Dambulla, Sigiriya, and Kandy – Sri Lanka

 

[February 2019]

To read about my one-week itinerary, see my post here.

After arriving at the Colombo Airport, I met my first driver, Kaan, exchanged some money (you absolutely need cash in Sri Lanka), and began our journey to Dambulla and Sigiriya. My flight from Istanbul was overnight and connected in Doha, so I dozed in and out during the drive, but I my first and lasting impression of Sri Lanka was a sense of familiarity… The fruit stands, the color of the dirt, the clothing, the lush greenery, the incredibly beautiful smiles… It was somehow a combination of my experiences in India and Ghana.

I believe it was four hours or so from Colombo to the Dambulla Cave Temple. After climbing quite a few stairs, you’ll see stunning views such as this:

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You’ll need to take off and check your shoes. I recommend wearing socks as the path into the the complex and between caves can scorch your feet. The temple itself is full of Buddhist paintings and statues. The walls, the ceilings… It’s beautiful. You don’t need much time here, but I did enjoy going into each of the different spaces.

 

Maybe an hour or so later we arrived at Sigiri Sara Home Stay Nice Village. The room was a bit musty smelling (although the main house didn’t), but it was comfortable and the hosts were very kind. I cleaned myself up (drenching the bathroom) and rested for about an hour before my driver and I went to Pidurangala for a sunset hike. Why I cleaned myself up before hiking again is beyond me…

I read that the hike takes 30 minutes and the sunset is around 6:30. We arrived just before 6:00, so I definitely started the hike too late, especially considering that I am a slower hiker. When I got to the top there were a lot of people coming down to avoid hiking in the dark. I would recommend climbing up around 5:00 to enjoy the experience without any hurry. The hike is a lot of (uneven) stairs and the end bit requires squeezing through some tighter spaces (don’t carry a large bag). It wasn’t dark when I got to the top, but I didn’t have much time to enjoy the view of Sigiriya Rock and the plain before I had to start hiking back down (bring a flashlight).

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My homestay wasn’t able to prepare me dinner that night so my driver took me to a restaurant in town. I don’t remember the name, but it was an open, wood design and we sat upstairs. I ordered banana chips and roti, which came with a three curries. That’s all it took. I am now in love with Sri Lankan food.

My original plan was to climb Sigiriya Rock early the next morning. After climbing Pidurangala I no longer felt it was necessary to climb all those stairs to Sigiriya Rock. It’s essentially the same view for more money and a bigger crowd. Some may say, “You went all that way and didn’t go to the top of Sigiriya Rock?” Honestly, I was worried that I would regret it, but I really didn’t.

After a DELICIOUS breakfast at my homestay, the best breakfast of my trip, my driver drove me around so that I could take pictures.

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Next, we drove to Polonnaruwa Ancient City (click for info video from UNESCO). There is a museum that displays artifacts from the Polonnaruwa kingdom in the 12th century. The famous ruins are quite spread out so the entrance ticket has multiple pieces to tear off and gets stamped like a passport. My driver drove me between the sites, but I saw people getting around by bike as well.

This is another place where you’ll want to bring socks to wear as you walk around so that you don’t burn your feet. I also recommend stopping for a rest with a fresh coconut. My favorite part of this was the last site where there was a Thai group praying. Listen to the recording and you’ll see why, as a musician, I found this so satisfying.

Our final stretch for the day was the drive to Kandy, which was probably around three hours. On the way I saw my first wild elephant! Not in a zoo and not chained up and escorted around with tourists. No. A real, wild elephant just roaming around on the side of the road. I lost my mind!

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We also stopped for some of that beautiful fruit on the side of the road…

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…And at the Golden Temple. I didn’t go through this but there was a group of women preparing and selling the most flavorful food! It’s worth stopping just to fill up your belly.

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We arrived in Kandy and I stayed at Villa Forest View. I was greeted with a refreshing towel and tea. The host family was so friendly. I wish I could have stayed longer just to spend time with them. The room had air conditioning, a stunning view off the balcony, and a comfortable bed. Sadly, I arrived just after dark. I am sure the sunset on their breakfast terrace would be magnificent.

My original plan was to take the train straight from Kandy to Ella essentially skipping Kandy altogether. The way I saw it was that I was in Sri Lanka for the nature not the cities. Kaan, my driver, said it was worth it to spend a morning in Kandy and take the train from Horton Plains instead, so that’s what I did. More on that in the next post.

After breakfast Kaan introduced me to Pushpe who would be my driver for the remainder of the trip. We started by visiting the Temple of the Tooth. At the entrance, I stopped to enjoy the music:

The woodwork in the temple was stunning, and there were offerings of flowers everywhere. It was, however, very crowded. I enjoyed spending some time in a room that had paintings describing the story of the tooth relic.

After the Temple of the Tooth, we went to the Kandy View Point:

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Next, we took an unplanned stop at a batik workshop where they taught me how the batiks are made and then let me try making my own simple pattern. Learning about the long process really made me appreciate the art upstairs in their shop. I spent much more time admiring all their pieces than I expected I would but I ended up only buying myself a small piece knowing that what I really wanted from this trip was a mask. I will say, though, that I was highly tempted by the carved wood shop next door.

Next stop: Nuwara Eliya and Ella

I thought these three days were a great way to start my trip but if you have already seen a lot of temples and ruins, then this is the part of my itinerary that I would say skip. You could just as easily start by going straight from Colombo to Nuwara Eliya. I managed to fit in everything I wanted to do in a week, but if your time is limited and you want to move at a slower space, you’ll need to make some choices.

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