I vant to suck your blood. !

Sunday 24 March 2013 – Dalhousie.

The pilgrimage was quite loud last night, there were drums echoing around the hills all night long and a bunch of people chanting from, I guess, the top of the peak from about 5:00 and then at 6:00 the loud music kicked in. My guide book says the path up the hill is free from the ubiquitous loud music that South and South East Asians like so much. My book is out of date!

Visually the day started beautifully with a nice blue sky and by 8:00 when I went up for breakfast it was quite warm as well. We watched the crowds coming down the hill through Benne’s binoculars and I was really pleased we did not go up this morning. As we were eating breakfast some of the people who did go up at 2:00 were coming back in and they said it was packed, the monastery on the peak was so full that a lot of people gave up trying to get to it.

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Breakfast was not too bad, though I have never seen butter substitute in a sachet before…

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It was quite hot in the morning but we were told that it would cloud over around eleven and get quite cool so we waited until then to go for a walk down to the lake. I went with Benne and Galya, a Bulgarian girl who joined us last night and will walk to the peak with us tomorrow morning. We started down the road past a bunch of buses from all over the country waiting to collect their returning pilgrims.

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And then all of a sudden it was raining, and soon enough it was absolutely hammering down, luckily we found this shelter to huddled in while dodging the water running through the many leaks in the roof. Benne was the only one wise enough to wear a jacket.

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Once the rain had stopped we continued on the way but started to get conflicting information on just how far away the lake was from the various people who stopped to ask us where we were going. In the end we decided to walk back up to the guest house and get some facts – as well as a rain coat for me and my umbrella for Galya. Benne decided he didn’t want to walk so just the two of us set off again – and soon it was warm and sunny.

It only took twenty five minutes to walk down to the lake in the end. Past a reasonable size water fall.

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And the river that fills the lake.

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We found a path down through the tea fields that led to the lake shore, the lake is a man made hydro lake and there was a short section of what was probably the old road to Delhousie on the shore line. The lake looked lovely.

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We walked along the shore line for a few minutes, but it was getting obvious there was no easy way back up to the road, so we crashed up through some bush, before a final section of tea field – stamping heavily on the way to scare off any snakes that might be lurking in the bushes.

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What the stamping heavily did not ward off was the leeches and I found one on my foot when we got to the road. I tried to burn it off with Galya’s lighter, but had no luck – and I wasn’t keen to burn myself by getting the flame too close, so I decided to leave it and either let it fall off or drop some tea-tree oil on it when I got back to the guesthouse. OK, it was a small one…

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I am fairly sure a reasonable amount of that sun tan on my leg is dirt !

As we started up the road towards the guesthouse, me in bare feet due to the leech, the sky just let loose again, lucky we had rain gear this time so only got moderately soaked.

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I took another photo of the leech just before I dropped some tea-tree oil on it. It was definitely looking full. The oil made it let go of my skin and flicked it off with a fingernail, a nice arc of MY blood flew out of it as it shot off my foot. Though it did not hurt I was glad it was gone, funny that.

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I did very little with the rest of the day, it rained for another hour or so so I just sort of hung out in my room, listening to music, attempted to upload yesterdays post, read etc etc. I wasn’t really in a mingling mood. Though I did go up and join Benne and Galya for dinner on the roof at 7:00. After eating we all agreed to meet at 2:15 am tomorrow to make an assault on Adams Peak.

The view of the hill.

Saturday 23 March 2013 – Dalhousie.

I was not really tired last night so blogged until just after midnight and then read until 1:30 am until I was ready for sleep. It turned out to be a really noisy night with dogs barking till the wee hours and then almost immediately the birds took on the task of ensuring an all night noise fest. I sort of slept but was on the laptop doing emails by 6:00, it was good to catch up on a few rather slightly overdue replies to friends and family.

As is the norm for me I declined breakfast as Benne and I were going to be doing a couple of bus rides to our next destination, the village of Dalhousie at the foot of Adams Peak, four or so hours away.

We took a tuk-tuk back to the Muslim Hotel bakery so Benne could get some food and then we walked over to the bus station, which was not where I thought it was, but a few helpful Kandy locals put us on the right path and we got there just before the bus to Hatton was about to leave. There were not many people on the bus so we managed to get our packs up the front next to the driver and sit a few rows back to keep an eye on them.

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As it was a Saturday towards the end of pilgrimage season I fully expect the bus to be very full but surprisingly we had a three seat row to ourselves almost the entire two and half our journey to Hatton. It was quite nice to not be squashed in for a change.

At one of the many stops this guy came on to sell teach yourself English books. This is quite common on the inter-city buses, along with beggars and people selling food and drink.

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The ride was mostly through some lovely hilly countryside and just after half way we hit tea-plantation country, which is the main product of the hill country area. Some of the plantations are vast with road frontages going on for kilometres. We also passed a large number of lakes as there are many that do the area. It really is quite attractive.

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We reached Hatton just before 12:00, as we are planning on catching the train from Hatton to Ella in a few days we walked up to the train station to get tickets, but they did not do reservations from Hatton which hopefully will not be a pain when we leave on Tuesday! The good news was the Dalhousie bus starts at the train station rather than the bus station so again we were able to put our packs up by the driver and get seats. This bus waited until the train from Colombo arrived and was immediately packed, there were three other westerners on the bus and funnily enough we all ended up at the same guest house in Dalhousie.

The bus to Dalhousie was a far more rickety affair than the intercity buses, and even though it is only a 30km journey it did take the full one and half hours to complete it. The road was pretty terrible, narrow very rough and it twisted up and down round the side of a couple of small lakes. The air was cool – by Sri Lankan standards, crisp and would have been fresh apart from the constant stream of diesel fumes coming in through the open windows. It was a beautiful ride though!

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Fortunately the bus stopped right out the front door of our hostel in Dalhousie, and once we checked out the rooms we decided to stay, my room is the cheapest one so far in Sri Lanka and not too bad, I loved the blanket, so appropriate for a fifty year old man!

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The best news with this room was the power point was in reach of the bed, not at the right end, but at least I did not need to sit on the floor if I wanted to use the laptop while plugged into the power. I had arranged a Skype with El, contingent on there being wifi here and thankfully there was, week but enough to have half of a video conversation with only a few ‘pardons?’ thrown in when the line was down.. It was great seeing and speaking to her again. Even though I have been travelling with Benne for a few days and have met a few other people along the way I have been feeling a bit lonely since I left London. I think this journey will be it for a while. I am enjoying myself though, the country is lovely, the Sri Lankans in the main are friendly and Benne and the other people I have met have all been great, but I am so glad I did not decide to do attempt Europe right now. That and the fact it is snowing in London again! I am looking forward to getting to New Zealand and am hoping the length of time I am on the boat after Sri Lanka is not going to be too long.

After my Skype call Benne and I went up and sat in the roof restaurant area for a while and met some of the other travellers who are here, some have just finished the walk up Adams Peak and some like us, are here to do it. There are more travellers here than I have seen anywhere else in Sri Lanka so far.

