Sri Lanka Part 1 – Dambulla, Sigiriya and Kandy

Day 217: October 15, 2018

We woke up and had breakfast in the hotel in Negombo, Sri Lanka. We met our CEO, Uditha (Udi) and he had gotten a hold of our driver from the night before. The driver was going to bring my purse which I had left in his car. He showed up just as we were heading out.

Our group has 16 people in it: mostly from Ireland, England and Australia, then one girl from New Zealand and one girl from the USA. Along our drive Udi bought helapa (almost like a pancake made of rice flour, coconut, treacle, water and salt) for us to try. It smelled like fish which gave an odd flavour.

We drove four hours to Dambulla Rock Temple which was first created in the 2nd century BC. Buddhism was introduced in the 3rd century BC. Sri Lanka is 69% Buddhist, 15% Hindu, 7.5% Christian, 7.5% Muslim and 1% other.

Dambulla Rock Temple

There were five cave temples that we entered with many Buddha statues and paintings inside. A person who builds a Buddha statue is thought to have good fortune.

Buddha statues inside one of the caves at Dambulla Rock Temple

On our way out we passed the new temple then we stopped at a buffet for lunch. We had the afternoon free at the hotel so we hung out at the pool with the group. We stayed at the hotel for supper then went to bed.

Day 218: October 16, 2018

A breakfast buffet was served in the hotel then we left at 7:30 am for Sigiriya Rock Fortress.

In the 1st and 2nd century BC the site was a monastery. In the 5th century AD King Kashyapa killed his father, but the people rejected him as their king. He ran from the capital. Knowing his brother would come to kill him, he built his new palace on top of a rock creating Sigiriya Rock Fortress. He put crocodiles in the moat around the palace and set up many traps to protect himself.

Entering the fortress we walked passed the water gardens, a network of water pavilions, pools, courtyards and water courses. The fountains used ancient hydraulic technology.

Water gardens at Sigiriya Rock Fortress

We climbed up some stairs and saw the frescoes of 23 beautiful ladies. Nearby was the “Mirror Wall”, where visitors would write their opinions of the fortress from the 7th to 14th centuries.

We climbed around the rock to the base of the “Lion Staircase”, the entrance to the main palace on the top of the rock. It was 1200 steps and 150 m to the top.

Lion Staircase at Sigiriya Rock Fortress

The remains of the palace show that it must have been expansive. The view out over the countryside was incredible. I was dripping sweat by the time we got back down.

View from the top of Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Next we saw the audience hall where the king would have had meetings. There was a cave room that would have been used by monks to meditate when the location was still a monastery. We saw the location of the temple which would have had a bo tree in the centre. There were lots of monkeys around as well.

On our drive back to the hotel Udi bought us mangoes to try. I had thought I didn’t like mangoes, but these were amazing. I find that I have to eat the best of something first for me to like it. I felt the same way about olives before we went to Europe and had fresh ones.

For lunch we travelled by boat out to a small village. The ride was very relaxing. The scenery in Sri Lanka is so green: lots of rain and lots of sun. The home we visited was made of mud and had coconut leaves for the roof.

Lake entrance and home of our village lunch

Our host showed us how to make pol sambol, a popular Sri Lankan dish. First she opened a coconut using a machete and she let us drink the water. Yum. Next she shredded the coconut then used a rock on a rock surface to crush some red chilies. She then added onions, tomatoes, salt and finally the coconut and mixed it all with the rock. She topped it with lime and it was so delicious.

For lunch there was also fried fish, daal, mango curry, rice and some other delicious dishes. We ate our food with our hands from banana leaves which is the traditional way.

Lunch time spread

On the boat ride back our guide made a very fancy hat from a lily pad then we returned to the hotel.

Danny with the lily pad hat

Everyone else went on an elephant safari. Danny and I chose to stay at the hotel and relax. We had seen lots of elephants last year when we were in Africa and we had been really close to them when we were in Chiang Mai. Instead, we watched some Netflix then went to the pool which we had to ourselves.

Danny and I are still upset with each other or maybe I’m still upset with him. I just feel we aren’t back to being ourselves yet.

We went for supper with the group in town at 7:30 pm. Sadly, most of the dishes on the menu the restaurant only had a couple sets of each. Danny and I ordered last so the first two items we wanted there were none left. Instead, we had Chinese dishes: chop suey with rice and sweet and sour chicken. It was pretty good. We returned to the hotel for a drink with the group before we headed to bed.

Day 219: October 17, 2018

We had breakfast in the hotel then stopped at a wood carving shop. We were shown the different types of wood they use and how they make different colour paints from the rainbow tree. We saw the employees carving and hand painting then walked through their shop. Everything was beautiful, but too expensive.

