Sacred City of Anuradhapura

The Serendib Chronicles – Day 9
5th Nov10, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
first published in http://furiouspanda.blogspot.com


Today was a morning tour around Anuradhapura. The ruins, and more temples were spread out further apart as compared to Polonnaruwa, many of which were gigantic stupas, probably the largest in Sri Lankas. The main complex around Abhayagiri Dagaba was where a large chunk of the ruins were situated, though there were many others stupas and monasteries scattered.


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Truth be told, after 4 days of ruined cities, I was having a bit of an overdose. But to dismiss the sites entirely would be erroneous. There were a couple of highlights, Isurumuniya temple was where a 6th century carving depicting a man and a woman side by side; “The Lovers”. A Samadhi statue depicts Buddha in the posture of his enlightenment. The Sri Maha Bodhi tree located in Anuradhapura, sacred as it is, was another sight.


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Then comes the blitz down from Anuradhapura down south. As with all these rushed trips, it’s a matter of squeezing in as much in a short space of time. A quick stop at Negombo later, we headed down to the airport, for the midnight flight out. And that was the Sri Lanka experience, short on serendipitous events, but a whole new set of experience to add.

Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

The Serendib Chronicles – Day 8
5th Nov10, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
first published in http://furiouspanda.blogspot.com

Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, that’s the name inscribed on the World Heritage List, and the next stop in the Cultural Triangle for us. It’s from a 1000 years ago, and built along the shore of the Sea of Parakrama, a huge man made reservoir (you cannot see the other bank). 
The sights, ruins of temples, vatadages, palaces are spread out along the town. We go from one to another, marveling the architecture, the friezes along the walls. And it happened to be Diwali, and there were a couple of ruins of small Hindu temples in the mix. A sliver of devotees were present, paying respect at the temples.

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After lunch, the van collected us and drove down to Anuradhapura, built several centuries before Polonnaruwa, and the original capital.

Sigiriya Rocks!

The Serendib Chronicles – Day 7

4th Nov10, Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

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Early morning saw us climbing the ancient rock fortress that is Sigiriya. Originally built into a city fortress in 5AD, it was expanded, used as a palace, monastery up till 14th century, when it was abandoned. Probably my favourite historical site in Lanka, the sprawling city is made up of 3 levels, the garden terraces at ground level, a mid-level area halfway up the rock, and the topside, where the palace remnants are located.
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At the base of the Sigiriya rock are the three terraced gardens, starting out from the water gardens, with pools located on either side of a walkway towards the rock, the pools being almost symmetrical. Then comes the boulder gardens, which looked like like part of the natural landscape, with step-like shapes cut into the boulder indicating that there must have been be some structures atop. The terraced gardens are basically steps leading up towards the top of the rock.

Midway through, we pass by the Fresco, where figures have been painted and preserved onto the side of the rock, and well as the Mirror Wall, running along the side of the rock, and polished so shiny it resembles a mirror, hence the name. On the wall are scribbled ancient graffiti, poems about how visitors to the rock marveled at the wonder.

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Next, up to Lion’s Mouth, the mid-level clearing, where steps leading to the top goes through what was previously a lion’s mouth, (hence the Sigiriya name, Lion’s Rock). All that remains now are the lion’s paws.
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Finally, at the top of the rock, the ruins of the palace /monastery. Nothing spectacular in itself, but the view of the surrounding area was great. From the places visited, seen so far, it seems that the locals, then and now, have an eye for setting up structures on high ground, overlooking everything, on a large scale. Like this rock, Buddha statues set atop hills like in Kandy, and Dambulla. The trend was to continue later when we went up to Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura.
By the time we were topside, we’re pretty much exhausted. Made our way down and took the long drive to Polonnaruwa. Did the Polonnaruwa museum for an hour or so, and a couple of ruins. The sights in the ancient city of Polo were spread all around, much like Angkor in Cambodia, and were easier to visit on wheels. Like our van. It started to drizzle a bit, and we took that as an excuse to find lodging and stop sightseeing. In actual fact, we were bloody tired.
Interlude: Here’s a list of UNESCO sites in Sri Lanka (source: Wikipedia)
Eight sites of Sri Lanka have been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage, namely, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa (1982), the ancient city of Sigiriya (1982), the Golden Temple of Dambulla (1991), the old town of Galle and its fortifications (1988), the sacred city of Anuradhapura (1982), the sacred city of Kandy (1988), Sinharaja Forest Reserve (1988) and the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka (2010).
Well, 7 out of 8 isn’t too bad – minus Sinharaja.

