6 days in Sri Lanka

Trip Start Oct 30, 2005
Trip End Jun 19, 2006

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

I found myself sitting in the Bradman Bar of the Cricket Club Cafe in Colombo, the stylish and delightfully cricketish haunt of any touring team (as well as many locals and tourists), and so decided to indulge myself. And so, in exchange for a small fortune in rupees, I enjoyed an excellent meal consisting of a Cairns' Caesar salad and a Donald deluxe burger, lovingly followed up with a decadent and blessedly authentic Pavlova, bedecked with passionfruit and fresh mango.
After a pleasant hour or so watching series highlights of Steve Waugh's Australians overpowering a West Indian side teetering on the edge of senescence but as yet still possessing a few fangs, I stealthily souveniered a CCC menu and strolled off into the Colombo sunshine - a little lighter in pocket, perhaps, but heavier (and happier) everywhere else.
Today was my last day in Sri Lanka before venturing off to the Middle East, and I felt a low-key exploration of Colombo was just what I needed after having just returned from a whirlwind 3-day reconnoitre of central Sri Lanka, through the Cultural Triangle. Encompassing the ruins of the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the hill city of Kandy with its Temple of the Tooth, the glorious cave temple & frescoes of Dambulla, and the majesty of Sigiriya (Lion Rock), this region is one of the undoubted highlights of any visit to Sri Lanka.

One of the biggest thrills I had, however, was on the first morning, visiting the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. Every day at 10 am (at which time I had fortuitously arrived), a parade of pachyderms young and old makes its way out of the orphanage and across the road into the river, for their daily bath, all under the watchful eyes of their mahouts. And to be honest, it was the most captivating sight, almost Jurassic. I sat and watched a herd of 60 elephants wallowing in the river, having mud fights, and bellowing to each other, for over an hour - utterly entranced. There is something ineffably tender and gentle about elephants that belies their bulk and appearance.
I followed this excitement up with a leisurely amble through the Kandy Botanical Gardens, where for the second time that day, I was blown away. Over 100 years old, the Gardens possess a diverse and eclectic collection of flora (plus an enormous colony of fruit bats), all immaculately landscaped and maintained, and redolent with such lushness that I easily whiled away an afternoon amongst the trees and gables. I would've stayed longer, but Buddha's Tooth awaited me in Kandy, and so i was off to the sacred Temple of the Tooth to visit one of Buddhism's holiest relics.

The next two days were spent enjoyed the history and culture evidenced by the fascinating ruins of Anuradhapura (1st capital of Sri Lanka) and Polonnaruwa (2nd capital). Both sites were reminiscent of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and indeed artisans from both countries traded ideas for Buddhist architecture during that period. One of the most impressive features of both sites, and of many other ancient sites in Sri Lanka, are the tanks or water reservoirs, built by the kings to ensure constant water supplies through the island's dry zone, during the non-monsoonal months. The scale of the engineering and irrigation involved in these waterworks is truly amazing, and evidence of the advanced technology at the time.

By the final day of the breakneck jaunt through Sri Lanka's history, we were approaching the hottest day of the year, and duly Wednesday found me embarking on an ambitious plan to scale the heights of Sigiriya at midday, the hottest time of the day of course. Sigiriya was the site of a summer palace for one of the kings of the Polonnaruwa period, and the massive promontory rears up out of the surrounding jungle like a proud ship on a green ocean. A series of staircase lead up to the palace ruins atop the summit, and wend past a cave containing some of the most beautiful fresco paintings ever found in Sri Lanka. And so, after appreciative cooing noises at the splendour of the frescoes, I was to be found clambering and sweltering my way through 40 degree heat towards the summit, ignoring the brief attack of vertiginous terror the gripped me as I climbed up a precipitous and uncomfortably narrow iron staircase up the final 50 metres. Eventually I arrived at the top, drenched with sweat and white-knuckled, with legs jellified from the heat and exertion. Amidst the crumbling ruins of the kings palace, and feeling ever so slightly buggered, it took a moment before my senses took in the view, and then my breath was stolen away. "Fuck me", I said in a moment of special eloquence, gazing out across a hang-glider's vista of 360 degrees of verdant beauty extending to the horizons and beyond. I soaked it all in, from my pavilion in the sky, before eventually shouldering my bad and making my way back down to earth.

Sri Lanka had appealed to be greatly these last 5 days, and every day I spent made me acutely aware of how little time I actually had in country. It has been wonderful to stay with family friends here in Colombo, the Haradasas, and their welcoming and comfortable home. They have been very kind and generous to this bedraggled traveller, and it was lovely to find myself in a cosy house with a wonderful family.
Sri Lanka itself felt quite familiar, but it wasn't until a couple of days after I arrived that I realised why. Aside from the obvious similarities to India (my recent home for 4 months), Sri Lanka instead actually reminded me of New Zealand! If you regard India as Australia, then Sri Lanka is definitely a sub-continental NZ, possessing of the same island personality. Both are more restrained, more refined, and more easy-going than their bigger neighbours, and thus I found myself quite at home here.
For this reason alone, and there are many others, I will have to come back to Sri Lanka. I've barely scratched the surface of what this incredible country (Rome's Taprobane, magical Serendib, Ceylon - the Pearl of the Indian Ocean) has to offer, and I know there s much more to discover here.

In the meantime, I finally leave the Sub-Continent behind and continue on to that most politically fractious of regions, the Middle East. First stop is Sharjah, as a transitional layover, before immersing myself in the ancient history of Egypt. Just think, this time next week I'll be at the Pyramids! Not too shabby eh?

Cheers, and love


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