Wood carving and painting

Next we stopped at a spice garden which we were led through with a guide. He explained the uses of the spices we saw: vanilla, cocoa (75%+ is good for the heart), ginger (good for stomach pain), peppercorns, cloves (good for toothaches), red pineapple (balances your thyroid), nutmeg (good for migraines), aloe vera, cardamom, coffee beans, curry leaves, sandal wood (good for perfume and cosmetics) and cinnamon (good for arthritis). We were given some tea to sample then given a shoulder and neck massage. I bought some spices there to try.

Tour of the spice garden

From there, we drove to the village of Digana, home to 2,500 people in central Sri Lanka. We stayed at Tamarind Gardens which is a community based project. The property was a farm with 30 cows, some goats and some chickens. We were fed a home cooked lunch which was very delicious.

Sri Lanka has wet and dry zones. The dry zone only has three months of rain. There are no natural lakes on the island, only man-made. The area we were staying was on the border of the dry zone where water is scarce. There is also only a few feet off top soil.

Danny and I were given a separate cottage with a stunning view out to a water reservoir. The cottage was made of mud, but the foundation was concrete.

Our cottage at Tamarind Gardens

Our host took us on a tour of the local village. Over 60% of the population are employed in dolomite mining. There are private and government companies that have dolomite mines.

Our first stop was to see two ladies who produce incense. They take bamboo sticks, put black magic (a mixture of charcoal, resin and perfume) on one end and then rub it in wood powder. Together they make 10,000 sticks a day.

Woman making incense sticks

We walked passed the Kindergarten of which the town has three, one for each official language (Sinhala, Tamil and English). Higher schools are 5 km away and the children take a bus to get there. We saw some jewelry made by a local man then bags and clothing made by local mothers.

We returned to the farm and were given tea. We all sat in the dining room after and played games. We were taught a board game similar to billiards that originated in India called carrom.

We helped out in the kitchen with making string hoppers which are similar to pasta. A dough of rice flour, wheat flour, salt and water was made then put through a hand press to make strings on a straw round coaster. When we had enough, they were steamed for 7-8 minutes. They are eaten with curries similar to rice. Supper was delicious: curry, daal, pumpkin, eggplant and more. After supper we sat chatting then went to bed.

Day 220: October 18, 2018

We woke up and had a nice breakfast at the farm. The people there were very sweet and so willing to share about their lives in Sri Lanka.

Morning view from our cottage

We left and drove to a gem outlet. We were shown a film on how they mine gems in Sri Lanka. Danny and I had our mouths agape watching it. Men dug holes with hammers and chisels, the walls were supported by timber and leaves and candles were used to indicate if oxygen levels were adequate. Safety flags were flying up in my head. It seemed to be the conditions of gold rush Canada. It was hard to believe industry is still done in that way and that its being advertised.

In the bottom floors there was a mock up of a mine to walk through, but the ceilings were eight feet tall, double what they would be in a real mine. We were told that the government regulates mining so mostly hand digging is allowed. They consider this to be less harmful to the environment and a more stable source of employment. It still seems more needs to be done to regulate the safety of the mines.

We were shown how they polish the gems and how to tell a real from a fake. Then we were shown the displays of jewellery for purchase.

Next we drove to Kandy where the Kandy Kingdom was centralized from the late 15th century to the early 19th century.

Lizard in Kandy

Buddha was originally Prince Siddhartha. He had an easy life, but was not necessarily satisfied with it. He previously followed the Hindu religion, but decided to find his own way. He realized peace came from the mind and started to meditate. By removing everything from the mind he achieved enlightenment.

The Kandy Kingdom was presented with Lord Buddha’s tooth by India. We visited the Temple of the Tooth which was located inside the royal palace complex of Kandy.

The Portuguese attacked and destroyed the original temple, but a new one was built in the 18th century. A terrorist attack in 1998 destroyed the entrance, but it has since been rebuilt.

Temple of the Tooth

After the temple we entered a nearby room which had paintings showing the history of Prince Siddhartha and how the tooth came to be in the temple.

Outside we walked through an audience hall that had the traditional wood carvings of Kandy. We were then taken to our hotel. Danny and I chilled in the room until 4:00 pm. We caught the bus into town with Udi then walked to the theatre for a cultural show.

It has been nice just following a guide. It takes so much less effort and stress. If we had been alone, we would have had to figure out what bus to take, what time it drove by, where it stopped, how to pay, where to get off, etc. It is a lot of added stress when you have to do it all yourself in a place that is not familiar.

The cultural show had traditional dancing and some plate spinning. It was a lower budget than others we have seen, but it was still interesting. The experience would have been much more enhanced if it had been in the forest around a fire.

Cultural show

At the end two men did fire walking which was very exciting. We went out for supper with the group then shared a tuk tuk back to the hotel.

Sri Lanka was not in our original plans, but it has been such a nice surprise so far. Being on tour may be just the break we need from the stress of travelling. The scenery here is so beautiful, everything is so green and lush. Tomorrow we head up into the hills where it is supposed to be a bit cooler than the +30 degrees it’s been since we’ve arrived.


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