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Sri Lankan Sojourn: Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapur

The last in this long winded travel series.

Sigiriya had left us breathless (literally and figuratively). After buying some work from the local artisans workshop we made way to Polonnaruwa. Polonnaruwa was  Sri Lanka’s second capital and became Sri Lanka’s royal medieval capital in 1073.

We reached Polonnaruwa as the evening was setting in. The light was perfect to view these centuries old ruins. Even my point and shoot photos look like works of art in this perfect setting.

 

The sacred quadrangle with the 4 seated Buddhas

Polonnaruwa was  Sri Lanka’s second capital and became Sri Lanka’s royal medieval capital in 1073. It remained Sri Lanka’s capital until the late 13th century, but became increasingly susceptible to Chola invasions and it became lost to the jungle once more as the capital drifted south-west. Today, the ancient city’s ruins remain in remarkably good nick, and are a fascinating site to visit.

 

Gal Vihara-Dhyana Mudra Buddha statue

Gal Viharaya, is a rock temple of the Buddha situated in Polonnaruwa. The central feature of the shrine are four images of the Buddha, which have been carved into the face of a large granite rock. The images consist of a large seated figure, another, smaller seated figure inside an artificial cavern, and standing figure and a reclining figure. Three of the images are quite large; the smallest of them is more than 15 feet (4.6 m) tall, and the largest is more than 46 feet (14 m) long. The size of each image seems to have been decided based on the height of the rock at that point, so that the maximum possible area could be used for it. According to the archaeologist Senarath Paranavithana, the images were evidently coated in gold in their early years. (from Wiki)

By the time we saw all these the dusk had fully set in. We checked into our hotel and called it night.

The next morning we woke to face out final day of cultural tour in Sri Lanka. We were going to travel 3 hour to Anuradhapura and then back to Colombo.

Anuradhapura-Sri Lanka’s first capital, was the greatest monastic city of the ancient world. This remarkable city of Anuradhapura is Sri Lanka’s most sacred town and has some of the most extensive ruins in the world. This city served as a great monastic centre. It remained residence and royal capital for over 100 successive Sinhalese Kings for around 1500 years from the 4th century BC to the 8th century AD, after which it was abandoned and the capital moved to Polonnaruwa.

 

Ruwanweli Seya stupa-Apparently there is big fat diamond at the top

We visited the ruins. They are not in as great a shape as Polonnaruwa. However Anuradhapur is considered as quite a religious city and there were streams of pilgrims at all temples.

 

The Moonstone which describes the circle of life of earth

We spent a couple of hours seeing the almost 2000 year old statue of meditating Buddha, the twin ponds and visited a rusty old museum as well. The museum guide showed us around the cobwebbed, dimly lit museum while providing some interesting nuggets of information.

After a quick lunch at a local restaurant we set back to Colombo-a 6 hour drive!Checked into a hotel for couple of hours to catch a quick shut eye and onwards to the airport for our flight back to Chennai.

Sri Lanka truly surprised me with its warmth. The people are friendly and hospitable-happy to see that you have come to see their country. I hardly sensed any armed force presence in any place I visited. There are routine security checks which coming from India doesnt shock or surprise you and you willingly submit to them.

Tourism has really picked up. When we tried to book our hotels online each one of them was overbooked as a result we hardly had any choice wherever we went.  Every where we went, we either saw Caucasian crowd or SE Asians.

And there is so much more to see. We had just covered the central Sri Lanka.

There is the quaint Hill town of Nuwere Elliya to visit, Adams’ peak (the original Eden supposedly) and beautiful beaches in the south in Bentota. Then there are wildlife reserves like Yala which deserve a visit. After such a wonderful experience I definitely dont mind going back for these.

And you should go to.

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Posted by on December 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Sri Lankan Sojourn:Sigiriya

Hotel Sigriya in Sigriya(what a surprise!) was the best hotel during our stay. And they gave me and friend the honeymoon suite (which oddly had a child’s bed!).

Next day we awoke bright and fresh for what would be the most rigorous day of them all-the climb to Sigriya rock fortess.

So we need to just get to the top of that rock

Another UNESCO world heritage site, the Sigiriya Rock Fortress built in the 5th century AD is an ancient rock fortress and ruins of a castle situated in Sigiriya between the historic capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. Sigiriya,  is one of the most dramatic, inspiring and beautiful historical loc

ations in the world. A mythical past of feuding dynasties suits Sigiriya’s striking setting- it was built in 5th century AD by the playboy king, Kasyapa, as a fortress-palace. Legend says that King Kasyapa murdered his father, Dhatusena, and claimed the thrown for himself. However, Kasyapa was not the direct heir; his mother was one of Dhatusena’s concubines, and he was fearful that his half brother, Prince Moggallana, would return from exile in India and rightfu

lly claim his crown. Moggallana did return to find Sigiriya in its full-glory and Kasyapa’s army waiting for him. Despite building an impenetrable stronghold, Kasyapa was defeated. Abandoned by his army, Kasyapa killed himself and left his half-brother to reign from his castle paradise.

