A Travellerspoint blog

Heaven and Ella...

A room with a view...

rain 20 °C

13th January 2011

After four days of constant heavy rain, we awoke early in the morning to a minor miracle - blue skies, something we hadn’t seen in an awful long time. We finally had a clear view of the valley and what a wondrous sight it was! We could see for miles and even Marley came up to our balcony to join in!

The view from our balcony - A Room with a View!

The view from our balcony - A Room with a View!

The waterfall across the valley

The waterfall across the valley

The lovely Marley - our new friend and playmate!

The lovely Marley - our new friend and playmate!

Keen to actually go and do something as we were getting very bored because of the weather, we had an early, delicious breakfast and decided we’d take a walk to the waterfall. Before we could do that, though, we had an errand to run in the shape of booking our first class observation car seats at Ella Railway Station for the train journey to Colombo the following morning, in readiness for our flight to Kuala Lumpur in two days time. We did, in fact, try to do this a couple of days ago but were told we could only book the tickets a maximum of two days in advance, hence our return visit. We walked the short walk to Ella station, a small, quaint place a little way away from the main road through the town. The station guards gave us a piece of paper on which they had written our seat numbers and we came away really pleased that we had managed to get these seats as the observation car is supposed to be a really nice carriage in which to travel long distances and, as the journey was to be around 6 or 7 hours, it was great to know we wouldn’t have to fight our way into a carriage and stand in the doorway for the entire journey!
Happy with our morning’s work we walked back up the hill to our guest house, grabbed our cameras and headed for the railway track that ran into the hills and past the waterfall. We set off as the sun beat down on us and the difference in temperature from the last week or so was amazing! Within minutes the sweat was pouring down us. It may as well just have been raining! The road up to the hills was still very muddy and after about 15 minutes walking the road came to an abrupt halt right beside the railway track. Listening out for the tell tale signs of an approaching train we stepped onto the tracks and set off in the direction of the cascading waters ahead. Keeping our ears open we joined a thin but steady stream of people doing the same – locals and tourists alike.

Jen gets on the right track!

Jen gets on the right track!

Stew in his track suit...

Stew in his track suit...

Mooooooove over darling!!

Mooooooove over darling!!

It was hot and sticky, which was an entirely new experience for us in Sri Lanka and as we passed houses and shacks along the way, many locals had taken the opportunity to dry their washing in the heat as clothes were laid out in bushes and hedges!

The first ones to use the brand new Bush drier...

The first ones to use the brand new Bush drier...

Small mudslides and streams were evident on the tracks too. Earlier in the week, we had been chatting to a couple in the guest house who went on a train journey from Ella and only got a little way up the tracks before they were stopped by a landslide and were told they had to make their own way back to town!
The vast majority of people here are quite friendly and will always say hello to you. Some will even go out of their way to converse with you. So it was with no real surprise that, three quarters of the way to the waterfall, a man stopped from his work (he was clearing branches) and said hello to us. We said hello back and carried on our walk. It wasn’t long before he was walking alongside us, asking us where we were going. We told him we were going to the waterfall and he invited himself along! We were a little wary and kept our wits about us but he seemed harmless enough. We let him guide us to the waterfall and he showed us some good spots to stand. Stew stood on a rock right on the edge where the water started its long drop down to the rocks below. It was amazing to stand there watching the brown, muddy waters turn white with froth and disappear from view and listen to it crash into the river at the end of its long journey down! Our impromptu guide then showed us a spot a little further down where we could get a glimpse, and take photos of, the falls in their entirety.

The raging waterfall in Ella. It had calmed down a bit here!

The raging waterfall in Ella. It had calmed down a bit here!

Standing at the top of the falls in Ella

Standing at the top of the falls in Ella

Admittedly by now we were beginning to tire of his presence and, as soon as he mentioned another good spot and something about his home, we declined the offer, gave him a little money in appreciation and went off in search of the railway track to head back ‘home’. It was still very warm and humid when we started our trek on the tracks back to base, and we stopped off now and again to gaze out at the beautiful valley and beyond, where it was only now that it showed itself because the rain and mist had completely disappeared – for the time being at least! Once back, we booked ourselves in for the Sri Lankan curry buffet once again, hit the hot shower and took the opportunity to pack in readiness for our extremely early start in the morning. At dinner our kind host, Sena, said he would order us a Tuk-Tuk for the morning to get us to the station, and would get up at 6 to make us a packed lunch for the journey! As usual the dinner was fantastic and we ate our fill and cleaned our plates before hitting the sack for an early-ish night. The journey to Negombo, via Colombo tomorrow, we knew, was going to be long and extremely boring! Thank goodness for iPods...

