Quick tour – Ritigala, Anuradhapura, Mahintale, Dambulla

Sri Lanka, June 2011

On Friday last week, Ven. Nyanatusita and I took a bus from Kandy to Matale and visited the Aluvihare Rock Temple. There were some interesting paintings and caves converted into small buildings. Many Sri Lankan pilgrims and a few foreign tourists were walking around.

A view looking West from the main gate up the hill toward the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011
A view looking east at a courtyard between boulders at the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Michael near a moustached lion figure at the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

After walking around, we ate lunch and then took a bus north to Dambulla where we thought we might be able to climb the hill to see the cave paintings. We arrived around 2pm in the hottest part of the day. There were many pilgrims perhaps returning from the Poson Poya (possibly the most significant uposatha day in Sri Lanka – Thursday, 16 June 2011) celebrations in Anuradhapura and Mahintale. We heard a report that there were over 5000 Sri Lankan Police Officers mobilized to monitor over 1,000,000 pilgrims. We decided to visit the Dambulla caves another day and walked across the road to drink tea at the “Tourist Welfare Center”.

We then rode a three-wheeler towards Sigiriya stopping at a national park where we walked around inspecting the remains of an ancient meditation monastery.  I was very impressed with this place. It was quite overgrown in many parts and the paths not clear. We explored many old cave sites and found evidence of kutis being built hanging between large boulders. I felt inspired and imagined the ancient Sangha living on the site possibly over many hundreds of years.  After 2-3 hours we got back in the three-wheeler and continued on to the Pidurangala Temple located at the base of a large granite hill 800m north of the more famous Sigiriya. The young pirivena monks allowed us to stay the night in the dusty local village headman’s office including an ensuite occupied by many varieties of local frogs.

On Saturday morning, we climbed the stairs to view various cave kutis (meditation huts) and ruins. Unfortunately none of the kutis were occupied. Though looking well built on the outside, the kutis stank of bat faeces and needed repairs. We doubted any meditation monks would like to live there now because of the steady traffic of curious tourists and pilgrims walking by. We climbed up the hill and through some boulder strewn areas to reach the flat peak. I didn’t see the easy way at first and took a rather dangerous and steep climb with no supports.  We passed a young English woman on the way up who also later climbed the hard way. After a false start, I expressed respect for mutual bravery. Shortly afterwards some Sri Lankan people and more foreigners arrived (the easy way). The top of the hill is spectacular. The winds were gusting strongly and could be dangerous for people near the edges. There are no railings so visitors must take care. It is best to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. The rock would become very hot.  We could see nearby Sigiriya and in the distance also see the hill with the Dambulla cave temple.

A restored reclining Buddha statue at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

A view looking south at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A view west at a modern Buddha statue at a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A view looking north at a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011. The kuti under the rock in the photo was built over 20 years ago and abandoned. It is now inhabited by bats.

A view looking northwest at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

The central buildings of a monastery near Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011.  The building on the left is used as a dining hall and is built under a large boulder.

Michael climbing the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011




Michael climbing between boulders on the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011



A makeshift ladder near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 





Michael feeling rather nervous after getting off the ladder near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011


The top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Michael near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A rough path on the side of the hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011.  This section of the path is relatively easy to walk on.

Michael scrambling down the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011


Sunday , Amarvarti, Abhayagiri Vihara, Abhayagiri stupa, Great Stupa


Monday Anuradhapura Mahabodhi tree, 


Tuesday Mahintale many cave kutis and stupas, Kaludiya Pokuna


Wednesday Mahintale  many cave kutis and stupas

Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 
Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

The restored elephant tank at the ruins of Abhayagiri monastery, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

Restoration work at the Abhayagiri stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. There are probably 30-40 monkeys not quite visible in this photo, climbing around the framework and making a lot of noise.

Restoration work at the Abhayagiri stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

The Great Stupa at night, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. Michael sensed something very special about this stupa.