To get to the top you have to climb a measly 1202 steps.. my whole years cardio in one shot!

So we started our crazy climb. And climbed. And climbed and climbed. We had an enthusiastic guide who kept taking us through the history of the place. I am not sure if its the entry fees but we mainly saw foreigners huffing and puffing along with us.

Much of the climb was on rock's edge on iron structures as old as me.

The result of this precarious climb was to see these beautiful frescoes not unlike those at Ajanta. People came from far and wide to admire these “ladies” and wrote sonnets for them on the mirror wall.

King Kashyapa was a bit of a collector-500 concubines from across different continents

From there we continued along the mirror wall to reach the famed Lion’s paws. This is the text book pictures of Sigiriya. The colossal paws show the scale at which this fortress might have been built. Weather has washed away the head and shoulders which are assumed to have been projecting from the rock.

Text book photo of Sigiriya fortess but with the author of this long winding travel journal

After climbing the remaining narrow steps at rock’s edge, we reached the ruins. We sat there enjoying the breeze and clicking away to glory. All that was missing was a lemon soda after the exhausting climb.

The royal bath

Then began the climb down which was much quicker.
Sigriya left me truly breathless. And hungry. After wolfing down some lunch we were on our way to Polonnaruwa to see more ancient ruins.
PS: All photos are mine so if you are going to copy without asking me, you will rot in hell!
 
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Posted by on November 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Sri Lankan Sojourn: Kandy and Dambulla

So from part 1 here you know we were cruising on a Sri Lankan highway at a luxurious 40kmh and finally reached Kandy at around 10 pm in the night. From there began our search for the bed and breakfast we were put up in.

Now how we ended up booking a B&B is a different story. As 3 girls planning a trip we knew where to shop but left out the tiny details like where we will sleep. A week before we were to leave we frantically started booking hotels after reading endless reviews on Tripadvisor. What we had underestimated was SL tourism was truly back on track and all hotels in all the locations we were planning to visit were over booked. So we did with whatever we got.

In Kandy that meant a B&B. Filled with foreign backpackers we really were an exception there. It was quite the no-frills-basic-acco and I was quite okay with it except for the bathroom. It was the size of a cupboard. To take a shower you could either stand on the pot or the washbasin.

Its for a single night we consoled ourselves and planned to have dinner and crash.

Except at 10PM every single restaurant in Kandy had shut down. Except Hotel Chutie (no kidding, that was the name). After eating the overpriced leftovers we felt the owners really needed to correct the spelling and fix the missing y.

We went back to the B&B, pulled the mosquito nets over our heads and called it a day.

Morning in Kandy from Expeditor Inn's rooftop

The breakfast the next day was sumptuous. I had the best papaya in my life there. The lady in charge asked us how long we were there.

Her: “A month?”

Us: ” No its a short trip, not a month”

Her: “2 weeks huh?”

Us:” Errr…4 days..”

Her: “Ohh, you better hurry then.”

From there we left to see the Kandy Botanical garden. Lets just say visit Lal Bagh the next time I have an urge to connect with nature.

 

1.2 million people come every year to see these. I am saving you the trouble, you can thank me later

From there we left for the the Temple of the Tooth Relic. The Temple of the Tooth is the place that houses the Relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Originally part of the Royal Palace complex of the Kandyan Kingdom, it is one of the holiest places of worship and pilgrimage for Buddhist around the world.

Kandy Perahera, the pageant of the temple of tooth is held either in July or August each year to parade the golden caskets is a must see itinerary if one is visiting Sri Lanka during these months. The final night procession is the most spectacular event of the country. More than 50 elephants parade the city accompanied by the drummers, dancers and chieftains.

Again we chose a Sunday to visit and it was nearly impossible to see anything as crowds thronged the temple. So we took our customary tourist photo and came back.

 

This is the new temple complex-only tourists could be spotted here

From here we made our way to Dambulla-70kms from Kandy.

On the way we stopped at a Spice Garden. Piece of advice from those who have been swindled-dont bother with the tour. I have come back with Ayurvedic lotions and potions  for triple the price than what would be available in Kerala. We did have an authentic SL lunch which was terrific.

At Dambulla the majestic Golden temple greeted us.

 

The Golden temple at Dambulla

But what we wanted to see were the Rock temples. This is a UNESCO world heritage site and not without reason.

