Vavuniya, Sri Lanka to Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
31.07.2010 - 06.08.2010
Vavuniya, Sri Lanka
Here up north in Vavuniya. Unfortunately, this is the second time we've been here today, as our connecting bus coming from Vavuniya stopped at a checkpoint north on the way to Jaffna, and Svenja and I were denied to go any further without Ministry of Defense authorization, taking the next bus back down. The MOD, based in Colombo, apparently still restricts travel to the Tamil-dominated north even though the civil war with Tamil Tiger rebels has been over for one year. The military officer apologized profusely, but said we needed to turn around and take the next bus back to Vavuyiya, where we could call the MOD and try to arrange the permission letter to be sent via fax to an internet cafe... only thing is, the MOD is closed until Monday. So, with that, we're sweating like crazy here in uninspiring Vavuniya, and figuring out next plans.
Trincomalee, Sri Lanka
Svenja and I just had dinner here at our hotel on the beach in Trincomalee. Although, it was not the first choice hotel we tried after arriving; that one on the other side of town apparently is full... for the next month? Well, after sweating through breakfast this morning back in Vavuniya, we sweated our way to the ATM of a couple different banks, then sweated over to the bus station (so in other words, its hot) for the ride out to the east coast, passing the odd scarecrow or 2 on the way.
Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Today in Trincomalee during breakfast, I composed a letter and faxed it, along with Svenja and my passport photos, to the MOD requesting permission to travel up to Jaffna. After sending it off, we went and visited the few sites available. First to the sky-blue 1852 St. Mary's cathedral surrounded by curious school kids staring away.
Walking down Dockyard Road, bought another thambili king coconut nearby the photo-worthy Kalikovil Hindu temple,
and passed the not-so-interesting fish market, before entering Portuguese colonial-era Fort Frederick
and ascending up the peninsula hill. The temple at the top was not nearly as impressive as the views overlooking the Bay of Bengal
and Inner Harbour.
Went back at the hotel a few hours later, only to discover no return fax from the MOD. When I called them up, after being disconnected a couple times while being transferred by the b**chy receptionist, finally got through to the officer I had spoken with this morning - only to find that 4.5 hours later, nothing has been done. He said he'd have to call the Secretary of Something, which would take "a couple of hours"... Well, not quite convinced by the guy, decided I couldn't take anymore aggravation on attempts to get up to Jaffna and settled instead to head here to Sigiriya. Got checked in to a guesthouse, and saw our room was already occupied by a guest in the shower....
Just returned from walking up the huge and frighteningly high ancient Sigiriya rock, now grabbing a bite to eat at our guesthouse. This morning, after a slight detour to the main entry gate thanks to the guidebook's inaccurate map (seems I'll be getting lost a lot while here in Sri Lanka), Svenja and I walked around the ancient ramparts and moats
to get into the grounds.
Sigiriya has many different gardens/ancient settlements - including the terraced gardens where thieving monkeys will quickly steal your bag of gummy bears left on the ground while stopping for a rest - leading to the steep/spiraling and frightening staircases halfway up the rock,
to the beautiful frescoes (5th c.)
and polished "mirror wall".
Another stairway leads to the platform where huge "lion's paws" are stationed at the base of yet another frightening staircase clinging to the side of the rock up to the summit.
Along the way we say an amusing "beware of hornets" sign,
until we actually saw the numerous huge hornets nests vibrating... ok, definitely won't be provoking them!
Reaching the summit, with ridiculously windy conditions,
we had a snack and enjoyed the breathtaking views all around as Buddhist monks likely did, over 1,500 years earlier.
Dodging the army of school kids, we descended down the rusting staircase safely on the ground
in time to check out the museum. While Svenni and I were looking at some of the pictures on my camera I had taken up on the rock, soon became surrounded by a team of paranoid security men reminding me over and over I wasn't allowed to take photos in the museum. I explained I was just reviewing earlier photos, not taking new ones, but apparently they're not familiar enough with English (even though they were speaking English) to understand me so I put away the camera before I got arrested. Interestingly, many of the modern-looking information displays in the museum still claimed this area was once King Kassapa's (AD 477-495) palace, even though Sri-Lankan archeologists have verified this was only used as a Buddhist monastery.
