Colombo, Sri Lanka to Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
24.07.2010 - 30.07.2010
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Svenja and I are heading to dinner at our new hotel in Colombo - much nicer, better location than the last 2 nights place (uh.. and a lot pricier). Today we went back to the city center, picked up a guidebook to figure out what and where we'll go over the next 4 weeks. Headed over to Galle Face Green where the locals were flying kites and blaring music by the seaside.
Kandy, Sri Lanka
Svenja and I are about to turn in, on our hard-as-rock bed in the pretty nasty and small room in our very cheap hotel, here in Kandy. We're dealing with ittle tiny bugs or mosquitos (not quite sure), flying around our room now. Which, after our unexpected cockroach dinner guest last night munching on the bread ("uh, yes waiter, we're finished, thank you."),
is actually not so bad, as far as insects go. Got a late start this morning (4 flight jet-lag still rearing itself), then took a crowded city bus to the train station, bought our tickets for the 15:35 train. While waiting in the ticket lobby for the train, I proceeded to make a baby looking at me cry by trying to make a funny face (the mother didn't seem amused). The train ride was really nice - beautiful landscape changing from the coastal area inland to the hill country,
and photogenic spectators along the way.
A few guys played daredevil hanging from the outside, ducking and dodging past trees and signs.
Arriving in Kandy, instantly felt the relief of cooler air.
I'm afraid I may not eat a decent meal the whole time in Sri Lanka - just returned from dinner where my chicken teriyaki with rice was dry, small and not too tasty. This was following chicken pad thai made with instant noodles for lunch. Oh, well. Today, we spent some time walking around the man-made lake from 1807 - lots of ducks, egrets and other birds with temples and dagobas all around, providing a nice background.
We visited a cultural center for the obligatory "traditional" song and dance show. Well, I've been to plenty of these shows and can say this wasn't the greatest - the "Pooja dance" with their singing was forgettable, to say the least.
Although, the drum-balancing "Raban dance"
and fire-walking finale - awesome!
Heading to the pub for dinner - and hoping for my second good meal in a row (lunch at an Indian restaurant finally broke the bad meal curse). Today Svenja and I started the morning at Sri Dalada Maligawa, Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, and one of the most important sights for Buddhists.
Supposedly, so the story goes, a tooth was taken from Buddha during his cremation in 483 BC, kept in India but eventually smuggled into Sri Lanka during 4th c. AD. The temple itself and ceremonial puja, or offering, with drum and horn procession were entertaining,
but the tooth itself is hidden in a golden stupa, so couldn't tell for sure if Buddha suffered from cavities.
The surrounding shrines,
Sri Dalada museum, Audience Hall, and Raj Tusker Hall (shrine)
were also nice. The whole area had impressive details liked carved Buddhas and guard stones on the stairs,
and moonstone carvings on the ground.
After, we took a tuk-tuk up the mountain to visit the 1925 former Hanthana tea factory, now a museum filled with 100+ year-old machinery used for processing tea leaves into a commercial product.
Learned about Thomas Lipton's stop over here to begin harvesting the household brand-name crop. One the top floor of the museum, in the cafe, while the telescope wasn't working so well,
the catwalk was open, and working (and, a bit frightening!).
After exploring, we got our free cuppa Ceylon tea.
Our tuk-tuk driver next took us to Udawattakelle sanctuary where we strolled on "lover's walk", past huge trees filled with monkeys.
Unfortunately, along the way I was attacked by an ant who managed to crawl up to my upper thigh. I had to drop my pants to get the darn thing! Svenja was nice enough to capture the moment...
Back in town, we stopped for a juice (where we discovered woodapple is not tasty, even with sugar added), then to Kataragama Devale joint Hindu-Buddhist temple (this apparently is normal in Sri Lanka) filled with tacky neon flashing signs, but pleasantly without any other tourists.
A monk gave Svenja and me a safety/peace prayer chant, sealed with orange string bracelets to be worn for 1 month.
It was actually very nice, and worth the 10,000 rupee donation.
