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Published: August 31st 2018
R: We started this trip in a way we were not accustomed to - a sign board in the airport with our name on. For the next 8 days we are being chauffeured around Sri Lanka by our trusty guide, Ranjan. We had had an overnight flight from London with Srilankan Airlines - a perfect opportunity to start the day with a spicy breakfast, and this was a sign of things to come. After accidentally misunderstanding the use of a decimal point in the currency, and subsequently ordering £1 in cash from the cash machine, we left the airport (*another transaction was also made after holding up the line for about 10 minutes). It was a 4 hour ride up to Kandalama Lake, our first stop. The drive was eye opening - and made me consider the Highway Code of Sri Lanka and what it actually prohibits.... Ranjan managed to guide us through the myriad of bus drivers who drove straight for us, bread Tuk Tuks that were playing happy music like ice cream vans to announce the arrival of the bread, and occasional livestock, monkeys, stray dogs and everything else....
We arrived in Kandalama about evening time,
and settled in to our two story chalet for the next three days. It has another bedroom on the top floor, just in case we fall out. Other than than, it was lovely, in a cool setting where you have to walk through a sort of open air village of these chalets to get about. In the village were chipmunks, monitor lizards, numerous birds, frogs, bats, and even a cat. The food that night was buffet style (as seems to be normal in tourist places here) but was actually pretty good - we tried a bit of everything and the dhal was pretty amazing with coconut sambal to top it. After a good feed we took our jet lag to bed and woke up at 7am for the first instalment of our route march / tour.
We headed straight for Sigiriya. It's about 30 mins by car from Kandalama. We were told we had to get there early because the tour groups can get maddening as the day goes on. This is particularly something you don't want as there are wasps nests at the site and apparently several large (noisy) tour groups have disturbed them over the
years, causing mass wasp attacks and we certainly didn't want that. Sigiriya itself is a large rocky outcrop which rises above a reasonably flat plain, which was used as a fortress of kings of Sri Lanka in the past to defend their position against south Indian attacks. It has also been inhabited by monks over the years. The walk up involves passing through some impressive water gardens, then up through a crack between two boulders and onto a platform. From there you can visit some cave paintings which two spiral staircases have been installed to allow access to. One was British built at the turn of last century, and the other was more recent. (Guess which one felt safer??). Also - the wind was extremely strong at this point so we felt like we were being blasted in a column of air.
From there we headed up past a "mirror wall" which was covered in ancient graffiti (apparently mostly commenting on the ladies depicted in the cave paintings in ancient Sinhala!), before arriving at Lions Paws - where the giant statute of a Lion only partially remains. It is said that you used to have to enter
through the Lion's mouth which no longer exists to access the top and those who passed never came back. What was mad was the hand and foot holds in the rock going up the sheer rock face - used in years gone by to access the top with no ropes! Now there is a very congested set of metal steps which barely clung to the rock surface with the weight of all the people stood on them (I tried not to think about this too much as we hung several hundred feet in the air). The slow moving foot traffic allows passing monkeys to grab food, sun cream and water bottles off unsuspecting tourists. Cate was very enchanted with these as there was a mum carrying a baby up the sheer rock face who looked a bit terrified of the whole thing!
On the top it was very, very windy. But the view was incredible so it was more than worth it - you could see lakes (called tanks) and mountains, temples in the distance and small towns dotted about in the mixture. On the top was the layout of the previous civilisation, ruined to about a
foot tall, but it was interesting exploring the maze of walls and taking in the views. There was even bathing holes up here for the royalty to bathe in. You could even escape the crowds momentarily and have the place to yourself briefly. There was definitely a feeling of Macchu Picchu about this place - but not quite on the same scale.
We headed back down (slowly - during which time a monkey tried to have my water bottle away), and after walking past the queues now waiting to go up, we were glad we made the early start. You walk back down through the gardens and pop out at the "tourist car park". To do this we had to pass a man with a snake in a basket, sitting next to the "Cobra Hood" rock formation, playing a pungi - Cate was not impressed. After a brief return to the hotel to enjoy the pool which we had all to ourselves, we headed back out to Dambulla.
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