“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

To the Ancient Cities and the North!

On Tuesday I had a long drive - around 9 hours. I went from the coast in the south (Mirissa) up through tea country (just gorgeous, but it was a tiny mountain road) past the Sinharaja Forest National Park. It's rather romantic seeing all the signs for the tea estates... they mention their bungalows and I was dying to just pop in and have a cuppa looking over the hills (see pic). There are rest houses everywhere in Sri Lanka and they also convey a colonial mentality, except they're all mid-range hotels now and quite lovely places to stay, always in the best spot in town of course! We passed through Ratnapura, where I grabbed a quick bite, then we kept on driving up to Kandy.

I'm sad that I couldn't do Kandy more justice. I didn't even see the Tooth Relic, but then, no one ever sees it as it's just the house that it's in that you visit. Kandy is the mountain city--it took quite a strong British force to conquer it (and the Dutch and Portuguese never succeeded) (see street pic). One thing that was amazing... monkeys crossing the road. There are monkeys everywhere in Sri Lanka. Mischeivious, dastardly little things that can scare the daylights out of me! But it was getting late in the afternoon and I still had a ways to go so I went north to Sigiriya, but stopped at Aluvihara and Nelanda.
Aluvihara was a rock temple--the ancient Buddhists really used the rocks they had in the most "back to earth" way. This one was particularly memorable for it's carvings of evil and sinners, which just sounds too catholic to be true, but there you go. I remember brains being scooped out by demons, and a man being ripped apart by his legs. Just lovely... all in comic cartoon like 3D sculpture!!
Nalanda was an old temple, much like the many in Bagan, but it was in a beautiful setting near a tank... the tanks were everywhere. They're basically dams built since the biblical times for local water storage. Picturesque, smart, and make lovely ponds for fishing in!!


Sigiraya - amazing!!! Did you know there was a big rock temple/fortress/palace high on an eroded extinct volcanic plug in the middle of Sri Lanka? It is truly spectacular! (see pic)Depending on which legend you wish to follow it has either been an ancient monastery for both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism for millenium, or one king (King Kassapa AD477-495) decided he wanted a secure place to hide after being attacked continuously at his other city, Anuradhapura. I would like to be THAT big of guy! It was huge, with wonderful views over the tropical plains, and of course, to make it that much more perfect, it had a giant lion guarding the gates, but you can only see his paws now. They were twice the size of me, at least. The rock also had exotic rock paintings of exotic women (painted by men, no doubt, because their boobs were so(unrealistically) bountiful, round and perky.
..............Long break................. okay, I just tried to add a picture of these lovely ladies and discovered that I've managed to corrupt the files from most of Sigiriya, certainly all of the rock paintings and all of my time on top. I am incredibly bummed about this. I'm so bummed and it's also so late on Saturday night (and I fly to Yangon early tomorrow morning) that I'll have to finish this another time. So, interesting wedding party, Dambulla (monkey) caves, Polonaruwa, Anuradhapura... that'll be for next time.
June 12, 2008

I'm back to update this...

The edge of Sigiriya has the feet of a giant lion--such a neat thing to create. If ever I reincarnate as a giant temple builder, that's what I'll create! On top of Sigiriya I bumped into a wedding party from England. What a great idea for a place to have a wedding trip. It's unlikely that most would go there otherwise. I think that'll have to be how I have my wedding!!

After Sigiriya I went to Damballa caves. They're these ancient caves with Buddhist paintings and statues inside. However, I must say that despite these sacridities (a word?) myself (and most locals) spent more time looking at the monkeys than at the sites. They were everywhere and showed some of the bad attributes that humans have--jealousy, grabbing/snatching, stealing, growling and biting!!

After a reasonably short drive, I was at another ancient city, Polonaruwa. This was an area of flat land near one of the amazing tanks that the ancient peoples built (basically they're dams, but are feats of engineering in terms of water management). I can't say that Polonaruwa had any one amazing item, but in combination the sheer number of buildings shows just how amazing the ancient peoples were. I did watch a lovely sunset though, with some more fabulous tea in the state hotel overlooking the tank. It's the same place that Queen Elizabeth the Second stayed when she was there.

They had a fantastic museum in Polonoruwa. It was small enough that you could get through in a timely manner, but laid out in a really logical way. They basically divided up the ancient city into parts, then showed the archaeological finds they had from each place, along with miniature models and photographs. I loved it, but sadly, no photos were allowed. :(


After a mixup with the park guards (they stamped the wrong date on the ticket), we drove to the third and last ancient city, Anuradhapura. On the way (after a brief encounter with some elephants in a river), we stopped at the ancient site of Mihintale, which had several Buddhist monuments including the giant mounds, an ancient tree, payas, and caves of prophets.

I had a terrible map of Anuradhapura, so I ended up visiting an out of the way place, not realizing it was a major place. The sheer size of Anuradhapura and the rolling fields of rooms and houses and buildings surrounded by grass park area and trees is what was so amazing. There were a several sacred mounds as well, but I really don't think they're all that picturesque (although they are phenomenal from an achitechtural standpoint considering that one was the second highest man-made monument in the world after the pyramids until the 1800s). A long drive home summed up my trip. I had such a great time, and it really is one of my favorite countries now!

Oh, and by the way, after a few months I discovered that I had not deleted the photos off the original drive, so I actually didn't lose all my photos. Yay!!

See more photos here:


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