Looking north towards the Great Stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A water catchment “tank” near the Great Stupa at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Kaludiya Pokuna, Mahintale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

I got safely back to Kandy last night (Wednesday) around 9pm. The 100km ride from Dambulla at night was thrilling. The fare was about 60 cents each with front seats to a rally car race in which out bus was participating. I’ve done it before in Thailand but this was perhaps more intense. I just let it happen and enjoyed the ride and the psychedelic light show above the dashboard glorifying various Buddhist and Hindu deities. Many cyclists with no lights and chaotic traffic weaving in and out, sudden stops and turns. Bald tires, soft suspension and bouncy seats set to a sound track of falsetto vocals and deep bass drums etc. At the second last town the bus filled beyond capacity and I had to keep my arms out to stop people sitting or falling on me.  All a memory now.

I’m flying to London on Monday 27 June. Not long now. I’ve been sort of preparing by downloading travel guides for England and Scotland and even reading the text of Macbeth which I hope to see performed at Stratford Upon Avon sometime in July or August.

Maybe England first in early to mid July and then Scotland in late July-August.

Note: I didn’t get around to writing this posting in as much detail as I’d planned.

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Gurpa – Kukkutagiri – Peacock’s Foot Mountain

Tuesday, 22 December 2009, I hired Mr Jagbinder Singh and his car to go to the Gurpa mountains where Mahaakassapa is reported to have attained Parinibbana. According to Mahayana tradition, Mahaakassapa did not die but remains alive in a deep meditation state inside the mountain, waiting for the enlightenment of the next Sammaasambuddha – Metteyya (known as Maitreya in Hindu and Mahayana traditions). According to this story, Mahaakassapa will pass a robe once belonging to Gotama Buddha to Metteyya Buddha.

For my part, I am Theravada Buddhist and don’t know much about the Mahayana tradition of Bodhisatta (Bodhisattva in Sanskrit). I believe that Mahaakassapa and other ancient arahats spent a lot of time meditating in these hills and probably died there. There is no citation in the Paali Canon to say where Mahaakassapa passed parinibbana. After Lord Buddha Gotama’s parinibbana, Mahaakassapa was accepted by most of the Sangha (community of monks) as the leader, though he did not covet such status since he had long attained full enlightenment as an Arahat.  Interested readers may like to read short biographies of Mahaakassapa at Palikanon.comAccess to Insight (by Helmuth Hecker) and the book Great Disciples of the Buddha by Nyanaponika Thera.

Mr Jagbinder drove us north from Bodhgaya, through Gaya until we turned right (eastwards) at a turn-off (hard to describe the location) about 5-10 km north of Gaya. The road was very rough, and narrow for about 20 km so we had to travel slowly paying attention to avoid countless pot holes and many other people and animals on the road. It turns out we would have been better off going further north before turning east and taking a slightly longer route (may be an additional 5-10 km) on a better mostly sealed road. We took this route on the return journey.

We eventually reached Fatehpur, a small village and then drove further on rough, dusty roads to Gurpa village. On reaching the village we had to wait 10 minutes at a railway crossing.  It seems possible to take a train from Gaya to Gurpa village, though it may be 3rd class. It may not be too bad since it would be a relatively short journey – maybe less than one hour travel by train. It took us about 2 hours by car to reach Gurpa village from Bodhgaya. We may have travelled faster if we were in Tata Sumo or other 4-wheel drive vehicle or on motorcycles. Mr Jagbinder told me that many passenger and freight trains pass here going between Kolkata and Delhi and various destinations in between.

After crossing the rail lines, we proceed a short distance through the village until the road ended near a large tree and a stream. The tall dark profile of Kukkutagiri was southwards beyond the tree.  The tallest hills in this area including Kukkutagiri are about 300m high.

ABOVE: View of the profile of Kukkutagiri looking southwards from the edge of Gurpa village, Bihar, India. The peak on the left (east side) shows the Metteyya stupa at the summit.

Mr Jagbinder negotiated with 3 boys to guide me up the hill for 100 rupees. It did not seem necessary to me as I was confident of finding my own way up the hill.  However, Mr Jagbinder said it would be good to have companions on the walk since this was still a somewhat dangerous area. It was previously prone to bandits/Naxalite activities and Mr Jagbinder thought it would be prudent to have companions who could talk with anyone we met on the way up the hill. He briefed the boys as to who I was and what I was doing (a Buddhist pilgrim from Australia going to pay respect to the shrines of Mahakassapa and Metteyya Buddha).

