Sigiriya, Dambulla & Kandy

Trip Start Feb 01, 2010
Trip End Jun 20, 2010

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The next morning we meet our driver, Jakash, and set off for the rock fortress at Sigiriya around 90km away. He is chatty and wants to know about us, and to tell us a little bit about the trip and the sights we pass, but his English is not quite up to the job and it requires clarification frequently. He is also keen to take us on other trips during our stay in Sri Lanka. Spice gardens, elephant rides and tea plantations are all on offer. We decline all as we suspect the Australian customs and excise officials will confiscate and destroy any seed and any food products. A point he eventually understands.

There is lots of bEEEEEping and overtaking as we negotiate the heavy traffic and the twisty, mountainous roads north. Arrive easily enough at Sigiriya, which is an impressive lump of rock that leaps out of the jungle. It has a long history as a fortress for Sri Lanka and is now a UNESCO heritage sight and well worth the visit. Entry is about $25 each. It is almost 2000 steps (well it feels like it anyway) up and not for anybody scared of heights as the stairs are a challenge. There is one spiral staircase up to the famous frescoes that is brand new, whilst the spiral going down from the frescoes is old and rusty. Both spirals are bolted to the side of the rock, half way up the side, with a sheer drop below and an unobstructed view in all directions including down!

The Lions Paw staircase is terrific and we pose for a number of photos. They have a problem with hornets from this point up, so everybody is advised to wear a thick protective suit. It is hot and the wind is picking up and gusting. The staircase is steep and under repair – a group of men are busy fixing the handrail about 2/3 of the way up the sheer cliff. At one point, the steps are bolted with one side to the metal handrail structure and the other bolted directly on to the rock. Some of the steps are barely wide enough for one foot with us having to step directly on to the rock for the other foot. A guide helps us up and by the time we reach the top we are exhausted from the sheer climb, the altitude and the sweat generated by the thick suit. Enough people have removed theirs, so we join in and get rid of it. The view is magnificent and we wander around the top for a while taking photos and ear wigging other guides. It is worth noting that even the official guides want a tip for any information they impart or any help they give to tourists. We also wonder how a dog managed to make its way up here, why did it try, what did it think was up here and what does it eat? A German tourist also asks the same questions!

Lonely Planet has more information on the rock and its facilities or see Travel Pod website for other reviews from travellers.

2 and a bit hours after setting off and we return to the car park at the bottom of the rock. Hawkers are everywhere trying to sell books, ice-cream, magic boxes, carved elephants, etc. They can't tempt us however, but they don’t seem to understand the concept and think its all about price. We don’t think their items are junk or overpriced, we just don’t want any of it.

Decline Elephant rides, which I am sure our driver gets a kick-back from, but that’s his problem as the place offers a good service for tourists, but again it is at tourist prices. We define tourist prices as what you expect to pay back home. This is a country where the cost price is small and so charging back home prices means the profit margin is immense!

Lunch is at Globetrotter Inn (another kick-back) which is in the middle of nowhere. It has 3 small rooms for staying guests, which are now full. There is no menu, you get what they have already prepared, which were rice and various curry dish and lovely.

From here we make our way back to Dambulla. These are unusual caves that have doubled up as a temple in the past. The past occupants have painted the walls and ceilings with various images of Buddha. At the entrance is a massive golden statue of Buddha. Tickets bought and it’s another long stairs climb with other tourists to the actual caves and old temple. Being A Buddhist temple clothing has to be appropriate and footwear is not allowed in the temple. You must enter barefoot. The rock floor between the security checkpoint and the first part of the temple is called "the walk of fire" at this time of day (2pm). The rock has been baking in the sun all day and is now hot enough to cook on – well almost! Quick, painful dash to a cooler, shady bit of rock and we start to wander around the caves looking at all the paintings and statues. The thing we note about Buddhist temples is that they are always calm places, with locals chanting, affected tourists and the smell of incense and flowers everywhere. We don’t see any saffron robed monks however, which was a surprise, given the importance of the site.

Loads of monkeys are on the path down and we are warned to watch our belonging and to avoid getting too close in case they scratch or bite. They are great to watch however and we take a few pictures as we head down the path, not the stairs.

