I arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, my last stop on a trip that took me through camping in Yemen, a few days of luxury in the Maldives and now a completely unplanned trip in Sri Lanka.
I always had an interest in going to Sri Lanka. The country erupted in to civil war by the 1980’s due to a shift in politics that began to oppress and discriminate against the Tamil groups of Sri Lanka. Eventually this led to the formation of Tamil militant people and launched into a full scale war. Finally after 26 years of the Sri Lankan civil war, it all ended in 2009 with the Sri Lankan (Sinhalese) Armed Forces defeated the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
I decided that now that the war was over, I wanted to go.
I got in late at night, and already had a room booked at the Port View City Hotel. I grabbed a cab into Colombo from the airport, not knowing I also would meet my guide.
His name was Mario, and he said he didn’t want to bother me any further if I was not interested in having a guide, I told him to run me down on what I could do with my time there (I only had about 8 days in Sri Lanka, so not much time to mess around if I wanted t see anything). He gave me an itinerary and we agreed on a price, and he dropped me at my hotel and said he’d arrive at 8am to pick me up. Mario ended up being great, I still keep in contact with him still to this day and if anyone would like to get his info to book a tour with him I can put you into contact with him.
I don’t have a lot to say about Colombo, because I got into the city fairly late at night, I think past 10pm, and left north the next morning. I stayed at the Port View City Hotel, and overall it was a good place to stay. The room was clean and it included a breakfast (English style and fruit).
Colombo’s traffic is pretty crazy as it is in most big cities in Asia. And by crazy, I mean complete anarchy. I actually saw a man get run over by a car within the first 10 minutes in the car! The car hit him and his body flung up on the windshield and shattered the whole thing. He was okay though, just a little banged up. It seemed minor compared to the bicycle vs. car crash I watched in Oahu when I was 18.
After a few hours in the car we arrived to Polonnaruwa. Polonnaruwa was our jumping off point to get into Minneriya National Park.
Minneriya National Park
We went to the park gate, I paid for a seat on a truck going into Minneriya to the tank which set me back about $30, and then ran back to drop off my bag at our hotel in Polonnaruwa and change clothes.
All over on the roads between Minneriya and Polonnaruwa there are elephant crossing signs. Mario said people hitting elephants with cars is a big problem up in this area. It didn’t seem that weird to me seeing that back home in Alaska people hit moose in their cars all the time.
On the way to Minneriya in the truck, Mario explained that the Minneriya tank where the elephants gather was constructed in year 3 AD under King Mahasen.
Once you go through the park gate you do a short drive through jungle. Then you suddenly pop out into a grassland with the tank off in the distance.
On our way in we saw a few Sri Lankan axis deer, a couple peacock, Sri Lankan hanging parrots and many more bird species. Most importantly we saw a large herd of elephants. The elephants are what I came for.
There are many other species to be seen in the park, some endangered like the Sri Lankan leopard, and Sri Lankan sloth bear. The Grey slender loris is even alleged to be in this park. I unfortunately did not run into any of these guys.
When we first arrived at the tank there were only a few elephants around. Then all of a sudden they just started coming out of the jungle from every direction. There must have been at least 40 of them all together. They kept circling closer and closer.
Before I knew it we had about 10 elephants right up there a few feet from us. And they were just hanging out watching us and interacting with each other. One elephant looked a little sad, so his friend kept trying to put some grass in his mouth to feed him, but he wouldn’t take it. So finally the friend put the grass in the other elephants ear.
Mario told me that the reason why the elephants pick the grass and then sweep it back and forth a few times against the ground before eating it was because the elephants had figured out that if they bite down on a rock and crack a tooth that they would get an infection and die. Sweeping the grass free of any rocks was something they’ve adapted to do.
We headed over towards Dambulla to go to Sigiriya next. Sigiriya is a giant rock-boulder with a palace built around and atop of it. It is also known as the Lion rock. Sigiriya was built in 477 AD, but the area around it has been inhabited for much longer. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When we arrived Mario said that he knew some about Sigiriya, but that he would call a friend who was a local guide in the area to take us up to better explain the history of Sigiriya to us. He said that he does not charge a fee, but that you should tip him for his time. He was an older man and very friendly.
Once you’re past the moat you walk through gardens that have been kept up since the time Sigiriya was built.
Our main reason for visiting Dambulla was to go see the Dambulla Cave Temple. It is also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You do have to walk up a cobblestone walkway to get to the cave temples. There are little monkeys everywhere doing typical bad monkey activities. Mostly, they like to get up on their back feet and chase after little kids to get them to drop their snacks and then the monkeys steal them.
The temple is a series of five temples. They have a drip line carved in the rock above them to keep them dry. The caves became a Buddhist monastery between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.
Next stop was Kandy. On the way in Mario and I were having a conversation about spices. I told him that I’d like to buy some before I left Sri Lanka. He offered to take me to a spice garden on the way into Kandy. He said there were many as we came close to the city and that we could stop at one.
