School-boy cricket in Sri Lanka – 140 years of RoyTho

RoyTho – a legendary urban tale from Colombo, Sri Lanka. Two secondary boys’ schools playing an extraordinary game of cricket against each other. What’s at stake? The D. S. Senanayake Memorial Shield. Many refer to it as the Battle of the Blues in honour of the team flags. The gentlemen’s game, fought to death, with a showmanship worthy of Roman gladiators. And as it was in the glory days of Rome so it is in Colombo. There’s drinking and feasting but most of all, there’s tradition and brotherhood. Fraternal ties sealed with, a 140 year old, uninterrupted game. Even as Sri Lanka endured 29 years of civil war the two schools in question continued to play against the island’s backdrop of anarchy.

The teams

The teams that battle? Royal College (1835), part of Royal Academy established earlier, and the first secondary state school for boys in Sri Lanka. It’s the alma mater of the last Prime Minister, past Presidents and thinkers. The second is S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia (1851), a private boys’ primary and secondary school boasting four former Prime Ministers of the nation. Hence the portmanteau word RoyTho.

Where heroes are made

Cricket is the life blood of the Sri Lankan nation. Yet no other cricketing event, in Colombo, garners as much interest as this – The Big Match. Schoolboy cricket is Sri Lanka’s own theatre of dreams where stars are made. Many national players who’ve reached pinnacles of their international careers have done so by rising up the ranks of school cricket. Arjuna Ranatunga, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Ranjan Madugalla and Muttiah Muralitharan are just some of the modern greats who owe their gratitude to it; an honour they would never deny.

The old boy network

The old boy network plays an integral role in the traditions of RoyTho. It’s widely acknowledged that old boys of neither school will be present at any significant event if it’s Big Match weekend. The two schools’ current combined enrolment exceeds 13000 pupils; a simple indication of the enormity of the old boy network; many of whom disappear beyond the gates of Sinhalese Sports Club stadium over the second weekend of March every year. The last Prime Minister publicly expressed dissatisfaction at a state visit by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the most powerful politician on the Asian continent, during RoyTho. Such is what it means to the old boy network. Attendance at the match exceeds that of national games.

Traditions

Leading up to the game parades and marches of bravado gridlock the streets of the city. The school buildings are draped in giant roof to floor flags covering windows, walls and no doubt blocking all sunlight if you’re inside them. No expense is spared as the spirit of the Big Match reaches fever pitch. Each school parades on busy roads but they never meet. It’s a show of strength in numbers and school pride rather than an exercise to intimidate the opponent. A metaphorical dance led by current pupils dictated by tradition.

The Royal College cycle parade, for example, is based on the tradition where pupils would ride to the Captain’s home to wish him well the day before the match. On the first day of the match old boys would visit S. Thomas’ Preparatory School to ring the school bell and lead the school to the cricket grounds. This tradition has been discontinued but the spirit has not died.

Today, the parades have grown beyond comprehension and are joined by cars, jeeps, British Routemaster buses and even helicopters filled with flag-waving old boys, parents and supporters.

Cheer leaders of S. Thomas’ College

Game Day

On game day academic excellence, professional and personal obligations are left outside the gates. Alcohol runs free and live papare bands play non-stop. The deafening crescendo of hopes and dreams threaten to escape the boundaries of the stadium and fill the city.

The cricket kicks off to the echoes of 30,000 spectators, Papare bands, djs, and tv crews. Live coverage on local tv networks and radio stations carry the sound of The Big Match on the airwaves. Inside, the rallying cry of each team is repeated continuously, led by pupils in pristine white uniforms and straw hats, waving flags larger than life. “The scores are a blur by evening and the only way to know what happened is to read the newspapers the following day, depending on the severity of the hangover”, says Kithsiri Almeida an old boy of Royal College.

With the eyes and ears of the entire city on the game it’s easy to forget that the average age of a player is around 16 years. In 1988 Royal College played a team with five 15 year olds. Yet, it’s all taken in their stride as the teams battle for three days.

