Sri Lanka

Dubai to Colombo

We hopped an early flight yesterday morning and bid the Middle East farewell. Next stop, Colombo, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). We’ll spend 4 nights/3 days here and will plan our 2 1/2 week journey through this island nation in the Indian Ocean. We have a good first impression of Colombo. The city is very clean and green (and very humid) and the people so far are extremely friendly and happy. The traffic is chaotic and your life is in the hands of the Tuk Tuk drivers as they weave and honk and swerve through the mass of cars, motorcycles and Tuk Tuks as they all try to gain a competitive advantage in a swirl of congestion and chaos. It is actually quite fun because we haven’t seen any accidents, dented cars or maimed people wondering about. So far..

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The weather right now is unpredictable as the monsoon shifts from the South West to the North East. This will affect our planning and put some limitations on where we’ll travel but hey, what’s a little rain? We’ve had virtually no rain during our past six months of travel so a little downpour here and there won’t be a problem.

Our Tuk Tuk drivers finger nails and lazing around the city centre…

 

We forgot to mention above one quite funny observation when we arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport. Typically when you depart an airport you have to go through the Duty Free stores consisting of cosmetics, booze, cigarettes and candy before you get to your departure gate and when you arrive at an airport there generally are few if any duty-free shops. As we walked towards the final Customs declaration exit we entered a long duty free hallway selling not booze and cosmetics but washing machines, vacuum cleaners, televisions, refrigerators and other large ticket items. I suggested we should buy a new washer and dryer but unfortunately we don’t have any room in our luggage. We’ve never seen anything like this before in all of our travels.

Manning Market and Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, Colombo

Yesterday we visited Manning Market, a bustling market ripe with everything grown in Sri Lanka and is the city’s wholesale fruit and vegetable centre.

Manning Market

 

After a quick lunch we took a tuk tuk to Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple which is one of the most important temples in Colombo and is a mix of modern, Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian and Chinese architecture.

Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple

 

Colombo to Anuradhapura

Colombo to Anuradhapura

We spent a leisurely 4 hour drive heading out of Colombo travelling North near the coast through many busy towns and villages which finally thinned out to scenic forest and waterway views. We turned East and made our way to our final destination for the evening, Anauradhapura where we’ll spend the night and then head out early tomorrow to visit the World Heritage Site designated “Sacred City”.

The afternoon rain was torrential but fortunately by early evening the rain subsided and we took a tuk tuk (ha ha) to a great little Indian, Sri Lankan, Mongolian and Chinese restaurant. Food was delicious and we crashed early.

Anuradhapura to Sigiriya

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Before heading to Sigiriya we made our way to Anuradhapura, Founded in 377 BC, the Anuradhapura Kingdom was the first established Kingdom in ancient Sri Lanka and Sinhalese people. Based largely on agriculture the construction of reservoirs and canals it stands as an example of the advanced technical and engineering skills used to create them during that time.

The Sacred City of Anuradhapura

 

 

Sigiriya-Lions Rock Palace and a wet and muddy safari in Kaudulla National Park

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We got up fairly early, had a light breakfast and headed our separate ways. Joyce has a bum knee so she isn’t able to climb Lions Rock so I was dropped off by our driver and Joyce proceeded to do a tuk tuk tour around Pidurangala which is an ancient site located near Lions Rock while I proceeded to climb about 1252 steps to the top of the rock.

Pidurangala

I set out for what I was expecting to be a very challenging climb. It was hot and humid and I was already sweating like a whatever sweats a lot and a perpetual light mist of rain speckled my glasses enough that combined with my very irritating eye floaters rendered me clinically blind. The first 100 or so stairs were original stone stairs, polished smooth over a millennia, lightly dusted with sand and fine gravel and made for a size 6 foot. I did ask myself why am I doing this?  I was pooped after the first 100 or so steps but my second wind kicked in and there were 10 billion people climbing the same steps so it was a slow and easy accent and not so hard after all and worth every second.

Lions Rock Palace

After a shower and a light lunch we were picked up by our safari truck and headed out to Kaudulla NP to view the large groups of elephants that were in the area. We had a removable cover on our truck and after an initial light rain we were able to remove the cover and stand up before entering the grasslands where several herds were grazing. The elephants were beautiful, the location was so much different from Africa but…..there were at least 35, probably 60 safari trucks pursuing the same herds. In one area by the lake, 15 trucks were vying for space, many of the elephants were clearly agitated by our presence and Joyce and I said get outta here now. It was out of control and something needs to be done. We were able to get away from the crowds to some extent and were able to watch the elephants in a slightly more natural setting. And then the rain came. Big time. We were essentially driving paths in wide open grasslands with lots of mud underneath. And the mud and water didn’t take long to bog us down. We had seen enough and wanted to beat the crowds back to the gravel road and lo and behold, we got stuck. We were concerned about this naturally and nearby were a couple of other trucks but they were also stuck so our options were, no options. Long story short, we got unstuck, the rain stopped, we got back to town and had a wonderful evening.

