Sri Lanka: Dambulla and Sigiriya! Two amazing places!

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May 25th 2011
Published: June 24th 2011
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Kandy to Dambulla

Our driver showed up to our picturesque mountainside Swiss hotel in Kandy bright and early to pick us up. We were just finishing our breakfast of toast with marmalade and an amazing pot of fresh, smooth and sweet Ceylon tea when he came, engine roaring up the steep hill to the hotel.

Our driver was a middle aged man from Colombo, driving a very comfortable 1990's era Nissan with electric roll down windows and A/C that 'might have a problem with the turning on'. The day was already heating up so we decide to leave ASAP. We took off down the side of the mountain and started the long descent into the central grasslands north of Kandy. You can see in Trung's expression he's not impressed, so hopefully the A/C will kick in!

About 4 hours and countless twists and turns later, we found ourselves at Dambulla, a 3000 year old cave temple. We're at the base of a mountain that looks somewhat like the 'tower' near Searchmont (those close to me will know what I mean). It's now about 37 degrees in the shade and the temple is at the top of a really long climb up an unshaded stairway carved from the granite hill. Oh and long pants are required, so I've put on a pair of sweaty tight jeans to do the climb!

At about 50 feet from the top of the hill we came to a sheer cliff with a long, white washed row house running along the base of the cliff. The long white veranda covered by a red clay tile roof running back into the cliff.

Once we've walked through the first door in the wall, I find myself inside a quiet, cool, dimly lit sanctuary about 30 feet long and tapering from 20 feet tall at the exterior to just a few feet where the ceiling meets the floor. Every square inch is covered with decorative, ancient pictures of the Lord Buddha in all of his classic poses. Also several dozen statues of Buddha line the walls, creating an eerie sensation of being watched.

There are 4 similar caves along the base of the cliff, each exuding a sense of ancient reverence you can only find in a cave sanctuary.

Our way down the mountain was just as hot as the way up, but I don't think I've ever felt so satisfied taking my pants off and putting on shorts. It is seriously hot now, I think I can see steam rising off my legs!

The Hotel

Our next stop, our driver explains, will be our home base for the next two nights as we explore the region. Its near the ancient palace/city of Sigiriya, about an hour's drive away.

After the great trip on the ever-flattening landscape and highway in good condition and no traffic, we came to a fork in the road and took the highway less travelled, then another fork brought us to a dirt path. About 1km into the forest we popped out at two houses in the middle of a grassy field that extends about 20km away to the base of a large, jagged volcano-looking mountain. Its an amazing sight, all that grassland extending to the volcano. The 'hotel' is just a house. Trung and I get the main house, while the 5 guys working there stay in the side house. There isn't much option for food, so the overpriced menu that the guys offer makes up our lunch. Its worth it though, the food is amazing and you can't get much more local cuisine!

Jeep Safari!

In the afternoon, Lil recommends we hire a local driver to take us to the national park down the road for a 'safari' tour. We decide 'what the hell, we're already here!'

A 1/2 hour later, a large jeep comes trundling up the dirt path to the hotel, its sides covered with bright red dirt. This should be fun! A rough looking man who can't speak english is or driver. Lil gives him instructions and they agree on a price and we're off!

About a half hour later we're entering the national park, its a small gate with a guard house. The fee is about 1000 rupees, or $10 to enter the park. Soon we're bouncing our way across the grasslands, Trung and I standing up in the uncovered back of the jeep, trying not to fall out, and doing our best to spot the wild elephants living in the park.

Three hours later we've come across about 4 herds of elephants in separate areas of the park. We've also seen some amazing birds and other wildlife, watched the sun set and had a great time bumping along in the jeep. We're both exhausted from the longest day ever and covered in 10 layers of sweat and dirt. I'm wearing a yellow shirt that is mostly brown with dust. It's amazing!!!

The Night at the Bush Hotel

The night is spent under the fans and mosquito nets in our 'house'. The guys showed us a great time with an amazing spread of different homemade curries with a gigantic pile of rice. Trung and I are famished, so it's a great meal. Complimented by a gigantic dry lightning storm that lights up the surrounding valley and mountains. It doesn't get much more scenic than this. Oh and there were two cuuuute little puppies who kept us company and cleaned the curry chicken bones for us.