9th January 2011

We’re beginning to forget what a good night’s sleep is like and were up early and eager to get out of the room. We chanced the breakfast that was included in the price and went in search of the Zion View. We found it via Tuk-Tuk and luckily it was only a few minutes away. We did the right thing – it was a really nice place and the view was quite breathtaking. In the near distance we could see and hear a waterfall raging, it’s orange brown waters swollen by the almost constant deluge of rain. It looked and sounded spectacular, and the view into the valley was awesome! Luckily for us they had a room available and we agreed a price for 2 nights, including breakfast. The place looked fairly new, the rooms were spotlessly clean and each one had a hammock outside on the balcony overlooking the valley below, although if the ropes snapped while you were laying in it, you were a goner without a doubt! And, of course, there was Marley, their adorable German Shepherd whom we both fell in love with! As our constant companion, the rain, went with us, we retrieved our things from the other place and moved in to the Zion View, quite happy with our selection. Our hosts, Sena and his wife, asked if we would like to join in a traditional Sri Lankan curry buffet for dinner and thought it would be nice to give it a go.
The rain continued to come down and didn’t stop all day and we did very little but laze around in our room reading and chilling out until dinner at 7:30pm. The food was out of this world and we have both found a liking for pumpkin, and their particular pumpkin curry was absolutely delicious!
Full up and extremely contented, we ran to our room to escape the rain and went to bed, hoping against hope that the weather would be completely different in the morning, and the blue skies would return.

Posted by StewnJen 22:49 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (2)

Polonnaruwa and the ruins...

...but we're better now!!

rain 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!

7th January

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.

The Royal Palace of King Parakramabahu

The Royal Palace of King Parakramabahu

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.

The Thuparama or Image House - a sort of ancient Odeon!!

The Thuparama or Image House - a sort of ancient Odeon!!

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.

The Nissanka Latha Mandapa that housed the Tooth Relic

The Nissanka Latha Mandapa that housed the Tooth Relic

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 unusual circular relic house - Polonnaruwa

The unusual circular relic house - Polonnaruwa

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!

The mysterious Sathmahal Prasada

The mysterious Sathmahal Prasada

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!

ruins_buddha_standing.jpg5Ruins_7.jpg
The Gal Vihara Buddhas in all 3 poses

The Gal Vihara Buddhas in all 3 poses

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.

The Lotus Bath - Polonnaruwa

The Lotus Bath - Polonnaruwa

Some rowdy local residents!

Some rowdy local residents!

Its rained so much even the Monitor Lizard is going rusty...

Its rained so much even the Monitor Lizard is going rusty...

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.

Posted by StewnJen 22:35 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (3)

The Dry Zone....

...in the wet!!

rain 23 °C

6th January 2011

Up, showered and forcing our breakfasts down us at 7am, we were duly picked up by our driver at about 7:50. We thought our luck was changing weather-wise as it wasn’t raining for once! Buoyed by this, and climbing into our mini bus we headed off for the first of many interesting sights we hoped to see. We stopped off briefly on the way to take some photos of a Buddha statue that had been erected within the last 10 years, and then continued on our way to Sigiriya wincing as another stray dog plonked itself down in the middle of the road to sleep or just ambled across between the speeding cars, trucks and buses. Many of them weren’t quite quick enough and seemed to be missing legs or nursing broken ones. Some were unluckier still and didn’t manage to get out of the way at all, their broken, lifeless bodies left at the side of the road – one such unfortunate animal still had a little puppy sitting behind it waiting. It was very sad to see, but the strays are everywhere here.

Buddha statue on the way to Sigiriya

Buddha statue on the way to Sigiriya

We made it to Sigiriya just as the skies were darkening ominously and walked straight to the ticket counter, queued a little while for our tickets and decided to go to the Museum first to gain some information about the rock. It started raining almost immediately, but we made it there without getting too wet. It is only a small museum, but interesting nonetheless. It showed what the palace may have looked like in all its glory utilising models and multimedia exhibits alongside jewellery, pots and tools found around the site.
The history of this place is as fascinating as the feats of engineering involved to build it. Sigiriya is a huge rock 200 meters high on top of which used to stand an amazing Palace, built by King Kassapa in 477 AD. He was the son of King Dhatusena and had a younger half-brother, Moggallana, who was heir to the throne. Knowing he would never be King because he was the son of a royal consort, Kassapa seized the throne, imprisoned his father (and then killed him when he wouldn’t disclose the whereabouts of his treasure!) and forced Moggallana to flee to India. Moggallana vowed to return with an army and overthrow Kassapa. Seven years after seizing the throne, Kassapa had built and moved into the Palace atop the rock at Sigiriya, built for defence in preparation for his brother’s revenge. There were moats that flooded other moats, boulder catapults and an ingenious, if not slightly cruel, way of keeping the sentries awake. They were situated at lookout points designed so that, if they nodded off at any time throughout their watch, they fell to their deaths! Just looking at the remains of the palace at the top (only the low walls, pools and baths remain now) you have to wonder how much effort it must have taken just to get the building materials up there! In case you were wondering, Kassapa’s brother did return with his army and, despite having the best defences in the country, Kassapa felt invincible enough to meet his enemy on the plains. Apparently his terrified elephant turned and retreated during the battle so his own soldiers followed. Not wanting to be defeated, Kassapa drove his sword down his own throat!

