Sri LankaUnatawuna and Galle
Tim and I had been really looking forward to coming to Sri Lanka. We had been led to believe it was a more relaxed, lush version of India, with its own unique attractions too. Just before we left India, we were fairly mortified to read the government website, listing all the bombs that have occurred in Sri Lanka in the last few weeks, with the number of fatalities. All the bombs have been on public buses and a couple on trains, in the Kandy and Colombo areas. The FCO advised independent travellers to avoid public transport at all costs, and avoid the east and north entirely. Given that the west is currently in monsoon, we were limited to the south (still overcast most of the time) and the central hill country.
We only ended up spending 10 days in Sri Lanka, because the cost of exploring the country with a private driver forced us to cut our stay short. The corrupt government has doubled the price of the already overly expensive entrance fees to the main tourist attractions, and fuel prices have hiked up to ridiculous amounts. Taxes have massively increased, so now many Sri Lankans struggle to make ends meet.
Despite the bitterness left is our mouths from having spent more money in 10 days in Sri Lanka than we did in a month in India, we tried not to let that cloud our stay in what is essentially an extremely beautiful country. Just a word of advice to anyone we know planning a holiday to Sri Lanka -save some serious cash before you go, and check limitations imposed by prices, civil war and monsoons (which affect different parts of the island at different times of year).
Tim and I enjoyed a few days relaxing in Unatawuna, a small town on the south coast where we recovered from our adventures in India and planned our stay in Sri Lanka. We stayed in a small wooden hut, literally on the beach, with views over the waves from our room.The manager of our hotel was extremely helpful in assisting us to plan a realistic trip of Sri Lanka's main sights, and he sourced an excellent driver for us.
We enjoyed refreshing dips in the sea, strolls along the golden sand, and reading under the palm trees, as well as playing card games with a friendly member of staff at the hotel. This all sounds very idyllic, but there was a strange and rather unsettling atmosphere to the place. We could not figure out if it was because we were there off season, or because the tsunami had left the place a shell of its former self. We also discovered that for such a sleepy backward town, there was a considerable drug problem, and we witnessed an arrest of 2 drug dealers right in front of us at one point while we were having breakfast. I was surprised to hear that heroin use is common in this area.
There was a Buddhist temple perched on the rocks on the headland, and we ventured up to watch the waves crashing onto the rocks below. My attempt to go and watch the sunset there resulted in me getting 4 nasty wasp stings. Evil!
We visited Galle, a Dutch colonial city nestled behind substantial fort walls, which protected the city from the wrath of the tsunami. We spent a happy few hours pottering around the attractive sleepy streets, and stayed at a guesthouse run by a remarkable old lady who was a pillar of the community, having chaired Galle Council, and being heavily involved in an array of charitable projects.Her business card gave her name with the title 'Justice for Peace'.
Unfortunately, the roads along the swathe of coast extending out of Galle were victim to the full force of the tsunami, and we drove past many buildings which had been devastated. Houses in some cases had completely collapsed to rubble, and in other cases, were left with no roof, or with walls missing. We heard many stories from the locals about how they had survived the tsunami, including clinging to trees, and swimming between buildings. It felt very strange being in a place that had experienced such a horrific tragedy.
After a few days in Galle our driver that we had arranged came to pick us up, and we started our big drive (7hours) to a place called Ella, which is set high in the mountains and gives great views over the lowlands below. The drive was really interesting and it felt that in some places we were in Africa because of the dry barren landscape, we were in real elephant country.
We arrived in Ella in the evening and the driver took us to a nice hotel with great views and two friendly dogs, which belonged to the owners. By the time we got there we were all very tired and rest was needed, the cook made us a really nice meal all wrapped in a banana leaf, yum yum. The next morning we got up early and went to climb little Adams peak , it was about a 2 hour walk from the hotel and the path crawled through tea plantations up and up until the tea stopped and we were faced with one last very steep climb to the top. The views were amazing and we spent a good hour just looking at the view and taking pictures before out tummies got the better of us and we walked back for breakfast.