Adams Peak (Sri Pada) is the only reason people come to Dalhousie. The Peak is popular amongst travellers and Sri Lankans alike, all Sri Lankan Buddhists aim to complete a pilgrimage to the summit at least once. The Sri Lankan name Sri Pada means Sacred Footprint and it is believed Buddha left a footprint on the peak as he ascended into paradise. For Christians and Muslims it is where Adam first set foot on earth after he was thrown out of the Garden of Eden and came to Earth. Kind of the complete opposite journey!

The pilgrimage seasons runs from December until May and of course weekends are incredibly popular. Once we arrived in Dalhousie and watched the streams of buses and mini-vans arriving in town, and after talking to those who did the walk in the early hours of the morning we decided to delay our walk and do it on Monday rather than tomorrow, Sunday.

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The peak is at 2243 metres and the climb from Dalhousie is about 1200, it is popular to start the ascent around 2:00 am and arrive in time for sunrise over the clouds. The ascent is slow and steady through the trees at the base but soon gets steep – culminating in a climb of 5200 steps !!

Benne and I took a walk up to the village itself, which is basically a 500metre long string of stalls selling all sorts of stuff, from food, through warm clothes (it is cold up there apparently) and the obligatory piles of plastic Chinese made crap – balls, blow up monkeys etc – all the essentials for a two and half hour climb…

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I bought a couple of curried vegetable roti’s and some water for lunch and then walked back down to the guesthouse where I spent most of the afternoon chatting to the people coming and going.Some people are on a tighter time frame than I am and are going to attempt the walk tonight, though Benne and now have a young Bulgarian woman, Galya joining us tomorrow night.

Just before dinner the path on the way to the summit was lit up, it is lit every night during the pilgrimage season, so no need for a torch – one less thing to carry.

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I had rice and curry for dinner, it was pretty good, but as usual – massive ! They are not allowed to serve alcohol here so I bought a bottle of coke and had whisky and cokes with dinner, a lager would have been better !

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I sat around chatting for a while after dinner, we had an eclectic group at our table, one each of Canadian, Australian, Belgian, Bulgarian, German and myself. One of the great things with this type of travel is mad mix of nationalities that can end up around a dinner table, love it.

Everyone retired fairly early, some as they were getting up at 2:00 to walk and soon after the rest as everyone was tired and there is not a whole bunch to do.

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Friday 22 March 2013 – Kandy.

Benne and I had decided not to have breakfast at the guesthouse as it just seemed so expensive compared to what we could get on the street, so we arranged to meet at 8:00 at head on out. For a change I had a great and fulfilling sleep; not waking until 7:00, it was so nice to wake feeling almost refreshed. It is a lot cooler here in the Sri Lankan hill country so the night was quite pleasant, cool and quiet and with so few mosquitoes I did not bother using the net either.

We walked down the hill from our guesthouse, past the ragtag collection of tuk-tuk drivers waiting to pick up travellers with their heavy packs on their way to the bus or train station – or the lazy who cannot walk the one and half kilometres into town.

The lake was looking lovely in the early(ish) morning light, but with rush hour on the road behind us it was a noisy and fumey walk into downtown Kandy. Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second largest city and the most important Buddhist centre in the country, with the Temple of the Buddha Tooth Relic attracting large crowds daily.

The ancient bath house.

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The golden roof of the Tooth Relic Temple.

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Traffic control.

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On the way into town yesterday Benne had spotted a restaurant with a large “Munchee” sign outside, as it was only a couple of hundred metres up the main road from the temple we decided to check it out for breakfast. Munchee is a massive snack food brand in Sri Lanka and Benne’s day pack seems to always have some of their product buried in it somewhere, snack time has been renamed ‘munchee munchee time’.

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I had a curry roll, egg roll and a muffin for breakfast – all washed down with a reasonably tasty but worryingly gray cup of milk coffee and a bottle of water. It was so ridiculously cheap, and not bad either!

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We went for a walk up the main street for a bit and I had a good laugh as this bus got stuck trying to take the hairpin outside the main mosque. The hill country seems to have a larger, or at least more obvious, Muslim population than the more northern ‘ancient cities’ area.

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I also found a piece of graffiti on a wall that was in English, hardly street art, which there has been none that I have seen so far, but some self expression is good !

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We soon found ourselves back at the Temple of the Buddha Tooth Relic; where once I had zipped the lower legs on my trousers we went in for a look. The site was a lot larger than I expected with a number of side bits and pieces to look at, including this large Bodhi tree which we went and sat at for a while.

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Surprisingly in the grounds there was also a small Hindu temple and a large Christian Church.

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Eventually we braved the crowds, paid the entrance fee and entered the Temple. The temple itself is hard to define as it is a building within a building and has been burnt down, ravaged, damaged and eventually bombed in 1998 during the civil war. The tooth relic itself is contained within a golden casket under strong security. The tooth was supposedly rescued from the funeral pyre of Buddha in the fifth century BC finally arriving in Sri Lanka eight hundred years later. It has been kept in various holy locations since then arriving in Kandy in the sixteen hundreds when the fist temple was built.

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We decided to not queue and walk past the window which the tooth casket is behind but just stand back and look over peoples heads – easy to do when you are taller than most people !

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I then tried a little slow-mo stuff when I saw this boy offering a prayer.

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We spent a fair amount of time in the temple and grounds, much more than I expected and it was most pleasant.

We walked along the lake side for a while, stopping to look inside the old bath house, which i am assuming is still being used.

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We decided to walk up town and find the Muslim Hotel Restaurant as we were going to try it for dinner and wanted to get an idea of where it was before dark and also to get to the train station and organise tickets for tomorrow when we head to Hatton. I found this tuk-tuk on the way, magic!

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After queuing for a while at the station we found there were no seats to Hatton at all. Hatton is the nearest station to Adams Peak, a very holy place in Sri Lanka and our intended destination tomorrow. I had kind of not really factored in the fact that tomorrow is the weekend and it is still pilgrimage season to Adams Peak, so it will be really busy. We will have to try and get a bus in the morning, it could be an interesting ride ! I did book us some accommodation later in the day though, just in case.

We took a tuk-tuk from the station to the botanical gardens which are six km from town. It was a nice afternoon for a walk in a park and Benne was keen to have a look. I loved these amazingly bent fur trees, I have never seen anything like them before. There were also hundred of large fruit bats hanging in the tress, some were quite massive and would occasionally fly between the trees. I have never really seen bats flying out in the open in the middle of the afternoon before.

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The park was great, loads of kids in school uniforms on school trips and almost as many courting young couples walking on the shady paths. After the park we took a tuk-tuk back to the guest house and the driver asked if I was Benne’s dad, we had a good laugh, though his dad apparently is not much older than I am…

I spent the late afternoon doing the usual over a glass of beer and then we walked back into town to the Muslim Hotel restaurant. The view from the guest house deck.

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I had an egg Kottu, which is basically a roti with egg and vegetables all chopped up, I had never had one before and it was damn fine, this was washed down with my first mango lassi for a while, which was only average compared to some I have had. The food was damn god, far superior to last nights meal and almost a third of the price. The waiter in the restaurant also asked if I was Benne’s father, a worrying trend. I may shave tomorrow and get my youthful good looks back…

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On the way back to the guest house I bought a half bottle of Sri Lanka’s finest whisky – Old Keg. It is just passable, but not as a whisky 🙂 I did get this blog post completed while sampling it though.

