...but we're better now!!
07.01.2011 - 09.01.2011 23 °C
8th January 2011
After a breakfast of just toast and coffee (we just couldn’t face another egg!) we gathered everything up and waited for our Tuk-Tuk driver to arrive. We had decided to get to the bus station early just in case there were any problems and arrived there at around 10:30am. According to our hosts we could catch a direct bus to Badulla and jump on another bus from there to Ella, a short distance away. At the bus station, however, we were told the Badulla bus wasn’t due to leave until 12:30pm but there was another bus about to leave that would reach another town where we would need to change buses to get to Badulla. Rather than sit around a smelly, smog filled bus station we decided to get on the bus that was there and take our chances! Our Tuk-Tuk driver was really good and spoke to the bus driver, telling him to look after us and tell us where to change. After the usual raft of salesmen had walked their walk we pulled away and settled into what we were reliably informed by our guest house hosts was a three and a half hour journey.
3 buses and 6 hours later we were being dropped off in Ella, outside the imaginatively named Nescoffee Bar! Just as we stepped off the bus the heavens opened and we quickly dived into the bar to escape the downpour. A woman smiled and waved to us as we walked in and we all soon started chatting. Her husband was up at the bar showing the barman how to make a Mojito! She told us about some guest houses in the area and that we should definitely take a look at the Zion View Guest House. They had been up there but it was fully booked at the time. We had already booked 4 nights somewhere else, although our reservation had not been confirmed as we had only booked it online late the night before. We chatted some more and we told them what we were doing and where we were going, and they ended up asking for our blog address so that they could keep tabs on our journey! They were a really nice couple and it was unfortunate that they were going somewhere else the next day and left shortly after as they had dinner reservations at a nice hotel restaurant somewhere. As there was free WiFi in the bar, we took the opportunity to look at the Zion View online and found that there were no rooms available for that night, but it looked like a really nice place to stay with some fantastic views of the valley and surrounding hills. We made a mental note to try it again the next day. We drained our glasses and, once the rain had subsided, went outside to find a Tuk-Tuk driver to take us to our guest house, not knowing where it was or whether or not we even had a reservation! It wasn’t very far away thankfully and as the rain continued to fall, albeit much lighter, Stew ran up the thousand steps to the guest house reception (the kitchen!) and asked if there was a room available. Thankfully there was and we were shown to this grubby room with the most disgusting bathroom we’d ever seen! We made up our minds there and then that this would be the only night we’d be staying! We had dinner in the restaurant – a less than ok curry – and made friends with their pet dog - a Dachshund that took a dislike to the cat that roamed around the house and chased it at every opportunity!
We went to bed as the heavy rain returned and found it difficult to sleep in the shabby room but looked forward to seeing the view that would lift our spirits in the morning!
We opted for a slightly later breakfast this morning after our long day of travelling around yesterday and sat outside at the dining table, waiting for the daily question of “how would you like your eggs”?!! We’ve eaten so many eggs we’ve started to cluck! We chatted with the other guests while we ate our scrambled eggs and toast, and, as we were doing the ancient city ruins, they recommended we visit the Polonnaruwa museum first to get an idea of how the 11th century city was laid out and what buildings were used for what purposes. We turned down the chance to ride bicycles around, and chose to walk to the museum as we knew it wasn’t too far away.
We set off at around 9am and waved away a number of Tuk-Tuk and taxi drivers wanting to take us to the museum – even when it was only 2 minutes away! They are extremely persistent but friendly enough and it doesn’t take too much of an effort to send them on their way!