Sigiriya rock

Sigiriya rock

To scare off any potential threat of attack, the Palace entrance was built in the shape of a huge lion but only the massive paws remain now. Towards the bottom of the rock is the so-called Mirror Wall, a huge, orange coloured limestone wall that, in its day, was so highly polished that it resembled a mirror and there are over 1500 pieces of prose and poetry written on it by the many ancient visitors that flocked to see it from all over the island. Some modern day idiots have also written their own graffiti on it too! Even today, 1500 years after it was built, some of the wall still reflects like glass! Above the Mirror Wall are frescoes of beautiful women painted in the pocket of an overhang. The colours are still vibrant and it is said they are completely original, although that is hard to believe! Apparently many of the poems and prose found on the Mirror Wall were written in praise of these women, as well as of the palace, the lion and the gardens. As we walked through some of the gardens toward the massive rock, we both thought the same thing – would our poor legs manage the climb up?! Feelings of déjà vu appeared as the rain got heavier as we neared the first steps! Donning our rain jackets, we started up the steps of the Terrace Garden with the Mirror Wall in sight, breaking off our path here and there to go and see meditation caves and small alcoves used by the ancient priests. More steps assaulted our battle weary legs, and after around 10 minutes we reached the bright orange Mirror Wall. The ancient writing is quite faded now, but still amazing after 1500 years. We carried on a little further and came to a spiral staircase heading up to the frescoes in the overhang. It was quite a scary climb actually, with only a small wire mesh fence, open in places, between us and a very long drop! It took a little effort to get to the top, but we made it to see the brightly painted pictures of ...ahem...well endowed women that adorned the wall up there!! No wonder most of the prose and poems found on the Mirror Wall were about these women if that’s how they walked around!! Another trip down on the Helter Skelter staircase, and we were walking alongside the rest of the Mirror Wall to some more steps that lead to the enormous paws of the regal lion that once proudly looked out over the gardens below. The paws are massive,and the lion’s head, now sadly completely disappeared, must have been terrifyingly magnificent!

The Boulder Garden at Sigiriya

The Boulder Garden at Sigiriya

The so-called Mirror Wall at Sigiriya

The so-called Mirror Wall at Sigiriya

The huge lion's paws at Sigiriya rock

The huge lion's paws at Sigiriya rock

Sigiriya_frescoes.jpg

The colourful frescoes at Sigiriya

The colourful frescoes at Sigiriya

We took a water break before starting the climb up the steps between the paws, which was the original entrance to the palace itself, and found ourselves staring straight up at a flight of metal stairs zigzagging their way across the side of the rock. As the rain came down heavier, we joined the many other people in the climb, turning sideways in places to squeeze past the ones coming down. It was quite hard work, and a lot higher than we’d expected!! But it was no Adam’s Peak thank goodness! Reaching the top our first view was of the King’s private bath. It must have been quite an amazing experience having a bath atop a huge rock looking out over the rest of the lands below. The view was incredible. Unfortunately not very much of the palace itself remains – just the foundations and low walls basically, but it doesn’t take much imagination to picture how fabulous the place must have been in its day! No wonder people flocked from all over the island (and further afield) just to take a glimpse of it. We walked around the entire Palace site before starting the climb back down.

The snaking staircase up to the palace remains on Sigiriya rock

The snaking staircase up to the palace remains on Sigiriya rock

The King's bath in the palace ruins atop Sigiriya rock. What a view he had!!

The King's bath in the palace ruins atop Sigiriya rock. What a view he had!!

The view from atop Sigiriya rock

The view from atop Sigiriya rock

The rain had eased quite a bit and was now just an annoyance as we sweated our way to the bottom of the steps, through the gardens and back to our waiting driver.
Our next stop was the Dambulla Cave Temple cut into a 160 metre rock by King Valagambahu I in the first century BC who sought refuge here when overthrown by marauding Tamils. The caves have been developed further over the centuries and under the reigns of different Kings.
The rain started once again as we made the half hour or so journey from Sigariya to Dambulla, and pulled into the car park of the Golden Temple with a huge golden Stupa in the front. Behind that was the massive building of the Buddha Museum with a facade of what appeared to be some sort of dragon face, mouth agape, showing rows of short white teeth, that held up a gigantic gold coloured sitting Buddha. To the right of the Buddha was a long line of mannequins dressed as monks making their way along the top of a huge rock to the Buddha with offerings. It started raining again....

The Golden Buddha Museum in Dambulla

The Golden Buddha Museum in Dambulla

The monk mannequins at the Golden Temple in Dambulla

The monk mannequins at the Golden Temple in Dambulla

We spied a sign pointing to the Cave Temple and turned a corner to find our worst enemy ..... another million steps!! We started the climb and found them a little tricky here and there as they were very slippery and actually disappeared in places, leaving only bare, slippery rock to get a foothold on! Halfway up were street hawkers selling t-shirts, very ancient looking brass ornaments, postcards and books, and opposite them sat a forlorn and quite uninterested snake charmer! We mentioned we’d been to India and seen plenty of them and he just looked away and sat down again! We reached the top with throbbing legs once again, and then had to perform another of our almost daily rituals – the removing of the shoes and socks! We dutifully did so and handed them to the shoe-keeper and were nearly knocked out by the smell of feet wafting out of his little cubby hole! It was quite overpowering! Now with cold, wet feet we made our way to the entrance and through the gate and out into the courtyard. It really is quite beautiful with the white building seemingly embedded in solid rock.