Benne found this large spider in his bathroom just after we got back. i got rid of it with harm to either me or the spider.

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I want Kandy !

Thursday 21 March 2013 – Kandy

Last night I bought a couple of beers in one of the local beer bars. I bought a couple of the normal strength Lion lager which has been my usual brew in Sri Lanka. I also picked up a can of Barons strong lager at 8.8% strength to see what it was like compared to the dreaded Carlsberg Special Brew, a beer I haven’t had for many years. It wasn’t too bad, but I could feel the chemicals thrashing around in my head when I woke this morning. It took me a while to surface and I was a little late for the 8 am breakfast we had booked. I don’t think the guesthouse staff like it if you are late !

We breakfasted again in the tree house and once the other couple had left I had Benne take a photo of me with the rock behind. The tree house was a cool place to hang.

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We are going to head to Kandy today with a stop at some cave temples in Aluvihara on the way to make the day more interesting. Kandy is in the south mid-land hill country and I intend on spending most of the next two weeks in the hills, though intent does not always match reality of course.

After breakfast we packed up and the guesthouse organised a tuk-tuk to take us the ten or so kilometres to the main north – south highway so we could get a bus. Surprisingly the tuk-tuk driver told us a price less than we were advised it would be – bonus !

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We waited at the bus stop for about twenty minutes and true to form the tuk-tuk drivers were trying to get us to take a ride into Dambula as it would easier to get a bus and we would get a seat. One guy came and told us there were no buses to Kandy for ages, and true to form one arrived thirty seconds later, though there were no seats left when we got on, but Benne got one soon after. There were definitely no seats at all by Dambula and the bus was packed for most of the rest of the journey

The ride was your normal Asian bus ride, the driver only knew two speeds, flat out or heavy breaking, we even skidded to a stop a couple of times ! It was a full body work out for those of us standing. With the help of a passenger, who I initially thought was a miserable git and the conductor we got off at the right stop near the caves at Aluvihara.

The caves at Aluvihara were where the Tipitaka (sort of a Buddhist bible) was first written in Pali back in the first century BC. The original copy was then destroyed by the wonderful British back in 1848 when they burnt the library here.

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The caves are also famous for some paintings of scenes of sinners being dealt to in hell, though Buddhism itself does not really have a hell. The dates of these paintings is in doubt, as seems to be most things about them, though they are not recent. They are so completely tacky, it was worth the trip.

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If you follow the one true path you will of course be saved from those torments.

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There were a number of other caves including the usual reclining Buddha.

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On the hill side there was a large ‘golden’ Buddha statue looking down over the monastery and the small village nearby.

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We visited the small museum and library, the library holds a more recent copy of the Tipitaka. After the British destroyed the original a new version was created from the memories of the monks who lived here.

The librarian shows us how they wrote the document on the dried and polished palm leaves. First the text is inscribed using a needle type implement.

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And then an ash and oil mix is rubbed in which fills the marks left by the needle. The document was then wiped down with rice flour to clean the ash residue off.

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For the princely donation of $2NZ I have my name on a piece of palm paper.

We caught a tuk-tuk to the larger town of Matale up the road toward to Kandy so we could get lunch before boarding a bus there. It was refreshing to be in a small rural town where you have to find a tuk-tuk and then they immediately quote you a price that is reasonable ! We bought some vegetable stuffed roti before managing to jump on a bus as it was about to leave Matale for the 30km ride to Kandy. It looks like they must have had to widen the road through here at some stage, or are about to do it again as all the shops and buildings had the front removed, amazing.

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By the time we left town the bus was packed and the conductor was not happy with our packs being in the aisle, but there was nowhere else to store them and we were not going to let him put them right by the back door… The bus driver was the craziest yet, he was of the ‘go hard or go home’ type, pedal to the metal all the way, and so heavy on the gears! I took a photo as I thought the bus was looking full, and then we stopped outside a school and picked up a massive bunch of kids, they were rammed in everywhere, though fortunately not for long.

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We arrived in Kandy mid-afternoon and took a very expensive tuk-tuk to our guest house for two nights. The town of Kandy is quite ‘pretty’, the centre is based around a man-made lake with tree covered hills on most sides. There is a road full of guest houses and we are most of the way to the top, so we have a great view of roofs and wires and a very large crane !

I just did the usual afternoon – blogging, washing, relaxing until dinner. We ate in the guesthouse but it was quite expensive and not as good as it had been rated sadly. The good news was I slept like a baby for a change, so nice to be in a cool environment up in the hills.

I am now starting to wonder if there is some sort of power point conspiracy in Sri Lanka. This one was not so high up the wall, though I had to gaffer tape it to the wall otherwise it kept coming loose. It was so far from the bed I had to sit on the floor to use the laptop plugged in….

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I have not linked a Youtube clip for ages, but I have this song bouncing around inside my head. From 1980 something, Bow wow wow – I want candy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMICD3aMZpw

Can there ever be too many monks ?

Wednesday 20 March 2013 – Sigiriya.

As I had arranged to see the rock in the afternoon I did not rush around too much in the morning, barely moving at all to be perfectly honest. I had organised with the guest house to join the other guests for a 7:30 breakfast which was as huge as I expected. Though this was the first breakfast where dhal and roti were on the menu, along with a small omelette and toast. I did the Ugandan thing and rolled my omelette up in a piece of roti for a role eggs. Very nice.  It was a great breakfast, even the coffee wasn’t too bad.

I sat around chatting to an America/German couple – there are a lot of German tourists in Sri Lanka, more than any other nationality from my experience so far. We talked for a couple of hours, they have amazing jobs in video journalism and documentaries based out of Bangkok and I was deeply envious of their travel and journalistic opportunities. Just before ten, my young German friend Benne turned up at the guest house to stay the night and we agreed to do the rock together around 3:00. This left the rest of the day for doing not much which was very much alright by me. I got to finish yesterdays blog post, though was unable to post it as the internet sucked. I also managed to get another good load of washing done, staying two nights in each place means I have been able to really keep on top of laundry which means my lack of clothes is not too much of a problem…

So that was two thirds of the day done ! At 3:00 Benne and I walked from the guest house to Sigiriya Rock. The walk to the park was about a kilometre and it was very hot, Bennes thermometer said it was 37.1 degrees. There is a tourist elephant walk in Sigiriya, not something I particularly agree with, but I did enjoy watching this elephant enjoying a soak in the river. When I walked past in the evening people were washing their clothes in the same spot, hmmmm.

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From the road there is a further km of walking around the side of the palace moat, I loved this sign warning against bathing, the sign in blue behind advises there are crocodiles….

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The ticket for the site is 30USD which is really expensive when you consider 30USD gets you unlimited three days across all the many Angkor sites in Cambodia. This is one day access only and a bit steep in my book.

Out first visit was the museum, semi-interesting, a vast building with a large number of staff that were all sitting around doing nothing, except one got up to point to the no photos sign. We were sort of laughing at the place by the end of it. Sad really – one should not laugh at museums… But they could have housed the collection in something far smaller.