Just returned back to the guesthouse in Sigiriya from a long trip (over a relatively short distance) in a slightly crowded bus
visiting Polonnaruwa today. Our first stop there was to the interesting archaeological museum, with tons of displays like Hindu and Buddhist relics, and slab inscriptions of King Nissanka Malla (12th c.), who seemingly left his mark everywhere in the ancient capital.
Passing the Rest House group where Nissanka's palace, royal baths and king's council chamber ruins were being invaded by modern-day school kids,
we headed to the Royal Palace group. The Audience Hall and bathing pool were both impressive
but paled in comparison to the enormous Royal Palace itself - giant pillars still remain from a structure that was once seven stories high.
Walking north past the Hindu Shiva Devale, the very detailed carvings were not lost among the masses of schoolchildren.
Then entered the concentrated quadrangle ruins - Vatadage,
and other sites - all impressive. We searched around for a tuk-tuk to head up to the northern group, but wound up taking a small motorbike taxi (not the most comfortable ride!)
where the price was, "As you wish... maybe 200 (Rupees)". We rode up to Gal Vihara, a group of 4 Buddha images carved from the same long slab of granite.
We rode back down and - pretty insistent was our driver - stopped by the huge headless Buddha at Lankatilaka,
then continued on to the enormous Rankot Vihara.
When our motorbike taxi driver brought us back to the main gate, he was suddenly much more specific on the price, telling me to pay 300! I laughed, but he was only getting 200 from me. Svenja and I then walked back to the round about and waited seemingly forever for a bus to come by - squeezing ourselves aboard (I was still standing on the steps for entering the bus for 1/2 the ride!), made our way back to Sigiriya.
Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka
I can't believe it, but dare I say I'm actually cold here in Nuwara Eliya. The mountainous region of this "Little England" town is a welcome respite from the sweltering lowlands of Sri Lanka, but frankly I wasn't prepared for pulling out my turtleneck and fleece! Bussed it from Sigiriya this morning, passing curving roads around mountains,
which took pretty much took all day to arrive here. We headed to a restaurant recommended in the guidebook for dinner, only to find about 5 other groups of tourists already inside, no locals. Leaving that restaurant and heading to one not flooded with tourists, vowed that would be the last time I bought that particular brand of guidebook!
Today after breakfast Svenja and I wanted to visit a tea factory and took a local bus to Pedro Tea Estates.
There were friendly tea "pluckers" (apparently not to be called "pickers"), all Tamil women, heading out of the Estate as we were walking in -
as it turned out, the pluckers were already finished for the day, and no more tours! Fortunately, the manager told us of another tea factory, Labookellie, just outside of Nuwara Eliya and offers similar tours all day. So, taking the bus back to the station, and switching busses for Labookellie, we arrived at the factory. Confusingly, there were no signs mentioning where to go for a tour, yet loads of people were being led around on tours. We asked a woman who was working in the gift shop for information, and was told we could have a tour once she finished up with her current visitor, and were told to wait in the cafe. In the cafe, the waitresses noticed us sitting for about 10 minutes, but for some reason didn't come ask for an order - even after talking to each other and looking over at us - but seemingly only wanted to serve tourists who had already passed through a factory tour... weird. Eventually one came over and took our order, but we weren't "allowed" to add milk to that particular blend of tea. Anyway, the woman from the gift shop showed up and gave us a very scripted tour (didn't seem to appreciate questions being asked), but still interesting enough to see the drying, fermenting and firing process in action.
After the tour, we searched around to find some tea where we'd be allowed to add milk.... We made our way leisurely back to town, walking quite a ways to see the tea pluckers along the landscape.