This year, instead of returning to Thailand for our winter holiday, we decided to visit Sri Lanka. We knew a number of people who had visited the island in previous years who had been enchanted with it.
We decided that the easiest way to see the island would be to go on a round-the-island tour which would take in the best sights and all the transport, hotel accommodation, etc. would be organised for us.
We drove out of Negombo (north of Colombo, on the west coast) and passed through an area where there were lots of tile factories with piles and piles of dark reddish roof tiles wherever you looked. Our first sight of the local wildlife was in the form of a mongoose running across the road. One of the local snacks here is buffalo curd ,which is produced all over the island and sold in clay pots. We stopped for a bowl of this served with treacle/honey which was very good. It’s much like Greek yoghurt with honey.
The condition of the road wasn’t always good and it took us quite a long time to get to Dambulla where our first stop was the Golden temple and the Royal Rock Temple complex. The Golden temple itself is modern and rather ugly but boasts a 30m tall golden Buddha statue.
It was quite a climb up a vast, sloping rock face with some steps cut into it in places up to the caves.
We deposited our shoes with the shoe-carer and continued barefoot. Although records indicate that this has been a place of worship from around the 1st century BC, the paintings on the walls and ceilings, which were fantastic, only date from the 19th century. There are about 150 Buddha images throughout the five caves.
After checking-in at the hotel and drinking a restorative cup of coffee by the swimming pool in the garden,
we set off for Sigiriya. The view of the rock was really impressive from afar.
We were deposited near the entrance to the museum where we resisted the advances of a number of guides proposing their services. The approach to the rock itself is through the water gardens where cattle attended by egrets wandered and we gradually approached the base through the boulder gardens.
We then started to climb the steps (we would later discover that there were over 1000 to the very top).
The first couple of flights had water cascading down them, after the recent very heavy rains but we didn’t get too wet. After that it was dry underfoot. We climbed up and up and the rock face towered above us.
When we started our ascent inside the spiral metal staircases leading up to the frescoes I was not sure whether or not I was glad I had read Skinnywench’s description of her ascent as it was definitely not for the faint-hearted or vertigo-challenged, best not to look out or down while climbing them
but the frescoes were fantastic. They are reputed to be some 1500 years old and painted using natural pigments although apparently it is not known what these pigments were.
We then had to go down another metal staircase, older and more rickety than the first one,
to get to the mirror wall, so called because of its high shine, where much graffiti, both ancient and modern has been inscribed.
Then onwards and upwards again to the area with the lions paws. I left DH here and climbed up more metal staircases to the top with my eyes fixed on the inner wall. (I found this the scariest part especially as there was quite a breeze up there).
The views from the top were breath taking even though it was very misty.
I walked the length of the top and then descended again. I made the mistake of asking a local if he knew what time the museum closed and he promptly attached himself to us like a leech. This ‘helper’ obviously thought DH needed help even though DH insisted he was fine. At the bottom of course said helper wanted money. I offered him some but he said it wasn’t enough so I said I would keep the money at which point he decided to accept it and we gave him a bit more. We returned through the water gardens which have a very sophisticated irrigation system.
and then had a quick look at the museum, described in the LP guide as state-of-the-art but we thought it was a bit disappointing. We found our driver again about 5.15 and returned to the hotel. We were absolutely shattered and I thought my knees would never feel normal again.