The entrance to the Cave Temples at Dambulla

The entrance to the Cave Temples at Dambulla

There are five caves in the complex – the first cave is the Temple of the Lord of the Gods (Devaraja Viharaya) containing a 46 foot long sleeping Buddha, carved in one piece from the rock! Jen was particularly taken with his colourful feet and made sure she checked the feet on every single reclining Buddha she came across from that point on!!

Huge reclining Buddha at the Cave Temple, Dambulla

Huge reclining Buddha at the Cave Temple, Dambulla

The colourful feet of the reclining Buddha at the Cave Temple in Dambulla

The colourful feet of the reclining Buddha at the Cave Temple in Dambulla

The second cave is the Temple of Great Kings and is enormous – 160 feet long! It houses many Buddha statues and one of the King who created the caves.
The third cave, the Great New Temple (Maha Alut Viharaya) built by one of the last Kandyan Kings, Kirti Sri Rajasinha, contains a meditating Buddha surrounded by fifty other Buddhas!
The fourth cave called Pacchima Viharaya has a number of lovely Buddha statues lining the walls, and a small Stupa in the middle which, legend had it, contained the jewels of Queen Somawathie. Apparently it was just legend as thieves managed to open it and there was nothing inside!
The final cave is the newest of the caves and is called, imaginatively, Second New Temple! This one contains another reclining Buddha who is surrounded by 5 smaller statues but these are different in that they are made of brick and plaster unlike the others that are carved from stone.

The King had to get in on the act!! Cave Temple, Dambulla

The King had to get in on the act!! Cave Temple, Dambulla

The beautifully decorated head of a reclining Buddha in Dambulla

The beautifully decorated head of a reclining Buddha in Dambulla

A row of sitting Buddhas in the Cave Temples, Dambulla

A row of sitting Buddhas in the Cave Temples, Dambulla

A row of standing Buddhas! Wish he'd make his mind up!! The Cave Temple, Dambulla

A row of standing Buddhas! Wish he'd make his mind up!! The Cave Temple, Dambulla

As time was pushing on, and we were all Buddha’d out, we decided to give the Dambulla Museum a miss (apparently there isn’t much in it anyway!) and opted for a return to our guest house! Once back ‘home’ at around 5pm we ordered our evening meals and headed off to our room to flick through the photos we’d taken during the day, before jumping in the lukewarm shower before our dinner at 7pm. At dinner we were joined by 2 other guests and chatted about what we had all got up to during the day and what we were all planning to do the following morning. We had decided to visit the ancient city of Polonnaruwa which was very close by but were warned that it is spread over a vast area and we would be better off with some form of vehicle to get us around. The hiring of bicycles was mentioned but we weren’t yet that desperate! We opted to sleep on that dilemma until morning!

5th January 2011

After an entire day of relentless, annoying, soul destroying rain yesterday where we were stuck inside until the evening (when we revisited Pizza Hut!), we were packing up and moving out and on to Polonnaruwa today. We had got chatting to a German biologist (mostly a one way conversation it must be said!) in our guest house, who told us he had arrived in Kandy from what is called the “Cultural Triangle” of which Polonnaruwa is a part, and he had experienced 12 days of non-stop rain while he was there! It is known as the dry zone....! Undeterred and glad to be leaving wet, grey Kandy, our pre-booked Tuk-Tuk arrived at 10am to take us to the Good Sheds bus station where we were kindly shown to the correct bus. We stowed our rucksacks in the boot and grabbed a seat. We sat there for the next 20 minutes absolutely dumbfounded as wave after wave of salesmen came on board offering things for sale. The only person missing was a used car salesman! It was amazing – items for sale included pastries, savouries, sweets, Bombay mix, drinks, necklaces, lottery tickets, lighters, the most awful sunglasses you’ve ever seen, batteries, watches, keyrings and penknives .... it was hilarious! They entered the front doors and disappeared out of the back. It was like a catwalk for crap! Each wave was funnier than the last – and then it was the turn of the beggars...
The bus finally pulled away, the last of the street boys and beggars having finished their tours, and we settled into our 4 hour journey just watching the streets, villages and fields whistle past as another of the ex-racing driver busmen overtook all and sundry on the busy roads with hand on horn and pedal to the metal!
Pulling into Polonnaruwa, we got off the bus and grabbed another Tuk-Tuk for the short ride to the Devi Tourist Home, our next place of rest (also recommended by our German biologist friend) for the next three nights. As we walked through and were greeted by the very bubbly and friendly owners it started to rain! We were shown to our cute little room and ordered our curry dinner for later. While sitting and enjoying a cup of tea we were informed of the various tours and things the owners could organise for us. Knowing it had been raining forever, we opted for a driver to take us around the following day to all the usual sights. So we booked an early breakfast for 7am had our nice curries for dinner with a couple of the other guests and flopped into our beds looking forward to our adventures in the morning.

Posted by StewnJen 19:02 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (5)

Kandy - good for the Tooth...