It is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 160 m over the surrounding plains.There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area. Major attractions are spread over 5 caves, which contain statues and paintings. These paintings and statues are related to Lord Buddha and his life. There are total of 153 Buddha statues, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and 4 statues of gods and goddesses. The latter include two statues of Hindu gods, the god Vishnu and the god Ganesh. The murals cover an area of 2,100 square meters. Depictions on the walls of the caves include the temptation by the demon Mara, and Buddha’s first sermon.

But first the climb. When someone as healthy and fit as your truly decided to climb 160m there are times when you feel that you might never reach the top and would attain nirvana from this life at least midway. But you know what I persisted and after what seemed an eternity for my lungs and side stitiches I reached the rock temples.

 

Inside the caves-frescoes on cieling and statues
Pictures dont do justice to the calmness and serenity you feel inside

The climb down was easier what with gravity being on my side.

The rock temples were beautiful and totally worth the climb. Its astounding to think all this was built without the help of modern technology.

We made way to Sigriya for the night.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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A sojourn to the South: Sri Lanka

You remember this? No go ahead and refresh your memories. It was a trip to our southern neighbour that went down the drain with that watermelon juice.

So friend and I re-planned that vacation in November. But it was no longer a relaxing vacation by the beach with journeys through a tea growing hillstation. We decided to junk all packaged tours and go on our own to visit the cultural triangle.

Sri Lanka’s Cultural triangle is situated in the centre of the island and covers an area which includes the World Heritage cultural sites of the Sacred City of Anuradhapura, the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, the Ancient City of Sigiriya, the Ancient City of Dambulla and the Sacred City of Kandy.

Day 1: Colombo

We left Bangalore On Friday evening with our Meru cab driver almost making us miss our connecting flight to Chennai. From Chennai we left for Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport at 1 a.m. It was a one hour flight and in no time we were in SL. It has visa on arrival for Indians and visa is free of cost. SL is trying to promote itself as a tourist destination in a big way post the LTTE conflict. From there we exchanged some currency (1 INR ideally should be 2.5 SLR, we always got a lower rate though) and headed for our hotel and crashed.

The week preceding our visit saw storms, unending rainfall and what not. However next day dawned bright and sunny. We were even treated to a dance in the hotel lobby as part of a wedding reception.

 

Dancers welcoming the couple, Happy to report that in my attempt to get the dancer's pics I must now be featuring in some couple's reception video

From their we set off for Galle Face which was walking distance. Galle Face houses South Asia’s second tallest building – The World Trade Centre. The 40 story Twin Tower complex is the centre of important commercial establishments, situated in the Fort district, the city’s nerve center.

 

Ohh this looks like Marine drive-except no people

I was also fascinated by their autos. I cannot comment if in mannerism they were the same as BAD(Bangalore Auto Drivers) but they sure dont shy away from bright colors.

 

No yellow and black but Bajaj never the less

We roamed around the area for a bit-saw the Parliament under renovation and then headed for the Gangaramaya temple. This Buddhist temple includes several imposing buildings and is situated near Beira Lake .It is almost 200 years old and houses a temple, Bodhi tree and an artifacts museum.

 

inside the temple

Photo-ogs accompanying me go into a tizzy on seeing this, my point and shoot still valiantly competes

After this we were supposed to leave for Pinnewala elephant sanctuary except that we decided to drop in by Odel. Our group had 3 women. Its easy to guess what happened next. Elephants and their sanctuaries were forgotten as we shopped like crazy. Odel really has fashionable stuff at great prices( after currency conversion back to INR!) Most of the stuff though bear the “Made in India” tag which makes me wonder why the same stuff costs thrice when I buy them at SS or Lifestyle.

We had also heard of Petah as a good shopping destination except that on reaching there I felt we had stepped into Gaffar Market in Karol Bagh. So we retracted quickly and set off for Kandy.

Colombo truly surprised me it. It was clean  and pretty lined with beautiful bunglows and I did not hear a single horn the entire day.  We told ourselves it could be because we were moving around in a premium locality on a weekend. I am not sure if that was the reason alone. But I definitely liked whatever we saw.Sri Lankans in general speak so softly that you can test your hearing ability by trying to make out what they are saying.

Kandy was approximately 120 kms from Colombo. A 3 hour drive we thought. Till we got introduced to the Sri Lankan highways. To call them highway is a bit of a fraud. They were like a city road. And over the next few days we understood Sri Lankans have a self imposed upper limit of 60kmp on highways, overtaking is literally unheard of and asking our driver to “let it zip”, ” burn some rubber” etc is well useless.

So over the next many hours we listened to 90’s pop as we made our way to Kandy-the cultural capital of the island.

PS: All photos except the map are mine so if you do copy you will rot in hell.

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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