As evening looms Colombo braces itself for the onslaught of inebriated old boys that inevitably find their way to the bars and clubs. It’s not uncommon to find CEOs, doctors, lawyers and other high profile figures in business passed out at bus stops, taxi stands or outside the stadium. They are soon identified and returned to their families.

Traditional Sri Lankan papare band

Mustangs, Colts and Thoroughbreds

Mustangs, Brumbles, Rangers, Stables, Colts, Stallions, Broncos, OTSC and Thoroughbreds. These words may mean little to those on the outside. Within the stadium however, these are the names of the enclosures known as tents. They form a hierarchical viewing gallery and are as much a part of RoyTho as the game itself. Colts, Stallions and Mustangs were originally created to host old boys of both schools by age group and each tent still follows a set of unbroken traditions. The hospitality of alcohol, food and entertainment are included in the membership and covers all three days of the game. Mustangs celebrated 101 years and Colts 45 years in 2019. Membership of the tents are by nomination only via tent-specific committees. No women are allowed within any tent other than the Stables. “It’s a crucible of male entitlement”, says Hans Billimoria, a past pupil of S. Thomas’.

The result

This March S. Thomas’ College took home the shield after 12 years. The current Warden, Rev. Marc Billimoria, declaring a two day holiday immediately to mark the occasion. The winning score was 296/10 (78.5) & 124/3 (20) by S. Thomas’ against Royal’s 158/10 (48.3) & 259/10 (108.2). Currently the overall wins stand at a tally of 35 to 35 excluding draws. It’s disputed by S. Thomas’ College and defended by Royal College.

Where stars are born

The 140th year’s breakout star was Kalana Perera of S. Thomas’ College. His place in RoyTho history cemented when he took six wickets for 54 runs and went on to score 62 runs. Kalana’s star shining as bright as the Royalist Vijaya Malalasekara who, in 1963, walked on to score a century when Royal College was facing a batting collapse with three wickets down for 39 runs. Pundits consider his century one of the best ever in school cricketing history.

Thus is the nature of school cricket in Sri Lanka. “You walk on to the pitch a boy and walk out a man”, someone once told me. It’s a sentiment staunchly held by many. The sense of RoyTho being an unconventional rite of passage may go some way in explaining how The Big Match was kept alive for 140 years.

The strength of this network of boys and men bound by loyalty, above all else, provides an escape to simpler times for many. What I sensed, on my one-time attendance at RoyTho, was a tangible sense of solidarity and reconnection that seemed important to those who walked out of the school gates over fifty years ago. All around the stadium groups of men, of varying ages, gathered as they might have done in their respective school playgrounds. Ties were being invigorated, old scores settled but quickly forgotten and a great deal of alcohol consumed.

School boys in uniform hurried around being the cogs of responsibility that keep the three-day event moving forward. Their duties range from sitting in the media boxes to identify players on the field, conducting interviews or simply guiding people around. It’s simple, heart-warming stuff.

Whilst there are rumours of private male-only after-hours debauchery I had no access to any of it; my only isolated invitation to a tent based on arriving as part of the entertainment. An invitation which I politely declined. Despite this I found The Big Match endearing in many ways.There are family tents filled with happy children playing in the safety of the stadium’s boundaries. It’s as raucous and vibrant as any carnival around the world I have experienced and far less excessive. But mostly it’s fun, immensely so, if you let your guards down and enter in to its spirit.

Royal Spirit
St. Thomas' College cricket team celebrating their victory.
Thomian Grit

RoyTho takes place on the second week of March each year and attendance is by invitation only. It takes place on SSC Cricket Ground, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.

Bhutan | Why Blue Poppy Tours & Treks is the local knowledge you need

Rafting 5

It’s fair to say that a land as mysterious as time requires the knowledge and knowhow of one who knows it. In my final instalment of Bhutan I look at Blue Poppy Tours & Treks, set up by Choki Dorji. The company specialises in bespoke tours of the Kingdom. With offices in London and Thimpu the tour operator focuses on cultural, trekking and special interest tours such as bird watching and textile trips for independent travellers. Such is their commitment to personalised service that Blue Poppy will arrange requests such as private meditation sessions and home-stays.