Into the Cultural Triangle

The Serendib Chronicles – Day 6
3rd Nov10, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

The morning saw us sleeping in, after the long drive into Kandy. That and for once we had an internet wifi connection in the room. Firstly, did the tour around Kandy, taking in the sights. The lake is the most visible landmark around Kandy central, and opposite the lake from where we were staying, was the Temple of the Tooth Relic. A did the temple tour, but the rest of us just did the Kandy museum, plus walked around the town for a bit, dropping by the big Buddha at the top of the hill overlooking Kandy. The tourist office in Kandy was where we bought the USD 50 Cultural Triangle ticket, which covers Kandy, Polonnaruwa, and Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and some other smaller sites.

From Kandy, it was a long drive up to Dambulla Rock Caves, a UNESCO heritage site made up of a series of 5 caves containing around 150 Buddhas. It’s a separate ticket from the Cultural Triangle Ticket and costs 1200 Rp per entry. The caves were alright, but of more interest was the great view of the sunset from the top of the hill where the rock caves stood.

It was dark when we did the journey from Dambulla to Sigiriya. Stayed at a Globetrotter’s Tourist Inn (1500 Rp), which, if you ignore the mosquitoes, is a great place to stay. Unlike most of the places which were located at the edge of the road (GCSE ‘O’ Geography: Linear population!), this one had a long driveway and the rooms were located further in, off the road. Its a popular place too, in the Nov Dec months expect the place to be prebooked.

Interlude: Rasai Sri Lanka!

So. 9 days and 2 kg later. Here’s a blog post about food. Rasai means Delicious in Sinhalese =) I pinched the post title from a Sri Lankan food festival promotional ad.

Typical Sri lankan rice and curry meal. Spicy and bloody fantastic too.

 This is how we wash our hands, with “tissue” made out of newspapers

 Rotti. plain. with egg. or those triangular ones with vege.

 Spiced chick peas. kacang puteh style

Breakfast buffer. made out of dhal. rotti, and string hoppers (extreme right flour like stringy things)

 Kottu Rotti! It’s like prata with meat, minced into tiny slices over a chopping board.

 Waday. and Samosa. Street eats.

 Plain rotti, samosas behind the counter.

 Mobile bakery.

Hoppers. Plain and with egg.

 Rice and curry spread

 Tropical Sri Lankan fruits

 Rice and Curry Hotels. Hotels here means restaurant.

 Yoghurt. At 35 singapore cents for one, it’s a steal

Rice and curry set – with chicken curry!

 Rice and curry. With fish!

 Deviled chicken and deviled fish

 Sri Lankan highland tea. and oh so English setting

 Home cooked Sri Lankan meal

Fried rice

 Thosai with dhal and deviled chicken

Wattalapam – coconut custard

 Cream soda – local diabetes inducing soft drink

 Fried noodles.

 Wood apple, with chilli powder

Chilli mango slices

Heck, just go to the wikipedia page to learn more. =)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisine_of_Sri_Lanka

Greetings from the World’s End!

The Serendib Chronicles – Day 5
2nd Nov10, Kandy, Sri Lanka

At 7am in the morning, we made our way to Horton Plains National Park (2300 Rp x 4 for everything including entry, vehicle entry and other taxes). A plateau rising up to 4300m, the park is home to the Sambar deer, one of which we saw near the entrance. It is also Sri Lanka’s only cloud forest, rising high  sea level, and covered in mist for most of the day.

The objective here was to make our way on foot along the 9 km round trek. The route would take us to a point aptly called World’s End. This is where the trek path suddenly opens out into a 880m vertical drop into the valley below, affording brilliant views of the surrounding area and on clear days, even the sea.

The trek was straightfoward, decent walking footwear is a must. And with stops at highlights such as Baker’s Falls, Mini World’s End (a less impressive version of the above) and the flora / fauna (not much here, we also saw birds). The highlight of course was World’s End, and we spent a bit of time looking down below till vertigo set in. Well, now I can go back telling everyone I have been to World’s End. (Cue REM’s song, ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It, And I Feel Fine’)

From Horton’s Plains, we descended and passed by the Ambiwela dairy farm, where cows are bred to graze on rolling hills for their milk. These are then made into yoghurt, cheese and other dairy products. We had our fill of fresh cow’s milk, sold behind a booth set up in the parking area leading to the dairy farm. We would have been able to visit the farm too, unfortunately the factory people were out to lunch.

