Sri Lanka: The Rocks & The Hills


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February 15th 2017
Published: March 18th 2017
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View Of SigiriyaView Of SigiriyaView Of Sigiriya

From the top of Pidurangala Rock.
I'm sitting on a train on one of the world's most scenic routes, next to a very friendly and smiley Buddhist monk; he offers me some peanuts and a pakora. To my right are a bunch of local teenagers clapping and singing along to the beat of a local drum - it seems to be something you see much more often here than you would in any Western country - creating some real atmosphere and even getting a couple of white girls up to dance with them. Here I was again, remembering how cool and lucky I was to be here, to appreciate this moment.
With regard to the Buddhist monk, I was surprised to discover upon arrival in Sri Lanka that Buddhism is in fact the main religion here. I thought that naturally, Hinduism might be the dominant religion but it appears the Buddhists got here first and created this Buddhist island right next to India. It certainly gives the country a different feel.

Apart from the train, private chicken buses authorised to use the country's bus stations are country's primary mode of transport and I was on yet another one from Mirissa to Ella. The buses always blast
Temple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic Of Lord BuddhaTemple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic Of Lord BuddhaTemple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic Of Lord Buddha

Arguably Kandy's biggest tourist attraction, this temple apparently contains the a tooth of the Lord Buddha inside. I didn't go in because it was too expensive!
local music, which has definite island (reggae-ish) and Oriental influences. Just a shame they play it so ridiculously loud!
Looking out the window, I observe a pretty big change in scenery from the heat and humidity of the beach, to the height and coolness of the hills. As the bus snaked it's way through the mountains, it reminded me of the hills in Eastern Cuba.

My hostel in Ella was annoyingly located up in the hills away from the main town but there didn't seem to be any decent ones with a better location. The hostel, the woods and the general layout of the town reminded me much of Monteverde in Costa Rica.
Given the lack of proximity to town, it was of great relief that Cameron the Australian had a scooter! I was knackered.
Talking over dinner, the guy was certainly interesting - he's been roaming around the world for the best part of seven years. He was also very talkative, chatting to almost to every local we came across with his thick, loud, Australian accent. Where I dumb down my English a little when speaking with locals so that they don't misunderstand me, Cameron talks to everyone as if they're Aussies
Nine Arch BridgeNine Arch BridgeNine Arch Bridge

Ella's version of the "Harry Potter Bridge".
- which I thought was a little weird for someone who has travelled a bit. He must be misunderstood a lot.

Setting out to see the sights the next day, I found that the top of Ella Rock, the first sight I visited that day, a bit disappointing. It was disappointing much in the same way as the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica; I've seen a few views in my time and this one really wasn't anything special. The highlight of the walk was bumping into a German-French couple that I first met in Goa, then again in Varkala (twice), and now again in Sri Lanka. The walk's lowlight was asking a local which path I should take out of two, before he promptly walks me for about ten minutes, after which he demands money for his efforts. I was beginning to wonder just how far he was going to take me before I stopped him in his tracks.
The Nine Arch Bridge is pretty cool and resembles the Glenfinnan Viaduct - the "Harry Potter Bridge" - in Scotland. The train was meant to go across the bridge at 3.30pm, allowing for a great photo op, but since
Sunset At Little Adam's PeakSunset At Little Adam's PeakSunset At Little Adam's Peak

One of two mountains popular for tourists to climb in Ella.
Sri Lankan trains are never on time, me along with tens of other tourists all had to wait a long time for it to finally arrive. Despite having had so much time to sort out a good spot, I decided to stake my claim on the first photo spot I came across and in the end, probably didn't get the best angle of the bridge and the train. Damn.
Little Adam's Peak had a better view up top than Ella Rock, but the cloudy haze present meant getting my camera to focus was difficult. And to be honest, the scenery was pleasant but perhaps a bit disappointing. It wasn't unlike anything I have seen before; it could easily have been somewhere in New Zealand or the U.K. In general, I'd say Sri Lanka has been a little underwhelming so far.