Bhutanese owner and director Choki hand picks local guides with expertise in each field. He takes great pride in the personal and tailor made aspect of his tours. Choki’s philosophy and humble beginnings have seen the company grow from just himself and his wife to 30 employees in Thimpu. Choki has this to say of the company’s ethos and success:

“Blue Poppy was set up towards the end of 2004 with huge help from my wife.  I would say that the ideas I have learned from her and from living in the western world have helped me to build a successful business.  I have learned many things by living in the UK, such as how to think for the future, be efficient and how to provide service to others and this is how we extended our business and we now have Blue Poppy PVT. Ltd which is a holding company for other tourism related businesses as well.”

Eastern tour - Weaving
BHUTAN, Eastern Bhutan Ranjung: woman weaving in her grocery shop. ©Josef Polleross

Accolades

In 2009 Blue Poppy partnered with a travel marathon agent to develop the first marathon in Bhutan. It’s still held annually with around 160 local and overseas runners. The company has also helped develop an exciting trail running experience which attracted runners from around the world.

Blue Poppy has continued to grow steadily in its 14 years; from 80 clients in 2006 to over 650 in 2017. It is now in the top 20 list of local operators by number of clients. It sits at number 15 out of 300 by number of nights tourists spend in Bhutan; a credit to its quality of service.

With unparalleled local knowledge and a triumphant journey of personal transformation Blue Poppy Tours & Treks offers wanderers an opportunity to unlock the secrets of an intriguing land. You can rest assure that it will be the most splendid isolation you will ever experience no matter if you’re *chasing angels or fleeing demons in the mountains.

 

 

 

For more information visit: Blue Poppy Bhutan

Index:

https://girl-travelsworld.com/2018/09/05/bhutan-interview-choki-dorji/

https://girl-travelsworld.com/2018/09/07/bhutan-why-you-need-travel-ancient-kingdom/

 

*Chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains.
― Jeffrey Rasley, Bringing Progress to Paradise: What I Got from Giving to a Mountain Village in Nepal

Bhutan | Why you must travel to this ancient kingdom

Druk Wangyel Tsechu 3

The Kingdom of Bhutan has captivated me always. Its venerable way of life, ancient traditions, proximity to celestial parts of the earth, such the Himalayas and Tibet, and its governing principle of gross national happiness have influenced my enchantment. The country is located on the ancient Silk Road but remained unaffected by it. A rarity on a trading route which impacted the spread of religion, literature and cultures of nations along it. Bhutan is also the last Buddhist kingdom. Furthermore, it’s never been colonised in its history. In this second part of my series on Bhutan I delve a in to the culture and landscape to explain why you must travel to this ancient kingdom.

Culture

Bhutan’s heritage has remained unscathed because it retreated from the evolving modern world. Agriculture and farming being the main occupations the population is concentrated in rural areas. As mentioned in my previous post traditions are  deeply rooted in Buddhism and much of every day life is focused around seasons and religion.

National dress is highly respected and many wear it as formal attire.  The gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist is worn by men and women wear a kira which is an ankle-length dress, clipped at the shoulders with two identical brooches and tied at the waist.

Trekking

Bhutan has a climate that varies with altitude. The southern border near India is tropical, hot and humid. The Himalayan mountains northwards are snow-covered all year. Spring time trekking between March to May is popular; days are warm and the mountain peaks visible. Daytime temperatures remain perfect for long treks between 17 to 22 degrees Celsius. Eastern Bhutan is particularly suited for treks due to its drier climate. If trekking in autumn, between September to November, much lower temperatures, especially at high altitudes, can be expected.

Cultural Tour Taktsang
The Tiger’s Nest

No visit to Bhutan is complete without a journey to Paro Taktsang or The Tiger’s Nest. This ancient monastery, built in 1692 around a cave, clings, 3000 feet above sea level, to a mountainside of Paro Valley.