However, we had much better luck with Macwoods’s tea factory. This tea making establishment has been around for the last century and owned more than a thousand acres of land. We were taken on a tour of the tea factory, including the tea picking process, and the different grades of tea (Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings!) available. A new experience, since I have been seeing tea plantations everywhere but never had the chance to actually learn how the tea was made.

Dinner was at our driver’s house, near Kandy. A had joked that she would want to eat dinner at his place, and he duly invited us over. His mom prepared dishes beforehand and we very really embarrassed at having imposed ourselves at his place. The home cooked food was excellent though.

Reached Kandy late in the evening. Found a place at Sharon’s Inn, 3000Rp for the room, with a wifi connection. Probably the best place we stayed by far, notwithstanding Nuwara Eliya’s overnight stay in cool high altitude surroundings.

From the Coast to the Highlands

The Serendib Chronicles – Day 4
1st Nov10, Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

So having decided to go ahead with a driver and van for the next 6 days, we planned our route to see the main sites in Sri Lanka. With a vehicle, we would be able to see more, and spend less time waiting for buses and public transport. In the end, it would add up to be cheaper to go ahead with this arrangement, especially since there were four of us. The downside would be less interaction with the populace.

So the driving route today was to follow the coast from Hikkaduwa all the way to the next big city Matara, before heading inland to Nuwara Eliya. Nuwara Eliya is 1880m above sea level, and it would be a major change from the sunny beach weather we had been having over the past few days.

Breakfast. In one of the restaurants just out of Hikkaduwa, serving a buffet of (140 Rp) of rotti, string hoppers (a noodle like dry flour staple), with some dhal and other side dishes. Basically, rice and curry, or a flour variant in this case.

During the journey inland, the altitude began to rise, and soon we were in cooler weather, passing by Rawana falls, which has a backstory that I cannot recall. Headed towards Ella, and the journey from Ella to Nuwara Eliya is punctuated with spectacular views of the hills below, the tea plantations spread across the hill slopes, and villages duly equipped with the obligatory resthouse for travelers.

Nuwara Eliya is Sri Lanka’s hill station, set up by the Brits stationed here long ago. The architecture of the houses are unlike anything I have seen in Sri Lanka so far, and most of them would not look out of place in the English countryside. It is pretty surreal, since I was not expecting little pastry shop huts, golf courses side by side with temples and mosques. The weather was also much cooler than in the lowlands, and I had to put on 2 layers and a windbreaker to keep out the cold. The city centre where we went for dinner was pretty much like any other Sri Lankan town, albeit it was much cooler. The unusual dinner dish we had was kottu rotti, which is basically roti prata with some sort of meat, in this  case chicken, chopped to small bits till they resembled noodles instead of roti prata. Oh, and we had hoppers, which is like the mee chiam kueh in Singapore, except its an unwrapped bowl shaped version.

After dinner, did some strolling in the local Nuwara Eliya bazaar where I made the best buy so far! I was hunting for a souvenir Sri Lankan tshirt, with an elephant print on the front, which I saw an angmoh wearing, when instead I came across a Sri Lankan national cricket team jersey. Blue and yellow, I look fantastic wearing it. (yes, I know, my skin is thick, but we all know that don’t we already 😉 )Bargained it down to 1100Rp. The quality seems ok, I just hope it doesn’t come apart after one or two washes.

CSC = 3 (what else, the cricket jersey!)

Daytripping Galle and Diving Hikkaduwa

The Serendib Chronicles – Day 3

31 Oct10, Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

Early at 9am, made the way down to Blue Deep Dive. Hikkaduwa boasts at least 12 dive sites, with a few easily accessible wrecks. The tourist season is not yet in full swing, so there was only an Austrian couple diving that morning. Diving season on the western coast runs from November to April, so the waters were just clearing and hopefully visibility would be good.

Two dives in the day (rather dear at 25 euro each), the second dive with just me going out for the dive. The first was Goda Gala, current was strong, highlight was probably the barracudas and the squid. I couldn’t really see because the mask took in water incessantly. Second dive at the Cave, an 8 to 15m depth dive, was much better, because it offered the opportunity to do some nudibranch spotting, a favourite of mine.

One personal highlight was the Rotti joint which I came across in between dives. Just across the dive shop, off the main street in a little nook, lies the tastiest vegetable rotti. Rotti, resembles the Singaporean roti prata, except the Sri Lankan version is way spicier and hence a real treat if one can take the spiciness. I ordered 2 at first, but finished by lunch with 4 after repeated orders. It was that good.

