The first couple of days of our second week were spent doing domestic jobs. Washing was top of the list and we had heard it was possible to take it to the Villa hotel across the bay. So I changed our sheets, bundled all our washing into my large washing bag and we jumped in a tuk tuk to take it there. It was agreed I would pick it up the next day.
Tuesday morning Jacqui, Jackie and I sat in the Dutch Bank cafe for coffee and started to organise our trips. It was agreed that to preserve the batteries our trips would be divided into 3 to allow us to come back to the boats and charge our batteries for a few days before setting off again. Collective booking can be a bit drawn out but we agreed on our first trip and it was booked. It was decided we would leave for Polonnaruwa on Thursday, go to Sigiriya rock on Friday and a safari on the Saturday staying 2 nights in Sigiriya. Wednesday was spent on board with Bill running the portable generator most of the day charging the batteries right up. Later in the afternoon we went to pick up our washing – not good. Over 1800 rupees about £9 twice as much as we had agreed plus the two tuk tuk rides to drop it off and pick it up bringing the total cost to about £14 for one reasonably sized bag of washing! Need to find a different option. (Bill won’t let me use the water on board to wash it by hand.)
Thursday morning at 7am Gary and Jackie off of Inspiration Lady, Kevin and Jacqui off of Tintin and Bill and I met on the jetty to start our trip. We had agreed to go with Yoosef, a local guy who had a 6 seater mini van. It was a bit beaten up but then they all are here. Yoosuf was very good stopping whenever we asked him too. These road side shops are selling a type of curd that looks and tastes like a creamy yoghurt. Delicious.
The scenery outside of Trinco was beautiful. Not in a British rolling green fields way but in a Sri Lankan padi fields with palm trees dotted across the land sort of way. The different shades of green are astounding; rice fields, lily ponds, palm trees. So many wonderful scenes around every corner. People seemed very poor living in mud huts but happy to wave as we pass. Although Yoosuf stopped quite a few times to take photos we couldn’t keep stopping but the views are locked in my memory.
After about 3 hours we arrived at Polonnaruwa and went into the excellent archaeological museum first. There were some wonderful models of how the site once looked and amazing before and after photos of the many sites to see in the area. After spending a couple of hours wandering around the many exhibits Yoosef took us to a great restaurant to get some lunch before we started exploring the ruins.
Kings ruled the central plains of Sri Lanka from Polonnaruwa over 800 years ago when it was a thriving commercial and religious centre. For three centuries Polonnaruwa was a royal capital of both the Chola and Sinhalese kingdoms. It was abandoned by the early 13th century and in 1982 UNESCO added it to it’s World Heritage list.
We started our visit at the Royal palace which was built during the 12th century. It is said to have had 7 storeys but today it’s crumbling remains look like giant cavity ravaged molars. The 3m thick walls have holes to receive floor beams for two higher floors, the other four levels would have been made of wood.
In a few corners there was evidence of what the decorations would have looked like.
We were freely allowed to walk around the ruins, they were simply amazing but then I love archeological sites.
We continued onto the Audience hall which has a wonderful frieze of elephants, all different in varying position.
In a corner of the palace grounds was the bathing pool which has been superbly renovated. I could just picture the king and his entourage descending the steps into the water.
We moved onto the Quadrangle a compact group of fascinating ruins. The most impressive was the Vatadage or circular relic house. It’s outermost terrace is 18m in diameter and the second terrace has four entrances leading to the central dagoba with it’s four Buddhas. Each entrance has impressive guard stones. The columns once supported a grand roof structure.
At the base of each of the guard stones was a moonstone . This is a ‘door step’ carved out of granite. It was amazing to us that we were allowed to walk on these fabulous carvings. Even though we had to take our shoes off at the entrance to the quadrangle bare feet will wear it away eventually.
Just across from the Vatadage was the Hatadage monument said to have been built in 60 hours. It was originally a two-storey building. The symmetry of pillars receding into the distance is always an impressive sight even if I did have to wait for ages for all the tourists to move out of the way. We spent about an hour wandering between all the buildings in the quadrangle area. It would get a bit boring if I listed them all. You’ll have to come here to see for yourself.
The last area we visited on the sight was Gal Vihara. A group of beautiful Buddha images cut from one long slab of granite. This reclining Buddha measures 14m long. The standing Buddha to the left of the photo is 7m tall. Quite impressive.
There were lots of Langur monkeys around.
After a wonderful day visiting the sites Yoosuf drove us to our hotel. We stayed at the Sigiri Holiday Inn. Firstly it was NOT part of the Holiday Inn chain and looked different to the photos on the website. Secondly it was a long way from the town so we had to eat there. The menu consisted of ‘western style’ food, always a mistake in this area, and we all ordered chicken and chips. The chicken was cooked within an inch of it’s life and the chips weren’t much better. The breakfast consisted of bananas, lots and lots of toast plus a scrambled egg or omelette washed down with the most disgusting coffee. It only cost about £20 a night, it was clean and the bed was reasonably comfy but I don’t think I would recommend it.