It was actually quite informative. I’d never gone to a spice garden. When we arrived a young man introduced himself and was studying to become a Ayurvedic practitioner. He showed me each plant, which spice it produced and then gave me a sampling of a product that was made from the plants. For example: I’m an idiot and I never knew cinnamon was the bark of a tree, as it’s scraped off the tree it rolls, hence forming cinnamon sticks. I just never really thought about where cinnamon came from. Didn’t question it.
At the end of the tour you have the option to have a massage with their locally made oils by a student training in massage therapy, for no fee other than a tip to the student. And then you are brought over to their shop to have a look around and purchase some of their spices, oils and Ayurvedic products if you choose.
We arrived in Kandy in the later part of the afternoon. First we went to have a walk around the lake. Kandy is very picturesque being centered around a lake. Kandy is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka. Kandy was the last capital of Sri Lanka back during the times of the ancient kings. The main reason why it is a world heritage site is largely due in part to the Temple of the Tooth Relic.
We watched the sunset over the lake before I was sent over to a recital hall to watch a show of traditional Sri Lankan dancers.After viewing a couple of hours of Sri Lankan dances brought from different regions of the country we headed over to go see the main attraction of Kandy: The Temple of the Tooth Relic.
The Temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) is so important because it is rumored that Buddha’s left canine is held inside of seven golden caskets. The tooth was believed to be smuggled into Sri Lanka (other stories say that it was given to a devout Buddhist Sri Lankan king) from India following Buddha’s cremation in India.
You pay for your entrance ticket, remove your shoes and place them on a shelf and then you go through security in order to get into the temple. The temple was attacked and damaged by the LTTE in 1998.
I don’t have many pictures from the temple. It didn’t feel like a place you should take pictures of. My pictures are generally of the outside of the temple.
The golden casket the tooth is in is shown for only for a short time. We waited in line for about an hour to see it. You could tell many of the people around me had probably waited their entire lives to see the tooth relic. Many people fainted when they got up to it.
Day 2 in Kandy was spent at Kandy’s Royal Botanical Garden. After going to a botanical garden in Sarawak the year before I was hooked on them.
There were hundreds of different orchids inside the little cabin they had.
Next was the road trip out to Nuwara Eliya, the tea growing region of Sri Lanka. Mario had said that it was a dense rainforest (as was most of Sri Lanka). When the British took over and saw that the Nuwara Eliya region was prime for tea growing, they pretty much leveled the rainforest in order to put in tea plantations. The only rainforest left in Sri Lanka is the small Sinharaja Forest Reserve and National Park.
It’s hard to believe that it was all thick rainforest, infested with leeches. That killed many of the British trying to pass through it.Mario decided to take me to Labookellie at the Mackwoods tea plantation. He said it was one of the best plantations in Sri Lanka.
The tea tasting was great. They bring out their three different tea types: Broken Orange Pekoe, Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings and Orange Pekoe. Mario had me try each one plain, without cream and sugar. The Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings was my favorite.
It was a nice afternoon to sip tea with such a great view.I spent the night in the town of Nuwara Eliya in a small hotel overlooking the lake.Nuwara Eliya is noticeably colder than the rest of Sri Lanka. Over night it was cold enough to see my own breath.
I was introduced to my favorite Sri Lankan food while here too: Kottu Roti.
We made the trek down out of Nuwara Eliya to Hikkaduwa. It’s the usual overly crowded beach area. A lot of this area was wiped off the map during the Boxing Day Earthquake of 2004. So what did they do? Built everything right back up on the high tide line. The water comes right up and crashes into the buildings when the tide is in. The beach completely disappears when the tide is in. If you’re looking to do some quick souvenir shopping this is the place to do it.
Hikkaduwa was my base for the remainder of my trip. My first night there Mario and I had dinner at a restaurant right on the beach. I had the best Pol Sambol of the trip here, it is still one of my favorite foods from Sri Lanka. In the middle of dinner a turtle came out of the ocean and right up next to me and started laying eggs! I have the strangest encounters with turtles.
Galle Fort is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was first built by the Portuguese in 1588, then was taken and turned into a fort by the Dutch.The Galle Fort even withstood the Boxing Day Tsunami.It was a busy port in Sri Lanka for trade with Greece, Arabia, China and many more.
My last day was spent swimming at Jungle Beach in Unawatuna. It was a nice beach and pretty uncrowded compared to nearby Hikkaduwa.Jungle beach is located on the backside of Unawatuna. There is a small parking lot there and it is a short walk down to the beach.
Next time in Sri Lanka I plan to spend more time there. Don’t let the little island on the map fool you, it takes some time to get place to place. I would love to go back and see Jaffna and the far north, Trincomalee, Anuradhapura, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, and Yala National Park.