Sigiriya Rock is riddled with caves and overhanging shelters so has long been a feature in Sri Lankan history, possibly back to pre-historic times. Though it is ‘officially’ dated as a home to monks as early as the third century BC. Though the main attraction for tourists and local pilgrims alike is the ruins of the tenth century palaces/monastaries as well as the cave paintings. Much doubt still lingers about the exact purposes of the site either religious or royal !

We were not in a major rush to go through as it was quite warm so we took our time wandering through the various ancient gardens below leading up to the rock – which turned out to be a major mistake !

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We also watched a couple of girls doing silly jumps in front of the rock for the camera, so had to do the same.

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I took a side trip off the main path to look at some of the ancient and more unloved cave paintings, possibly dating back to the fifth century – there is the top half of a female figure.

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While I was doing this the monk march I ran into yesterday started passing us by and there ended my zen like experience of the rock. I got very frustrated with such a huge amount of people, at least five hundred, slowly marching through the single file path ways. It took ages for them to pass. Apparently it is an annual month long march for world peace through Sri Lanka by Buddhists from a variety of nationalities. All it did was piss me off, I was not very peaceful…

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Benne waiting paitently…..

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I was not so patient – I know, many of you are shocked as I am always so tolerant ! So I wandered around a bit.

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There are two ways up and down to the base of the final section of the climb, though I wanted to see the rock paintings so had to go where the monks were, along a narrow path and up and then down a spiral staircase.

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Once the monks had finally passed through the narrow section Benne and I went and climbed the spiral staircase for a look at the wonderfully preserved cave paintings. The latest theory is the images are of Tara a bodhisattva (enlightening being) and an important figure in tantric Buddhism – surprisingly!

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From the frescoes cave we walked up to the start of the climb to the top of the rock. The entrance to the final staircase was supposedly through the mouth of a lion though all that remains now are its feet on either side of the staircase. I was really keen to see the feet, but when we arrived there were still too many monks around. So we bashed our way up a narrow metal staircase to the top of the rock.

The views were spectacular from the top and there were a large number of foundations from the buildings that were built here fifteen hundred to one thousand years ago. I would loved to have spent some tome here relaxing, enjoying the views and some peace. However the place was packed with monks, monks and more f*cking monks. One can be cynical about monks when they are using their iPhones to take photos of each other doing the Leonardo De Caprio pose from the Titanic movie on top of the rock.

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After a quick “munchee munchee” – which seems to be Benne’s favourite thing – eating, I spotted the monks looking like they were about to leave so we hot footed it over to the exit and we managed to get there quite early in the stream. I got to the bottom and managed to get a quick snap of the lions feet, which I somehow managed to get half out of focus, but they quite cool.

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You can see from this photo why I was keen to get down before them, it could have been a long wait otherwise!

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I started down the main path to the exit but Benne stayed to take a couple of pictures and we ended up being separated from then on. I got to see the cobra head cave, which was sadly not that interesting.

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I stopped and waited for Benne for a while, and tried to get a couple of selfies. Though my camera seemed to be attracting way too much attention from the local strays to be able to get a good one. So I gave up and walked back to the guest house.

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I decided to take a bike and ride the ‘1.25kms’ to the beer bar to buy a couple of cans of lager to go with dinner. This turned out to be close to 2km and by the time I had gotten beer it was a pretty dark ride back up a dodgy unlit highway with no lights on the bike. I rode fast – and won’t do it again either. The next day as Benne and I were heading out of town we passed a funeral of someone killed riding a bike on that road…

The beers were welcome though, nice and cold and I was dripping by the time I got back to the guest house, in time for a shower and a brief lie down before dinner. Benne and I were joined by two young Lithuanian brothers who were travelling together, it was an interesting night – I have never met Lithuanians before.

A visit to Dambula’s Golden rock

Tuesday 19 March 2013 – Sigiriya.

I had another massive breakfast at the guest house before finally getting myself organised enough to get out the door soon after 9:00. I was going to catch the bus to Sigiriya, my next destination, and had decided there was not much point in competing for space and oxygen on the bus with people going to work, school or about their normal morning business, so later was better – there was no way I was going to do 6:30 AM. The bus station, even for west bound buses is in Kaduruwela, a town six kilometres east of Polonnaruwa. Though the bus goes back, almost past my guest house it is recommended to go to the station to ensure a seat. Either that or it is an excuse to get one last tuk-tuk ride in and pay three times as much for the short ride as the long ride on the bus will cost! In this case I actually believe it is the former reason.

As I was approaching the bus station I was met by a tuk-tuk driver from Sigiriya who was heading back there after dropping some tourists in Polonnaruwa, we negotiated a better price than his original offer. It was probably still seven or eight times the bus;  but relatively cheap and it would get me to Sigiriya quicker and more comfortably as it could go direct. Plus I could snap a few shots on the way and we could stop if I wanted. It was market day in Kaduruwela as we passed through.

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A lot of the countryside in this part of Sri Lanka is flat and used for agriculture.

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On the edge of Lake Minneriya was this new and very tall Buddha image.

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There is a direct road to Sigiriya but the buses do not travel on it, though imagine once the massive road works are finished this will become a more common and faster route for buses to move between towns.

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Minneriya National Park borders on the lake and has a good collection of the normal Sri Lanka wildlife; elephants, crocodiles and leopards. I was hoping to pick up some other people in Polonnaruwa who wanted to do a safari and unfortunately I missed a couple who did one from my guest house by just a few minutes on the day I arrived. It is too expensive to do solo. I spent the whole ride through the park looking for elephants, but only saw lots of dung – I did see this peacock in the middle of the road though.

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I arrived in Sigiriya late morning and checked into a guest house, the most expensive yet, Sigiriya has a few options and is very popular so a bit more expensive than other places. The room was OK, cleaner than the others, but the shower was hopeless and the power point was strangely about two metres off the ground in the middle of a wall…

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The guest house had a tree house out the back that was the central meeting point for most people and it had a great view of ‘the rock’ – the reason why people come to Sigiriya. More on the rock tomorrow.

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I had intended to stay here for two nights and then stay in the nearby Dambula for the following night to visit the cave temples. However I met a German couple here who said that accommodation options in Dambula were not that great and it was better to stay here. Apparently it is easier to get a bus to Kandy from here as well, even though it passes through Dambula. Just like in Polonnaruwa, if you get the bus here you will get a seat, from Dambula maybe not. The guest house owner also said to visit ‘the rock’ in the late afternoon rather than in the morning which was my original plan. So I tossed the original plan out the window and decided I would do the cave temples in Dambula this afternoon and the ‘the rock’ tomorrow afternoon. Which was good as I had a call from Benne when I was in Dambula and he was arriving in Sigiriya tomorrow, so we could do ‘the rock’ together – cool!

I mooched in my room till 3:00 and then wandered up the road to the bus stop to catch the Dambula bus. I was talking to a man in the bus stop and he advised I skip the normal bus and catch a special bus with him. It was a private school bus from Dambula that drops kids off in Sigiriya and then picks up paying passengers on the way back,. It was three times as much as the normal bus at one whole dollar for the forty minute ride, but there was three of us and it did not stop. I called it a bargain. For the same amount I got a tuk-tuk from the main street of Dambula to the cave temples 2km away.