As for the locals, they're generally friendlier than their Indian cousins but just as conniving. I reckon I've had more attempted rip offs and attempted short-changings here in my short time in Sri Lanka than I had in two and a half months in India. They just seem to be completely unscrupulous and shameless. I was surprised as I
Train From Ella To KandyTrain From Ella To KandyTrain From Ella To Kandy

The monk sitting beside me enjoys the spectacular views outside while on the train from Ella to Kandy.
had expected things to be better over here - if anything it has been worse and it's a f*cking disgrace. Women however, appear to get a better deal here than India but I saw one and heard of two other instances of dodgy, creepy behaviour by local men towards foreign women that you'd hardly see in Western societies.

I then left Ella aboard the aforementioned train, as it snaked its way along a mountain, offering vast and scenic views over the valley. I had managed to get myself in a doorway looking out - but on the wrong side to all the scenery, dammit.
There was an Italian woman on board the train and she had her dog with her. The ticket staff wanted to charge her for it - perhaps even kick her off the train - but they came to their senses and relented since the dog was small and was being carried in her handbag. If you ask me though, anyone carrying a dog inside a handbag deserves to be charged a fee or kicked off a train! As for the train itself, if you thought Indian trains were antiquated, then this Sri Lankan one definitely
Natha DevalayaNatha DevalayaNatha Devalaya

Another temple within the complex containing the Temple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic Of Lord Buddha in Kandy.
belonged in the railway museum I saw in Mysore. The train was a seven hour one to Kandy, although given Kandy is only 136km from Ella, the journey time really tells you something about the railway system here in Sri Lanka.

As opposed to my hostel in Ella, I went for the total opposite this time and this one was in the centre of old Kandy. The area seemed to be the central, busy trading hub of Kandy, much like George Town in Chennai but on a much smaller scale. Indeed it felt a lot like India with it's dirtiness, busyness and smells.
I wasn't too impressed by Kandy and people I had met who had been there didn't exactly give it rave reviews either. Its temple complex is its main attraction and to enter you needed to wear trousers, which wasn't ideal given the Sri Lankan heat. Then to enter any of the main attractions, you had to pay exorbitant entrance fees. On top of this I was getting relentlessly hassled - more than I ever did in India to the point where I was really about to lose it. I was getting stared at in a place where I thought
Kandy LakeKandy LakeKandy Lake

Pleasant to stroll around.
it would happen less and when the hostel owner started acting shifty with regard to providing blankets and an extension of my stay, I was just about fed up with Sri Lanka.
Speaking of the hostel, I was one of three people staying there that wasn't a Scandinavian girl. There was a group of nine Danish girls plus two other separate pairs of Danish girls, plus two Swedish girls. It was quite incredible. Otherwise apart from many Scandinavians, there were also huge contingents of Dutch, German, Italian and French and tourists all over Sri Lanka. There are more female travellers here than India for sure too, though that perhaps is understandable.
I asked around to see if any of the girls were keen to join Rich, a British guy, and I for a drink. There weren't any takers so off we went. However, there didn't seem to be any decent drinking establishments in our area, only dodgy bars full of regulars (read: male alcoholics) with steel bars on the bars, to stop the bartenders getting assaulted by drunk patrons, I presumed. It was that kind of place. As two tourists, we were obvious persons of interest and we soon had
Lion RockLion RockLion Rock

The translation of "Sigiriya" is Lion Rock because of the gateway carved into the rock that resembles a lion.
the whole bar around us, some trying to sell us drugs and girls, others merely curious and inquisitive. Some were just drunkenly ranting. Rich wasn't comfortable at all, so we left. That was pretty much the extent of the nightlife in Kandy - thank God none of the Scandinavian girls came with us, I can't imagine what would've happened if they had set foot in that bar. We probably wouldn't have gone in to be honest!