ABOVE: View of scrub between Gurpa village and Kukkutagiri looking north east

We walked through rough scrub and passed goats, cattle and local people who seemed to be gathering sticks from the scrub. The men all carried or were using long sticks with small axe heads to chop the short trees among the scrub. After about 1 km walking along narrow paths, we reached the foot of the hill and the concrete steps leading up the hill. A local man who spoke a little English and armed with one of those stick/axe tool/weapon greet us and insisted on being “security” for the walk up the hill. I didn’t argue with him or negotiate a price. He spoke aggressively with the boys in Hindi and then we commenced the climb. It was very steep and hard work. I wore a white t-shirt and nylon trousers and my walking shoes. I also wore a hat and carried one litre of water in my day-pack.

ABOVE: View of a short section of rough path on Kukkutagiri (most of the path is concrete steps) 

ABOVE: View of a section of concrete path on Kukkutagiri 

ABOVE: View of a section of concrete path on Kukkutagiri 

ABOVE: View of a section of concrete path on Kukkutagiri. The end of this path will turn left (north) into a very narrow crack in the rocks 

We stopped several times on the climb to rest and I took photos. The scenery was beautiful though haze would not allow me to see the horizon. The man walked in front of me and smelled of tobacco etc. The boys were sometimes in front and sometimes behind – always talking loudly with each other and with the man. It would have been better were I alone to contemplate the significance of this sacred place, even so, I was grateful to be there and was happy nonetheless.

ABOVE: Some of the images painted on the concrete path on Kukkutagiri 

The concrete steps seemed to be newly constructed.  Someone had painted a white stripe in the centre of the steps leading the way upwards or downwards. I saw crudely painted figures of human and cross shapes here and there – not knowing the significance of them. There was also some Chinese characters carved on a rock about one third of the way up. I recognised the largest character as ()- the character for Buddha.

ABOVE: View of a rock with () carved on Kukkutagiri 

We reached a point where we turned left (eastwards) and walked a short distance up some more concrete steps to the entry of a very narrow passage through the rocks (northwards). We rested a little and then continued the climb. I had to turn my body slightly side ways to walk without scraping the sides too much. It became darker and then we had to turn left (westwards) in almost pitch dark. I turned on my phone flash light but this was relatively dim. The path then turned right (northwards) and I had to stoop to avoid bumping my head. My day pack scraped the rocks above as I walked though to day light again. Now we were on a large ledge facing northwards and westwards. I enjoyed the view and took some photos of Gurpa village and the nearby lower and west side peak covered in large boulders and small trees/scrub.  I looked down the slope and could see a lot of rubbish strewn about on a ledge about 3m below. I could read “Lotus Nikko Hotel” on some of the packages.Perhaps a tour group had brought a packed lunch from their hotel. I would hope that the hotel staff or tour guides who brought the group up the hill would collect the rubbish and return it to the hotel.

ABOVE: Some of the rubbish from “Lotus Nikko Hotel” littering the sacred mountain of Kukkutagiri 

Prompted by my four guides, I turned southwards and stoop-walked between some large boulders down to a gold and white painted construction about 3m square and maybe 6m tall. There was another veranda facing south-east with a newly constructed tank (see photo of adjacent summit below for a view) which was empty of water but contained a few leaves and other rubbish.

I turned south again and saw a life size statue of Mahaakassapa inside a locked glass enclosure shaped like a chedi. I removed my shoes and paid respects to the image, recollecting as best I could, the virtues of Mahaakassapa and the sacred nature of this place, reputedly one of the caves he lived in and meditated in so long ago.  It is also possible Lord Buddha and other arahats also spent time in this cave and at other locations nearby.  I was being closely watched by my guides. It would have been better to be alone or with some sincere Buddhist meditators…

ABOVE: The Mahaakassapa shrine located in a somewhat sheltered area near the summit of   Kukkutagiri

While paying respect to the Mahaakassapa shrine, 2 more local boys arrived and claimed to be caretakers of the site.  Now I had 6 guides.

