Finally, after an hour of climbing, we reached the ruins of Sigiriya. They are situated on top of the giant rock that dominates the surrounding landscape. Going up is not as awful as it sounds, because it is very windy and that cools you down so you don´t feel so hot. Halfway up, you see a break in the wonderful cave rock paintings, and half an hour later you reach the top. The ancient capital city of Sri Lanka has been built as a series of terraces. It is a huge amount of work, and until now not very much has been discovered about the architecture and engineering of this place. You can see the remains of houses and administrative buildings of the city, plus a series of tanks that were used to collect rain water for the entire city. If you go down via the various terraces, you have to climb back to take the same road that you took to go up. At the bottom, in the museum, it is interesting to see the model of the rock and how the city is organized.
Sigiriya is a big rock, a bit like Ayers Rock in Australia, rising up as if from nowhere a few miles north of Badulla. The entrance fee is $ 25, or you can buy the Cultural Triangle pass that costs $ 50 and includes other ruins of interest. It took a while to get there on public transport from Badulla, because the van was really busy and stopped at every corner to try to let more people on. We checked our bags in at the box office, and went off to climb. This place has been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site, and it is wonderful. At 200m high, the ancient kings built a real city, with an irrigation system and incredible defense. It was warm but the wind was so strong it was difficult to climb to the top. Do not forget your water and your sunscreen. Halfway up there is a cave with wonderful paintings of women of the harem of the king.
The think that Sigiriya was already inhabited in prehistoric times, and that it was used as monasteries within the rock. The capital of the ancient kingdom of Sri Lanka was built by King Kassapa I. It is one of seven UNESCO sites which exist in Sri Lanka. You get to the rock by way of the gardens and then begin to rise, as the city was built on the top of the rock. In the fifth century BC, Sigiriya was a strategic place, perfect for holding real power, because its location on the rock made it almost impossible to assault. Several giant stones around the site gave additional protection. The capital was moved from here to Anuradhapura in 495.
Sri Maha Bodhi is one of the eight holy Buddhist places in Anuradhapura. The city was once the capital of the kingdom of Sri Lanka, but now only the ruins remain. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site. The visit is free, but they ask for donations to enter the temple. It is always better to leave something in the "donation box" than someone! The Sri Maha Bodhi is a sacred tree and is over 2000 years old. It's now kept with gold sticks and metal. You have to wear pants, make sure your back is covered, pass a police security check and take your shoes off in order to visit. It's amazing when you see the amount of people. They say it's a descendant of a tree in India where Budda reached Bodhi, i.e. the enlightenment. From the center you can take a tuk tuk, because it can be a pretty long walk.
This rock cave is situated on the way when you start to climb up towards the ancient capital of Sigiriya. The capital was built on top of a giant rock, which rises up as if from nowhere, similar to Ayers Rock in Australia. This cave is the main remaining work of art that you can still see today in Sigiriya. It was covered with paintings, and there are only a few of them left now. The place had served as a refuge for the hermit monks in ancient times. With the arrival of the royal court and the construction of the capital, the women of the harem began to appear in the cave. The details are very fine. They had up to 500 women painted in the cave. Apparently they came from all over the world.
At 6h40 am and 9h40 out there is a train that goes from Ella train to Colombo with a "tourist navigation wagon". This means that in the back of the train there is a large window that allows tourists to take advantage of the great landscape by looking out the back of the wagon. The most popular option is to simply continue to Haputale, which is located about 30km away, the train can make the trip In an hour and a half. What amused me is that the tourist train almost always comes on time, and the other "local" train is just expected to pass. The "tourist" class ticket while it costs to Haputale 750RS 40RS in second class is comfortable, where instead of super window will open the door to take pictures. Around you, there tea plantations, mountains, and local neighbors and children going to school. I found the second prettiest therefore, to share with people. From Haputale the train continues in the direction of Hatton and Nuwara Eliya.
In Muthiyagana temple, you can find a big white stupa, which is the focal point of prayer in the temple. Muthiyagana is one of the 16 major temples of the island, and a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from Sri Lanka. They say that inside the stupa there are Buddha's tears. During Buddha's 3rd trip to Sri Lanka, Indika gave this to one of his disciples, 3 of his tears, which became pearls. Indika placed them inside a stupa, and people have come to visit from all over. There is so much fervor in this temple, especially if you visit in the morning.
The Kosgoda Sea Turtle Hatchery is located in the small village of Kosgoda a short drive away from the beautiful colonial city of Galle. The hatchery is a conservation project by local villagers to increase hatching rates among wild sea turtles and to care for and rehabilitate injured sea turtles at otherwise couldn't survive in the wild. Sea turtles lay their eggs right on the beach, but due to a host of natural and man-made factors, many of the hatchlings don’t make it back to the ocean and the local sea turtle population has been in decline for years.
At the Kosgoda Sea Turtle Hatchery, the caretakers collect eggs laid on the beach, hatch the turtles in captivity, and care for them until they are strong enough to be released back onto the beach. In fact, you yourself can participate in a baby turtle release if you go the hatchery in the evenings. When we went, we had to make a small donation at the door and then one of the caretakers gave us a tour of the facilities. They have several tanks where they raise the baby sea turtles before being released and several other tanks where they keep the injured turtles.