Trekking is the only way to get to the monastery and takes around five hours both ways. You will be accompanied by locals, prayer flags, prayer wheels and the occasional donkey along the way. The scenery, as expected, is said to be unforgettable.

More information on trekking tours can be found here: Trekking tours

Festivals

Tshechu, meaning day 10 are annual religious festivals held in every district of Bhutan to honor Guru Rinpoche and his introduction of Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. Festivals are social occasions as much as religious.

It’s believed that anyone who watches a Tshechu earns religious merit and will be granted great luck. Before a Tshechu begins, prayers and rituals are carried out to evoke deities. Masked dances and dramas are typical and are accompanied by traditional music. Energetic dancers, wearing colourful masks and bright costumes depict gods, demons, animals and caricatures of people. To expereience a Tshechu is to experience Bhutan at its finest.

Full list of festival dates for 2019 can be found here: Festival dates 2019

Look out for the final instalment of this series for more on this alluring, mysterious land that left time behind.

For more information visit: Blue Poppy Tours & Treks

Bhutan | Why you need to travel to this ancient kingdom

Druk Wangyel Tsechu 3

The Kingdom of Bhutan has captivated me always. Its venerable way of life, ancient traditions, proximity to celestial parts of the earth, such the Himalayas and Tibet, and its governing principle of gross national happiness have influenced my enchantment. The country is located on the ancient Silk Road but was unaffected even though the route significantly impacted the spread of religion, literature and cultures of all other nations along it. Bhutan is the last Buddhist kingdom. Furthermore, it has never been colonised in its history. In this second part of my series on Bhutan I delve a little in to the culture and landscape to explain why you need to travel to this ancient kingdom.

Culture

Bhutan’s heritage has remained unscathed because of its retreat from an ever evolving modern world until recently. Agriculture and farming being the main occupations the population is concentrated in rural areas. As mentioned in my previous post traditions are  deeply rooted in Buddhism and much of every day life is focused around seasons and religion.

National dress is highly respected and many wear it as formal attire.  The gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist is worn by men and women wear a kira which is an ankle-length dress, clipped at the shoulders with two identical brooches and tied at the waist.

Trekking

Bhutan has a climate that varies with altitude. The southern border near India is tropical, hot and humid. The Himalayan mountains northwards are snow-covered all year. Spring time trekking between March to May is popular; days are warm and the mountain peaks visible. Daytime temperatures remain perfect for long treks between 17 to 22 degrees Celsius. Eastern Bhutan is particularly suited for treks due to its drier climate. If trekking in autumn, between September to November, much lower temperatures, especially at high altitudes, can be expected.

Cultural Tour Taktsang
The Tiger’s Nest

No visit to Bhutan is complete without a journey to Paro Taktsang or The Tiger’s Nest. This ancient monastery, built in 1692 around a cave, clings, 3000 feet above sea level, to a mountainside of Paro Valley.

Trekking is the only way to get to the monastery and takes around five hours both ways. You will be accompanied by locals, prayer flags, prayer wheels and the occasional donkey along the way. The scenery, as expected, is said to be unforgettable.

More information on trekking tours can be found here: Trekking tours

Festivals

Tshechu, meaning day 10 are annual religious festivals held in every district of Bhutan to honor Guru Rinpoche and his introduction of Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. Festivals are social occasions as much as religious.

It’s believed that anyone who watches a Tshechu earns religious merit and will be granted great luck. Before a Tshechu begins, prayers and rituals are carried out to evoke deities. Masked dances and dramas are typical and are accompanied by traditional music. Energetic dancers, wearing colourful masks and bright costumes depict gods, demons, animals and caricatures of people. To expereience a Tshechu is to experience Bhutan at its finest.

Full list of festival dates for 2019 can be found here: Festival dates 2019

Look out for the final instalment of this series for more on this alluring, mysterious land that left time behind.

 

For more information visit: Blue Poppy Tours & Treks