Bad for the teeth!

overcast 24 °C

3rd January 2011

A less painful night’s sleep last night for Stew, and we were up and down for breakfast bright and late! We had plenty of time to kill before Stew’s dental appointment, so, with teeth in mind, we set our sights upon the Temple Of The Tooth (Dalada Maligawa) which houses Buddhism’s most sacred object – a tooth said to belong to Buddha himself. It is heavily protected because of what it represents not only to Buddhists, but also because of its political importance as, traditionally, whoever had possession of the relic was believed to have the right to rule the island. In 1998, however, Tamil Tigers detonated a huge bomb in front of the entrance and reduced much of its facade to rubble. The damage to the building was extensive and is all documented on one floor of the accompanying museum inside the temple complex itself. Getting in the temple you are subjected to 2 frisks and 2 bag searches before you have to remove your shoes and socks prior to stepping onto the moonstone and into the building. We walked up a small flight of steps and into a courtyard in which a large multi-storeyed and multi-roofed room – the upper roof being gold coloured, marking where the tooth relic itself is kept. We walked to the back of this room, and found ourselves in the New Shrine Room in which a large Buddha statue sits at one end and the history of the tooth relic is explained in large, colourful paintings all around the shrine. We decided we couldn’t wait to see the golden room in which the relic casket is kept, so went looking for it. To our dismay, we were there at the wrong time as the doors are only opened 3 times during the day and the next opening was to be at 6:30pm! But as Stew had a tooth appointment of his own to keep, we knew it wasn’t going to be possible to get to see it today. We were both really disappointed, but carried on walking round the rest of the building and found the museum, which told the story of the ’98 bomb blast in photographs, and housed lots of items such as pots, coins, jewellery, reliquaries and even some of the King’s clothes – all connected in some way or another to the worship and protection of the tooth relic. In another part of the Temple, a room houses the stuffed elephant that carried the Tooth Relic on his back. Known has the Maligawa Tusker, he was the principle elephant in the Esala Perahera, the great festival held for 10 days in July celebrating the revered Tooth Relic. He is a huge elephant and became almost as famous and revered as the relic itself and was designated a National Treasure in 1984. When he died in 1988 it was decided that he should be stuffed and housed in his own little room in the Temple.

Front entrance to the Temple of the Tooth - the arch to the left is where the 1998 bomb detonated

Front entrance to the Temple of the Tooth - the arch to the left is where the 1998 bomb detonated

Inner courtyard of the Temple of the Tooth

Inner courtyard of the Temple of the Tooth

The Temple of the Tooth New Shrine Room

The Temple of the Tooth New Shrine Room

Inside the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of theTooth)

Inside the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of theTooth)

View of the Temple of the Tooth from the Tusker House

View of the Temple of the Tooth from the Tusker House

The stuffed Maligawan Tusker

The stuffed Maligawan Tusker

By now our bellies were empty and complaining so we decided we had just enough time to devour a Pizza Hut pizza before heading back to base, putting our stuff back, cleaning Stew’s own tooth relics, and finding a Tuk-Tuk to take us to the hospital.
The hospital system is strange. You walk in and have to go through a channelling process for which you have to pay for. If you’re foreign, you seem to have to pay twice as much as anyone else... We waited ages to be told Stew needed an X-Ray so it was back to the channelling desk again, and they tried unsuccessfully to charge double the normal rate for this service! One unsuccessful and one successful x-ray later the surgeon told Stew the problem was in a different tooth and it would cost 45000 Rupees (around £250) to put right. Stew thought the idea of antibiotics and painkillers was altogether a much better option!
Fully drugged up, we hailed a Tuk-Tuk back to the guest house. The whole episode had taken us about 3 hours and we had missed the opening of the tooth relic shrine. Dejected, we made our way back to the guest house and opted to skip dinner as we were still full from our Pizzas earlier in the day and retired to read and plan for more of our visit in Sri Lanka.

2nd January 2011

What started as just a little nagging ache in Stew’s tooth had blossomed overnight into a full scale toothache. Armed and plied with painkillers we were determined to go and see some sights despite it, and asked Indra at breakfast if there was a dentist around that we could visit. She explained that most of the dentists were really denture engineers, and we would be better off going to the hospital to see the Dental Surgeon there. She very kindly phoned to make an appointment, and told us we would need to be there at 4pm on Monday.
We had decided to go and see the Perediniya Botanical Gardens on the outskirts of Kandy which is said (by some) to house the largest tree in the world – a Javan fig tree which covers an impressive 1,600 square meters!
We grabbed a Tuk-Tuk for the journey and as we got there the heavens opened. That set the tone for our entire visit! The gardens themselves were beautifully kept and groomed, with huge avenues of palm trees joining various parts of the gardens including a herb garden, a massive garden of different varieties of bamboo from all over the world, a large lake with lilies, lawns aplenty and a stunning area of trees and brightly coloured flowers mixed together in rows and patterns. It really was a beautiful place, but the weather needed to be much better to fully see the beauty of the park.

The Lake in the Peredeniya Botanical Gardens

The Lake in the Peredeniya Botanical Gardens

Across the Peredeniya Botanical Gardens

Across the Peredeniya Botanical Gardens

A cone tree!

A cone tree!

It's a bug's life !!

It's a bug's life !!

One of the Palm Avenues in the Peredeniya Botanical Gardens

One of the Palm Avenues in the Peredeniya Botanical Gardens

A perfectly unkempt bamboo forest in the Peredeniya Botanical Gardens!!

