Upcountry Sri Lanka: Ella, Kandy, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura
Sri Lanka is an incredibly rich and diverse country. Leaving the south for the central areas was exciting and welcome.
The trip to Ella from Tissa was uneventful and easy - definitely less congested travel on this side of the island. Making it to here made Gage want to get comfortable…
...but no! A lunch stop and then hike are in order. Probably one of the best restaurants we will eat at in Sri Lanka (seriously) was Cafe Chill. You’d think it would be a tourist trap but it was very nice, some locals but a great welcoming space and amazing food (my veg dish cooked in a banana leaf was so delish).
Sated, the big hike to Little Adam’s Peak was lovely, with amazing views and interesting challenges. This one is not to be missed! Including a den of new puppies...
Gage and I had some fun at the top…
Up very early to catch the 6:30 train. Yet another beautiful sunrise and day awaited us. Easy to get to the station and find our seats - we bought first class (which means you have a seat and the windows cannot be opened). The 6 hour ride went by so quickly, past beautiful tea plantations and vistas. So nice!
Kandy is a quaint-ish city, with a heavy historical overtone and much more religion than elsewhere (as you go north it seems to become much more conservative as well). Beautiful Kandy Lake is in the middle of the town and sets the calm for everything (except the horrible traffic, alas).
We set our first sights on the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens. These have to be among the best anywhere - planted long a go and originally the realm of the royals (they must have had lots of royals!) it was full of enormous trees, bamboo forests that put Kyoto’s to pale, trees full of bats - - really enjoyable!
We finished off by rummaging around Waruna Antiques, run by a very engaging Kandyan - a highly recommended a stroll through time. If we had one more inch of space in our bags we would have come back with a trove of artifacts.
Of course we visited one of the most revered places, Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic and associated grounds. Although there were a fair number of tourists it was beautiful and moving inside.
Before leaving the next day we hiked to the Bahirawakanda Temple for views of the city. Not too tough of a walk and before the really hot sun!
We arrived in Sigiriya with just enough time to climb Pidurangula rock for sunset (nb: there was some familial disagreement on this point...). We jumped in a tuk tuk for the 30 minute ride to the base, and did the somewhat strenuous hike up to the final scramble and stunning views. It was nice to see Sigiriya itself from a different perspective.
Next day we're off to the Dambulla caves and the Golden Temple - which were interesting. So much history with them!
We stopped by the gigantic produce market in Dambulla on the way out. Massive quantities of squash, bananas, tomatoes...so many others too. Made us hungry!
...so good thing we’re able to make our way to the Traditional Foods Sales Centre, run by the government right next to the seed center - yes in the middle of nowhere! The food stalls were run by local women and had to be subsidized. The food was so outstanding and we had massive amounts for $3 for us all. One of the best values of anywhere we travelled. And topped off by taking the bus for 25¢ back to Sigiriya.
The Sigiriya climb itself begins very early - need to be at the gate by around 7-7:30. Trying to dodge the other early tourists is the key...we were pretty successful on that front. Just an amazing piece of architecture and history. The hike up is a bit strenuous, not as much as Pidurangula two days before, but still a bit exhausting. More so just the views downwards were steep. Impossible to imagine what this was like in the heyday when the entire structure was like a lion's head.
Next morning we took the bus to Polonnaruwa, the next of the ancient city visits. This was a fabulous place to go - fairly central, no cars in the archeological site and easy to bike.
The granite Buddhas at Gal Vihara were really remarkable.
This is the final ancient city for us to visit - definitely the biggest and the most spread out. We chose bikes again as our mode of transport, but this is more sharing the road with traffic and not nearly as fun as Polonnaruwa. But we persevered since the sights are truly magnificent.
The big dagobas are quite impressive. They did show a before and after (before, when they were “rediscovered”) and after (when they were rehabbed) and they were originally so dilapidated as to barely be recognizable.
The pictures of the carvings and the range of the city meant this must have been so impressive…
So, we finished the day and as we were coming to the last set of sights it started to downpour. We picked one of the random tiny shacks around the sight to grab a quick roti and drink.
It was quite entertaining to see the family roll the dough out with a bottle, and cook over a very rustic open flame - nothing too groundbreaking here but for context…with the rain falling heavily…
So we were sitting on the plastic chairs waiting for our food when “plop” we hear a noise on the chair next too me (maybe 2-3 feet away). Could be the rain…so I turn to look and into the chair from the thatched ceiling fell a gigantic spider, easily the size of my fist. A guy sitting across from me with whom we were chatting looked at is as well, and got up and picked up the chair and walked away quickly with it while we were trying to catch our breath. So disappointed to not have a real photo!
For the record I’m pretty sure it was an Ivory Billed Ornamental Tarantula. Yes, for real.
Next day: Onward to Jaffna and the far north!