Bare Feet, Hordes of Monkeys and Shedloads of Buddhas


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Asia » Sri Lanka » North Central Province » Anuradhapura
September 6th 2017
Published: September 7th 2017
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Today I learned that there's an elephant in Yala that chases your car if you don't feed it. I wish we were going to Yala; I've been chased by a rhino and hippo before, plus many cows and an angry goat. But never an elephant!

But anyway, it was time to leave Wilpattu and we had to finally face sorting the bill with Bandara who brought with him a calculator. He prices thing in dollars despite wanting payment in Sri Lankan Rupees and us being English. So after working out exchange rates, we discovered we didn't have enough rupees because the price had mysteriously increased since we booked and we only changed a small amount of cash at the airport because the rate was bad. We ended up giving him English money which he said was no problem despite not knowing what it was. He must have been confident we were happy as he insisted we fill out the visitors book, and called his boss in Kandy who asked Glyn to give a review on Booking.com

I'd booked a driver through the Internet as its highly not recommended for foreigners to drive themselves in Sri Lanka and he was due to arrive at 8am. But he was 20 minutes late and Bandara was stressing so I called the driver, Thuminda and it turned out he was at the National Park. Google maps had sent him to another Wilpattu Holiday Home where he was told they did have a guest called Claire who had gone on safari. Imagine how annoyed he must have been as he'd gotten up at 4.30am to get to us on time! (Who is this mysterious Claire, staying in a similar place and going on safari making people wait for her? I will never know.) Bandara went running up the dirt track to wait for him and arrived back at the accommodation as a passenger in Thuminda's car.

Thuminda speaks the best English of anyone we have met so far in Sri Lanka and this made everything so much easier. His driving was good by local standards and he seemed like a really nice guy. He has been to Thailand and lived in Qatar but preferred to come home to Sri Lanka.

The drive to Anaradhapura did not take long, driving past more stray dogs lying in the road and random cows crossing, including one being chased by a worried calf that narrowly missed a woman on a moped - she was not happy! Anuradhapura has various parts, many in ruins and was one of the greatest centres of power and religion in the country from 4BC to 10AD. We passed a lake full of lotus flower plants, the leaves were intact but all the flowers were missing. The first place we visited was Mirisavatiya Dagoba. I'm still not entirely sure what a Dagoba is, but a lot of Buddhists were praying there as it was the end of a religious festival and thousands were on pilgrimages from all over Sri Lanka. They were carrying prayers books and chanting in various places around the huge bell-shaped Dagoba which is completely sealed but apparently has gold in it. There were a few Buddha statues, covered in flowers - this is where they had all disappeared to!

At the entrance I was super pleased to find a small cat and a tiny kitten, both curled up in tight furry balls sound sleep next to the donations plate. Stoney hearted Glyn was completely unimpressed and shot off with Thuminda.

Next we went to Ruwanwelisiya Dagoba which is bigger than the previous one and pale blue in colour being regularly painted. This too was chock full of worshippers chanting and singing, Thuminda also had a brief pray at some of the many Buddha shrines. As with all religious places here, we had to remove our shoes and walk around in bare feet. I don't really see the point of this as my feet ended up as dirty as any shoe, so I probably carried in as much dirt as I would with shoes.

There was a long barefoot walk along a hot path to a tree that is a sapling from the oldest tree in the world which was where Buddha gained enlightenment. We never sussed which was the right tree.

I told Glyn I was going to the loo as I'd seen a sign that said 'Men' and 'Women'. Glyn was confused, where was the loo. I then realised it was the entrance to the main place of worship. Slightly embarrassing mistake to make! I don't know why there are separate doorways when inside all genders mix freely. There were a few indoors places with no end of gold coloured Buddhas and in a small temple we could hardly move for pilgrims chanting on the floor. Then some drums started pounding and everyone stood up. Glyn and I were caught up in the tightly packed throng of worship and slowly backed away. Apparently some people were being blessed. Glyn told me we should get out quickly before they all sat down because as there were so many, there wouldn't be any floor space to climb out over them.