A perfectly unkempt bamboo forest in the Peredeniya Botanical Gardens!!

You wanna piece of me?!

You wanna piece of me?!

It is a huge place and it seemed to be extremely popular with young, courting Sri Lankan couples! Every little alcove or private little place was occupied with them! They were under almost every tree! We just wanted to get out of the rain and felt a little awkward when we interrupted an embrace here and there! So we decided the best thing to do was to head for the cafeteria and by the time we reached it the rain was hammering down. It would have been rude not to eat (!) so we ordered their curry special (which turned out to be nothing special at all!) and waited for the rain to ease before venturing back into the park. The rain continued relentlessly and we decided enough was enough. Finding our way to the exit was a little like finding your way out of a maze but we made it back and thankfully there were Tuk-Tuks waiting outside. Grabbing one, we headed back to the comfort and relative dryness of our guest house! Unfortunately the rain didn’t stop so we used the time to plan a little more of the trip, send some emails and read the guide book before our bellies complained about the lack of food inside them and we decided to brave the drizzle, walk down to Kandy centre and find somewhere to eat. Being the Philistines that we are, we didn’t make it past Pizza Hut! Our evening ended after a walk around a “shopping centre” that was more akin to a car boot sale than anything else, bagging some unhealthy supplies for our room and bartering with yet another rickshaw driver to take us “home”.

31st December 2010

After our experiences, toils and travels of the last few days, we slept in and skipped breakfast in order to rest our weary limbs and muscles. When we finally surfaced at around midday, and realised the extent our leg muscles had seized up, we decided to take a slow, gentle stroll down to Kandy city centre and have a walk around the famous lake, built by the last Sinhalese King in 1807. Admittedly, we expected a lake with a beautiful view in the middle of a quiet, picturesque forest surrounded by trees, but it was in the middle of the town! It was still pretty though, with a small island in the middle that was used by the King for his harem, and later by the British as an armoury. Running alongside the lake is the revered Temple of the Tooth, said to hold a tooth taken from the funerary pyre of Buddha. It is a sacred relic here, and its history has been documented for many centuries as it has been stolen by marauding armies, taken back again and moved around to various points all over Sri Lanka. The Temple itself is absolutely beautiful and we made a mental note to make sure we went in there before our visit to Kandy was over. As we continued around the lake, we snapped some photos of various animals we encountered around its perimeter including a beautiful blue and red Kingfisher, some small Cormorant-like birds drying their wings in the cool breeze, a large Water Monitor and a huge Stork resting in a tree!

View across Kandy lake

View across Kandy lake

Colourful Kingfisher by Kandy lake

Colourful Kingfisher by Kandy lake

Small Cormorants spy their dinner on Kandy lake

Small Cormorants spy their dinner on Kandy lake

Stork up in a tree !!

Stork up in a tree !!

Temple of the Tooth at night across Kandy lake

Temple of the Tooth at night across Kandy lake

At the north end of the lake, a man approached us and asked if we would like to attend a performance of traditional Kandyan dancing that evening, from 17:30 to 18:30. We told him we’d think about it and carried on our stroll, where Jen befriended a small, cute puppy who was foraging around for food. Everywhere you go here there are stray dogs and puppies walking around, sometimes in small packs, all searching for food. Jen couldn’t resist a cuddle, and she soon regretted it as the dog reeked something awful and when it jumped up at her with its little tail wagging it left trails of mud (we think it was mud anyway!) down both her arms! Now walking like Boris Karloff in the original Mummy films, with her hands held in front of her because of the smell, we decided we needed to find somewhere to wash them – and quick! With our new friend in tow, we started walking back the way we’d come heading for the Pizza Hut we’d spied on our way to the lake! Our little friend soon gave up following us as we had nothing to give him and trotted off to sniff another patch of vegetation to see if it was edible. To add insult to injury, as we trudged back, Jen received a gift from above, as she always seems to manage to do, in the form of a large green and brown splat on the front of her nice clean, white t-shirt and in her hair! That made 3 direct hits in 3 different countries so far! We looked up to see a tree completely full of birds and quickened our pace so we didn’t receive an encore! That was when we noticed the path back was tree lined the whole way, and each tree had its own band of inhabitants sitting in it! Some of these were large, noisy, squabbling bats and the last thing we wanted on our heads was their stinking guano! Anyway, we made it to Pizza Hut unscathed, and by this time, Jen’s white t-shirt smelled as bad as it looked and she headed straight for the toilet to wash the offending muck off. She emerged some while later with her shirt on back to front, and a large wet patch on the back.
Pizzas ordered, eaten and paid for, we started walking in the opposite direction round the lake, and made it to the plush and expensive Queen’s Hotel when we decided we would indeed like to go and watch the traditional Kandyan dancing show. We had fifteen minutes to spare. A man spotted us and came over and asked us where we were from. This is not unusual in itself, as lots of people say hello and ask you questions. Our immediate reaction was one of “what does he want to sell us” and he asked us if we were going to see the dancing. We said we were and he started walking with us, explaining to us that he was on his way home and that he was one of the chefs in the Queen’s Hotel. Admittedly we felt a little uncomfortable at being taken somewhere by a complete stranger, and he kept telling us to follow him and beckoning to us once we’d reached where the dancing was taking place. He pushed through the milling crowd, with us still in tow, sorted our tickets out for us, took my money off me and paid for them, smiled a huge smile, shook our hands, wished us an enjoyable time, and disappeared back into the crowd! It was such a nice, honest gesture and so completely out of the blue, that we felt guilty for having doubted his intentions! We picked our seats and sat down but were beckoned by another man who waved to us to follow him, and he found us some good seats much nearer the front of the stage!
The performance itself was really enjoyable. The costumes were really colourful, the drums loud and fast and the dances themselves either slow and graceful, or aggressive and acrobatic. At one stage there were 3 dancers kneeling and spinning plates on their fingers and on pointed multi-coloured sticks that they held in their hands and mouths. Other dancers back-flipped and somersaulted their way across the stage. The final act consisted of 2 fire-eaters running flaming torches across their bodies and tongues before ‘swallowing’ the flames then walking across a bed of hot coals in bare feet. It really was extremely impressive and fun to watch!

