Colombo, Sri Lanka

Colombo makes a statement.  When you sail in the first thing you see is a giant stupa raised on stilts telling any approaching mariner that this is a Buddhist country.  But the skyline of Colombo has monuments to other religions.  From the port you can see the giant red and white stripped mosque, a Christian steeple and a rising Hindu temple.  Between the Stupa and the symbols of the other three religions skyscrapers are beginning to rise evidencing the “peace dividend” the country is enjoying at the end of the Tamil Tiger civil war.

These religions (and the ethnicities they represent) have caused Sri Lanka centuries of problems.  The Tamil war lasted for years and devastated much of the country.  Hindu Tamils and Buddhist Sinhalese have fought on and off for eons.  Christians and Sinhalese have fought each other as the Portuguese, Dutch and Brits successively tried to subdue the island for trade and empire.  Only last week Kandy, the old royal capital, was placed under state of emergency because of communal violence between Sinhalese and Moslems.  (The Arabs have been trading cinnamon out of the island since before the time of Mohamad.  Mohamad married the widow of a spice merchant.)  Our guide at the Elephant Orphanage put a positive spin to this religious diversity.  Sri Lanka has more public holidays than any other country, with 32 officially recognized religious holidays representing all four faiths.

We had limited time in Colombo but fortunately we could see a lot from the deck of the ship and from the bus to and from the railway stations.  We left from one station and arrived back at another.  One of the advantages of a world cruise is that is a good sampler of different cities and cultures.  Our understanding is deepened by excellent lectures on the history and culture of the regions we are visiting.  Traveling by ship also gives one a sense of perspective on the size of the world, and the interrelationships between far flung places, tied together by the sea trade.  The disadvantage; a cruise is just a sampler, a menu card, leaving you wishing for more than just a taste.

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