There are lots of other places to see in Anuradhapura, but according to Thuminda, most are rubble in ruins, you have to pay a lot for a guide and it would take hours to get around. I think he wanted to leave.

Stopping at a roadside vendor, Thuminda bought us two orange coloured coconuts that only grow in Sri Lanka, the vendor chopped the tops off so we could drink the milk which is meant to be very good for you in hot weather or if you have a hangover. He also gave us slices of guava lightly covered in salt and chilli powder that was nice but I couldn't eat too much of it. I also requested a stop to photograph an 'elephant crossing' signpost. I asked how likely it would be that a wild elephant maybe crossing the road but despite being an elephant corridor, I was told not very likely at all. However I was informed that near Yala there's an elephant that lives on the road that won't let cars past unless they give it some food, if you try to avoid this toll, the elephant chases you and shoves its trunk through your window should you be so daft to leave it open when chased by a hungry elephant. Thuminda once tried to avoid the toll by tail-gating a car that did pay with fruit, but the elephant was not fooled and he was soon chased away.

We headed to Dambulla and found a large bank to change our English money into Sri Lankan Rupees. Thuminda waited outside and we took so long that I'm sure he must have thought we had gone on safari again! There were multiple forms to fill in, passport copied, lots of waiting and then the clerk handwrote the 8 digit number of every note we changed onto the back of the passport photocopy - there were quite a few notes too.

Eventually we made it out and went to the Cave Temples which like all good cultural sites were at the top of a long flight of steps. Hordes of tiny monkeys were running around, many with babies or with red faces which meant they were females in season. I also found a kitten there, so a perfect place in all.

Again shoes had to be removed, this time the ground was littered with overripe berries fallen from the nearby trees, so the soles of my feet became red and squishy. The front of the five caves had white facades and date back from the first century BC. King Valagambahu had sought refuge in there after being exiled and now it was chock full of Buddhas in various sizes and poses, brightly painted as were the walls and ceiling.

Glyn had his Pokemon on and spotted a poke gym nearby that was called the Golden Temple, so we decided to walk to that (travel exploration by Pokemon!). Thuminda went back to get the car and said he'd meet us there. The Golden Temple is dissed a bit in our guidebooks for being gaudy, but I like a bit of gaudy. It is painted in bright colours with a huge golden Buddha towering over it. Inside is a museum, where again you remove your shoes and full of Buddhas from all over Asia. We were the only visitors in there but it was only a quid to get in.

Glyn was getting hungry and Thuminda must have been really tired so we headed to Sigiriya where our next accommodation, the Lion Lodge is situated. It's really nice and the best place we've stayed in Sri Lanka so far. It looked like there could be hot water but an evening shower proved that to be wrong. Thuminda went to stay with a friend and we went to find a place to eat. A few people in tuk-tuks tried to get us to ride with them, but we wanted to walk. Glyn said it was so much easier than in India where he says they will follow you for miles, but here they leave you be when you say no thank you.

We went to 'Chooti' and sat on a balcony over a thin metal roof with a chipmunk running around nearby. I ordered an avocado juice because I'd never had one before, it was more like a thick purée and was a meal in itself. My actual meal was an avocado roti and it was very nice. Afterwards we took photos of Sigiriya Rock and the sunset, but the sun set away from the rock - typical! The orange sky was lovely and bathed the small town in a warm golden light that Glyn totally failed to appreciate. The gaudy lights of the tourist bars lit up but they were mostly empty as its the end of the season. Nowhere around here sells alcohol despite it being so touristy, a guy in a shop said they had no licences and if I wanted beer, it would be a tuk-tuk ride away, but there I could drink all I wanted! I didn't bother, wasn't worth it when I just wanted one cold pint.


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8th September 2017
Inside the Golden Temple

Never enough time
So many temples and buddhas.... so little time.

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