Kaudulla National Park

 

Sigiriya to the ancient city of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa

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The World Heritage Site of Polonnaruwa is the second most ancient of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms and remains one of the best planned archaeological relic cities in the country. It was first declared the capital city in 1070.

 

Sigiriya to Kandy via the Golden Temple of Dambulla

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We departed Sigirya on the 7th for a relatively short but scenic drive. En route to Kandy we stopped at the Golden Temple of Dambulla, a World Heritage Site and the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka.

The Golden Cave Temple

The traffic in Kandy is worse and more chaotic than Colombo with narrow roads and steep hills and exacerbated by huge long line ups of every vehicle type along the sides of the roads in both directions in addition to long lines of people with a variety of glass and plastic containers all waiting to purchase fuel which was in short supply due to a recent petrol strike.

We checked into a nice hotel with a view of Kandy Lake which is situated in the city centre, relaxed a bit and then headed out to see a Buddhist ceremony at the Temple of the Tooth. This temple holds a tooth from Buddha and the site is revered by Buddhist from around the world. We watched a drum ceremony and then proceeded to wait in line for the tooth viewing. There were many people here but the tourists were greatly outnumbered by locals. The temple is only open for about 1 hour. The crowds need to be moved quickly past the tooth viewing window. A bell rings (I think), the gate opens and we proceed to shuffle barefoot towards one of the most revered body parts of Buddha. We quickly get to the viewing area and inside, manned by three men is a large donation plate which catches your eyes right away and diverts your attention from the main attraction nestled in a large ornate temple behind the men blocking the view while being continuously shuffled onward. We didn’t see the tooth.

Temple of the Tooth.

The next morning we spent several hours strolling through the Royal Botanic Gardens in Peradeniya, about 5.5 km outside of Kandy.  The garden includes more than 4,000 species of plants including orchids, spices, medicinal plants and palm trees and is spread out through an area of 147 acres. There is also a large group of flying fox estimated to number more than 24,000.

Royal Botanic Gardens

Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

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We arrived early this afternoon after an amazingly scenic drive from Kandy. The road took us up 1,500 metres into the clouds and mountainous tea country lush with plantations scattered throughout, waterfalls cascading everywhere and scenery straight out of a fantasy film.

It is a rainy day here and not much to see so we’ll relax and do pretty well nothing. This is just a stopover point for tomorrow where we’ll catch the 9:30 am train for what is supposed to be an incredible journey through the mountains to the town of Ella. There was supposed to be a train strike starting at midnight last night but fortunately it was called off as talks continued with the government and assorted unions and it looks like the petrol strike has ended so hopefully the country will get back into some normalcy.

Nuwara Elia to Ella by train

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This map is courtesy of Sri Lankan Railway

Yesterday we spent a leisurely morning updating the blog and then headed to the train station to take the scenic 2 1/2 hour ride to Ella. The scenery was breathtaking with lush forested valleys, mountain sloped tea plantations and the occasional cascading waterfall. We had booked the correct seats,”right side is the best side” on the train but as luck or something would have it our train car was the only one with the seats facing to the rear of the train so our right seats were in fact the left seats and all the right seats were taken so we missed a few “cascading waterfalls” pictures but we were ultimately treated to as good or better views on our side as the train got nearer to Ella.

After checking in to our hotel in Ella, we wandered out onto the busy streets teeming with young back packing travellers and a sprinkle of older adventurers. The main street was lined with restaurants, bars and every type of accommodation. It was a very cool town and we had a very chillin time.

 

Ella to Tissamaharama, Bundala National Park then a beach break at Marissa Beach

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We departed Ella on the 11th and before doing any driving we hiked way up into the mountains to view the surrounding area and Little Adams Peak. Adams Peak is the 5th tallest peak in Sri Lanka at 2,243 metres and is well known for the Sri Pada, “sacred footprint”, rock formation near the summit, which in Buddhist tradition is held to be the footprint of the Buddha, in Hindu tradition that of Shiva and in Islamic and Christian tradition that of Adam.

The climb was way more than we expected  especially with the heat and humidity so when we arrived back to the car we were literally drenched in sweat. VERY uncomfortable but worth the calorie burning climb. Our next stop for the evening before heading to Bundala National Park was Tissamaharama, a small town where tourists generally stay as a base for doing safaris in either Bundala or Yala National Parks. As usual the drive was very scenic and the countryside lush and green.

We were up before dawn and headed off to Bundala NP. The park is an internationally important wintering ground for migratory water birds in Sri Lanka. In 2005 the national park was designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, the fourth reserve in Sri Lanka. The park harbours more than 197 species of birds including a very large population of peacocks and is also home to a small population of resident elephants.