Dambulla & Sigiriya

We set off from Kandy for a very energetic day. First stop was the Dambulla Rock Temples. There was a giant Buddha there:

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He is the biggest Buddha in that particular pose in the world – they really like their giant Buddhas in Sri Lanka! But the real attraction was waiting further up the hill. After a slightly hot climb, we reached the top, where over the ages five temples have been built into a rocky overhang. These temples contained plenty more Buddhas, mainly of the standing or reclining variety.

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While waiting for the rest of the group to descend the hill, Andrew decided to open a coconut with his bare hands. We all watched in awe as he karate chopped it into submission. Unfortunately there was hardly any flesh inside.

We stopped off to pick up some lunch packs from this place:

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This was typical of the places we stopped for lunch. A lunch pack consists of a box full of rice, with various accompaniments dolloped on top. I have to confess this was the first time I’d eaten rice and curry with my fingers, as I’d always had access to a fork before. There is quite an art to it, as Marissa demonstrated. First you have to mix up the rice with some of the curry to get it to stick together. You actually mash the rice up a bit. Then you scoop some up with your hand (always the right hand), and push it with your thumb into your mouth. It feels quite awkward to begin with but it works.

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Sigiriya was the highlight of the trip, I think. I knew nothing about it until we got there. It’s a giant rock, with a palace at the bottom and a palace at the top. The king who built it became king by murdering his father and usurping the throne over his brother, the legitimate heir. Eventually the brother came to seek revenge, the usurper’s armies deserted, and the usurper committed suicide. A heartwarming story of familial love.

This was all 1700 years ago, but the ruins which remain are incredible. There are fountains built with terracotta pipes which still work in the rainy season. There are also some amazing frescoes in a cave halfway up the rock.

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These are said to represent the king’s wives and concubines (there were a lot of them). The concubine in that picture actually has three hands if you look carefully. In the 1960s, a vandal smeared tar over the frescoes. Restoration work revealed that the artist had made mistakes in the frescoes and had covered them up with more plaster to fix them.

It was beautiful at the top.

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Swimming pool!

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This was only about 5:30pm. The funny thing to remember about Sri Lanka is that as it’s on the equator, the sun is up for twelve hours a day. When it’s hot outside I expect the sun to be up for a lot longer, but logically of course that’s not how it happens! So by the time we were back on the bus and on our way it was quite dark.

That’s when one of the coolest things happened. We were driving down a very narrow back road, when our driver stopped the coach. He’d spotted an elephant standing ahead of us in the road. Now, you don’t want to get too close to a teenage male elephant. The driver flashed the lights of the coach and we sat there, waiting until the elephant ambled off into the bushes. It was incredible to see an elephant in the wild like that.

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