The colourful costumes of the female Kandyan Dancers

The colourful costumes of the female Kandyan Dancers

The gorgeous Kandyan dance costumes

The gorgeous Kandyan dance costumes

A couple of traditional Kandyan Dance masks

A couple of traditional Kandyan Dance masks

Curries for tables 5, 6, 7 and 8 !!

Curries for tables 5, 6, 7 and 8 !!

The hottest curry wasn't enough....

The hottest curry wasn't enough....

We made our way outside when the performance had finished and it was completely black.We looked around in some of the many shops for a while and then decided we had had enough so headed back to our guest house. We hit the Internet for a while, sending our Happy New Year messages to family and friends and before we knew it midnight was approaching and the TV in our little guest house started the short countdown to welcome in 2011. We walked around the house shaking hands with the owner and other guests wishing them all a happy new year and at that point there were lots of loud explosions as all the neighbouring homes started letting off fireworks in celebration. We all made our way up to the upper floor balcony in the hope of seeing the colourful spectacle but unfortunately as we were in a valley full of high trees we spotted none of the action. Soon after we headed back to our room for some much needed sleep. All in all, seeing in the new year here was not at all what we are used to and it all slipped by pretty much unnoticed!

Posted by StewnJen 10:09 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (7)

At the Peak...

...but not of fitness!!

rain 22 °C

30th December 2010

We hate that alarm noise, and it couldn’t have been at a worse time than one in the morning! Bleary eyed and full of trepidation we got dressed and very quietly climbed the stairs into the eerily dark, silent reception of the guest house. The front door was locked and there wasn’t another soul awake so we let ourselves out as quietly as we could and walked out into the road – and into the rain! The Peak itself towered over everything and was completely shrouded in low cloud, an eerie orange glow shining through the watery mist. It was a daunting prospect climbing it and we were both worried about Jen’s current state! The way through the small village was lit, and, surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly!!), some of the stores were open, selling everything from water to the most hideous cuddly toys you’ve ever seen! The rain continued to accompany us like an unwelcome street vendor as we kept walking along the dimly lit pathway. The climb itself started properly once we had reached the Dragon’s Gate, erected in celebration of the lighting of the way up the Peak by the Sri Lankan Electricity Company in the 1970’s.

There are 3 steps to heaven.... we obviously went the wrong way !!

There are 3 steps to heaven.... we obviously went the wrong way !!

From then on it became extremely hard work. The steps became higher, the space between them shorter, and they became steeper and steeper until they were almost a flight of vertical stairs! We kept stopping for short breaks which got more frequent and longer the higher we climbed! The more we glanced skyward the further away the peak seemed to be! We heard some cries and chants behind us and looked back to find a group of holy women who were climbing the steps also, singing in prayer we presumed, as they went. The oldest amongst them must have been in her seventies and was being helped up by a young man. She was barefoot and very frail. After seeing her, we thought we really must make it to the top! The number of old people making the pilgrimage in bare feet and thin clothing amazed us. Our legs ached and our spirits lurched with every step but we pressed on regardless as the rain relentlessly dripped on our heads, and the sweat poured down our backs.
As we neared the top it was almost light, and we knew that the sunrise wasn’t very far away, so we pushed ourselves a little harder to make sure we didn’t miss the sunrise. We needn’t have bothered. After more than 4 hours of climbing, we were finally there! The relief was immense, but short lived! Crammed at the top in every available space were hundreds of people waiting for the same thing – the amazing sunrise. The rain pounded down, the ice cold winds ripped through everyone. Young boys in nothing but flimsy t-shirts waited, in vain, for a glimpse of the orange and pink sky, shivering uncontrollably as they huddled together like Penguins trying to stave off the cold winds. Others, including us, waited with cameras poised to snap the moment the sun broke the horizon and turned the hills to gold. That moment never came! The rain fell harder, the wind blew colder and as the sun came up unseen behind lead-grey clouds, we never saw a single beam of it! Even the view was a disappointment because of the low clouds – the sky remained metallic grey, making everything dark and dour and we looked down upon the same coloured clouds covering the hills below us.

The grey view from atop Adam's Peak. This was sunrise !!

The grey view from atop Adam's Peak. This was sunrise !!

