I think when my story last left off, we had just encountered an elephant in the middle of the road. By the time we got to Polonnaruwa it was time for dinner. Our hotel was right by the lake, which was actually a man-made reservoir built in ancient times. Behind our hotel lay an ancient ruined city, with a massive palace, and many temples and administrative buildings. It really looked like something out of Indiana Jones.
The place was full of monkeys. These two were babies:
In the ruins, a queue was forming at the monkey spa:
This was earlier in the day, when I still thought the monkeys were cute. Near the end of the day one tried to mug me. I changed my mind a little bit after that!
This was one of the temples. There were over 6km of ruins, and we had to hire bicycles just to see them all. Now, I hadn’t written a bike in well over half my life (if you live on a dirt road, you can’t cycle – the cars kick up far too much dust), so I was a bit wobbly at first but soon we were tossing our heads from side to side and singing “Do, a deer”. There was even talk of turning curtains into play clothes.
By the end of 6km of temples, I really was suffering from temple fatigue, and a rather sore bum (recent weight loss + potholes + no suspension = ouch). “Just like riding a bike” really is one of the most misleading idioms.
The evening was spent rather pleasantly, drinking arrack and eating cake by the lake in celebration of James’ 27th birthday.
In the morning, it was back on the bus again, for the longest ride of the trip. First we headed back towards Kandy, where we rendezvous-ed with the luggage van outside the Botanical Gardens. On the way we stopped at a lookout point and I snapped this lovely photo of the happy couple looking happy:
We eventually arrived in Dalhousie Town, where we had what was possibly the second best meal of the entire trip. The guest house we stayed at put on a lovely spread, starting off with a delicious pumpkin soup that is quite hard to describe. It was quite thin, but full of flavour and contained some coconut, I think. The onion soup in Sri Lanka is also delicious. It was important to fortify ourselves for the challenge ahead:
Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak. The mountain is sacred to Buddhists, Christians and Muslims, and Buddhists in particular undertake pilgrimages to the temple at the top. Even though we were in the mountains, it was still quite warm, so the idea is that you climb the mountain at night, getting to the top in time for the sunrise. The sunrise actually causes a mysterious effect, casting a shadow of the mountain that is perfectly triangular, even though the mountain is irregularly shaped. Spooky! There’s a bell at the top that you need to ring for every time you have climbed the mountain, but you can only ring it from the second time you climb onwards. So a few mental individuals in our group decided to climb it twice. Most of us, however, went to bed and tried to get as much rest as we could!
We spent the next day in Dalhousie Town, relaxing, exploring and making friends with the local children. Some people went white water rafting, on the river where they filmed The Bridge Over The River Kwai. We had hoped to go to Nuwara Eliya, a colonial tea town, but unfortunately the road was out. It was nice to have a quiet day anyway.
Then at night (after an unsuccessful attempt to get some sleep) it was time to climb. The mountain is lit all the way up, and lined with tea shops for rest breaks. The only way up is by foot, so food and drink gets more expensive the higher you climb. Halfway up, the lights went out. Florenci and I were in the middle of an interesting discussion about minority languages (Catalan, Maori, and Welsh) but when the lights didn’t come on straight away, we joined the others in a nearby tea house:
It was an hour before we were on our way again. Eventually, we made it to the top, just in time for the sunrise:
I won’t deny it was a difficult climb for me. It was steps all the way up, and I was still recovering from bronchitis. The lack of sleep was the real kicker. We got a bit caught up in some kind of ceremony at the top including the parading of some kind of relic followed by lots of chanting. I can’t say I had a particularly religious experience though. I have always admired Buddhist values. 90% of the population of Sri Lanka is Buddhist and I think this was reflected in the friendly and gentle way we were generally treated by the locals, but I don’t really get the point of climbing a lot of steps and chanting – what does it prove exactly? Still, there’s no denying the view from the top was breathtaking.
I don’t think I’ll ever be ringing that bell though.