One thing that is common across most South East Asian countries is that almost all of them have their own version of Ramayana or at the very least an epic that is very close to Ramayana.  History is written by the victorious and hence it comes as no surprise that the widely accepted version of the epic is the one retold by Indians.  Or maybe it was just a case of the power of sheer numbers given the massive population of the country. Nevertheless, one thing on my things-to-do list on an otherwise itinerary-less Sri Lankan trip was to hear the Lankan version of the story. And hear, we did

We kicked off the second day in the country with some String Hoppers and jack fruit curry and bid farewell to the kind host at the B&B. The plan was to go see the big rock at Sigiriya. What we did not know at that point was that Sigiriya is a world Heritage site. I am not the one for labels and brands but this was an important label because being a world heritage site translates to an almost exorbitant entry fee for anyone who is not a Sri Lankan. We were ill equipped to dole out huge amounts in cash. The fact that my paranoid bank had disabled my debit and credit card due to an increased number of ‘suspicious’ international transactions did not help our case either. We were left with not many options but to satisfy our big rock cravings from afar.

We soon learned that there is only so much of ‘oh-the-small-me-in-this-big-universe-with-this-big-rock’ contemplation that you can do before you start getting bored. Once boredom started rearing its head, we decided to take our bike and our contemplation to Polonnaruwa, the site of the Ram-Raavan altercation. Altercation is a strange choice of word to describe a battle that involved burning down a palace and resulted in death of many. But that was the word used by the guide we found at the site of the ruins of Polonnaruwa and I am merely repeating it.

Polonnaruwa was, in its heyday, a thriving city and the administrative capital for many a Sri Lankan King. One of the surviving great feats of engineering includes the Parakrama Samudra- a tank so huge that it is often mistaken for the sea. When the guide approached us on the banks of the Samudra, we knew that he probably was a tout. That day historical accuracy was not as high on our list as entertainment. We chose to roll with it and enlisted him to show us around the place. DISCLAIMER: All the details below are as given by the ‘guide’. No fact checking was done by the author. If anything is inaccurate or offensive, a pinch of salt is highly advised

The guide drew our attention to a small island in the middle of the tank and he began his narration of his version of Ramayana. According to him, that island was built by the king to house his beloved, an Indian princess. The princess has eloped with him form the Indian peninsula. A Chola king angered by this waged a war against the Sri Lankan king to seek retribution.

 (The guide was unclear if it was a battle or a war. The conversation went like this.

 Me: Was it a war or just a battle?

Guide: Battle. Yes.  Yes. War. Yes

Please make your own judgments)

In the course of the war, the palace was set on fire and the princess was taken back to her kingdom eventually.  After this intriguing tale, we spent the next few hours roaming around the various ruins. Among the royal ruins, there was no dearth of statues of Buddha in various poses. In absolute contrast to the confidence he exhibited when asked about the battle, the guide explained in depth the meaning conveyed by the various poses and its significance. After all he probably was genuinely a retired archaeologist J or did he say astronaut? Memory serves me poorly now

The narrative thread that bound together all these places and statues was the tyranny of the Indian kings and the peace that is Buddhism. The mistrust for Indians was probably passed down the generations. Or probably it was just that the banks disliked me. We spent a good two hours going from bank to bank in an attempt to convert the US dollars in my possession to Sri Lankan currency. After being offered exchange rates that nearly had me sobbing and suffering from a nervous breakdown, we gave up our attempts and decided to try our luck the next day.

The guide then took us to a local restaurant and ordered a true Sri Lankan fare. Of all the indelible memories etched in my mind, the taste of that lunch is one. In our minds, just that lunch justified hiring the guide.

Around 3 in the afternoon, we began our way back to Kandy. We reached at nightfall and found the backpackers establishment where we were to stay the night.In Kandy the first order of business would be to set the wayward finances right. But that could wait for the next day