Edit Blog Post
Published: April 5th 2017
Mar 31 2017 and we are on the road again with Sri Lanka by Car and our driver Manu. The destination is the ancient city of Polonnurawa which is supposedly "a 3 hour drive if there is no traffic". And 6 hours later we arrived!!!!! Stretches of the road were indeed traffic free and we were able to go the speed limit of 70kmh (and in one instance 78 kmh which resulted in a speeding ticket) but for the most it was varying speeds, passing at every opportunity. Not as scary as India but sometimes you have to wonder what is gained by accelerating past another vehicle, just to sit jammed between it and another one.
Anyway, we arrived at the Unesco World Heritage Site early afternoon and after grabbing a snack, we bought our entry tickets (a steep $25 USD each), breezed through the museum and rented a couple of bikes to explore the site. There was a very persistent fellow who accompanied us through the museum offering his guide services - we turned him down! Polonnurawa was the second Sinhalese capital from the 11th to the 13th centuries CE. As far as impressiveness of ruins, unfortunately I do
not think it rates very high but there are some nice sites. The Vatadage (18m in diameter) was built to protect a small stupa (which is surrounded by 4 seated Buddhas who in turn face the four doorways to the second platform). There was a beautiful intricately carved Sandakada Pahana (moonstone) at the single north entrance to the Vatadage. A moonstone is a semi circular stone slab and in this case had three separate bands of elephants, horses and lions. The Vatadage was a sacred site so shoes and hats had to be removed - we had packed socks with us because we had heard that the stones got really hot (and they were) - too bad we had left them with my pack at Colombo airport.
The Gal Vihara has four images of Buddha carved into a single granite rock (2 seated, 1 standing and 1 reclining) - the reclining Buddha is 14m in length and the standing one is 7m tall. Then there was the Thivanka Image Hall which had some beautiful frescoes inside.
It was fairly easy cycling around the site despite the condition of the bikes which were single speed and had really squeaky
brakes, not to mention low seats - decent roadway that we shared with tour buses, cars and tuk tuks - for those who did not want to exert themselves in the heat and humidity. There were lots of trees that provided shade and the occasional monkey for entertainment. This was 2 hours worth of activity for us so I would hate to think how long we would at the site if we had used the guide.
Leaving Polonnurawa, we headed to Sigiriya for the night. The road took us through Minneriya National Park and we saw 3 wild elephants in the distance and one crossing the road in front of us! It took a few questioning of locals and a phone call in order to find our guesthouse - Thathsara Holiday Inn - Manu dropped us off and headed into the little village to find his own accommodation (unlike many car and driver companies we were not responsible for his food and lodging). When Kelly booked us in at Thathsara, booking.com showed there was only one triple room left - turned out this was actually the ONLY room that was completed. And it was a huge room with two
private sitting areas outside. As the guesthouse was a wee way out of the way we elected to have dinner there cooked by mama Rohini - and what a feast it was - rice, spicy chicken, four veg curries (bean, cabbage, pumpkin and aberella), brinjal (eggplant), dal, papad and then fresh bananas, papaya, watermelon and curd with honey for dessert. Food enough for four people and only cost $9 cdn each!!!! We tried to say that for breakfast we only wanted a small amount of food - and we had string hoppers, eggs, coconut roti, fish rolls, banana pancakes and coconut sambal. Kelly wanted to take Rohini home with us.
Manu returned to pick us up at 7am and it was off to climb Sigiriya Rock which is an ancient rock fortress 660 feet high and which dates back to the 4th century CE. It is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and even more expensive than Polonnurawa! It is part of the price we pay for being a tourist. The climb to the Sky Palace comprises 1200 stairs and some flat walking. The easy part starts at the Water Gardens through to the Boulder Gardens and then it starts
getting steeper and longer through the Terraced Gardens. Time for a breather at the Mirror Wall - a wall of white plaster that was once so highly polished, the king could see his reflection in it. Then up a 20 m spiral staircase to view the beautiful frescoes - unfortunately photos were not allowed and although there was no one policing the area, Kelly was giving me the evil eye. Back down the spiral staircase then another climb up to the start of the Lion Staircase (there are a couple of huge lion feet carvings here) and then the climb really started up a narrow steel staircase attached to the exposed surface of the rock face. The sun was beating down and I can not imagine doing this climb any later in the day. Once at the top, it was impossible to get an overall view of what the city/palace must have looked like - you need an aerial view for that. Stunning views straight down of the Water Gardens though. And then we had to climb down again. The whole climb would have been quite nasty and slippery if it was wet and as it was, I was really
glad we had brought shoes along for this excursion.
Next destination was the Cave Temple in Dambulla - 5 Caves, 153 Buddha statues and a whole heap of monkeys!!!!! No one mentioned the long stone staircase leading to the caves - I shouldn't have switched to jandals! These caves date back to the first century BC and is the largest and best preserved cave complex in Sri Lanka. As well as the Buddha statues (in various poses and sizes) and other miscellaneous gods and goddesses, the walls (2100 sq meters) were covered with beautiful murals - one cave alone has 1500 paintings of Buddha. This is definitely worth the visit.
And then the final two hours of driving to Kandy - our home for the next two nights. This was possibly the worst section for traffic as it seemed that it was one small town after another - and it was the weekend and everyone was out shopping. We made a brief stop in Matale to see the second largest Hindu temple in Sri Lanka and that was it for touristing for the day.
Tot: 0.454s; Tpl: 0.02s; cc: 12; qc: 27; dbt: 0.0068s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb