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Published: September 6th 2018
R: Polonnaruwa was a 90 minutes drive from Kandalama. We started the day with another Sri Lankan breakfast - hoppers, dhal, curries and bread. Mmmm. Then we hit the road. Polonnaruwa is an ancient city that was used by one of the kings of Sri Lanka as a capital when Annurhadpura became indefensible against the South Indian attacks. When this happened, they also had to move the sacred tooth relic which a new temple being built to house the tooth of Buddha that has been revered in the country for centuries.
First stop - the visitors centre. Now we have learned that Ranjan doesn't like museums - perhaps because he wants to tell us all of the information himself. Perhaps he is worried that what they will say will be different to his version, or maybe they take up too much time (he told us he normally does this tour over 12 days, instead of the 8 we have). So we didn't get to go in the museum. We did get to use the toilets. I mention this because this was our first public toilet experience and we had been warned to "be prepared". However, in the visitor centre we
were ushered to the "Foreigner Toilets", which apart from the river of fresh water running across the floor, were actually quite pleasant. The local toilets were downstairs - presumably where the water was flowing to!
We started our tour of the royal palaces including the audience hall with intricate carved pillars for ministers of each district to sit by their own local seal. It was a bit heaving with coach parties, but we managed to get around. We also walked around the ruins of the royal palace which is said to have been 7 stories high but was sacked by the Indians and has since been reduced to walls about 2 stories high. From here we moved to the Quadrangle were the tooth relic was kept in various different temples over the years. It's ruined again but this area contains several tooth relic temples and other buildings including a circular temple which was quite distinctive and hard to photo without people inside it. There were intricate carvings everywhere, including a very important moonstone on the ground. The only one of the temples that still had a roof was a lovely cool space - bear in mind we had had
to wear trousers in this sacred place and I had chosen jeans, foolishly. I left Cate and Ranjan to go back to the car, while I pottered around with the camera for a bit longer. Next was a enormous ruin of a cathedral shaped temple with a tall headless Buddha statue that was the royal's personal temple. Even the royals were not allowed to take selfies with Buddha it seems - the stairs were so steep you had to go up backwards so as not to turn your back on the Buddha statue. We also saw the ruins of a monastery and some carved rock Buddha. Surrounding these were packs of monkeys including some very tiny baby ones, all jostling each other and play fighting. We we think they were playing - there was suddenly a mass brawl of monkeys that ended in one being chased away from the pack.
After a quick stop at a not-very-interesting roadside tourist buffet cafe (the only remarkable thing about it was the refrigerated dessert room!), we headed on for our Jeep Safari. We were supposed to be heading to Minneriya National park but our guide told us that this year Kaudulla was
better. We took his advice and were not disappointed. We sped off in our jeep (Cate noted without seat belts) up the highway to the national park entrance. There is only one entrance and exit so it was very congested with impatient jeeps all trying to crawl to the entrance. We had the jeep to ourselves and the driver only spoke very slight English so most of our communication was names of animals and "thumbs ups". Within a few minutes we had seen Chameleons, Eagles, Deer but the real treat was to come. After driving through 10 minutes of forest we started to come out at a clearing which was bumpy and dusty and we could see a lake in the distance. After the force of one of the bumps nearly forced both Cate and myself out of the jeep vertically through the roof (thankfully there was a metal bar that, through contact with our heads, prevent our ascent from the vehicle....) we were by the lake where a herd of jeeps (and over 100 elephants) were gathered. The elephants ranged in size from large adult males to tiny baby elephants - like the baby elephant in the jungle book
- who seemed not at all bothered by the jeeps. These are free to roam wild elephants and are not part of any "sanctuary" or zoo. We watched them for around half an hour eating, playing and bathing in the lake, splashing each other for fun and occasionally play fighting. The jeep roof was off so we could hang out of it like in Jumanji or Jurassic Park, so we did that a lot.... It was a really amazing experience to just be there watching as they just went about their business, occasionally dodging a jeep. From there we headed on to a group of water buffalo who got no attention in comparison to the elephants but were still quite pleased to see us. For some reason at this point the jeep driver stopped and let us out away from the animals to have a walk around. We were pretty sure this was just so he could have a smoke with other drivers.
After all this excitement we headed back now with the roof off our jeep. On the way out we saw a crocodile lazily basking in the sunshine on a rock near a dam and we were
quite pleased these hadn't been around where we had been let out of the jeep.
Dinner that night was back to the curry buffet, arrack (a local Sri Lankan spirit that tastes a little like cider) in the bar and a chance to edit some of the several hundred photos of elephants I had taken. I'm glad I took the 200mm lens, though some of them were so close I actually had to switch back to my kit lens to get the whole elephant in!
Next morning we headed off on our next adventure, on the way to Kandy.
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