Although I should've known this already, you should never trust a tuk-tuk driver further than you can throw him. As I arrived in the town of Dambulla, a town a two hour bus ride from Kandy and the interchange point to arguably Sri Lanka's most famous sight of Sigiriya - the "Lion Rock" - a tuk-tuk driver approaches me at the bus stand telling that the bus to Sigiriya would not be coming for another forty-five minutes. This wasn't ideal, as I had as usual, left the hostel late and if I indeed had to wait forty-five minutes for a bus, then I might not have any time to see Sigiriya at all. So at LKR800 (£4) for a half hour ride, I
Reclining BuddhaReclining BuddhaReclining Buddha

Located near the top of Pidurangala.
felt that wasn't too bad a deal - although the bus would be about LKR20 - and as time passed with no bus arriving, I got some cash out of an ATM, feeling that I was being left with little choice but to take the ride. Then just as my cash was being dispensed, a bus to Sigiriya pulled up! Forty-five minutes my arse. The fucking liar.

Perhaps Sri Lanka's premier sight, Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress built atop a er, rock. A big one, kind of like Ayers Rock, some 200m high. A palace, fortress and city was built atop the rock by an old Sri Lankan king in the 5th century and the rock is named after the a huge gateway carved into the rock that forms a lion. The site also has many fine frescoes painted onto its side and from aerial photographs, looks like a Sri Lankan Machu Picchu.
The fortress was converted into a Buddhist monastery for most of its active life until the 13th or 14th century.

So far, so impressive; until you find out that they are charging you LKR4,500 (US$30) to get in. And when I thought about it, impressive
The RockThe RockThe Rock

The rock fortress of Sigiriya.
as it sounded, I've seen something like this before. Ancient buildings on top of a massive red rock? Check. A fortress atop a standalone rock? Check. Frescoes painted onto natural rock? Check. Ancient ornate carvings into rocks? Check. It surely couldn't be worth the money. Maybe if I was on a short holiday here from work rather than on a two-year budget backpacking tour of the world.
Alex and Tom - the Brits I met in Hampi and then met up with on the southern beaches of Sri Lanka - had given me a heads-up about Sigiriya's extortionate entry fee and they also told me that the view was still just as spectacular from nearby Pidurangala, another massive rock. And after a short twenty minute climb, the view from Pidurangala - which actually had Sigiriya in it - as well as the rest of the surrounding scenery, , reminded you along with the train ride from Ella to Kandy, that Sri Lanka has a beautiful countryside.

Though I may have slagged off Sri Lankans earlier in this blog, like every country, there are some good ones too. The ones who are generally more relaxed and informal about things than
Tea PlantationTea PlantationTea Plantation

Previously known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is closely associated with tea production. On the train from Ella to Kandy, the monk and I spotted more than a few plantations.
their Indian counterparts. The ones who aren't such sticklers for rules. There are even some good tuk-tuk drivers around - like the one who gave me a free ride from Pidurangala to Sigiriya because he was simply going that way.

On my last evening in Kandy, I decided to eat at the very busy Muslim Hotel, which also had good reviews on TripAdvisor. The food was excellent with the beef kabul being the highlight. Imagine a roti parcel filled with spiced beef. So good. I also managed to meet some fellow travellers here as I got plonked down next to them since there were no spare tables.
The only let down was having perhaps the worst waiter ever. He was just...hopelessly useless. He'd forget your order even though he had written it down - and I don't mean forget your order by bringing you the wrong meal, but completely forgetting that you ordered anything. And then he would bring you the wrong order. He was even worse than the kid in Bangalore. Some people just aren't cut out to be waiters...

Before leaving Kandy the next day, I realised that after Bogota, Cancun, Corfu and London, that I
Sigiriya MoatSigiriya MoatSigiriya Moat

The moat protecting Sigiriya from invaders and non-paying tourists.
needed a fifth f*cking debit/credit card replaced on this trip! Sri Lanka has not been a good trip in terms of my possessions having left my beach towel and swimming trunks back in Mirissa too. This time it was because I left my debit card in the ATM after getting money out for that swine of a tuk-tuk driver. FFS. I always seem to lose things when I'm in a rush - so that f*cking tuk-tuk driver did cost me something in the end, the f*cker!

