying down for her bath, and enjoys a good scrubbing. I am definitely going to miss these ladies.
What surprised me, and I only realized recently, is that I have grown really attached to the little cliff-side town of Kegalle. I love taking my half-hour walk to the internet cafe, passing the usual people at the usual times. We always exchange smiles. I’ll be sad to leave here on Friday, when I move to Ja-Ela (about 45 minutes outside of Colombo).
Planning on doing the Adam’s Peak pilgrimage this weekend. I’ve been told we’ll have to start climbing around 9:00 PM to summit at sunrise. I can’t even imagine walking over night! I am excited and anxious for the challenge.