I went back to the hostel and met my two new roommates, Victoria and Deepali, friends who are travelling together. We decided to go out for dinner and we ended up back at the Garden Café due to the fact that it was the only place within walking distance to the hostel and because I was still thinking fondly of my lunchtime curry and I wanted to sample their other offerings. This time I ordered the vegetable kotthu, a Sri Lankan dish that I had never tried before made up of thinly sliced roti, vegetables, and curry, all hacked together to create a delicious, spicy mash-up. The making of the kotthu is a show in itself with the man behind the counter chopping away with his two cleavers in a distinctive clattering rhythm on the sizzling skillet. Over dinner we hatched a plan to independently find our way to Sigiriya as none of us were impressed with the hostel’s offering of a ride for R5500. If there was public transport to be had, we would find it.
In the end, it was very easy. We left the hostel at 7am (luckily my body clock is still four hours head on Sydney time) and, stopping to pick up pastries from the bakery on our hill, walked down to the lake and then around it, passing children in their little white uniforms as they made their way to school and dodging rush hour traffic that seemed to be mostly tuk-tuks, again filled with children on their ways to school. We arrived at the bus station and were lucky enough to get straight on an air-conditioned bus which for the grand price of R225 ( approx. AUD$3) whisked us northwards. Two hours later we got off in Dambulla and again lucked out with a bus to Sigiriya leaving just as we arrived. This bus was less fancy and more along the typical-Sri-Lankan-bus style with narrow plastic seats, loud pop music, and (if you’re unlucky enough to be sitting in the aisle seat) the obligatory man’s crotch in your face when the bus fills up to standing room only. Luckily this leg of the journey only took about forty minutes and we were soon at Sigiriya.
Sigiriya looked like a cool backpackery place to hang out, which characterful little guesthouses and hostels scattered along the river and a lazy feel to the dusty streets, and we regretted not bringing our things with us and staying there instead of Kandy for the night, especially since we were all planning on heading north and east next so Sigiriya would have been on the way- but oh well. What’s an unnecessary extra five hours on a bus in the grand scheme of things?
We jumped off the bus and soon palled up with Ariana from Italy who had just got off a different bus from Kandy. Together, we followed the directions along the long neatly tended pathway through the gardens, which were filled with lily pad-strewn moats and water gardens, to the ticket office and then we were redirected to the museum to buy tickets instead. After a few re-directions we eventually made it in and we began our approach to Sigiriya rock. The rock is probably the most well-known single piece on the Sri Lankan landscape, a great rock of 200m height, which rises out the surrounding countryside with almost vertical walls and a flat summit that gives views for miles in all directions- but first you must climb up it.
Up close (or even, from the road), the rock looked far bigger than I had expected and, feeling the already hot sun beating down on us, I began to dread the climb to the top.
In the end, the climb was so interesting, and the views were so spectacular that I barely even noticed the exertion required to reach the summit. Actually, that is completely untrue- what I should say is that it seemed totally worth it. It was hard work, and the constant notices of “WASP ATTACKS! REMAIN SILENT!” put an exciting spin on things (although there might have been something to Victoria’s theory that it was just a clever ruse to stop tourists being noisy and disrespectful on the rock).
We climbed the steep steps etched into the rockface then followed a narrow spiral staircase up to a surprising 5th
century AD fresco of topless and bouncy-breasted women. Historians are still quarrelling over who these women likely were but the prevailing theory seems to be that they represent Tara, one if the most important figures in Tantric Buddhism. We re-descended the staircase and returned to the main route which took us to the famous Lion’s Paws. These two huge paws (each twice my height) guard the steps to the final level of the rock. These are the remains of an entire 5th
century lion that was built into the top of the rock and through whose mouth you needed to climb in order to reach the summit. Rather than continuing the climb straight away, we took a break to admire the view from all directions and to consider kidnapping the puppy that was roaming the temple tops (or maybe only I was doing this- he totally would have fit in my backpack but, as Johnny Depp and Amber Heard recently found out, Australia does not have much of a sense of humour with regards to whimsically smuggled pets so I abandoned the plan regretfully). The puppy was one of the many dogs roaming about the rock and its surrounds- some mangier and hungrier-looking than others.
After a brief rest we climbed the last of the steps, taking ourselves to lofty heights that gave us incredible views that stretched on for miles of fields bounded by mountains.
Despite the strong winds that reigned strong on the top of the rock, we sat up there for an hour, mostly just staring quietly at the view (and catching our breath).
After getting our fill of the endless expanses of landscape, we climbed down again, which took a surprisingly short time and then we took a quick spin around the museum which had well-commentaried displays on the history of the rock, its excavation, and the archaeological significance of the different features, all of which I found very interesting and then quickly forgot.
Tired but content, we began the long amble out from the park, Victoria and I munching our way through the bags of rambutan we had picked up in Kandy that morning. Suddenly we noticed a monkey running across the grass towards us with a steely look of determination upon his face. Luckily Victoria had the sense to throw her bag of rambutan away from us and the monkey dove upon it. Unfortunately, he had a friend in close pursuit so I also had to throw my bag of rambutan at him- these monkeys clearly meant business and putting up a fight would have been a rabies shot (or worse) just waiting to happen. I had the last laugh though because I had just eaten the last one so all the little tyke got was a bunch of rambutan stones and peel. Hah.
We moved sharply onwards and it is just as well that we did because, as we looked back, there was a whole trail of monkeys running from the trees towards the now torn-apart bags of rambutan. Lesson learnt- there’s a reason that you don’t see people in the know strolling through jungle paths munching on fruit.
After a quick lunch of curry and rice in Sigiriya we caught a very long bus back to Kandy.
Being a holy city, Kandy has very few drinking holes so it took us some research but eventually we ended up in an amusingly colonial and quite fancy bar/ restaurant (complete with dimmed lights so the sights of dusty backpackers sweaty from temple visiting don’t put off the better-dressed clientele) called the Royal Bar and Hotel. We each ordered a Lion beer (the local tipple) and were amazed when they came out at the sheer size of the bottles. They each held a litre of beer, enough to make us merry after a day of walking around in the hot sun. Later, the waiter brought out four complimentary glasses of arrack which I had never tried before. It tasted like a sweet whiskey but later research revealed to me that it is actually a fermented toddy of palm tree sap. The waiter mixed it with ice and soda water and it was a tasty finish to the evening.
After drinking up, we bid goodbye to Ariana, who was staying in a different hostel, and stopping to refuel at the Garden Café (of course), returned to the hostel.
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