Our next destination was a place called Nuwara Eliya and was the highest town in Sri Lanka, nick named little England because of it being so cold and wet there and guess what, yes it was cold and wet and not a very exciting place to go. The only highlight for me was going to look around a tea factory in the nearby hills, I now have a greater understanding of how tea is processed and what makes a light and dark tea, I also know that tea dust makes Anna sneeze a lot. We returned to our hotel had some dull food and went to bed, our next destination being Horton Plains national park and the famous Worlds End.
Horton Plains and World's End
So after a few hours driving the next day, we arrived at Horton Plains ( very expensive to get a ticket for because the price has doubled from the price in the book) and set off on the 3-4 hour walk to Worlds Ends and back. This walk would also take us past Baker Falls on the way. The walk was an easy walk and took us from vast plains to cloud forests draped in mist and moss, it was really atmospheric walking along and after a few hours we reached the so called "Worlds End" which is a massive cliff that drops for about 1km to the plains below.We got a great feeling of being really high but the problem was that we could not see a thing, it was so cloudy that there was no view to be seen and made it a real disappointment for us both, we did take some pics, if you look on the Sri Lanka album on the blog, there is a pic of Anna with nothing behind here but white, that is Worlds End. We continued the walk back and found some amazing looking lizards, a male and female, the male was very colourful and the female just a brown green colour. I managed to catch the female and got some good photos.Close to the end of the walk was the waterfalls, not very big but still nice to look at.Once back at the car we were a bit tired so the long drive to Adam's peak was a good rest for us.
We arrived at Adam's Peak that evening in the pouring rain and found a hostel that had been recommended to us by a friend; it was called Green Wood and was perched on top of a hill right by the start of the 4 hour walk to the top of Adam's peak. After booking in we were cooked an amazing Sri Lankan dinner of all sorts of dishes with lots of different flavours, in my mind this was to be the best meal we had during our time on the island. We went to bed and it was still raining very very hard and we made the decision that if it was still raining at 2 in the morning, when we were meant to start the walk up Adam's peak to see the sun rise, then we would not walk. At 2 in the morning I got out of bed and sure enough it was still raining so we would not walk. This was a bit disappointment but both of us did not fancy walking for 8 hours in the rain, up and down slippy steps and without the proper gear, i.e. boots and jackets. There was also the risk of getting up there and the view being like Worlds End, meaning you could see nothing.
Because we did not walk, it meant that we could have a relaxing morning and take our time, it also meant that we could take advantage of the hostels herbal bath that they offered. The bath was a big old metal one outside and an old man heated up this concoction of herbs in a big vat by the side, once the water was up to temperature then it was poured in and it was time to get in. I reckon that I had not had a bath for about 1 month or more, so it was very welcoming for my body and a great way to relax outside looking up at the surrounding mountains.
Our next destination was Kandy, the second biggest city in Sri Lanka. We did not arrive until late because it was a long drive but we did get to see a little of the city and the tooth temple.We walked from our hotel, which was very nice, down into the city and by the big lake by the tooth temple; it had some great views over the lake and town. The road by the lake was half shut by the tooth temple because a few years ago the Tamil Tigers parked a big truck bomb outside and blew part of the temple up and from then security is now very high and you cannot drive close to the temple. Once we were in Kandy we strolled around for a time looking for a place to have dinner, but they were all closed. A local told us that this was due to a bus bomb going off us a few days ago and now there are no tourists in the town, apart from us and a few others. So to eat we had to go against all my beliefs and head for KFC, yes I know but we were very hungry.Once we had consumed out unlucky fired kitten we walked back for a good nights rest.