We ached all over. We ached for our beds too! And the soul destroying thought hit us like a hammer – we still had to go down! Every step we had just endured had to be retraced. To cap it all, in the freezing cold and wet of the summit, we had to take our shoes and socks off to go and see the Buddha statue!
We decided that, because we were getting on a train at 2pm we couldn’t delay our return any longer. It was 6:40am when we began our descent and it was every bit as hard on our legs as coming up. Although our pace was faster coming down, our knees, ankles and thighs took a heavy pounding and were soon shaking and quivering with every downward step. At some points the steps were so deep that we had to take them sideways on because our thighs just couldn’t take the punishment! Young kids ran past us on the way down, making us feel even older – and some of them were smoking!
After a long struggle with the steps, the rain and our weakening bodies, the steps flattened out and opened up to what we missed earlier because of the dark. Trees of every size and colour grew up the hill opposite us, on the far side of a small stream. Trees of light and emerald green, differing hues of reds and yellows. It really was quite stunning. If the sun had been out and shining on them, you’d swear this was where every rainbow begins! A little further along was a reclining Buddha statue that made us extremely envious!
We trudged on, knowing that not too far up the road was our bed. The rain was heavier than ever now, and we were grateful we’d had the forethought to take our ski jackets, but we were also wet on the inside with the sweat still dripping down us. When we reached the Dragon Gate, we knew we were on the last leg of the journey and the sense of relief was enormous!

The beautiful coloured trees on the way down Adam's Peak

The beautiful coloured trees on the way down Adam's Peak

The Reclining Buddha at the foot of Adam's Peak

The Reclining Buddha at the foot of Adam's Peak

The Dragon Gate - the start of the lit pathway to Heaven (and your own personal Hell !) shot on the way down

The Dragon Gate - the start of the lit pathway to Heaven (and your own personal Hell !) shot on the way down

Our legs ached and complained at every single step. After a climb down of around 3 hours we were back at the Slightly Chilled, feeling Slightly Dead! To add insult to an ever growing list of injuries, we had a flight of stairs to climb down to our room! After literally collapsing on our beds, we realised we only had an hour of recuperation time before we had to check out, catch the bus and get to Hatton station for our Kandy train! The hour disappeared in 5 minutes flat, and we showered, dressed, packed and hauled our weary, aching selves up the stairs and checked out. We had an hour and a half before our train was due to depart, so we got on a Tuk-Tuk (there was no bus at the bus station!) and hoped he’d get us there in time. We knew it was going to be close, but he got us there with 15 minutes to spare. Stew left Jen with the luggage while he went and got the tickets – and found out the train was delayed for over an hour and a half! It wasn’t due in until 3:30pm. It took the ticket counter forever to open, and in the meantime we were ‘entertained’ by a snake charmer who had a huge, less than impressed, King Cobra in a basket. We both got so fed up with listening to the ‘music’ that even we wanted to bite the charmer! We eventually got our tickets and headed over the platform (yet another huge flight of stairs!) fully laden and waited for our train to arrive. We started chatting to a policeman who was also going to Kandy, which actually came in handy later on!
Sure enough, at 3:30pm, our train clunked into view and the mad dash was on again. It was like a Le Mans start. As soon as the train started slowing down, people were up and running for the doors. With all our luggage, we didn’t stand a chance and, sure enough, we didn’t get a seat. But this actually turned out to be a stroke of luck because we sat on the steps of the open door and were treated to the best train journey of our lives!! It was just fantastic literally hanging out of the open door watching this incredible landscape come towards us and slip past! Everywhere we looked a different scene played out. People waved to us from the trackside, houses perched just metres away from the tracks, gorgeous valleys of rice fields, tea plantations high on the hills. The vistas were endless and incredible. It was over way too soon, and we were pulling in to Peredinya Junction, and our Policeman friend tapped Stew on the shoulder and kindly informed us that we needed to change trains at this station. If he hadn’t told us that, goodness knows where we’d by right now! We had no idea, as nobody at Hatton told us we needed to change anywhere! Almost immediately, as the sun started going down, our train rolled in and it was one stop to Kandy. It was quite dark by the time we walked out of the exit and into the frantic arms of Taxi touts and Tuk Tuk drivers, and we managed to barter a good price for a mini bus to take us to the Forest Glen guest house, our new home for the next 6 days. We had decided to use this time to chill out and relax a little whilst taking in the sights at our own, snail-like pace! We listened to the stories our taxi driver was telling us in his broken, heavily accented English about how some guest house owners deliberately overbook their rooms and when you get there, you have no room. We had been warned about Taxi drivers and touts doing this, because they want to take you to a guest house or hotel where they get commission for bring new guests! So it is really hard on the small guest houses when touts are spreading lies and rumours about them! Because we knew about theses scams, we just nodded in the right places and told him to keep driving! When we arrived, we were welcomed by the lovely owner, Indra, and we did indeed have a room! She made us the most delicious cheese toastie, and we ate hungrily before collapsing our exhausted and battered bodies onto our bed.

Posted by StewnJen 21:58 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (3)

(Entries 31 - 35 of 60) « Page .. 2 3 4 5 6 [7] 8 9 10 11 12 .. »