After taking photos I was led back northwards between the boulders and then we turned right (eastwards) and up a few more steps to a temple and stupa on the peak of the mountain. It would have been good to have seen this site in its natural state before any human construction. I imagine that Mahaakassapa and other monks would have sometimes sat on the boulders at the peak.

ABOVE: The three room temple and stupa on the summit of Kukkutagiri

The crudely built temple comprised three small rooms with curtains covering the doorways. I was invited to look in the left-most room and saw some carved foot prints which were apparently supposed to be of Lord Buddha. I estimate the length of the foot prints were about 40-45cm. Someone had dropped red paint on them which I believe may be a Hindu practice.  Ven. Dhammika in Middle Land, Middle Way, wrote that locals believe these prints to belong to a Goddess of the mountain.  Even so, there was a small Buddha statue in the room. I didn’t inspect the other rooms.

ABOVE: The supposed “Buddha Footprints” in the left most room in three-room temple on the summit of Kukkutagiri

ABOVE: The Metteyya stupa on the summit of Kukkutagiri looking southwards

I then circumnambulated the Metteyya stupa and took some more photos. There is no reference to Metteyya in the Paali Canon, only in post-canonical literature and in non-Theravada traditions such as Mahayana.  However, the Paali Canon does refer to seven previous Sammaasambuddha beings and many Paccekkhabuddha beings in the past, so I believe that many more of both types of Buddha will arise in the future when the current Buddha’s dispensation has disappeared from recorded history and knowledge.  Whether the next Sammaasambuddha will be named Metteyya or not, I don’t know. It isn’t that important to me because Gotama Buddha – our historical Buddha gave us more than enough teachings to make progress in the Dhamma and to attain Nibbana.  We are fortunate enough to be born in the dispensation of Gotama Buddha so we may hear, study and practice the Dhamma at this time. We don’t need to imagine some possible future time of Metteyya Buddha for our possible salvation, it can happen right now.  Be in the present moment.

ABOVE: A view of one of the four Buddha images on the side of the Metteyya stupa at the summit of Kukkutagiri looking eastwards

ABOVE: The commemoration plaque for the Metteyya stupa on the summit of Kukkutagiri looking southwards

You may learn more about the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa Urgen Trinley Dorje on his website.
There is also a short text article and an online video of the stupa consecration mentioned above. I personally don’t follow him and never heard of him until I read that sign on Gurpa Mountain.

Here is another interesting article about the consecration including some photos of the the steps, Mahakassapa chedi, the Metteyya Stupa and the pilgrims attending on the day etc.

Mr Jagbinder later told me that on the day of the consecration, around 80 Tata Sumo vehicles drove from Bodhgaya to the site.  The two brothers who came later while I was paying respect to the Mahaakassapa shrine told me that since the consecration other pilgrims had visited the site in smaller groups mostly from Japan and Taiwan.

ABOVE: The view looking westwards from the balcony next to the Metteyya stupa on the summit of Kukkutagiri. The adjacent summit seems to invite further exploration. This photo also shows the small tank on the balcony of the Mahaakassapa shelter.   

It had taken one hour to reach the summit of Kukkutagiri. I spent about 20 minutes there and it took about 30 minutes to return to the car and Mr Jagbinder. He had stayed behind to guard his car.

I paid the man 100 rupees, the two brothers 100 rupees to share and the 3 boys 100 rupees to share.  Just as we were about to drive away, two more men came and claimed to be the official caretakers, demanding that we register our names in a book and pay a fee. I asked for official identification which was not forthcoming and also asked why they weren’t doing their jobs taking care of the site.  Mr Jagbinder also spoke in Hindi and they calmed down. We drove off and were delayed again at the railway crossing for about 20 minutes as several trains passed about 5 minutes apart.  We fixed a car tyre puncture while waiting. 

I got back to the Deep Guest house around 2:30 PM, took a shower and ate some lunch. I was quite hungry since I had not eaten breakfast or lunch, not even a cup of tea. Breakfast at the Deep starts at 8:00 AM and Mr Jagbinder had picked me up at 7:40 AM.  I then rested in my room reading an English novel version of the Mahabharata by Meera Uberoi.