On to our second day we got up early so we could get to Sigiriya rock to beat the tourists……hahaha, so did everyone else. There’s a set of beautifully landscaped water gardens at the entrance to the complex then as you approach the rock it’s base has been landscaped to produce terraced gardens.
The rock rises straight up from the jungle and a series of steps leads up through the lower boulders. The ascent is a steep climb which is mostly steps.
Halfway up the rock there’s an open-air spiral stairway leading up from the main route to a sheltered galley in the sheer rock face. In this niche is a series of paintings of buxom women. They are protected from the sun and photos aren’t allowed so in remarkable good condition. There are various theories of why they are there and how old they are but I think it was a monks naughty boys corner! These two doggies had followed everyone up the stairs. but they were a real pair of mutts.
This photo was taken from the spiral staircase looking back down on the queue that was building up with Kevin and Jackie, Gary and Jackie standing in the line. So much for getting up early to beat the crowds.
At the northern end of the rock, after more steps, the narrow path opens out onto a large platform from which the rock gained it’s name – the Lion rock. During the 1898 excavations two enormous lion paws were found. At one time a gigantic brick lion sat at this end of the rock and the final ascent to the top commenced with a stairway that led between the lion’s paws and into his mouth. It must have been quite spectacular. The 5th century lion has since disappeared, apart from his paws, and to reach the top now it was up more stairs, more narrow and more steep. These last set of steps were too much for Gary’s fear of heights and he stayed by the lion’s paws but the rest of us managed to get to the top. It was hard work. Once at the top we were told there were 1208 steps not that I was counting. The view from the top was spectacular, well worth the climb.
The terraced summit of the rock covers 1.6 hectares and is thought to be the site chosen by King Kassapa for is fortified capital. Today only the low foundations of structures exist and one can only imagine how grand the original structures would have been. The astonishing views across a sea of green forest is captivating.
This looks like it might have been a swimming pool but the 27m by 21m tank was more likely to have been used for water storage. The acid leeching out of the rock around the tank looked like it had been painted on. The colours were amazing.
After spending over an hour exploring and admiring the magnificent views we made our descent. Fortunately there are a second set of steps for descending alongside the ones to go up. By the time we got to the bottom our knees were like jelly but we were all pleased with our achievements.
A visit to the superb museum alongside the gardens was very enlightening about the theory of Sigiriya and it’s past uses. It also had a computer generated programme of what the building might have looked like. It must have been spectacular when it was originally built which could have been several thousand years ago.
Yoosuf took us to another great restaurant for a buffet lunch. In the tourist area there are lots of these type of places offering fairly good food at reasonable prices. After lunch he drove us south to visit one of the famous spice gardens of Matale.
The Heritage Spice and Herbs garden is an attractive shady spot that runs informative tours about the herbs and spices they are growing.
It was very interesting learning what the different herbs can be used for.
Our tour guide was got very excited when he realised we were yachties and offered us free massages by his trainees. I won’t embarrass everyone with the photos. There was a bit of hard sell at the end but I resisted. Everything was very overpriced but it had been an interesting afternoon.
Then it was back to the Sigiri Holiday Inn for a second night with equally inedible food. Why did we do that again?
The next morning after breakfast we headed out to the safari park area. Yoosuf had a friend of his cousins that knew the best park to go to for elephants. Your choice is in the lap of the gods at the end of the day because these elephants are completely wild and free and wander where they want. There’s no feeding stations and they are free to roam where they want although a lot of the local villages had electrified fences erected to keep them out because they can be quite destructive. We swopped Yoosuf’s van for a safari jeep.
The entrance was by a wonderfully scenic watering hole.
This lady was washing herself and her clothes by the water’s edge.
We drove on into the park. The park is made up of a series of dusty tracks and our driver drove around the circuit.
It was possible to stand up in the jeep and we took it in turns in spotting an elephant. I was the first to see a lone male with big tusks standing under some trees. When he saw us he disappeared into the undergrowth. Our driver edged forward and then luckily the elephant decided to come back out again and sautered across about 50 metres in front of us. We followed him for about 10 minutes then he disappeared again.
We carried on driving and saw lots of peacocks but no elephants. We were just thinking we weren’t going to see any more when Kevin spotted a group right next to the road.
We were so lucky because there in front of us were 3 big females each with little babies and quite a few juvenile sized ones.
We watched them walking around on one side of the road when suddenly one of the big females came charging out of the undergrowth towards us, quite scary. Our driver drove forward very quickly and she stopped. We can only assume she thought we were too close to her babies. After that they crossed to the other side of the track and were happy for us to watch. They were then joined by about 3 or 4 more also with babies. It was the most amazing experience there was just the six of us watching these wonderful sedate creatures going about their daily lives.
As they moved around our driver was able to reverse back into a little side track to give us a grandstand view for about an hour. The Mummy Jumbo seemed to be ok with us watching but the adults were always in between us and the babies. I could have watched them for ever. I’ve got some video clips and I’ll try and put one on facebook.
The driver took us to a lookout on top of a small hill for a better view of the area but no more sightings. We had been very lucky to have seen our little family of elephants.
It was time to head back to the boats for a couple of days before our next trip.