We walked across Kurunegala in the sticky, drizzly morning to the enormous meditating Buddha statue that looked over the city. This formidable sight was perched atop a giant upturned bowl of streaky rock that had steps sliced all the way up the side of it, just like those up the side of Sigiriya rock. These looked slightly safer to traverse, though. Just as monkeys patrolled the site yesterday, they also ruled this rock for themselves. The stocky, yellow-eyed, brown-furred monkeys moved in forty-strong packs. They pushed, shoved and jumped on one another, danced and darted up and down the slope, preened each other, fought and edgily glanced all around them like groups of little kids with short attention spans, whizzed up on E-numbers and up to no good.
To gain passage past one of these groups was not easy, especially when they had chosen to collectively post up across the path. The only option was to stand and wait for the niiiiice monkeys to move along. There were clear rules that were often advised when dealing with these feral animals. Don’t point, don’t yell and don’t wave your arms about like it’s so easy to do with stupid, easy, English cows. Above all, do not stare one of these Alpha males in the eyes. There’s a strange psychological empathy that humans might choose to have with monkeys. Like us, they are socialble animals, often move in packs, quickly establish a social pecking order, and – like us – do not like being stared at. There is a strange empathetic connection going on there, an emotional gesture transcending the evolutionary gulf, that seems to be able to get you into a spot of trouble in even more places than I’d thought possible:
‘What are you lookin’ at?!’
Once we had reached the top and caught our breath, we could see that the golden Buddha was like most of the other horrible, tacky new ones on the island (which completely sets them aside from their sublimely carved ancient predecessors) – that is, white marble structure, a fiberglass body, a bored kid in a uniform trying to overcharge your entry donation and a long list of named benefactors inside whose financial contributions made the construction possible. I suppose the question over what the point of building a giant building in a religious likeness that serves no other purpose but to house a list of people who made its existence possible is not only the most uninspiring paradox-like knot I’ve ever come across, it’s also missing the point. The guy at the top of the list (another immensely rich Japanese businessman like the one behind the Pagoda back at Unawatuna) was being a good Buddhist by making this happen, as the silly amount of zeros that lined up next to the twirly Sinhalese version of his name attested. I just hoped that part of the money was spent on actual charity as well, rather than simply the cost of building the shrine itself. That would seem a little pointless, right?
That afternoon, we made the final leap back over to the west coast of Sri Lanka after a medley of stressful bus connections across the island. We had finally arrived, full circle, to the sea again.