Sunday 10 September - Sigiriya - Dambulla - Kandy

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September 10th 2017
Published: September 15th 2017
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Day 6: Sunday 10 September - Sigiriya - Dambulla - Kandy

This morning we explored Sigiriya, home to the 5th-century UNESCO World Heritage listed Rock Fortress, also known as ‘Lion Rock’. It is one of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning.

Before starting our climb, we visited the Museum which told us the story of the rediscovery of the rock and the ruins. Even the museum was surrounded by water-lily covered ponds with many monkeys playing in the trees and around the rocks.

Sigiriya or Sinhagiri (Lion Rock) is an ancient rock fortress located in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province. The name refers to a site of historical and archaeological significance that is dominated by a massive column of rock nearly 200 metres high. According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, this site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes. On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. The name of this place is derived from this structure —Sīhāgiri, the Lion Rock. The capital and the royal palace was abandoned after the king's death. It was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.

The environment around the Sigiriya may have been inhabited since prehistoric times. There is clear evidence that the many rock shelters and caves in the vicinity were occupied by Buddhist monks and ascetics from as early as the 3rd century BCE. The earliest evidence of human habitation at Sigiriya is the Aligala rock shelter to the east of Sigiriya rock, indicating that the area was occupied nearly five thousand years ago during the Mesolithic Period.

Buddhist monastic settlements were established during the 3rd century BCE in the western and northern slopes of the boulder-strewn hills surrounding the Sigiriya rock. Several rock shelters or caves were created during this period. These shelters were made under large boulders, with carved drip ledges around the cave mouths. Rock inscriptions are carved near the drip ledges on many of the shelters, recording the donation of the shelters to the Buddhist monastic order as residences. These were made in the period between the 3rd century BCE and the 1st century CE.

Sigiriya is one of the most important urban planning sites of the first millennium, and the site plan is considered very elaborate and imaginative. The plan combined concepts of symmetry and asymmetry to intentionally interlock the man-made geometrical and natural forms of the surroundings. On the west side of the rock lies a park for the royals, laid out on a symmetrical plan; the park contains water-retaining structures, including sophisticated surface/subsurface hydraulic systems, some of which are working today. The south contains a man-made reservoir; these were extensively used from the previous capital of the dry zone of Sri Lanka. Five gates were placed at entrances. The more elaborate western gate is thought to have been reserved for the royals.

There is also a Mirror Wall: Originally this wall was so highly polished that the king could see himself whilst he walked alongside it. Made of brick masonry and covered in highly polished white plaster, the wall is now partially covered with verses scribbled by visitors, some of them dating from as early as the 8th century. People of all types wrote on the wall, on varying subjects such as love, irony, and experiences of all sorts. Further writing on the mirror wall now has been banned for the protection of the old writings.

The Sri Lankan archaeologist Dr Senerat Paranavitana deciphered 685 verses written in the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries CE on the mirror wall. One such poem from these long-past centuries, roughly translated from Sinhala, is:

"I am Budal . Came with hundreds of people to see Sigiriya. Since аll the others wrote poems, I did not!"

The crowd was substantial as we started to climb at about 9.30am. It was Sunday so the locals were out in full-force. As usual, there were many Chinese visiting the site also. The greatest bottle-neck was having to walk up a steep spiral staircase to see the wall frescoes. All other areas of climbing flowed well. We weren’t allowed to take any photos of the frescoes.

It took us 1 ½ hour to arrive at the top where we got a real appreciation of how big the buildings were at the top of this rock – very impressive.

After seeing the pool and different gardens and admiring the spectacular 360 degree view, we started our descent.

We had a good look at the Lion Gate on the way down and was a little annoyed with the British who destroyed the lions head. It didn’t take us too long to arrive at the rock garden and walk through several rock arches before arriving at the ‘’foreigner’s car park” where Fernando was waiting for us.

We then visited a Batik Factory which was interesting but we had visited several such factories in other parts of the world.

Next was a wood carving outlet who taught us how they coloured the wood with natural products. We also had a feel of a variety of woods they use for their carvings including teak.

We then had lunch. This was when I tried the Kottu Rotti for the first time. This is a special Sri Lanka dish recommended in the writings on Sri Lanka. I had the chicken version. It had a real chilli bite to it and was very tasty. It’s not like the Indian rotti but is like a stir-fry.

Afterwards, we travel to Dambulla where we toured the Dambulla Rock Temple. This was absolutely spectacular and the best we have seen in Sri Lanka so far.

Dating back to the 1st century BC, the temple is made up of five caves that have been converted into shrine rooms containing around 150 Buddha statues and colourful frescoes. They were amazing with large reclining Buddhas in the caves. I hope the photos give you an idea of the quality of these caves, paintings and statues.

Dambulla’s major attraction included the largest and best preserved cave temple complex of Sri Lanka. The area also boasts the largest rose quartz mountain range in South Asia, and the Iron Wood forest.

The rock towers 160 m (520 ft) over the surrounding plains. There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding. Major attractions are spread over 5 caves, which contain statues and paintings. This paintings and statues are related to Lord Buddha and his life. There is a total of 153 Buddha statues, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and 4 statues of god and goddess.

The area is thought to be inhabited from as early as the 7th to 3rd century BC. Statues and paintings in these caves date back to the 1st century BC. But the paintings and statues were repaired and repainted in the 11th, 12th, and 18th century AD. The caves in the city provided refuge to King Valagamba (also called Vattagamini Abhaya) in his 14-year-long exile from the Anuradapura kingdom. Buddhist monks meditating in the caves of Dambulla at that time provided the exiled king protection from his enemies. When King Valagamba returned to the throne at Anuradapura kingdom in the 1st century BC, he had a magnificent rock temple built at Dambulla in gratitude to the monks in Dambulla.

After, we continue our drive to Kandy and en route we visited a spice garden in Matale where cinnamon, cardamom, pepper creepers and other spice trees are grown. We learnt about the use of spices in Sri Lankan cuisine and watched a cooking demonstration before having a great massage for 1000 SL Rupees (<$10 AUD).

We then drove for an hour to Kandy where Fernando had trouble finding the Kandy City Hotel. Once checked in, we went next door and had a cold beer and some snacks with Sue and Dave before walking down to The Pub Restaurant for another lovely dinner.

What a day it had been and with such variety. The weather had been kind to us once again with it raining only once while we were driving from A to B.

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