Inspiration
It was tough work climbing the Kukkutagiri, Ratana Hill (Gijjhakuta), Isigilli (Sona Hill) and Giryek Mountain (Indasala cave), Vaibhara Hill (Satapana Cave), Brahmayoni (Gayasisa) and so on… There are many hundreds of kilometres between the various places that Lord Buddha and the Sangha of old walked to and from. Having personally climbed these hills I can testify that without modern paths or their equivalent it would be very difficult to access these remote locations.  In the ancient times the dense forests had not been cleared and there were many wild animals roaming around. Now the forests have been mostly cleared and the animals we see are domesticated goats and cows.

While walking around these places I frequently wondered in amazement at the strength and fitness of the ancient Sangha.  They would have to climb up and down on a daily basis to get their alms food for the day. Just reading the suttas in books or listening to audio does not convey the meaning that one experiences at these locations. It is amazing, really amazing.

Then I considered that Lord Buddha and others in the ancient Sangha were still walking around and climbing tall hills in jungles and forests while aged in their 70s and above. In some accounts Mahaakassapa and other arahats were 120 years old or more and still living under trees and in caves located in remote places such as Kukkutagiri rather than in relatively comfortable monastery buildings located close to faithful lay people who would provide abundant alms. 

Then I considered that many of the ancient Sanga were expert meditators, able to use supernormal powers to fly and remove physical obstacles in their paths. Perhaps sometimes they would fly to the summit of the hills and fly over the dense jungles where no walking paths were apparent.  So amazing…

Nalanda, Jethian, Bodhgaya

On Sunday, I phoned Mr Jagbinder Singh from Gaya who had earlier driven me to Rajgir and back to Bodhgaya to see how much he would charge for driving from Gaya to Rajgir pick me up take me to Nalanda and Jethian and then to Bodhgaya (the other side of Gaya coming from Rajgir). He said he could do it for 1200 rupees. This compared favourably with the Hotel Siddharth quote of 2500 rupees.

On Monday, 21 December 2009, I checked out of Hotel Siddarth and Mr Jagbinder drove me to Nalanda. It was an optional visit for me. The Nalanda University ruins were another pile of red bricks for another 100 rupees to the Government of India. The lawns around the ruins were well kept though I didn’t come to India to see neat lawns. There was no visible sign of Buddhist worship at the site of the ancient Buddhist university since most Buddha images have been destroyed or removed. There were a few Bhutanese pilgrims at the site, but most were Indian tourists. Just outside the front gate, there are maybe 20-30 stalls selling snacks, souvenirs, drinks and so on. They seemed to be catering for the Indian tourist market. Two of the touts were very insistent that I buy a tour guide from them for only 40 rupees etc. I tried ignoring them and then tried to tell them I didn’t want anything but they still insisted on badgering me. I only escaped when went to the ticket office to buy the ticket for the ruins and the museum. I went across the road from the Nalanda university ruins to the Nalanda archaeological museum and walked around looking at broken statues and pottery for 15 minutes.

Mahaathera Saariputta and Mahaathera Mahaamoggallana were both born and grew up in the Nalanda region. Their villages were close to each other. Mahaathera Sariputta also died (parinibbana) in his home village. Lord Buddha also gave several discourses at Nalanda and on the road between Nalanda and Rajgir. I recollected these facts as we drove to the nearby Xuan Zang (Huien Tsiang) Memorial Museum.

ABOVE: View of Xuan Zang (Huien Tsiang) Memorial Museum, Bihar, India

It is a large hall, with many large paintings on the walls and also the story of Xuan Zang’s (604 CE-664 CE) 17 year pilgrimage from China to India. The museum was quite different to other museums I have so far visited in India. It seemed to have a much greater attention to detail and mostly likely a great deal more money invested in it.

ABOVE: View of Xuan Zang (Huien Tsiang) statue, Bihar, India 

There was new construction on the adjacent plots of land. I was told by the ticket seller (50 rupees entry fee for foreigners, 5 rupees for Indians), that these would be quarters for scholars and an auditorium. I am not sure what they will be teaching. Maybe this is connected in some way with the new Nalanda University?