The first thing you see at the cave temples is the massive, kitsch and tacky Golden Temple, built in 2000 with funds from the Japanese. In true form there is a sign saying at 30metres, it is the largest Buddha statue in the world, but apparently it is not even the largest in Sri Lanka. Love it ! I also really liked the life size plastic monks queuing to get in, so classy!

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The cave temples were 1500 rupees about 15NZD, more than I was lead to believe, but I think it was worth it and I wished I had a bit more time. A morning visit would have been good as the caves faced sort of north westish so trapped the late afternoon sun.

The cave temples sit almost at the top of a 150m rock rising above Dambula and were first used by King Valagamba as a refuge when driven out of Anuradhapura in the 1st century. When he regained the throne he had the caves made into temples. Later kings lined the temples with gilt and it became known as golden rock.

There are five caves, all fronted by a long white washed corridor, it was incredibly humid inside the caves and I was dripping when I was finished. Each cave contains a number of Buddha and other images, each were poorly lit and I was surprised flash photography was allowed inside, though I shot almost all of these without flash as I don’t like it.

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Cave one had the longest reclining Buddha and was lit by the doorway. Each cave also contained a number of paintings as well. This was my favourite cave.

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Cave two is the biggest cave with the most images. I used the flash for two of them I will say I am really impressed at the high ISO images from my new GX1 compared to the old GF1 I used in SE Asia.

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Cave three.

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Cave four.

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Cave five.

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The view from the top was pretty nice as well and it would have been a good place to sit under a shady tree and eat lunch – apart from the dozens of macaques !

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I took a tuk-tuk back into Dambula and we passed this massive long march by mainly foreign monks, I have tried to find something about it on the internet, but no luck so far. Having said that, I only have access via the mobile network on my phone so I didn’t spend a lot of time on it.

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I caught this bus from the bus station and partly because of the monks procession and that it was rush hour it took a long time to get back to Sigirya.

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I had dinner in the tree house with three couples who are staying here, the food was great and of course plentiful ! It was a pleasant evening, but an early night for all.

A day in the ancient city of Polonnaruwa

Monday 18 March 2013 – Polonnaruwa.

I wanted to be out and about as early as possible this morning to get to the museum ticket office for opening time, which was theoretically at 8:00, but this is Sri Lanka, my aim was to get as much touring of the ancient sites as possible before the worst of the heat kicked in. So I leapt out of bed as soon as I woke up at 7:40, all ready for coffee and the day. Except it was 6:40 and there was no coffee for another thirty minutes, damn ! I did find this wee frog in my sink when I went to brush my teeth.

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Just like last night’s dinner, breakfast this morning was massive, a huge plate of fresh fruit, about 6 slices of toast and then I was asked if I wanted eggs…. I just asked for one, between two slices of toast and I did not finish the fruit either > Here is me trying to lose a couple of kilos and I get given these massive mounds of deliciousness. Shame about the coffee though 🙂

I rented a bike for the day – it is possibly the most unstable one of all my travels, but so much better than walking, and rode to the museum for 8:20 and lo and behold it was actually open. I was served by the surliest man I have met in Sri Lanka, and he was deeply un-amused when I did not have exactly 3125 rupees (about 31NZD) for the entrance ticket. He gave me my change in two chunks, I think he was hoping I would forget the last 500, no chance you miserable git.

I hot footed it from the museum, past all the tour guides and tuk-tuk riders who said it was far too hot to ride a bike or too complicated to find things, depending on what they were selling and I was at he entrance to the main Polonnaruwa site before 8:30. Perfect !

I took an awful lot of photos and visited all of the relics inside the area over my five hour visit, I have been very selective in what I have written about or this would have been an even more mega post…

Polonnaruwa was first the capital of the Indian Chola people after they invaded around one thousand years ago and moved the capital here from Anuradhapura. When Sinhalese king Vijayabahu 1 defeated the Chola and kicked them off the island he retained Polonnaruwa as his capital and it remained the centre of Sri Lankan life for the next three centuries.

I decided to ride to the Tivanka Image House first, the furthest point from the entrance and work my way back. It was a toss-up between getting to the distant relics first while it was cool or getting to the nearby, and more popular items while there was virtually no-one around. Practicality finally won over wanting to miss tour bus groups so I made the three km ride first.

The Tivanka Image House was sadly under renovation on the outside, but the interior was lovely, it houses some of the best original wall paintings in Sri Lanka as well as a dark and mysterious headless Buddha image.

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My next stop was Gal Vihara, famous for its Buddhas carved from a single piece of rock, quite amazing, the reclining Buddha is fourteen metres long. I have a wee confession; the photo has been cropped because my finger was in the bottom of it, I have not done that for a long time !!  It is hard to believe these massive and beautiful works were carved in the 12th century.

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I really liked it here but it was extremely hot, even at 9:30 am and there was no shade in a convenient Buddha image contemplation space. I finished my first 500mls of water here and bought a second from one of the stalls, I was not going to make the same mistake as the other day and not drink enough water.

I next visited what is known as the Northern Group which contains a number of buildings including Buddha Seema Prasada the tallest building in the group and was constructed in the 11th century. It contains another large and headless Buddha as well as a very nice statue at the entrance that I have not seen before.

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The Kiri Vihara was built under the guidance of Queen Subhadra, the wife of King Parakramabahu who has been credited with most of the construction here. When it was rediscovered in the jungle it had retained its lime bleached white vista, the name Kiri Vihara means milk white.

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I also really liked this partially moss covered dagoba nearby.

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I was mostly alone here so wandered the broader area of ruined monks cells and meeting rooms around the outside of the central dagoba. I came across most of the local wildlife here; monkeys – having, what looked like swimming lessons, once this guy had done a few laps they all jumped in!

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A couple of monitor lizards

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Some cows and of course the ubiquitous Sri Lankan dogs, I have never seen so many dogs, luckily so far all of them have been totally uninterested in me.

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In the distance I could see Rankot Vihara, the largest dagoba in Polonnaruwa and my next stop.

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There were some really good old Buddha images here. Sadly I saw two couples walking round the dagoba wearing shoes and hats which is a big cultural no-no, and they must have walked past the sign advising not to wear them. Disappointing and ignorant behaviour!

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The history of Manik Vehera is largely unknown, but I did like the frescoes.

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There are a few remains from the pre-Buddhist Indian Hindu period and this is the only one remaining with a Vishnu image, a number of bronzes were found here and are in the museum.

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There are also a couple of small Hindu temples including Siva Divale (no 2) it was built in the tenth century and is still used by the Tamil people who live in the area.

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Very little is also known about Pabula Vehera, but I liked it, it was completely off the main path and I imagine is quite unvisited. Both this and Siva Divale above were down a little and very rough side road, so those travelling by car would not get to see it. One of the real benefits of doing this visit by bicycle !

