Tea bushes manicured to within an inch of their lives curve around corners, and down hills following the contours of the land. Some are set in orderly lines, others like the bushes on the Pedro Tea Plantation on the Avissawella-Hatton-Nuwara Eliya Highway seem to grow in happy clumps and fall higgledy piggledy down the hill. This is also the area where houses with vegetable gardens dot the hills, compared with the more manicured, pristine hills preceding them.
But look closely at the picture perfect scenes of the highly manicured tea bushes and you will see rubbish strewn between them, especially the ubiquitous plastic bags which end up embedded in the soil.
‘Keep Australia beautiful, put it in the bin’, a slogan that many older Australians would be familiar with could be something that we could export to Sri Lanka.
It does not seem to be a concept that has been taken to heart by the locals and in fact as you go from one beautiful site to another you see rubbish dropped by visitors to these sites.
The mountain of Mihintale is a sacred and holy site located just over 12 and a half kilometres east of the ancient town of Anuradhapura, on the Anuradhapura -Trincomalee road. It is said to be where the Buddhist monk, Mahinda, met King Devanampiya Tissa and converted him to Bhuddism in 308 BCE.
To reach the temple complex at Mihintale you need to walk up hundreds of steps strewn with frangipani blossoms in the early morning.
It is a beautiful and peaceful place and if you get there early enough you can see the man sweeping the frangipani off these steps before the majority of people come to visit.
A very old lady was making her way down the Aradhana Gala (a big rock on which Mahinda was supposed to have landed or preached his first sermon depending on what account you read) when she dropped her plastic bottle of water down the rock face.
It landed in bushes at the bottom and out of reach but not out of sight.
The rock is very steep and many people use both hands on the single guard rail to guide themselves up and down the rock.
Our guide, very politely told her that she shouldn’t have dropped the bottle.
A lady climbing down the rock with the old lady told the guide that it was difficult for the old lady to carry the bottle.
The guide very gently but firmly told her that if that was the case, then she shouldn’t have taken the bottle up with her in the first place or she could have put it in her bag, which she was carrying on her shoulder.
He also said that it was important to keep the place clean.
All this was said so politely and without raising his voice.
That’s something else that I have noticed, how polite people are when talking to each other, words like, putha (son), mali (little brother), mahathaya, (sir), are used as a prefix to a question or a statement.
So what in English might sound rude because no honorific was used comes across as very gentle and caring.
However, no matter how polite our guide was I don’t think the old lady who dropped the water bottle thought he was polite, rather that he was officious and disrespectful of her age.
View of Aradhana Gala
Negombo to the north of Colombo and close to Bandaranaike International airport is a popular tourist destination with the Negombo beach, the Dutch Canal and St Mary’s church amongst its many attractions.
Fishing in Negombo
The beaches to the north where the high end hotels are, tend to be cleaner, but the southern end of the beach near the Negombo fish markets and the fish markets themselves leave a lot to be desired. And even on the cleaner beaches you can see remnants of broken down pieces of plastic. Near the fish markets, a lot of rubbish including plastic bottles and plastic bags and piles of clothing seem to have been washed up from the sea. This area is a destination for both locals and tourists who come to see the fishermen and the fish markets.
I wonder whether the rubbish in the area will at some point affect tourism to Negombo.? According to the 2015 Rough Guide to Sri Lanka, “it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find real budget lodgings and rates at more upmarket places are seriously steep.” If one of the marketing points for Negombo is pristine beaches and fresh sea food sourced and sold in a clean environment, the reality of the area surrounding the fish markets may call that into question.
The beach near the fish market in Negombo
Beach near the fish market in Negombo
Rubbish and its disposal is an issue all over the world and you don’t have to travel to a distant country to find rubbish strewn around.
It’s interesting what you notice in your own country once you have been judgemental about someone else’s.
This is what I found on a stretch of ribbon development on the Hume Highway in the Sydney suburb of Strathfield.
Rubbish in Strafthfield
When you talk to fellow Australians rubbish in tourist and non-tourist areas is a problem in our own country. Public education campaigns need to be run over and over again as noted by the ‘Keep Australia beautiful’ campaign of yesteryear and the current, quite confronting, ‘Hey Tosser‘ campaign in New South Wales.
Long term solutions to the disposal of rubbish, but particularly plastic is something that all of us, whether we live in beautiful pristine areas or run of the mill parts of the world will need to address or we will find that we and our planet will be drowning in it.
Melanie Leach, ‘Rubbish Dumped on Merimbula Oyster Farmers, Merimbula News, February 9, 2016.
How beautiful Beirut is becoming a rubbish tip, The Guardian, March 11, 2016
Dan Collyns, Drowning in rubbish, Lima sends out vultures with GoPros, The Guardian, January 30, 2016 http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jan/29/drowning-rubbish-lima-vultures-gopro-video-cameras
Sam Leith, ‘What a load of rubbish we humans are’, The Guardian, January 9, 2016
Up to 90 percent of seabirds have plastic in their guts, study finds
We travelled through Sri Lanka from February 14, 2016 to March 6, 2016.
© Suganthi Singarayar