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Sri Lanka Trip - March 2017
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Our Travel Group

A group of 14 of us from the Smithsonian's Gem Collector's group recently took a two week trip to Sri Lanka, that little island off the tip of India.  A couple in our group have known some Sri Lankan gem dealers for several years and had been to Sri Lanka before. They and the dealers, whom we met in Tucson, planned a really nice trip for us.  The purpose of the trip was to learn how lovely gems and jewelry make it from underground to the jewelry store, and learn about the governing body overseeing gem mining.  We did the gem education and buying the first half of the trip and then explored the beautiful "non-gem" aspects of the island the second week.   We traveled in an air-conditioned bus, with 2 seats for each person and plenty of water.  By the end of the trip, our group was tight-knit.  And, no one got SICK! 

TOMOKO and OUR BUS
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A BIT OF WHIMSY AT ONE OF THE RESORTS
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History of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is an island off the tip of India in South Asia.  It has a population of more than 21 million people in an area of 25,000+ square miles.  Over the centuries there have been 189 native monarchs.  In addition to the surrounding countries, Sri Lanka was invaded by the Portuguese in the 1500's and then the Dutch in the 1600's.  In the early 1800's it became a British Crown Colony, renamed Ceylon, and remained so until 1948 when it received its independence.  In 1972 it changed its name to Sri Lanka. 
 
We found the local people to be very nice and most speak English.  As the pictures will show (below), their stores and homes are rather modest, sometimes living in, or in the back of, their shops.  Basically, it is a moderately poor country.  Almost all labor is manual, this includes mining gemstones, picking fruit, spices and tea leaves.  
 
The heat and humidity is oppressive, and the traffic relentless.  Most people use the city buses, tuk-tuks (3-wheel scooters), or a motorcycle, and we understand it is expensive to own a car.  Many roads are just 2 lanes ... and they really get bogged down.  For example, it took us 4+ hours to go just 60 miles from Kandy to Colombo on a nicely paved 2-lane road, part of it in rural areas. There appeared to be no rules to the road except to honk when you are going to pass someone, and they better get out of your way... this includes people and animals.   I think we saw only a couple of traffic lights in the capital city of Colombo, where a few million people live.   At rush hour, the police come out and direct traffic in the most highly congested intersections (where there may be 4 lanes). 
 
Sri Lanka is known for its gem stones, sapphire in particular, and is a very big industry for the country.  They also have quite the collection of other stones as well: garnets, topaz, spinel, moonstone, alexandrite, zircon, tourmaline, citrine, and amethyst.         

Even though it is a British name, Sri Lanka is world famous for their "Ceylon" sapphires.  These are amazing blue colors, rivalling Burma blue.  Sapphires actually occur in all colors of the rainbow ... red (ruby), pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple ... and all shades in between.  The reason they come in such an array of colors is that the purest chemical composition of sapphire is "clear".  In fact, at one time "clear" sapphires were used as an inexpensive substitute for diamonds.  The color occurs when the sapphire crystal grows in an area where there are other chemical elements to impact their chemical composition, and hence their color.  So, if there is iron and/or titanium, then you will get blue sapphires; if there is chromium, then you get red sapphire, otherwise known as "ruby".   AND, something easily to relate to are the clear price scanners at the grocery store, which are actually made of synthetic sapphire ... that's because it is inexpensive and can only be scratched by other sapphires and diamonds.  Not typically a problem for grocery stores. 

And, there were dogs everywhere ... sleeping on the side of the road, in parking lots, you name it.  There is actually a wild breed of dog that populates the country.  Most of the dogs belong to no one and may actually carry rabies.


 

INDIGINOUS DOG
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LOTS OF THOSE 3 WHEEL TUK-TUKs
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A HOME
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YAMAHA TILLER BUSINESS & CONVENIENCE STORE
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Activities in Colombo Area

In the Colombo area, our focus was on  the gem industry.  We were hosted by a government agency, that oversees mining and the gem trade, and experienced an overwhelming gem market where everyone was all over you trying to sell you gems/rocks.   But the most eye opening part was seeing first hand how mining of gemstones is done, how they are cut, and then the manufacturing of jewelry.  We also had a gem buying opportunity one day, where our Sri Lankan hosts brought in six gem dealers to show us their goods in an unhurried atmosphere, making it possible for us to purchase and pay later, when we returned to the USA. 

HAND DUG & BUILT MINE SHAFT
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ONE OF MANY IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO EACH OTHER

WASHING OF STONES TO FIND SAPPHIRES
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AND OTHER GEMSTONES

GEM CUTTING & FACETING OPERATION
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VIOLET SAPPHIRES I PURCHASED
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NATURAL YELLOW SAPPHIRE I PURHASED
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LUNCH - RICE, CHICKEN, EGG & RICE IN BANANA LEAVES
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ON OUR GEM BUYING DAY

Questions or Commnets?   E-mail:  Coralyn@CWWhitneyDesign.com   or, call 425-890-3586