The next day we wake up bright and early, hoping to get a good head start on Sigiriya before the heat of the day hits.

Amazing Sigiriya

Sigiriya or 'Lions Rock' is a 370m tall 'plug' of rock rising from the relatively flat grasslands. A palace was built on the top of the rock. I'll let Wikipedia explain:

"The Mahavamsa, the ancient historical record of Sri Lanka, describes King Kashyapa as the son of King Dhatusena. Kashyapa murdered his father by walling him alive and then usurping the throne which rightfully belonged to his brother Mogallana, Dhatusena's son by the true queen. Mogallana fled to India to escape being assassinated by Kashyapa but vowed revenge. In India he raised an army with the intention of returning and retaking the throne of Sri Lanka which he considered was rightfully his. Knowing the inevitable return of Mogallana, Kashyapa is said to have built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya as a fortress and pleasure palace. Mogallana finally arrived and declared war. During the battle Kashyapa's armies abandoned him and he committed suicide by falling on his sword.
Chronicles and lore say that the battle-elephant on which Kashyapa was mounted changed course to take a strategic advantage, but the army misinterpreted the movement as the King having opted to retreat, prompting the army to abandon the king altogether. It is said that being too proud to be surrendered he took his dagger from the waist band, cut his throat, raised the dagger proudly, sheathed it and fell dead. Moggallana returned the capital to Anuradapura, converting Sigiriya into a monastery complex."

Such a crazy story! As we walked through the ancient city in the woods and into the shadow of the gigantic rock ahead of us, all I can think of is "who would be crazy enough to climb up here in the first place?!" The rock is sheer on all sides. As you get closer, you can see where people have carved out holes in the rocks to insert large wooden posts to hold up 'stairs' or a ladder or something. Its crazy! At one point the rock is actually overhanging where the stairs go up, and its like 300m straight down. I can't imagine being the poor sucker clinging to the side of the rock chipping away, trying to make a stair.

It's said the king had a harem of 300 women living with him at the top of the rock. I can believe it, there's ruins of an extensive palace at the top, resembling Machu Picchu in Peru. It even has a swiming pool! Again I'm feeling sorry for the poor sucker who had to carry the thousands upon thousands of bricks up the 1800 stairs to the top, especially in this heat!

On the walk up we find ourselves face to face with a gigantic lion's body. The head is long since gone, but the paws and shoulders are still there, the claws being as tall as me. In the past, one had to walk THROUGH the mouth of the lion 1/2 way up the side of the mountain in order to get to the palace. The king was REALLY not fooling around when he built this place!

On the way up and down we pass about 100 school kids on a field trip. My mouth is sore from smiling the entire time while passing them. People are so unbelievably friendly here. The kids want photos with me, their teachers want to show off their engilsh skills and everyone is smiles from ear to ear. Its such a wonderful experience (although by the end of our time in Sri Lanka I realize the class trippers are everywhere, and I'm like ohhh, not again! They LOOOVE talking!)

After stopping to pick up a watermelon and a couple of sodas on the way back to the 'hotel' in the savanna we enjoy another feast of curried delicacies, time to play with the dogs and another impressive thunder storm. Tomorrow we head across the country again to Pollonaruwa and then we take off for Anuradhapura to see the two ancient capital cities (after Sigiriya fell). Then its across the country AGAIN to get dropped off at the beach paradise of Trincomalee! A story for another day...


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22nd July 2011

Another glass of Sigiria please!
This looks like it was epic! The text was awesome but then when I get to see the pictures, I mean wow! So cool. I've held a praying mantis before, they're so cute! Not going to lie though, the "bush hotel' sounds like someplace where you would find ladies of the evening, judging strictly on calling it the bush hotel that is...
2nd June 2014

Excellent post!
Loved reading this! Sigiriya is a crazy experience indeed, I loved reading your commentary! Could I ask you for the name of the hotel you stayed at? I checked and the Hotel Sigiriya seems to be the only decent lodgings in the area.

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