Little Dream and other wonders

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
Trip End Jul 11, 2012

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Where I stayed
Little Dream Tourist Resort
What I did
Visited yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site (Sigiriya)

Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Thursday, January 26, 2012

In Dambulla, we stayed at "Little Dream," a place with the notation “Our Pick” beside it in the Lonely Planet guidebook. From the outside, it was idyllic—there were comfortable chairs and hammocks beside a small garden, and because it was a bit lower in elevation than the lake nearby, it was relatively cool. The room itself wasn't very clean or in good repair, however. One of the beds caved in as the supporting boards fell onto the concrete floor in a clatter, leaving Dan, who had just lain back on it, in a giddy state of hilarity. The water was off and on. But the menagerie of insects and amphibians that shared our room was perhaps most interesting. Ants marched in lines around our windows and the lights in the bathroom. Flies swarmed the lights. Geckos climbed the walls and frogs occupied the bathroom, including the toilet where more than one, unfortunately taking a swim at the wrong time, got flushed. (Only one really got flushed: the swimmers would wait until the swirling had stopped, and then make their way back up the toilet bowl.)

In spite of the varying standards of cleanliness, we have at each guesthouse so far been greeted with smiles and warm welcomes: “Aayu-bowan,” with palms together, “long life to you.” Meals have been family style, with all the guests sitting down together, the rice and curry dishes on the table for us to share. At Little Dream, we ate in the family living room, surrounded by family photos and mementos, and the family watched “America’s Funniest Videos” on TV, full volume.

While at Dambulla and staying at Little Dream, we visited two sites: the Rock Caves with dozens of Buddha images inside them, and the third in the “Cultural Triangle” of World Heritage sites, Sigiriya.

We took the bus to Sigiriya and back, a distance of about 30 kilometres altogether. The trip was 2 hours in the 7:00 a.m. school rush hour, and only about an hour and a quarter on the mid-afternoon return. Riding the local bus was a view into daily life: school children in their ties and spotless white uniforms, including socks and shoes, filled the bus, some younger ones accompanied by sari-clad grandmas. A neat pile of maroon-coloured backpacks with the embroidered name “Central College Dambulla” adorned the bottom of the front window. A boy stood near us with his cricket bat. The bus was packed with other morning commuters as well, yet the noise level wasn’t too high; the children were calm and business-like.

We finally reached Sigiriya at 9:00, where already there were hundreds of other tourists, including a few we had been bumping into on the travellers’ circuit; these we couldn’t help greeting like long-lost friends, including a retired couple from Ottawa and three intrepid Dutch sisters on a cycle tour.

Sigiriya rock had a short history as a royal capital compared to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa (only one king) and fell into disuse around the 14th century, but its magnificent and precipitous location is a wonder. Archeological work goes on still, and the reconstruction of parts of it means that for another hefty entrance fee ($30) we were able to make the grand approach through the remains of ancient water and terraced gardens, ascend through a lush boulder garden and further on up steep metal steps set in the rock to the mirror wall and past caves with ancient paintings in them, and finally up the Lion’s paws staircase to the very top. It was mostly in shade and I didn’t have any trouble with the climb, but a lot of people don’t do this kind of exercise very often. A Chinese guy behind me on the way up stopped after every second step and said, in English, “Bloody hell!” There were helpers along the way to push and pull the less able (I had to bat away a helping hand).

We spent some time at the top, resting in the shade of a tree and contemplating the view of the site and its gardens as well as the further view of mountains and lakes. Later in the museum we watched a computer-generated reconstruction of the buildings, gardens, and ponds on the rock-top site which helped us to imagine the magnificence of the palace/monastery and gardens when they were in use.

We then descended back to earth and crossed the moat, where crocodiles still “go about.” As we walked around the outside of the moat to get back to the town of Sigiriya, I imagined I heard an elephant, another dangerous animal in the area. We saw one of the tree-houses that farmers sleep in at night to avoid elephant attack.

After lunch of rice and curry in town, we sat down for a pot of coffee at an airy hotel verandah--the hotel had wifi and we blissed out on our iPhones. Sipping coffee with a full-view of Sigiriya rock and finding our location on Google maps, checking and sending email, and updating our currency converter and newspaper downloads, it seemed to me that in this age we have our own wonders.
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