Home from work Sri Lankan style!
We arrived in Sri Lanka at 08.45 am after 2 hours sleep (Just a 4 hour flight from Dubai. They spent the first hour offering drinks and food, THEN suggesting perhaps you would like to sleep. Woke us up 2 hours later by opening the blinds and presenting Breakfast. I chose Sri Lankan porridge, lentil cakes and a sort of dhal. Delicious …if unusual)
Met by Tissa, our driver and chauffeur for the next 9 days. We agreed an itinerary with Ceylon Escapes, which we will now follow, entrusting ourselves to Tissa.
A very different way for us to holiday. We normally like to have freedom to drive ourself and change course mid trip!
Tissa is calm and polite and SPEAKS (more later) good English. He sorted us out with an ATM and a SIM card, and off we went to his car, a very comfortable Toyota Hiace. He presented us with a coolbox to put between us…”water for the lady, beer for Chris”, plus a gift from the company – a roadmap of Sri Lanka and a pashmina for me. Nice touch and both useful.
We headed North.
First impressions… Thank Goodness we didn’t hire a car. A small country road becomes 4 lanes in an instant. There is a hierarchy. Bikes move over for Tuk tuks. Both move over for cars. All move over for lorries and buses. Each one announces their presence by sounding their horn. So our car beeps to overtake a Tuk tuk, who is in turn beeping to overtake a bike. Coming the other way is a truck who has just pulled out to swerve round the tuktuk which just pulled out onto the wrong side of the road. Add to that 5 stray dogs and the odd cow and you get the idea! And this is calm compared to India!
Everyone seems friendly. We arrive at Ibis hotel, Wilpattu (not the chain). A 2 room bnb in the wilds, by a National park. Warmly greeted with cool towels and drinks we were immediately served lunch and taken ‘on safari’. No leopard but we did see Hornbills which for us was very exciting. On our return we were presented with ‘very refreshing drink’. Half way through mine I said…” this is lovely…what is it?” “Very british drink” came the reply….”Gin and tonic”!
I don’t really drink… that was my first ever G&T!!
Lovely traditional dinner on the terrace all prepared from local farmers produce. The curry had one hell of a kick! All we could hear were the calls of wildlife. Early to bed to the sound of some decidedly large insects scuttling around, and monkeys or giant squirrels on the roof!
Early start for a dawn bird safari around the villa. Oh my. Within 500 yards of the villa we had seen 2 different species of Eagle, a pair of Brahminy kite, pied cuckoo, Jacanas, crested swift, 3 sorts of bee-eaters, 2 sorts of kingfishers and so much more. Also gorgeous butterflies. All followed by a delicious breakfast served under the trees before Tissa hurried us to the car with our luggage…”We have temples to visit”. Very sad to leave.
We drove to Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Ceylon built from the 3rd century BC. Tissa comes into his own. He searches out the hidden marvels, and tells us interesting anecdotes.
A stupa.. 2000 years old but perfectly symmetrical all around, pointing up to Nirvana.
2000 year old sacred buddha who has different expressions depending which side you view from.
We are given a full history lesson, and an in depth introduction to Buddhism! This places covers a vast area and we were there for hours. Our favourites were the ancient Bhodi tree grown from a sprout of the tree in India under which Budda received enlightenment.
Then onto Lion rock hotel, Kassopa, where we relax round the pool! The accommodation is more upmarket than I was expecting! Dinner was a great buffet. Again we sampled all the local dishes.
Bed at 10.00pm for a very early start! Apparently I had expressed a wish to climb Sigirya Rock. A Sri Lankan cross between Uluru and Machu Pichu. Sort of!
It is a very high rock which had a Palace built on the top, and frescoes painted on the sides.
The access is up 1207 very steep steps cut into the rock side. The last stage is metal laddering.
Those who know me will understand that this ticks none of my boxes. But what is the point of being here if you don’t try. So we did. Wheezing and gasping, and having let at least 3 octogenarian skip past me with their Zimmer frames, I dragged myself over the last step using NLP all the way to master the vertigo. (Posibly a slight exaggeration there). Wow was it worth it. Firstly for the 360° views, and secondly for the extent of the palace ruins, including a huge Olympic sized swimming pool carved from solid rock.
The descent down the metal staircases took all my concentration, but after that, no problems.
Lunch at a roadside cafe cost under £5 for soup, huge buffet main course, little sweet and drink. Next the amazing Dambulla cave temple, built by King Valagamba in the first century bc. Another steep climb up to a sequence of 5 caves, each containing huge figures and paintings on the rock itself. Indescribable, and impossible to really capture on film, it is a must see. Some are over 2000 years old.
The feet of the 14 metre Budda with carvings explaining the doctrine.
A tiny number of the 3 metre high carvings in cave 2.
What a day, rounded off by an Indian foot massage… quite tough but my feet feel great!
Now to bed for a 5.00am start… tomorrow we go on the famous Sri Lankan railway.