We made it to the museum and were glad we had decided to visit here first as it gave a very good overview of what we were about to see. We had to purchase a guide book, though, so that we could find out where everything was located as we had planned to wander around on foot. So, book in hand, we walked out of the museum, opened our guide book – and were immediately lost! We had come out of a different side of the museum and couldn’t even find the entrance again! After a few minutes of wandering aimlessly we found a huge board with a “You are here”! arrow on it, and we soon found where we had come in, so started walking back down the path towards the main road. A little way up ahead sat a couple of Tuk-Tuks and we knew what was going to happen! Suddenly, one pulled up alongside us and the driver asked where we were going and offered his services to drive us around all the sites, incredulous that we were going to see them on foot. We started bartering with him, not budging from our low starting point and he soon got fed up with us and disappeared up the road. When we reached the waiting Tuk-Tuks we got the same thing and started bartering with one driver, starting at 500 Rupees (less than £3) for the whole day, expecting him to laugh and go away. But, to our astonishment, he agreed! We were well pleased with that, so jumped inside his little vehicle and away we went! Our first stop was only a short drive away and, as we hopped out of the Tuk-Tuk the heavens opened once again. We dived into our bag for our funky rain jackets and quickly put them on before we were soaked to the skin!
The first ruin we came to was the Royal Palace of King Parakramabahu which, it is chronicled, was seven storeys high and had a thousand rooms! Now only the remains of three storeys and fifty-five rooms can be seen.
Another of the amazing buildings here is the Thuparama, or image house, which housed a gem-encrusted Buddha statue and when the sun’s rays shone through the hole in the roof, they hit the gems on the Buddha and lit up the shrine inside! Unfortunately, the Buddha statue was completely destroyed in one of the many invasions that befell this city.
Further on was the Nissanka Latha Mandapa, built by King Nissankamalla, which was another home for the sacred Tooth Relic that currently resides in the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) in Kandy.
There is also a circular relic house which is quite special because, at that time, there were not many circular houses built. It contained four seated Buddha statues, one at each entrance.
The Sathmahal Prasada is a bit of a mystery to historians, apparently, and it is suggested that as it has a counterpart in Cambodia, it may have been built for the religious needs of the Cambodian contingent of Polonnaruwa’s army of that period. We just thought it looked really nice!
There are three Buddha statues called the Gal Vihara, carved directly into a rock face 180 feet long by 30 feet high, all depicting Lord Buddha in different poses. Quite amazing bit of sculpting it must be said! Walking back to our driver we took a wrong turn and ended up walking around a small lake. We passed a gate and were half-heartedly chased by a small dog who didn’t stop barking and howling until we’d almost reached the top of the lake! He must have been very proud of himself!
Last, but not least, we stumbled upon the Lotus Bath - the most gorgeous bath we’ve ever seen! Apparently used the monks in the monasteries that were in the city, there are a number of these around that have not yet been conserved for some reason.
These are only a small handful of photos we took around the massive area covered by this ancient city. There was so much to see and it took the entire day almost to cover the site.
Fascinated but worn out (and more than a little peckish!) we cried enough and asked our dedicated and loyal driver to take us back to the place he picked us up as we needed to get money from the ATM. We gave him a tip as he’d been so good, and we started our short walk back as we wanted to pop into the local internet cafe (as our Guest House wanted to charge too much to use the Internet!). As we neared it, Jen trod in some cow poo and spent the entire walk back trying to scrape it off her boots! To make matters worse the Internet cafe was shut for 3 days and to add insult to injury the heavens opened once again for the umpteenth time and gave us another soaking!
Finally arriving back at our base – wet, tired, thirsty and hungry - we ordered our evening meal and headed straight for the shower.
We were originally staying here for 4 nights and still had one more stop to make in the Cultural Triangle – Anuradhapura – but decided that, due to the distance involved, the reports coming in of landslides and floods everywhere, we decided to forego that part of the circuit and head for pastures new. We opened our map of Sri Lanka and thought long and hard about where to go next. We both wanted to visit the south and Galle in particular, but it was a very long train ride and wouldn’t warrant the distance as would be heading back to Colombo in 6 days time. So we opted for the hills once again, and picked Ella as it looked so wonderful in our book.
Showered, refreshed (but still weary!) we ate our hearty dinner of egg and tomato sandwiches and a plate of chips each and got some information from our hosts regarding the bus times and which ones to take to get us to Ella. Armed with all the information we needed we packed all our stuff once again and hit the sack in readiness for the long, long bus journey that awaited us in the morning.