Back to the driver and he takes up back to Kandy through the same traffic we had tackled earlier.

Tonight we conclude that Kandy does not have a nightlife as such and there are precious few eateries that are independent of hotels. Alternatives are KFC, Pizza Hut, The Pub, The Captains Table (no beer served), or pastries. Whilst we contemplate what to have, we find a bar that belongs in a shady film noir movie. The bar is a real colonial throwback – olde worlde – and very grand in a slightly shady gin palace kind of way with saloon style doors offering a glimpse of the dark interior. (And the cheapest beer in town!)

We decide on a KFC bargain bucket for a late tea due to late hour and sod all choice. The colonels’ secret recipe is somewhat different here though. Spicier and very nice indeed!

Next Day.......

Spend the day wandering around Kandy city. Try to get to the big Buddha on the hill overlooking the city, but fail as there are no sign posts directing you to it. We did however spend 2 hours wandering the hills around it in the midday heat so managed to work up a thirst and an appetite.

In the main city the streets are filled with buses, bikes, cars, lorries, people and tuk-tuks who are all on a mission to get somewhere. The buildings are all old colonial styles and many have seen better days. We have come to the conclusion that the locals don’t really eat out, but snack instead. There are a number of bakeries about that always seem to have a queue. They sell breads, cakes and savouries and we decide that this will be both our lunch and tea for today.

For the afternoon we decide to visit the Temple of the Tooth. Security is heavy and the dress code strict. Both men and women must be suitably covered - as a minimum; bare shoulders and knees must be covered up at all times in the temple complex. You must pass through 2 metal detectors and receive 2 pat down searches before entry. This is because some idiot with a “cause” once parked a lorry full of explosives near the entrance and blew it all to bits.

There is a guy at the entrance who will let you hire long trousers for $10 – rip off prices again and we decline. The police guard takes a long look at Marc’s shorts to asses if they are long enough to cover the knees and asks if he has a sarong to wear over them. They are just a little bit too short and he is flashing a bit of knee. His solution is to pull them down a bit and make them hipsters, which works fine, much to the amusement of the policeman. He wants to know where Marc is from and with a polite smile lets him through the entrance and in to the complex.

You have to surrender your shoes before you can get in to the main buildings and pay at the desk near the entrance. There is s free audio tour of the temple available, but you have to leave them with your passport or some other form of ID as deposit. Not confident we were going to get it back afterwards we decline this offer, but advise others to take it up.

This is a Buddhist temple and once again it is calm inside. The number of tourists wandering about is quite low, for such an important building, and it is interesting to note that there is a real mix of nationalities.

The tooth is reputed to be that of Buddha himself, snatched from his funeral pyre. A number of rumours surround its authenticity and given its turbulent history, we would not blame them one little bit for displaying a replica. We are also happy to accept that it is the real deal. The complex is a mix of temple and museum dedicated to the history of the tooth. The tooth itself is held in an upstairs gallery and is heavily guarded. Lotus blossom offerings can be made to the tooth and quite a number of people are praying or meditating in the gallery. You can’t really see the tooth because it is small, displayed in a large golden wall and viewed from a distance of about 20ft.

Tonights’ tea is going to be a selection of pastries from one of the bakeries, called The Bake House, that we will picnic back at the hotel. First we decide on a couple of beers each at the shady bar we had found yesterday which had become our favourite in the city. German tourists had also taken a strong liking to it and were busy taking photos of the bar and staff.

We managed to negotiate a good deal with our hotel for our airport return the following day via the Botanical Gardens and Pinewala Elephant Sanctuary.
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Judith Gaffney on

You did well to get to the top of Sigaria, Martin did but I couldn't and our driver stayed with me at the base of the final staircase. Driving is scary isn't it and they do like their horns!! Sounds like you enjoyed Kandy thogh and you are certainly not going to be ripped off - good for you. We are off back to freezing England tomorrow!! Love Judithx

Jenny & Andy on

Stairs linds very brave, Andy doesn't do heights so no good for him. Enjoy yourself. Jenny

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