Sri Lanka 5th day - Dambulla to Kandy - Thu 12 Jan 2017

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January 12th 2017
Published: March 1st 2017
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At 5 am we were awakened by the sound of chanting booming from loudspeakers. It was the full moon and a religious holiday. Although the local town authority had agreed not to broadcast early morning prayers, today was a religious holiday so the prayers were broadcast!

We set off at about 9 am for Kandy via Dambulla. The roads are really narrow and when we arrived in the centre of towns we realised that there are no traffic lights! At major junctions it’s a case of “he who dares wins”. However, there is a degree of politeness in that car drivers do let in other drivers. Israeli drivers could learn a lot from them, not least regarding the use of indicators. We passed a place where people were lining up to get their drivers’ licences so people do learn to drive here!

Our first stop was Dambulla for an amazing experience. Dambulla Caves Temple is also known as a World Heritage Site called the Golden Temple of Dambulla. It consists of five temples, in 5 adjoining caves, with a total of 153 statues of Buddha and three statues of kings. We had a choice of walking up a very steep cobbled path to the caves or climbing the steps. We walked up the path which I found quite daunting! As we walked into the complex we bumped into a large group of Israeli tourists!

Basil told us about Buddhist temples. There are five main designs - the bell shape, the pyramid, the pagoda, the water bubble and the clay pot.

The cave complex dates back to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE. Valagamba of Anuradhapura is traditionally thought to have converted the caves into a temple in the first century BCE. Exiled from Anuradhapura, he sought refuge here from South Indian usurpers for 15 years. After reclaiming his capital, the King built a temple in thankful worship. Many other kings added to it later and by the 11th century, the caves had become a major religious centre and still are - in fact a ceremony started just as we were leaving the area. Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa gilded the caves and added about 70 Buddha statues in 1190. During the 18th century, the caves were restored and painted by the Kingdom of Kandy. In the courtyard is a bodhi tree and it is said that when Buddha came to Sri Lanka the first time he sat under that tree and meditated and came to enlightenment.

We entered the first cave (the Cave of the Divine King) and found a 14m statue of Buddha lying prone in the dead position. How do we know that this is the dead position? He was lying on his right side with his right hand under his head. His right knee is slightly ahead of his left knee and his right foot is slightly in front of his left foot. The statue was carved from one piece of stone. At his feet is a statue of his favourite pupil Ananda and at his head Vishnu.

The second cave (the Cave of the Great Kings) has a 14th Century statue of Buddha plus a further 55 statues. The cave is ginormous and can hold about 5,000 people. The paintings on the ceiling are of Buddha. There are 57 statues of Buddha in this cave. Buddha is accompanied by three kings. There is also a spring which drips into the cave and it is believed that this spring has healing powers.

The third cave (the Great New Monastery) has 53 statues of the Buddha and a statue of the king Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747 - 1782). The statue is of wood covered in plaster.

Cave four is a smaller 'testing tunnel' for the king to escape should he be attacked. There are 21 statues in this cave. There is also a depository where the queen stored all of her jewellery. This has been ransacked and the jewellery stolen.

We were rushed through Cave 5 which was decorated in the Kandy style and is not so pretty as the faces were presented as demons which is a Hindu influence because, according to Basil, the Hindus are scared of their gods. There are only 11 statues in this cave.

Because it was the festival of the full moon we were rushed out as there was to be a religious ceremony. With that the big bell was rung to indicate that the festival was about to start.

On our drive from Dambulla Caves to our next stop we passed the sign for Adahana Maluwa - the Royal Cremation Grounds.


From Dambulla we went to Luckgrove Spice Garden for a visit around the garden. We were taken around by Victor, a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide. He not only showed us the different varieties of trees but also described their healing powers. We looked and touched and smelled and in some cases tasted the various leaves and berries.

Some of the trees he showed us were the coconut, the cinnamon, and the coffee tree. This was quite amazing for Caroline as she rediscovered the coffee bean on which she had based one of her major essays at university. Then we saw the pineapple tree. We saw the turmeric tubers and discovered that turmeric is part of the bamboo family! We smelt the nutmeg and mace, the cloves and the lemon grass and the most ancient plant - the 80 year old sandalwood tree. Sandalwood is used for furniture and if it is boiled it can be used for healing. Then we went on to see the ginger, aloe vera (which we learned is part of the onion family) the cocoa tree and saw vanilla pods. The sights and smells were just amazing.

Then of course we were ushered into the shop! Basil had already warned us that the spices were more expensive here than in the supermarket so Caroline had a good look around to see what she wanted to buy subsequently to take home with her.


Then it was goodbye to Luckgrove and on our way on a very winding road to Kandy. By this time I was back to the knitting on our long car rides. We climbed up to a vantage point to have a view of Kandy. We drove down through the town past the old prison which is still empty and vandalised. If sold this centrally located property could bring a large sum to the town council. Then we passed the station and the Queen’s Hotel where there is a statue of General Denzil Lakshman Kobbekaduwa who was a very popular general who was killed by a landmine in August 1992 in the preparation of the final war against the Tamils. We also drove past the gorge where key scenes in the film “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” were shot.

We went to see the Kandy War Memorial at the cemetery where 107 British soldiers and 26 Sri Lankans killed during World War II were laid to rest.

By this time we were starving hungry and so we stopped at a bakery for fruit salad and ice cream and Caroline had her curry.


Next it was to a hotel where we had tickets for Kandyan dancing. It was very interesting to see the costumes and the dances. It was also reassuring for me that one of the ladies was a buxom lady who was very graceful. Then we went outside to see the fire dancer who walked on coals and ate fire and juggled with the fire etc. The whole thing was very touristy and very kitsch. However, we are pleased that we went.


Then back in the van to go to our next hotel, Weir House. We arrived driving up a very narrow pot-holed and twisty road with a sheer drop on one side (and no fencing). And it was getting dark! (Therefore pictures in next day's blog.) My knitting needles clacked a lot faster!

Then we walked up even more steps to this most amazing house! We were met by the manager, Lucien. The property is a private house which is let out as a hotel during the tourist season. It has three large bedrooms and a family room. We entered through a lounge which was really large with room for at least six settees spread out around the room as well as easy chairs. We checked out our rooms and then were taken up to see the swimming pool. Ultimately we were invited into the dining room to meet Lesly the chef and to eat a lovely vegan meal.

We were the only three guests staying in the hotel, so we had the run of the place. We explored the lounge library and I found an Agatha Christie book and Caroline found Evelyn Waugh’s “Decline and Fall”. There was a hammock style chair which became the Caroline domain for the three nights we were at the hotel.

We had a family discussion as to what we wanted to do the next day, Friday - and the three of us decided ... nothing! We all needed a day’s rest. And what a place to rest. Basil was not disappointed. And the Boggle competition continued!!

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