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I made my way down to the main part of the site to the “Quadrangle area”. I was going to buy more water but just after I got there a tour bus load arrived so I dived into the ruins to start looking before the group got in my way (and me in theirs). My first stop was this huge inscription, Gol Pota, the largest in Sri Lanka – and there are an awful lot of them ! It was created in the shape of a manuscript under the reign of King Nissankamilia in the 11th century. It is 9 metres long, weighs 25 tons and was carved in Anuradhapura, 100km away and dragged here…

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I quickly nipped into the Hatadage for a quick snap just as the tour group arrived. I have been photographing some of the moon stones that are the entrance to many of the Buddhist monasteries and this is the best one I have found so far.

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The Vatadage was my favourite building in Sri Lanka, so far anyway. I just loved it. It was also heavily crowded when I got to it so I walked round it and snapped some details and then came back to visit it later once the tour bus people had left. Sadly one of the group had climbed onto the stupa to have a photo taken with one of the Buddha images, there was an uproar with police whistles going and the tour guide yelling, what a bunch of fools, I would have caned them. Some people should stay at home. Like a lot of the ruins here the Vatadage has a contentious history though it is believed to have originally been constructed in the 12th century by by Parakramabahu I to hold the Buddha tooth relic.

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I loved the dancing dwarves frescoes. There a lot of these and along with elephants that appear to be the most common of the frescoes, both here and at Anuradhapura.

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The Nissankalata Mandapa is unique in that the pillars that held up its roof were carved in the shape of a lotus flower stem, all the other pillars are straight.

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I particularly admired the detail on the pillars – and I am talking the detail of the carvings – not the large breasts!

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As I left the quadrangle and headed south towards the Royal Palace group I found this recently re-assembled building. There is no detail on it, but it looks like a giant jigsaw puzzle has been partially completed. It reminded me of a saying about the Baphoun temple in Angkor Thom in Cambodia, its 300,000 pieces make it ‘the world’s largest jigsaw puzzle’.

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I arrived at the royal palace area just as five bus loads of Sri Lankans soldiers were, thankfully, about to leave.

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There was not a whole lot to see here, I was kind of expecting more ! The palace was  not particularly photogenic. I loved the bathing pool and had just plopped myself down on the steps in the shade of one of the trees when the bus load arrived and I had to remove myself from blocking the steps. But I did find an ice cream seller by the pool so enjoyed a cold block under another tree while everyone scurried about, peace ruined !

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The council chambers was the last place I visited within the main part of the Polonnaruwa ruins.

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I then defied my prediction from yesterday and had enough left in the tank to ride back and visit the museum, it was quite enjoyable, though a tad humid inside. Though, maybe it was me creating the humidity, it was entirely possible, four hours under the sun with barely a sit down had left me a sweaty wreck, but I was not done ! I rode for 2.5km up the side of the tank (artificial lake) I walked along yesterday to the southern most ruins of Potgul Vihara, built in the twelfth century. The key feature here is a 4m high statue, though who it is exactly is not defined. One popular story was the statue was of King Parakramabahu eating a piece of papaya, though that is more of a thousand year old urban myth.

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The ruins of Potgul Vihara itself were not particularly exciting but I did take some time to sit in the shade and enjoy some quite time before making the ride back to my guesthouse.

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After a lie down and endless drinks of cold water I ventured back out again just after five to find the last remaining ruins left to be seen. I rode for about 3.5 kms on the highway, a challenge in itself, to the Vishnu Divale (No1), Though, disappointingly there was not a heck of a lot to see. A large rock, some steps and a monkey were the highlight!

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Tonight’s dinner was as large and delicious as last nights, a slightly different range of vegetable curries and chicken rather than fish. The chili potato was especially lovely…

Feeling like a beached whale now, burp!

Defeated by rice and curry

Sunday 17 March 2013 – Polonnaruwa.

Yesterday afternoon I was led to believe the bus to Polonnaruwa left at 7:00, but of course there are loads of buses and the guy in my guest house who served me dinner said they go every hour or so. My original plan of getting up at 6:00 was tossed out the window so I squeezed another hour of sleep in and got up just after 7:00.

After packing and walking down to my regular place, Walkers, for coffee I grabbed a tuk-tuk and went to the new town bus station. My tuk-tuk driver drove around the rutted, pot-holed and deeply puddled bus station until he found the bus I needed, fortunately for me – as all the signs were in Sinhalese, so I would not have had a clue.

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The bus was not due to leave for 45 minutes so I wandered about the bus station and bought a small packet of biscuits to munch on if I got hungry. I am not willing to trust local food stored in dubious conditions and handled with bare hands as I am about to get on a three hour plus bus ride, no offence meant !

At the insistence of the bus crew I got on with about thirty minutes to go and I could soon see why they were so keen. The bus was crowded – with people standing in the aisle ten minutes before departure and a bunch more jumping on as the engine started. There was another westerner on the bus when I got on, but he had his pack on the seat next to him and wasn’t looking like he wanted company so I sat in the row in front – in some sort of solidarity I guess. As the bus was filling the bus guys came and took his pack and made him sit next to me. I asked where he was going and he said ‘Polonnarruwa’, the same as me, he then told me he was Czech and had little English, which seemed to mean “don’t speak to me”. So I didn’t. He was a very unhappy and rather sun burnt man and did not enjoy the journey one little bit.

It got very hot in the bus while we waited, I was so glad I could stick my head out of a window and suck down some air. There was a lot of women standing, not much chivalry in this country and chivalrous as I am I was not going to start a trend, albeit a likely trend of one – there was a long ride ahead and I liked my window 🙂

The bus ride was interesting, we drove past countless paddy fields and tanks (dams/lakes). It does not seem as poverty ridden as Africa or parts of SE Asia, most houses we pass are of reasonable construction and have power, mind you we are on main roads and I cannot see up any of the countless small dirt lanes that criss-cross the highway. The road is very good for the most part I believe it is the inevitable Chinese money that has built the road.

We stop everywhere, people on and people off but always quite full. As is the norm, we ride with the bus horn on full blast for much of the way, we hoot at bus stops, any traffic we come up behind and as we enter small and large towns. Every pedestrian is a potential customer. It is the way!

The ride cost 145 rupees, about $1.45 NZD or 70p !! Great value for three reasonably pleasant hours.

The entertainment highlight for me was an excruciating version of Guns and Roses ‘Sweet child of mine’ that was played by a Sri Lankan band on a three hour live concert DVD that was full volume throughout the entire ride. This band played no other western songs, I guess it just shows how a song like that can transcend audiences and cultures. The Filipino cover band I saw on a drunken night out with Dan and friends when I was in Da Nang in Vietnam did a fabulous version.

The bus arrived exactly on the scheduled three hour mark in Polonnaruwa and I was immediately pounced up by a tuk-tuk driver and guest house owner. He had a GH that was not in my Lonely Planet but it was priced right and near the two I was going to look at anyway so I went with him and decided to take the room. It is fine – not great, but for the price it is fine…

He told me there was an Aussie and a French couple staying there, the Aussie turned out to be a Kiwi from Christchurch and she arrived back from a morning of templing just after I arrived. Yes, templing is a word. Ok, I may have made it up, but I am declaring it an official word! Even though it was early afternoon I had a beer and some popadoms for lunch with the girl from Chch – yes I am hopeless at introductions I know, before unpacking and sorting my stuff out before a wee afternoon snooze.