One of the nice things about the Kosgoda Hatchery was that it didn’t seem exploitative, a welcome change from many animal-oriented attractions in South Asia. The caretakers seemed to genuinely care about their work and they strictly prohibited touching or bothering the turtles in any way. The visit takes around half an hour and it’s a nice stop on the way from Galle to the Yatagala Temple or Koggala Lake.
The Dambatenne tea plantation is very big and old, and was founded by Englishman Sir Thomas Lipton in the mid-nineteenth century. You can visit the factory or you can just take a tuk tuk (rickshaw) to get you around the region if you just want to enjoy the scenery. It is a very beautiful mountain landscape with tea trees cut to the height of one meter for easy harvest. Employees start early but have a long day. They only earn just a little over a euro each day, but the advantage of working in the plantation is that everything is organized like a small village sponsored by the company. A rent free home is provided, schools have been built and teachers paid, and the hospitals care for a thousand employees. A bus drives you to meet the employees if you don't want a tuk tuk. I think they cose 20RS per person.
The Senani Silk Factory is on a hill half a mile from the center of Kandy. You can arrive via tuk tuk for a euro or so, or on foot, as it is a lovely walk to make the most of the views. In the factory you can see how they make natural silk with worms. Then see how they treat it, and finally they stain it to get a rainbow of colors. The silk is then used to make traditional dresses, but with the growing interest of tourists, They now also make clothes that are easier to wear for us. All this you can find in the store. It's not cheap but the products are good quality. The visit is supposedly free, but if you're not buying anything from the store, the guide will expect at least a tip, usually 100RS per person.
This cultural and religious center is inside Natha temple, right next to the Buddha Tooth Temple in the spiritual heart of Sri Lanka. Pilgrims can request accommodation but there are so many people that usually they can only offer you a place on the floor in one of the halls. Other than that, the cultural center has some monks who live there throughout the year and speak some English. They are happy to teach you how to live your daily life by the teachings of Buddha. It´s very interesting to see them worship the Hindu gods in addition to worshipping Buddha and living the kind of life that he advises. There aren´t many resources there so there are few books or documents but a chat will make it worth your visit.
The Dambulla Buddhist museum at the entrance of the cave paintings is a UNESCO World Heritage. The museum itself looks like a park attraction. You go through a kind of large snapdragon to a small space they have built and painted the caves, which are higher on the mountain. Museum admission is not included in the entrance of the caves, which costs $10. So it seems a bit much to not have much information at the end. We had the Lonely Planet that explains very well the differences between the caves.
This bus is a miracle. The first reason is because there are not many other vehicles that pass by on this bad road, and the second reason is that the bus is almost always empty. In general, buses in Sri Lanka are filled at the start station, with all seats occupied, plus some people standing. On the way, even more people get on the bus. We traveled with the smallest possible backpacks, ie less than 8 kilos of luggage per person, that would fit under the seats provided on the bus. It is the cheapest means of transport, but it is terribly slow. I think there's about 30 miles between Hakgala and Haputale, and it took a little over two hours. The interior of Sri Lanka is so mountainous that sometimes to get from one point to another is more worthwhile down to the coast and take the coast highway to climb back up the mountain on the other side.
The frescoes of Hindu Kataragama temple are on the outside of the temple, to the bottom of what is inside the main hall. It's a pity because they are well wrapped and most are hardly visible. Apparently before, they were all around the temple. If you have lost your colors, you can see some with elephants representing victorious scenes for the defense of the area. People do not seem to realize the value of these frescoes and I don´t think it will last much longer.
Fishermen in Arugam Bay get up early at 2 in the morning or so, to have 4 or 5 hours of fishing at sea. They bring back locusts, sometimes sharks and other exotic fish that hotels buy for guests. There are not many restaurants that do this type of thing. You can even ask the people where you are staying what you want for the next day and they will bring you that fish. They return at 10am. Sometimes they go back in the afternoon. We were invited to go with them, but we didn´t have the time. The boats are new, because the old ones were lost in the tsunami in 2004. These are donations from international organizations. They say they are not as good as the traditional wooden boats ....
Leaving Pottuvil if you take the road south to get to Arugam bay, surfers beach, you will go by a big lake which is the delta of Lake Karanda Oya. It forms a lake before dropping into the ocean. It is a good place to go to the early hours of the morning to see the birds. Also at night, if you're lucky, there are elephants. There are a couple of parks nearby, and sometimes the elephants go to them. We walk, not very comfortable because there is no well-laid paths and sometimes you find your feet in the mud. We followed in the footsteps of what I guess were cows or buffaloes, since they are heavier than us, so you do not sink. It's a nice place, you can rent a boat with a guide, too.
When I look at the video, I get dizzy! The bus does not go fast, but there are sacred cows, tuk tuks, large buses, private vehicles ... I Do not know who has priority and which side will be in front. After observation, the biggest has priority. It is not the quickest. So, if you rent a car service, it does not mean that you will come much faster at the end. The bus has a charge man at the entrance. He is a genius who remembers every face and never forgets to charge anyone. Kids pay a few rupees. We always paid 30 or 50 rupees, which is 25 euro cents, and 100 rupees (half a euro) per hour for long distance travel. The buses are old Tata buses from India. It's a journey you have to do at least once, but prefer private transport to go between cities. Surprisingly, the Sinhalese leave the seats to women!