Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Our active Hike, Bike and Kayak tour started easily enough. There were seven passengers in our group, which just pushed us over the limit from minivan to mini bus. So, we had plenty of space and could really stretch out on the ride to the Central Highlands, for some elephant spotting and mountain hiking.
Look, Mr. Frodo….
In Sri Lanka, quite opposite of the case in mainland Asia, most elephants are wild, rather than domestic. Their number has declined, of course, but that’s mainly due to decreased habitats. The British, when they colonised the land, turned the elephants’ natural habitat in the middle highlands into tea plantations, forcing the trunked trumpeters downslope, settling in the flatlands. This caused some friction with the farmers, but the elephants prevailed, and the introduction of National Parks has seen the population stabilised.
Of course, the fact that with the Sri Lankan subspecies of the Asian elephant, no females and only a select few of the males have tusks, has certainly helped their survival rate.
We took seat in a jeep with roofbeams designed for slightly smaller passengers and set out for a bumpy ride through the forest and out to the open fields and lo, and indeed behold: elephants!
A small group of the pachyderms was quietly grazing, and not far away there were others.
The afternoon continued with sightings of more wildlife, such as various birds, water buffaloes and peacocks. And plenty of more elephants, including a huge herd, up to a hundred animals, by a lake. Among them was one of the few grown-up tuskers, although quite a few youngsters seemed to have picked up the dental decoration as well.
With full memory cards we returned to the park HQ to return to the hotel. On our way back, after the sun had set, the bus came to a rather sudden stop in the middle of the road. Now what? my mind enquired. Stuck in the mud? Corrupt traffic police? Road work? No, nothing of the sort. In fact, it was a roadside shack, providing a surprise dinner consisting of Sinhalese specialities, such as coconut bread, wade (a lentil based patty, baked), egg poppers and more. Delish!
King of the who?
Sri Lanka’s probably most recognisable landmark is Sigirya, or Lion Rock.
Built by order of king Kassapa in the 5th century, the impressive engineering extravaganza consists of a palace, a town (now depopulated, of course), and a garden on the plains below, and a palace (or fortress, depending on your point of view) atop a massive monolith, rising some 200 metres above the surrounding forest.
To beat the crowd, wheels were rolling at 6:00 which, while ridonculously early, nevertheless was worth it. There were few tourists around when we started the ascent just before seven o’clock, and considerably more heading up as we came down.
To beat the crowd, wheels were rolling at 6:00 which, while ridonculously early, nevertheless was worth it
Passing through the garden, with its no longer used waterways-and-fountain system, we passed the lower wall and took the first of 1201 steps towards the top.
In the past, an area about halfway up the steep cliff, was covered in thousands of colourful paintings. Rain and wind has torn away most of them, but under an outcrop, protected from the elements, a few has remained, though their colour has faded.
Continuing climbing, we finally reached the top of the cliff, with stunning views as a reward. The reasonably low number of tourists made the early start worth it, and as we had a late breakfast back at the hotel, we had already had pretty much a day’s worth of adventuring ticked. With more to come…..
OK, my partner in crime has very eloquently described our first part of the Sri Lankan experience. I only have a few things that I’d like to add.
I HAVE SEEN WILD ELEPHANTS!!!! AND MONKEYS!!! Squeeeee! My inner child is dancing with joy! To see that many elephants in the (almost) wild was superb.
And the climb up the Sigirya was no fun. The rickety staircase was steep and slightly wobbly. And the part that was made out of rock lacked railings. Not my fav part of visiting the beautiful lion rock (in olden days it even had a lion face on it. nowadays you can only see a slight resemblance. But it is there, the majestic and the mighty lion) . The view was worth the scary climb though. Fantastic. Amazing. Splendid. Add any adjective and it still won’t be enough to describe the lush beauty of this land.
*) Which only makes sense if you’re bilingual.