Thursday, April 6, 2017

Roti and Railways

 Sri Lankan Roti , photo by Food and Spice Blogspot

Next is lunch at a small local guest house up a side street.   We get to see roti being grilled as well as hoppers being made.   Here is a rough recipe for roti:  It looks simple but a good grill is essential.  

  • 2 cups all purpose Flour (maida)
  • 1 Onion, peeled and chopped finely
  • 2 Green chillies, deseeded and chopped finely
  • 1 cup fresh grated Coconut
  • 6-9 fresh Curry leaves
  • Water
  • Salt
Making hoppers for lunch,  photo by Mary M Payne

 Each meal, our guide, Dee is sure to introduce us to a new Sri Lankan dish.  By now we have sampled quite a variety of popular Sri Lankan foods.  Today's winner is a pumpkin soup with coconut milk.  And we all now love roti although I should have asked Waruna how you can tear the roti with only the right hand, which is the Sri Lankan custom.

  He and I had quite a discussion one day about eating with the right hand and the ability to take a bit of this and that in your hand and more easily design the mouthful you want.  But that was before I tried to tear a roti bread in two.    But I have heard that the right hand only is not a sacred rule anymore. 

 I do think I missed out on not trying to eat with my fingers as Sri Lankans feel that adding that extra sense of touch makes a huge difference in a dining experience.   And we were always offered western cutlery wherever we went. 

Grahame and Dave get ready for a tasty lunch.  photo by Anna Mayall

Next we are off to the train station at Bandarawala.  We wait till one of the station masters has a minute to explain the token system which prevents trains from colliding on the tracks. 

  The system started with the block system in Britain and was adopted by the British in Sri Lanka at the time of the plantation era.  
"The 'absolute block system' came into use gradually during the 1850s and 1860s and became mandatory in the United Kingdom after Parliament passed legislation in 1889 following a number of accidents, most notably the Armagh rail disaster."  

"On some single track railways in the UK, particularly those with low usage, it is common to use the token systems that rely on the train driver's physical possession of a unique token as authority to occupy the line, normally in addition to fixed signals." Wikipedia  

 This is what they were using on the rail system in Sri Lanka.  The token is slipped into its leather ring so the station master can hand it over manually to the driver of the incoming train.  Once he has placed it in his machine and a token is inserted in these red boxes the control of the line is in effect. 

One hundred and fifty year old British machines still in use on rail lines of Sri Lanka,   photo by Mary M Payne

Boarding at Banarawela,  photo by Mary M Payne

The token slipped into its leather ring,  Sri Lanka,  photo by mary m payne

Station master awaits hand off of token to driver of incoming train,  photo by mary m payne

Sign in the train,  Sri Lanka,  photo by mary m payne

The ride itself was un-inspired due to a sudden heavy downpour and a hoard of European back-packers who had a claim on all the seats.  Halfway through the ride we got a break and sat down in an open car with Dee opening the windows to the rain to let us at least glimpse the muddy waterfalls along the way.    

Token system, photo by Mary M Payne

At the other end of our ride I photographed Station master in possession of the precious token.  

 At this point Dave and I felt indeed "differently abled" as we were now wet and tired from our day.   But there was more to come.  Dee had alerted a friend of hers who was the Chief Station Master of all the others  and he arrived to kindly offer us tea and a lovely piece of butter cake in his office. 

 But it was too little, too late.   Not a few of us were exhausted from the long day and wanted nothing more than to board our little bus. 

 Arriving at the guest house, I didn't even have the energy  (or the grace) to go up to the main house and excuse Dave and I from the evening meal.  We threw our suitcases together and it seems we were asleep as soon as we crawled into bed.   

 I probably dreamed of those little faces at the nursery school and the many handsome white uniformed station masters.  

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