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Lanka – island, Sri – resplendent. Sri Lanka. The words do not roll easily nor often off an American tongue nor out of an American mouth. It helps to have heard it from a Sri Lankan mouth. Formerly Ceylon, if you drink tea, use cinnamon or a host of other spices, that may be where they grew, were harvested, prepared and shipped to myriad of places around the world. Since ancient times, Sri Lanka has been called many names: Taprobane, Serendib, etc. My favorite is—the Pearl in the Ear of India.

To get some idea of its size, think West Virginia with 20+ million people, though those days, 1994, the population was 18 million Buddhist, Hindus, Christians, Muslims; ethnic Singhalese, Tamils, Burghers, Moors, Chinese, Germans, on and on. Few Americans.

Did you know that Sri Lanka was the home to the first woman to be elected head of state? Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected Prime Minister after her husband Sololmon Bandaranaike was assassinated.

We weren’t tourists, but that day we were doing the touristy thing. We were an international group and all spoke some variation on the theme of English. The Chief of the free clinic where we were working and learning, Dr. Prof. Sir Anton Jayasuriya, had arranged a van to take us from Wellawatta to Anaradapura, the ancient sacred capital of the island and home of the also ancient Buddhist dagoba (temple, stupa) and the Bo tree.

The Bo tree (Ficus religiosa) is the only still living scion/branch of the original Bodhi tree under which Guatama Buddha attained enlightenment. Rooted at Anaradapura in 288 BCE, It has been lovingly tended all these centuries and is the oldest certified flowering tree in the world.

After admiring the Bo tree, we dutifully removed our shoes to tread on sacred ground and entered the dagoba. We had been inside for a few minutes when a gentleman asked for our tickets. Tickets? What tickets? We had no tickets. He told us that without tickets we must leave. We were astonished, but did exit, remarking to each other about needing a ticket for a place of worship.

Seems that detail of our journey had been neglected. Turned out the temple at Anaradapura was part of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle whose tickets can only be purchased in the Colombo area.

Though it seemed odd to be chased from a place of worship, when you think about it in a US cultural site, we would not have gotten that far without a ticket.

Life in Sri Lanka is not boring. A friend had warned me I was going to another planet.