Today was my chance to get out of Kandy and see some of the sights that we’d been discussing at our workshop. It was also a nice low intensity day after yesterday’s adventure. I’d prearranged a guide/driver via Airbnb Experiences, and Janaka showed up right on time at 7. It took a while to poke our way out of town, because Sri Lankan K-12 schools start at 7:30am, so the roads were packed with families getting the kids off to school.
Our first (and primary) destination for the day was Sigiriya, a palace/fortress situated on top of the plug from a long-eroded volcano (think Devil’s Tower). The drive itself was uneventful – driving involves lots of passing (tuktuks and scooters) and being passed (buses driven by nutters). We made it to Sigiriya around 10:30, and Janaka dropped me at the museum to start my visit. The museum is actually super cool – a cool building situated over pools, with good information about the history of the site. Briefly, the primary construction at the site happened in the 470s AD, because King Kashyapa wanted an impenetrable fortress. Having killed his dad to claim the throne, he felt, uhh, a bit vulnerable. It only lasted as a palace for 15 or 20 years, but was used as a Buddhist monastery for another thousand years.
The grounds are sprawling – many symmetrical reflecting pools and gardens line a main path up to the rock. As you get closer, you move through massive fields of boulders (V8 ancient site) before arriving at the stairs. There are a lot of stairs.
Partway up, you pass through what was once a giant lion’s head (today just the paws are left) before climbing metal stairs to the top. You can see the original stone carved steps and ladders along the way – folks used to be a lot more brave.
The top is a flat plateau with the foundations of many buildings and pools. There were only a handful of tourists up there, so everyone could get great selfies admiring the view all around. Also at the top is a chance to see the unique frescoes (no photos allowed) which influenced other artistic forms throughout Sri Lanka.
After visiting Sigiriya, the plan was just to make our way back to Kandy by way of a number of interesting sights. The first sight was a fruit vendor – a friend of Janaka’s who just had a baby. We had to drop off a gift. In return, we got some mangosteens and bananas, an excellent trade. After that, it was a stop at the Dambulla Royal Cave Temple and Golden Temple – many more stairs to get to a series of caves with buddha statues.
The highlight of the return drive was Nalanda Gedige. Officially it’s the geographic center of Sri Lanka, and also home to a fascinating temple which mixes Hindu and Buddhist themes. The site was totally deserted, so we enjoyed wandering around before getting in the car for the rest of the drive back.
I thought about heading into town one last time, but instead decided to just catch up on some work at the hotel and get packed up. Tomorrow morning I’ll get the train into Colombo, and then kill time before my very, very late departure. I’ll do a followup “thoughts on Sri Lanka” post, but for now I’m just happy to have had such a nice day out, with nary a leech or stabby vine in sight.