Galle, a 30 min bus ride from Hikkaduwa, is a UNESCO heritage site, a former dutch fort built in the 17th century. Walking along the circumference of the fort, overlooking the Indian Ocean, was pretty surreal. It was also a Sunday evening, so throngs of locals and their families were having picnics, evening strolls, with kids dreaming to be the next Sanath Jayasuriya playing the odd cricket game, a national obsession here.

CS Count = 2 (finding that rotti shop, and the chance introduction to the local rotti!)

Ayurvedic Massages and No. 3 haircuts

The Serendib Chronicles – D2
30th Oct10, Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

Left for brunch at 10am, walking northwards along busy Galle Road, which cuts through Hikkaduwa, towards the administrative end of the town. Found ourselves in the local rice and curry joint, where we had our dish (130 Rp) of rice, dhal, black pepper fish, potato spicy curry and a spicy sweet grated coconut mix. First taste of Sri Lankan rice and curry. Each side dish leaves a different taste in the mouth, which blends together to create an irresistible mix.

Back down, finally caught up with W and a friend she met, Shane. These two came up from Mirissa after a few days of relaxation there. Visited a local barber, to add to my collection of haircuts from unlikely places. It was a pretty decent cut too.

Went back for a nap (Why Not?) before being woken up by W to view the local lad fishing out on the stilts just in front of our guesthouse. The sight of these men on stilts is unique to the southern coastline of Sri Lanka, and I was earlier bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have a chance to get to see these guys. And there right in front of me was one. Granted, he was bare-bodied and in three-quarter khakis. But he was the real deal, doing actual fishing. And not those who dress up and pose atop the stilts for tourist dollars from pictures. Serendipity =)

Also, tried out the ayurvedic full body massage (1500 Rp, A came a day later an had one for 100 Rp elsewhere, but ours told us he “was the real deal”) 1 hour, 3 types of body oil, 1 type of facial oil, and a sprinkling of sandalwood oil on the face later, I was done.

Dinner was buttered prawns (600 Rp) after which I told myself that for the rest of my stay in Lanka, I would only have local cuisine, which I find delicious!.
CSC = 1 (stilt fisherman found outside my guesthouse)

Introducing Sri Lanka

The Serendib Chronicles – Day 1
29th Oct 10, Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

The Cathay Pacific flight arrived into Colombo airport at 10.40pm. After deliberating for a bit, I decided not to overnight in Colombo. Instead, we will take the public bus down to Hikkaduwa through the night, where W will meet us from Mirissa.

The free shuttle service goes 2km to the airport bus station, from which service 187 takes you to Bastian Mwatha station in Colombo. The only problem is at 12.30am, the bus (which normally waits till full before moving off) doesn’t look like its going anywhere anytime soon. So, not wanting to wait 2 hours at the deserted bus station, we decided to take a three-wheeler (henceforth called tuk-tuk for simplicity’s sake) after some bargaining(1200 Rp) to Colombo. The Sri Lankans are a nice lot. Not too pushy. Yes they will ask you for a tuktuk or propose some other offer for you, but if you decline firmly, they won’t persist. And they always have a smile for you no matter what the outcome.

Tuk tuk ride. Braving the nightime draft, along the coastal road. Of particular interest are the local policemen standing guard in the middle and at the roadside every 500 meters or so. At 1am in the night!

Bastian Mwatha by night. The only late night service in operation seems to be the Colombo – Matara line. We would need to drop off at Hikkaduwa along the way (160 Rp on the tix, we paid 350 Rp for two, don’t ask me why). The bus interchange itself must have been very busy in the day. In the night however, the sundry shops and eateries by the wayside are open, yes. But that’s about it. The other bus service queues were empty. Only at the Colombo – Matara service was there a queue. We waited in the queue for 2 buses to load up before our turn to board. The bus stopped whenever there were passengers, and even though we left Colombo all seated, by the time we exited Colombo City, it was a “sardines in a can” situation. How I managed to sleep under the circumstances, during the 2 to 3 hour bus ride, in a crowded bus with Sri Lankan music blaring through the speakers, is beyond me. Also, I realised much later that clergy, meaning the monks, get the front seats in the bus reserved for them.

Reached Hikkaduwa around 4am, walked south along the coastal Galle Road to the budget place “Why Not? Guesthouse” which stood out, because the name just screams out “Pick me!”. 1200 Rp for the cheaper rooms on the ground level.

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