And so I felt that I'd had enough of Sri Lanka - in all honesty it's not my favourite country; while the people are friendlier and more laid back, they also hassle you more and some of their behaviour is just as bad or worse than some of the Indians. The hassle was enough for me to have to make a point of it and it occasionally got me flustered.
As for the sights, there was nothing truly outstanding and for most of the attractions, you had to pay exorbitant entrance fees which didn't seem in line with what was on offer. The natural scenery is beautiful though, which is why I think
Natha Devale Viharaya NenasalaNatha Devale Viharaya NenasalaNatha Devale Viharaya Nenasala

Sacred tree and temple in the grounds containing the Temple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic Of Lord Buddha in Kandy.
the beaches are the country's highlight; but then that is why they are unfortunately overrun with tourists. The best thing would have been to hire a scooter to hit one of the many empty yet beautiful beaches I saw on the coastal road from Colombo to Matara. As for the mountains, they are beautiful too and the Ella to Kandy train ride is definitely worth the hype; Pidurangala/Sigiriya had the most outstanding views but Ella was a bit of a disappointment - there wasn't anything there that was outstanding or that I hadn't seen before. Galle was probably my favourite place.

I had a lot to cram into the two weeks I had here so it hasn't helped that I've had to rush through the country, meaning it felt like I spent more time on Sri Lanka's creaking buses and trains than anything else. Thus I was a bit exhausted by the end of this relatively short trip and decided to treat myself to rather luxurious hostel just by the airport for my last night. With double bed sized bunks, personal charging points, air-conditioning, brand-new bathroom facilities and huge lockers that could for once, fit my backpack and rucksack,
Little Adam's PeakLittle Adam's PeakLittle Adam's Peak

If making your way to nearby Hatton to climb Adam's Peak at sunrise is too much of a mission for you, then there is always Little Adam's Peak in Ella.
it was the best hostel I stayed at in Sri Lanka and maybe India as well. In a weird way, I'm kind of looking forward to getting back to India - something I thought I'd never say - where I have two more stops; fascinating Kolkata and sacred Varanasi.

පසුව හමුවෙමු (pasuva hamuvemu),
Derek


Additional photos below
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Queen's HotelQueen's Hotel
Queen's Hotel

Sri Lanka was of course, part of the British Empire at one stage and remnants of British rule can be spotted through colonial buildings such as the Queen's Hotel in Kandy.
Beef KabulBeef Kabul
Beef Kabul

Delicious discovery at the Muslim Hotel in Kandy.
Top Of Ella RockTop Of Ella Rock
Top Of Ella Rock

Impressive view but I've seen better.
Atop Little Adam's PeakAtop Little Adam's Peak
Atop Little Adam's Peak

I look down from the top of Little Adam's Peak in Ella.
Ella GapElla Gap
Ella Gap

View of one of the valleys near Ella.
Sri Lankan Farm & CountrysideSri Lankan Farm & Countryside
Sri Lankan Farm & Countryside

Rural scenery just outside of Ella.
Enjoying The ViewEnjoying The View
Enjoying The View

A couple of teenagers enjoy the view out of the doorway on the train from Ella to Kandy.
Sri Lankan TrainSri Lankan Train
Sri Lankan Train

Antiquated yet charming. This one plied the route through Ella.
EllaElla
Ella

This small town in the Sri Lankan hills has become somewhat of a backpacker hub.
Dodgy BarDodgy Bar
Dodgy Bar

Ropey bar we walked into in Kandy.
Road Outside SigiryaRoad Outside Sigirya
Road Outside Sigirya

The clay-coloured roads outside Sigiriya are well kept and pleasant.


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