We left Colombo on an inland tour…the hotel gave us an air conditioned car and driver (Damith) for 3 days at a very reasonable rate so we decided on an itinerary and off we went. The first day started with a drive to Kandy in the middle of the country. On the way we made a stop at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. This joint costs $25 to get in (really expensive for these parts) but is worth every penny.
This ended up being a theme during our 3 day odyssey…the sights were nice but anything operated by the government was exorbitant for foreigners. Not obscene in real terms but rank in comparative terms. By way of example Sigiriya cost 40 rupees for a local and 3900 rupees for us and Polonnaruwa was 50 for a local and 3250 for us. Now we don’t mind paying extra but these were almost 10,000% price hikes.
The day at the orphanage starts with watching the adult elafunts eating and is followed by a baby elafunt bottle feeding session (for the grand total of $3 you can bottle feed a baby elafunt). About 45 minutes later you follow the funts to the river and watch them washing, bathing and generally frolicking for about 2 hours (or until you decide that you have had enough). We stopped for a free guided tour of the elephant poo paper factory, that takes you through the process of turning poo to paper products.
The other notable thing that happened was a timely reminder in travelling do’s and dont’s. We have both become VERY complacent about the basics of travelling in the third world and have been ignoring the cardinal rules…this came back to haunt me and was a fair old wake up call for both of us during the next few legs. We have been cleaning our teeth with local tap water, having drinks with ice in them, and we haven’t used hand sanitiser since about January…anyway…we got reminded of the importance of these is a fairly obvious manner.
From the elephant orphanage we hopped the car for a 2 hour, 30 kilometre drive to Kandy. A kick back in the late afternoon then on to the temple of the tooth which is situated within the former palace. This is a temple that purports to have the tooth of Buddha that was retrieved from his funeral pyre. The legend says that whoever holds the tooth has governance of the country. As such over the years it has been taken, hidden, stolen and has tried to be destroyed…all failing in one form or the other (sometimes in incredibly fanciful manners) thus enhancing the relic’s claim as a holy artefact.
We watched a traditional dancing/music/fire walking show, and had dinner high on the hill overlooking the lake and the city. The next morning Jill got up at stupid o’clock and went for a 5km walk around the lake then we checked out the big Buddha on the top of the hill and lapped up the panorama of Kandy. This was the start of a day that would be heaven for Jill and a touch on the hellish side for me.
Having seen the big Buddha on the hill we were off for a 3 hr drive to the Dambulla Cave Temple or the Golden Temple. Now before we get into the actual caves and the history bit the first thing that strikes you is the theme parked “Bling Buddha” with golden lions paws emanating from the museum at its base (I thought it was the gift shop initially). After the initial shock you were faced with the stairs to reach the caves that needless to say had to be climbed before anything else could occur. The caves are a UNESCO listed world heritage site and are great. They date back to the first century BC and are a series of 5 caves that have been really well maintained. Buddha and Bodhisatta statues, paintings and frescos adorn the caves.
Having left the caves we headed towards Sigiriya or Lion Rock. Sigiriya was selected as the site of a 5th century palace complex atop a 200 metre rock. With what is the remains of the city structure below. Halfway up the rock are frescos (Maidens of the clouds) painted against the rock face but with no access so they are really well preserved. A bit further on you get to the Palace entrance which is a monster staircase flanked on either side by carved lion’s paws. High atop the plateau you come to the site of the king’s palace and the remains.
From high atop the plateau you have 360 degree views of the national park area that surrounds it. Oh by the way…can anyone guess just how you get high atop the plateau… The mountain goat I married was in her element and I begrudgingly admitted that the climb was worth the effort. As we finished we drove to our hotel for the night…through the national park. And another highlight…as we belted along the road there in the paddock by the lake was a wild elephant just going about his business untroubled by the world around them. We stopped and checked him out for a while then kept going. Pretty cool by anyone’s standards.