 Then we went to the Nalanda Multimedia Museum. There are no signs out front indicating the cost. I was charged 100 rupees and given a ticket saying 20 rupees. I asked for the other 80 rupees change but the ticket seller said it was foreigner’s price. He took my ticket back and gave me a new ticket that had no price on it at all… I complained a bit more and then shrugged my shoulders. I was then escorted to a small room with poorly drawn images of monks doing various activities at Nalanda Museum and told to wait while the computer slide show proceeded. It was not very interesting to me. The content could have been better presented with boards on the walls or by giving the visitor some control over the pace of the slides. Some were too slow and others changed before I could finish reading them. When this was over, I was taken to another room with a different slide show about the Nalanda University ruins which was similarly boring. Then I was told to wait a while and I would be shown a 45 minute film about the Nalanda ruins. I did not accept the invitation to see the film and told the officials that they should have a sign out front with the real prices. One of the officials then told me that the real price was 50 rupees for foreigners and 20 rupees for Indians. It seems that the ticket seller was cheating me by 50 rupees. I didn’t want to argue with anyone at all. I just want these things to be run professionally. I left without trying to get 50 rupees (about Aust $1.20).

Then we drove back to Rajgir and ate lunch before continuing on our drive to Jethian. The road to Jethian is along the south side of the ridge beginning with Sona Hill. We drove for about 12km and then took a right (northwards) turn zig-zag up the hill and through a pass.

ABOVE: View of road going up the hills to the pass near Lathivana and Jethian, Bihar, India

A new rail line seem to under construction or being repaired (not sure). We got advice from people in the village of Lathivana that it was unsafe to go to the Rajpind Cave due to bandits. If we were to go, we should go in a large group and take armed police or soldiers with us. We stopped to look at the remains of the Supatittha Cetiya with a Buddha statue commemorating a place where Lord Buddha stayed when he visited Lathivana (according to Ven. Dhammika in Middle Land, Middle Way). We also looked at the statue of the Bodhisatta Padmapani stuck on the front of the local school (Saravoday Viddyalaya). I was not very impressed with either of the statues. I was more impressed with the landscape and the recollection that Lord Buddha and many Arahats had walked around there, gone on alms round and meditated there. The rugged rocky hills are quite beautiful though probably would have looked much different 2500 years ago when there were forests, jungles and many more animals in the area. I resolved to come back with a larger group one day. We drove back through the pass and on to Bodhgaya.

ABOVE: View of rugged hills to near Lathivana, Bihar, India

I checked in to the Deep Guest House again and then walked down the road to the Mahabodhi Mandir to circumnambulate 3 times. Bodhgaya seems more familiar to me now. Mahabodhi Mandir is just as crowded as it was last time, though the Theravada Buddhist chanters seem to have packed up and gone home – a good thing from my point of view. There appeared to even more Tibetan Buddhist prostrators than the two weeks ago when I was last here.

Albany – Esperance

Last week I went on an information gathering trip from Perth to Albany and Esperance and back to Perth with a work colleague. We drove a new vehicle along the Albany Highway to Albany, the South Coast Highway via Ravensthorpe (and Hopetoun) to Esperance and passed through many small country towns along the way. We met and interviewed local officials who emphasised various issues. It was very interesting and I learned a lot about the region. We saw many blue gum plantations, grain fields, roads, port and mining facilities and learned about water, power and transport infrastructure in these regions.

I have been to Albany several times and last went there in January this year on holiday with my children. This work trip was the first time I have ever been to Esperance. It is a lovely town with a population of around 15,000. It would be an ideal place for a family holiday.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the landscape of the Great Southern and lower Goldfield Esperance regions. We passed through the Fitzgerald River National Park and the Cape Le Grand National Park. Both parks have quite spectacular rock formations and beaches. While passing through these places, my colleague and I both commented on how lovely it would be to live in close proximity to these beautiful places. These must have deep cultural significance for the Aboriginal people who live in the region now and in the past.