Dambulla Rock Temple
This was a very impressive place, consisting of a series of beautiful Buddhist temples, nestled inside a series of caves. An ancient ruler, Vattagamani Adhaya, lost his throne to Tamil invaders and was forced into hiding. He sought sanctuary in these caves, and when he subsequently regained power, he had temples built within them in gratitude for the safety they offered him during his 14 years in hiding.They have been further embellished by subsequent kings and rulers, and are now an excellent example of Sinhalese Buddhist art. The caves are filled with hundreds of statues of Buddhist monks and deities, with some beautiful, enormous, plump smiling Buddhas. I found it a very spiritual and peaceful place to be. Every surface of the cave walls and ceilings was covered in paintings, and the richness of the gold and crimson added additional warmth to the temples.
After the cave temple, we moved on to the ancient medieval city of Sigiriya. This also had a great story to it. Kassapa, the son of a medieval king, was angered by the fact his brother was to become heir to the throne, due to his mother being of a higher rank than his own. In rage, he forced his brother to flee the county, and ended up murdering his father by walling him in to a chamber. Kassapa then built himself a seemingly impenetrable palace, 200 metres up a vertical rock face. At its foot, he built a new city, and Tim and I strolled among what is left of the remains.
Kassapa's brother finally returned to Sri Lanka to claim his inheritance. Kassapa led his troops to battle on an elephant which took fright, and ran back. Kassapa's troops thought he was surrendering, so all turned back, and Kassapa, knowing he would be captured, killed himself!
Tim and I explored the remains of the city and the palace he had built for himself. It was a remarkable feat, to build a palace on top of a vertical rock. The only way up was to scale a very precarious rickety metal staircase. NOT for sufferers of vertigo!! Many of the steps were rusted almost completely away, and some were missing. The view between the steps to the plains far below was best avoided!! We stopped off half way up to admire some medieval murals of beautiful, bust nymphets (Kassapa was also known as a rather indulgent pleasure seeker!!) painted on to the sheer rock face. A staff member asked if I wanted to view some murals kept from private view, and my curiosity got the better of me. It was not until I had clambered over the barrier and was admiring these paintings, that Tim told me the foundations of the metal plank I was perched on had almost completely rusted away. Exciting!!
The 360 degree view from the top was fairly impressive, if rather hazy. We could see out over the plains beyond to the mountains around Kandy. There was little left of the palace itself. On the way up, we had to be quiet so we did not disturb the enormous hornet's nests that clung to the top!!
Pinnewala elephant orphanage
Our final sight in Sri Lanka was the Pinnewala elephant orphanage.This was started in the 1970s, and is now home to over 75 elephants; the largest collection of captive elephants in the world. Many have been injured by farmers, or rescued from captivity where they were not being looked after properly. Many were genuine orphans. The good news if that the herd produces one calf per year on average. The oldest elephant was 65, and one had a leg partially missing due to stepping on a landmine.
I was surprised when we entered the orphanage, that we could walk freely among the elephants. Tim and I were able to stroke a baby, which was utterly adorable!! It tried to twist its trunk round our hands and sucked hard on our fingers. Aaah. We watched the baby elephants being fed, and had a go ourselves.
The highlight for me, was walking down to the river, and watching the whole herd of elephants trot eagerly down to the water, where they waded out and were left free to bathe. It was clear that this was a highlight of their day, and elephants of all ages strolled happily through th water, and someallowed their mahouts to scrub behind their ears. Some ambled to the other side, followed by curious babies, where they enjoyed dust baths on the river bank, or climbing up to walk under the palm trees in the field. While most elephants walked free, some wore chains, and were tethered while they were in the river. We assumed these were the ones who were not safe to have strolling around past the general public.
It was a real spectacle, and I could have watched them for ages. After the elephant orphanage, our driver dropped us off in Negombo and we bid him farewell. We whiled away a day playing cards, strolling on the beach and eating in the local working man's cafe before taking a tuk tuk to the airport. The security for Colombo airport was really strict, and we passed a few checkpoints on the way. There was a heavy military presence, and I noticed trenches lined with sandbags had been dug.Serious stuff.
We were both relieved to be leaving Sri Lanka in one piece due to the current civil unrest, and also because it had proven so expensive. We had seen some amazing sights however, and have some great memories.