I decided to go for a walk into town and check out the museum as well as a couple of free sites near the museum. The museum is supposed to be quite good and as I was planning on a fullish day tomorrow I wanted to get some small things out of the way today. However…..

As I mentioned the other day, there is a 25USD one day permit needed to enter most of the sites here, and I will pay that tomorrow and get my ticket. I wont use dodgy tuk-tuk drivers who do it for less and bribe the guards to get in, that is WRONG. Sadly you also have to have the permit to enter the museum, no exceptions. I asked if I could buy the permit  for tomorrow, but visit the museum now instead. No, it has to be bought on the day, no exceptions. I cannot buy a permit before 8:00 am, though the site opens at 7:00. Sometimes rules are dumb! This means I may not get to see the museum as I will be wanting to get as much of the ruins done as early as possible and as I am planning on doing this by bike I will be stuffed when I am done. I doubt I will be wanting to make a separate trip to see the museum as it is off-site . Shame on the bureaucrats !

I did however visit the nearby, free and very lovely Island Park. I was amused to see this group of monks trying to shoo some monkeys out of their bus. Never leave a window open !

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The ruins here are a royal park from the twelfth century, the baths in their current state left a wee bit to be desired.

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Though the council chamber of King Nissankemalia was in reasonable condition.

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I was not the only person here, soon after I arrived I was joined by a group of, I think, Thais.

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Who were then followed by some local monks.

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I wandered up the side of the tank (lake) for a couple of kilometres as the sun lowered in the sky, I did not stay for sunset, while I feel safe here I am not going to be hanging around by a lake in a strange town by myself after dark !

I did find this lovely tree with old and damaged Buddha images in it.

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I went back to my guest house and had a really nice Skype with El, I didn’t think it would work as the wifi is pretty slow. But it did work and it was great to see her smiling face and have a chat, I do miss her.

I was going to have dinner with Chch girl, but she has been sick since lunch – and she had the same as me! We chatted for a while but she did not want food. I was served some traditional rice and curry (curry and rice is Indian, rice and curry is Sri Lankan – I read it somewhere). I was initially thinking I was being served food for two, till I saw how much the French couple were served…..

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I fought bravely but just could not finish it, or even half of it. It was all lovely; fresh vegetable curries, fresh fish from this afternoon and lovely oily, but oh so light, popadoms. yuuuuuummmmmm.

I spent the rest of the night in my room, tying this blog post and listening to music, dressed in long pants and socks as it is mosquito city here. I might have to buy some bug spray… I was going to post this, but the wifi was turned off at 10pm, oh well, I am sure it can wait.

Apart from my frustration with the museum I enjoyed today, I liked being back on cheap local transport, going to a new town with no accommodation booked, chatting to new people in hostels. I feel like I am back in travelling mode again. And a great Skype to cap it off : )

Sacred trees and really big stupas

Saturday 16 March 2013 – Anuradhapura

I read and listened to music well into the night, but even after a reasonable days exercise I still had a lot of trouble getting to sleep and didn’t drop off until well into the wee hours. Subsequently I did not wake up till 8:40 which is a lot later than I planned. I wanted to get back out on the bike today and see the bits of Anuradhapura that I could not find the other day.

After visiting Benne’s guest house for dinner last night I discovered that I had mis-placed my guest house on the map I was using and I was not quite where I thought I was – with this new knowledge my day of exploration today was so much easier.

The other gift from Benne’s guesthouse, though probably more from being outside in the evening after rain; was mosquito bites. I have been woefully lax in using mozzie repellent since I have been here as I just haven’t seen any. Mistake, I found two when I got up but noticed a whole load later in the day, damnit!

I was on the road for a not unreasonable 9:30 and with my new found confidence in actually knowing my start point I found my way to my first destination, the Bodhi Tree, fairly swiftly. I do actually have to point out that I was ninety percent sure I was as at one of the other entrances to the Bodhi Tree site when I got ‘mis-placed’ on Thursday – and this turned out to be correct.

Anuradhapura has a reasonably large military presence with a number of armed forces bases around the town, including one very close to the side entrance to the Bodhi Tree. There are a lot of military type signs about the place and I am always wary of straying into places I do not belong, especially where people with guns are concerned. But I feel better that I was not that lost on Thursday, and even better that no-one shot me.

The Bodhi Tree is central to Sri Lankan Buddhism and therefore to Sri Lanka. It is the oldest documented in the world and is from a cutting imported from India by Princess Sangamitta, the sister of Mahinda, who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka. The tree has been tended on this site for over 2000 years. Visually it is not that impressive, but once inside the grounds and milling with the many hundreds of devotees that are here at any time you get a feel for how sacred a place this is. It ‘feels’ different. I spent a bit of time sitting in the shade just enjoying the atmosphere before moving on.

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On a more earthy note, I also spent some time watching these monkeys eating the flowers left at the Buddha image outside : )

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I cycled around for a bit longer, this time with a plan, and unlike Thursday, an idea of where I was going, stopping to enjoy the view every now and then. It was incredibly hot even at 10:00.

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At the lakeside I was approached by a guy on a motorbike who was selling souvenirs, I negotiated on a small granite Ganesh statue (2020 edit, it is now in my flat) and bought one. He then wanted to sell me his tour services which I declined – about twenty five times before finally just riding off to the ancient cities ticket office. I was after a ticket that would allow me access over three months to all the key ancient cities, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Dambulla. Sadly they do not do those anymore and each site is now 25USD each, except Sigiriya which is 30USD and Dambulla which is only a fiver. There is no way I was able to afford or willing to spend 100NZD on day passes to sites so had to choose which one to do and decided to ditch Anuradhapura as Polonnaruwa is supposedly ‘better’. A tough choice, sorry Anuradhapura, too much money means you lose out. Luckily there was still plenty of free stuff to do.

My next stop then was the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba, one of the larger white dagobas in town. I had to put some socks on my bare feet to be able to walk around the outside as the ground was so hot, I was not the only one with socks, though I noticed that the Sri Lankans were all bare foot !

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The dagoba, and in fact the entire area around here and the next two (free) places I visited are surrounded by a vast tree shrouded park land that is full of the ruins of old monasteries, houses and the various other undefined buildings from the era when Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka. There was a lot of effort put into its archaeology back in the colonial days, but less so since, admittedly it is a huge task and probably not helped by people like me not willing to cough the 25USD. If I knew with all my heart the money was going into research and archaeology then I perhaps would have spent it, but I know it doesn’t.

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I also discovered my Ganesh selling friend seemed to be stalking me, he stopped me again to ask if I want a tour “inside the city, no ticket needed”. I ended up having to turn my back on him. This was the third time he had stopped me and it was enough.

My next stop was the much photographed Thuparamaya Dagoba, built between 250 and 210 BC it is supposed to be first stupa built on the Island. It was the place I wanted to see the most, mainly because I had seen some cool photos of it with the pillars from long ago collapsed buildings sticking out all different angles. Unfortunately progress means that light pylons and power lines are all over the place and the photo is no longer available. I will admit it is not the best reason for wanting to visit an ancient and important religious site, but there you go, it was my reason.

