Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Secret River, The National Theatre, the South Bank, Central London

Images from the National Theatre web site

Set in the early nineteenth century, The Secret River tells the fairly simple, yet absorbing, story of the struggle by a family of downtrodden Londoners to build a new life in Australia. They stake a claim to a plot of prime riverside land that has long been the home of the local Dharug people. From here, the rollercoaster of hopes and fears is fairly predictable. But the play conveys a powerful message, as the tension ratchets up, and the family are forced to take sides in the struggle for supremacy between the motley collection of former convicts from Britain and their aboriginal hosts. With a large cast and live music, this Sydney Theatre Company production is a feast for both the eyes and ears. While the spacious stage is quite spartan, the dramatic lighting and the precise percussion conjure up the Australian outback. When the family start digging holes, the sound of spades scraping on hard ground rings out convincingly. The Brits' faces are painted white, as if to emphasise their alien status, while they routinely refer to the locals as "the blacks". In another era of mass migration, this depiction of the disorientation and distrust, that often accompany dislocation, rings true.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Hiking in the Knuckles Mountains, Sri Lanka

Although Sri Lanka is a relatively small and densely-populated island,  it retains some genuinely wild and dramatic scenery, such as that in the Knuckle Mountains.  Although much of the range is unmarked, there are a few hiking trails you can take - one leads up from Knuckles Peak Road (a minor road off the B205), past the Knuckles Falls, and up to a 1850 metre peak. It is about a 12km round trip involving some steep gradients and taking in some fine views, if and when the mist breaks. You are supposed to take a guide and pay the park entrance fee, so this can be quite an expensive, whilst rewarding, walk. If it has been raining, beware of leeches.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Jetwing Sunrise, Pasikuda, Sri Lanka

Built around a 108 metre pool, which zig zags out towards the Bay of Bengal, this spacious Jetwing hotel combines homely and comfortable villa-style rooms with some dramatic communal areas.  Although the pool-side restaurant is fairly understated, the terraces, the lounge, the bar and the atrium have all been built with an architectural flourish.  The en-suite rooms are well-equipped with quiet air-con and safes, but the Wi-Fi can be very flaky.  Both the buffet breakfast and the buffet dinner (3,000 rupees a head) have a large enough selection of both western and Sri Lankan dishes, without going overboard. You can also get an a la carte lunch, but the service tends to be fairly slow and the table water can be tepid.  Next to the beach, a small shack serves drinks to guests that have claimed a hotel sun lounger underneath the trees. From here, you can watch (or join in) games of volleyball on the sands. The hotel also has a games room and a few ropey mountain bikes you can take out for a small fee, but you are likely to spend most of your stay chilling out near the beachfront. 7/10

Passikudah Beach, Sri Lanka

Although it is lined with a dozen or so upmarket hotels, Passikudah Beach still feels quite wild. Many of these architecturally-flashy resorts are set well back from the seafront and there is a large open expanse of sand. With just some low-key water sports, a few fishing boats and the odd volleyball court, there is plenty of space to spread out. The sea is very shallow and very warm, as is the sun - early evening is the best time to go for an amble around this curvaceous bay.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Kalkudah Beach and Bay, Sri Lanka

Today, just a handful of lethargic dogs laze among the fishing boats lying on the extensive sands of Kalkudah Beach.  Enjoy the emptiness while you can. Tomorrow, there could be hundreds or even thousands of sun-worshippers, judging on the large number of lots of nearby land that seem to have been snapped up by investment companies.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

Poḷonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Stretching over a 4km long site, the extensive and varied ruins of the medieval city of Polonnaruwa are both atmospheric and absorbing - well worth the US$25 entrance fee and braving the hot and humid micro-climate.  In this major World Heritage Site, there are at least six clusters of buildings you will want to see. As they are spread out, you are probably best hiring a bike or getting a lift from one location to another. In the twelfth century, much of Sri Lanka was ruled from Poḷonnaruwa's Royal Palace and the nearby council chamber in the citadel in the heart of this garden city. 

Safari in Kaudulla National Park, Sri Lanka

In the dry season, scores of Sri Lanka's wild elephants gather in either Kaudulla National Park or nearby Minneriya National Park as they gravitate towards the remaining water sources. The local safari guides will know which of the two parks is the better bet in any given week and you might even see elephants crossing the road on the way there. In any case, heading out in the afternoon as the day cools down is more civilised than getting up before dawn to catch the early morning action. Depending which of the deeply-rutted tracks your jeep takes across Kaudulla, you may be the only vehicle in the vicinity as you observe the odd lone elephant, buffalo or fox, bumping your way up and down through the grasslands around the lake.

Cinnamon Lodge, Habarana, Sri Lanka

Well placed for trips to Sigiriya Rock, Kaudulla National Park and Minneriya National Park, the very security-conscious Cinnamon Lodge is a sprawling resort overlooking some picturesque marsh land. Built around ancient and atmospheric trees, home to troops of monkeys, and a small lake with mini-islands, scores of two-storey chalets each house a couple of en-suite bedrooms. They are generally designed and well-equipped, but the odd one may be missing a safe and it can be a bit of trek to the Lodge's large swimming pool and the massive restaurant.