This morning, after visiting a fantastic juice place for breakfast (2 "cereal in a glass" and 2 fruit salads for under US$4!), Svenja and I visited the uninspiring and overpriced National Museum - a couple humorous displays like a palanquien, or chariot, from 18th c. ("Ancient tuk-tuk", the museum guard called it) and gara yaka, or demon, mask with the silly expressions.
We then took the train to nearby Rambukkana, and grabbed a tuk-tuk with our coconut snack (stupid driver spilling most of it when opening) over to visit the Pinnewala elephant orphanage - where abandoned/orphaned elephants are looked after.
They were very tame and approachable, allowing you to feed it some tree stalk.
The babies were obviously cute, but we were moved by the disabled/injured adults as well. One had one foot blown off by a land mine, one had some injuries who spent seemingly all day hosing himself down.
We exited the orphanage, then saw the procession of elephants being led out of the orphanage to the river, stopping traffic (ala Beetle album cover),
for an afternoon dip -
some were completely submerged, others donning a mud layer. One became was trying to get frisky with several of the other elephants!
While spending time there, we ordered tea at a cafe where I had my palm read, despite not requesting it, by some guy (who dressed conspicuously the same as the waiters in the cafe, allowing him to more easily approach tourists). Apparently I'll live to 90, no, 98, and be very wealthy and have 2 children. But, one prediction he got the wrong, thinking I would give tips to uninvited, self-proclaimed fortune tellers...
Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
Long day on the bus from Kandy to Anuradhapura, just checked in to a hotel straight out of "The Shining" movie set, with beds long enough for anyone to sleep comfortably on... provided you are 5' tall.
Just returned from a long day bicycling around Sri Lanka's ancient capital city of Anuradhapura, on 2 very ancient bicycles.
After breakfast, we headed over first stop to the Mirisavatiya Dagoba, built by Dutugemunu, where we were greeted by a police officer looking for some sort of tip (didn't happen).
After picking up our pricey "Round Ticket", for the Cultural Triangle (other ancient sites in the region), headed north to Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba for our 2nd stop. We weren't sure where the entrance was exactly, so parked our bikes and hopped over a fence to get inside. I really liked this dagoba, from 140 BC, with the hundreds of elephants circled around guarding it, lined shoulder to shoulder.
We left and bought a large thambili (king coconut) for a refreshing drink under the blazing hot sun, then continued on. Third dagoba, Thuparama, dates from 3rd c. BC - one of the oldest in the world - and surrounded by crooked pillars
Next, after greeting some friendly locals,
went to Ratnaprasada monastery, which were essentially ruins.
Then, after following some pretty confusing maps and locals all pointing in different directions, located the Samadhi Buddha - regarded as one of the finest in Sri Lanka (I thought it was fairly average).
We next rode over to the Kuttam Pokuna, twin ponds that looked like swimming pools.
The next dagoba, Abhayagiri, was completely covered in scaffolding, so not too impressed. We literally rode in circles trying to find the nearby yet elusive Mahasena's Palace - unsuccessfully - before cutting our losses and riding to the Abhayagiri museum, which, while not covered with scaffolding, didn't have the most friendly museum staff (closing the place while we were still inside). I enjoyed seeing the ancient artifacts like moonstones, guards and Buddha footprints.
We next headed to the (unnecessarily) heavily guarded Sri Maha Bodhi tree, said to be the "oldest historically authenticated" tree in the world. Not quite sure what that means, but do know that it has been guarded uninterrupted for over 2,000 years. In fact, probably tighter security than at US airports. The tree itself wasn't as awe-inspiring - nor as big - as I would have predicted.
But the story, that the tree seedling came from Bodhgaya in India by Princess Sangamitta (sister of Mahinda, who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka), was pretty cool. Due to the overprotective roadblocks, we were unsuccessful in making a visit to nearby (about 100m away) Brazen Palace, as the detour route would have been a few kms at least. So instead, we went to the new town for dinner at a guidebook recommended restaurant. Well, not only was the guidebook map completely wrong about the location (most locations today, for that matter), the food was certainly not memorable in any way. Riding back in the dark in the streets with barely-functioning brakes on the bicycles was an interesting way to end the day.