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Inside the ground was the smaller Padhalanchana Chethiya, which apparently covers a footprint left by Buddha as he went up into the air on his third visit to Sri Lanka.

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My last visit was to this wonderful old dagoba and the largest in the area, Jetavanarama Dagoba was built in the 9th century and at over 100 metres high was likely to be the 3rd tallest building in the world at the time. It is now just over 70 metres high and is incredibly impressive.

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By the time I left here it was past mid-day, I was a wee bit dehydrated (again) and definitely feeling sun burnt. I had nothing left I wanted to do in Anuradhapura so I rode back to the GH, had a cooling shower and slobbed for the rest of the day. I have started watching The Beiderbecke Affair, a mid-eighties English comedy/drama and I am loving it.

The focus is a bit off on some of these shots, sadly. The new camera has a touch screen display which allows me to select the focal point, but it is not 100% reliable, also with the bright light it is quite hard to see exactly what is going on on the screen. I really wish I had bought the viewfinder as well…

Mihintale

Friday 15 March 2013 – Mihintale.

Last night I arranged to meet Benne, the German guy I met on the train a couple of days ago, this morning to go to Mihintale for the day. It is a small town fifteen kilometres out of Anuradhapura that has a few places of historical significance, and therefore of interest to me! Benne went there yesterday and wanted to go back to a special place to meditate. he had met a great tuk-tuk driver/guide that he said we should use again, it all sounded like a good plan to me as I was going to go there tomorrow anyway.

I was up at 8:00 and wandered back down to the place I had breakfast at yesterday for more of the same today. Though sadly they had neither of the things I had yesterday so I tried a bun with a fried egg on it plus an onion roll – or I should say an onion and chilli roll, it damn near took the roof of my mouth off!

On the way there and back and during breakfast I had versions of this conversation, I have it about twenty times a day. Mr X is a tuk-tuk driver. If you have travelled anywhere there is tuk-tuks you will know this conversation.

Mr X – hello
Me – hello
Mr X – How are you?
Me – Good, thanks. How are you?
Mr X – Where you from?
Me – New Zealand
Mr X – Ah, New Zealand, nice place. How long you in Sri Lanka?
Me – One month
Mr X – You like Sri Lanka?
Me – Yes, I like it very much
Mr X – how long you in Anuradhapura?
Me – Three days
Mr X – Where you go now?
Me – Shop – just there.
Mr X – Where you go later?
Me – Riding a bike around.
Mr X – Where you go tomorrow?
Me – I don’t know yet, not sure.
Mr X – I give you good price for tour.
Me – No, thank you very much.

Mr X drives off.

I am wondering if I should just get my answers printed on a t-shirt, save everyone some time. Its all part of the fun I guess and I am sure most see it as a bit of a game.

I met Benne after breakfast and we walked up to Main St where we caught a bus to Mihintale, we seemed to have picked the right time of day as it was not too crowded and we were charged the local price as well, 30 NZ cents for the thirty minute ride. On pretty diabolical roads !

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We met our guide for the day, Amara at the bus station and headed off to visit some of the sites. Benne wanted to go and spend some time meditating alone at a spot he went to yesterday so Amara took me round the places that Benne had already visited.

We started with some rock caves that Buddhist monks had lived in for centuries, but were finally closed in the 1980’s. The hill complex Rajagirilena contains a number of old monk houses as well as the usual collection of cheeky macaques.

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From the hill we went to the Indikatu Seyu complex, a 9th century site that is believed to have been an active Mahayana Buddhism monastery, which is unusual in an country normally associated with Theravada Buddhism. These gate posts represent jars of water, flowers, milk or other offerings and they are at the entry point to most of the sites here.

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At the base of the main temple complex was the remains of a monks hospital, consisting of a number of cells as well as this herbal oil bath. Though that does not look herb infused oil to me…

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Ammara and I then went back to the Dark Water Pool to collect Benne, who I found sitting on the top of a large rock. The area is incredibly peaceful and I could see why he wanted to spend some time alone here.

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The large pool was man-made probably around 1200 years ago. The large site had a number of buildings including a library and this reading room.

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There was a meeting hall, complete with bathroom.

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The small rock hill on the side of the pool has a number of caves that are still being used as homes for monks. We were allowed to walk past the monks houses while they were at the monastery for lunch. I liked the walking meditation path, I have not seen/noticed these before.

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We stopped for some water and short eats in a road side shop, where the owner brought her son out to see us – and have his photo taken.

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This other boy was quite interested in us as well and wanted his photo taken as he rode past. The people of Sri Lanka are famous for their smiles and it is a very friendly place.

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Mihinthalaya is the birth place of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (the first temple was monastery was built in Anuradhapura) when Mahinda, the son of Ashoka – a great Indian Buddhist leader, converted Sri Lankan king Devanampiya Tessa in 247BC. The temple complex here is quite large and up a load of stairs. We were told by Amara that there was not too much at the main dagoba at the top of the hill, which I later found out was not quite true and I was disappointed we did not go up there, I should have read up on it before going – a rookie mistake! Anyway, what we did see was pretty cool though.

When we arrived a large group of school children were coming down the stairs so we waited for the bulk of them to come down before taking a walk to the first landing. Many waves, hellos and smiles were exchanged with the children and the accompanying adults. P1000352

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We turned off here and went up another set of steps to the Kanthaka Cetiya, constructed around 210BC.

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There were some quite nicely preserved carvings and a painting of lions.

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Behind the dagoba was a set of rocks the main one had an inscription, thought to be the oldest recorded in Sri Lanka, from around 2000 years ago, dedicating the rocks and caves for the purposes of meditiation.

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We had a good grovel and clamber around the rocks, admiring the view out over the mainly flat forested areas surrounding the town. I am always amazed at how tree roots work their way down to water.

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We plodded back down the steps feeling all a bit dehydrated, before heading back up another small hill to Giribhanda Citaya. A smaller dagoba that is mostly under ruin, there was a good view down over the ruins of a small monastery at the base of the steps.

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Which I visited next.

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For our last stop we took a fifteen minute ride out to the edge of one of the large tanks in the area. A tank is basically a large reservoir and there a number of them in the area. They are mostly man made and must have been a major construction project when they were made centuries ago. The wind picked up as we got in the tuk-tuk and a sudden storm blew over the area, luckily we were not still on the hill as we would have been completely soaked. The wind was blowing the water over a small spillway.

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Which made crossing the ford a damp affair.

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We stopped on the ford for a while to watch the amazing collection of water bird life, some of my colleagues from the Africa trip would have loved it here, we saw a huge variety of bird life – and I did not photograph any of it – Ok I took a couple, but they were crap!

Our final objective was this granite bridge, thought to be the oldest bridge in the country, pre-dating the great Buddhist building work so over 2300 years old. It is in the middle of nowhere !

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I really like the tool marks in the stone.

And that was it ! back to Mihintale through a brief shower.

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And on the bus back to town. I went round to Benne’s guest house for a large and nice rice and curry dinner, my guest house does not serve food. Benne is off to the coast tomorrow which does not fit in with my plans, though we will probably catch up further down the track.

It was a good day, again!