What a long and tiresome day. The day started at the crack of dawn as we got up for breakfast at 6 AM with a departure time of 7 AM. We were the first ones in the breakfast hall and ate while the staff was setting up for an official opening at 6:30. It was off last 7 AM for a thirty minute drive to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. The Rock Fortress dates back fifteen hundred years. A former king built his palaces on top of this large and imposing rock so that he could be protected from any people who would want to overthrow his reign. He came to reign when he purposely killed his father, who was the reigning king. He did this to become king since his mother was a concubine and his younger brother was the child of the real queen. The fortress sits on top of this immense rock that sticks out from the landscape. I am trying to describe something that is hard to describe unless you are there. Sort of like a small mesa amongst a lush green vegetated area. The problem is to get to the top you have to climb over twelve hundred steps straight up in the “Africa Hot”. Most of the steps were ancient stone steps that were not wide enough to fit the normal sized feet of today. That means that most of the steps had to be navigated sideways in order to accommodate the size of your feet. Furthermore, I was carrying two cameras mounted onto two lenses. One of the lenses was a telephoto lens that was big and awkward. My feeling was that if I made it all the way up then I needed to have the right gear to take pictures. The steps were built onto near vertical walls. My shirt and shorts started to get drenched with sweat as I worked my way up. There were a few places to rest along the way. As I worked my way up, I hoped that the end would justify the amount of effort needed to reach the summit. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally reach the top. Ten of us had made it. The summit had lots of ruins and old ancient looking terraces and small ponds. The terraces were the remains of old stone structures. The view was a panorama of the surrounding countryside. I had to sit down and wonder how these structures were made on top of such a location and how ancient people had carried all the materials and tools needed up these vertical sides to the top of this immense rock. We spent some time on top enjoying the view and walking amongst the remaining ruins. It was now time for the descent. I have always felt that walking down is harder than walking up. There is more pressure put on your legs as you descend and especially from this place on the ancient stone steps. It seemed that the descent was going on forever and that the pressure on your legs would never end. I was amazed that no one fell and hurt themselves. Was the climb worth it? Probably not, but to have not done it would have always left a question in my mind. I do not think my pictures will justify the effort required too take them. Furthermore, when will I ever return to try it again? After drinking lots of water and thinking of a long ride in the air conditioned bus to our next destination, we finally boarded and left.
It was now a thirty minute ride to the Temples of Dambulla. The Temples of Dambulla are five large caves that have lots of buddhas and small stupas inside. The story is that a former king lived there amongst monks to hide himself from invaders from India. He governed while living amongst the monks in these caves and raised an army to chase the invaders away. In gratitude, the king had these buddhas and stupas built inside the five caves for the monks. I have been to lots of buddhist shrines and seen lots of structures, but i can tell you that these caves were very impressive and will rank very high up on my travel list of things you must see. The first cave was the smallest. There was a large reclining buddha and some smaller ones in a very eerie looking place. The second cave started to really step it up. Lots of buddhas lined up along the walls, some small stupas in the middle and a large reclining buddha long one wall. The lack of light created a perfect place to see these imposing structures. There were small lights scattered amongst the structures. There structures created their own shadows on the cave walls. I could not stop taking pictures. The eeriness and shadows created an incredible scene. Each cave got larger and housed more structures. I hope my pictures do this place justice. We also had to take our shoes off before we entered the complex and wear the appropriate clothing. I need to also say that there was over a two hundred steps climb over ancient steps. Climbing sideways was the norm. Monkeys were all over and some of them posed for me. I could have walked through the caves a second time, since every time I changed my position the light created a different way of looking at the scene. We finally left for a hopefully long and quiet ride on the air conditioned bus.
It was a ninety minute ride to a spice garden where we would take a tour, be given a cooking class and eat lunch. My mind yearned for a nice cold beer. The local beer here is “Lion Beer”. The beer is purchased in large bottles and costs less than two dollars each. Quite a bargain. I tried to take a nap, but was so tired and exhausted that I could not get my mind and body to rest. Kept on thinking of those caves and what I witnessed and walked through. After about an hour, we stopped after some prodding by some to buy some beer. I bought a large bottle ad itv felt so good to taste and drink. The spice garden was next. We arrived and were greeted by smiling and happy people. They had us follow them to a pavilion where a small kitchen was set up amongst dishes of spices and herbs. I volunteered Olivia to help the chef prepare our lunch. We had previously stopped at a local vegetable stand to purchase vegetables for the cooking class and demonstration. Olivia put on an apron and helped the chef cut and cook the various spices and herbs in large clay pots on a small range. The chef was very informative and told us all about each spice and herb as they were added to the clay pots. While this was going on, some other people were setting up large dishes of local food for our lunch. Lunch consisted of rice, strange looking dishes of vegetables and small pieces of chicken. When the vegetables made form the cooking class was ready, that was also served. After the main meal we were served dessert. Dessert consisted of Monkey bananas, pineapple and something called “Buffalo Curd”. Buffalo Curd is made from water buffalo milk and takes like yogurt. Very good. We were now given a tour of the spice garden ad told about all the plants. I needed to sit down and rest so I left the group and went back to the pavilion. How lucky I was. One of the staff members offered to massage my feet as I waited. Sounded like something I really needed. He did a great job caressing my aching and tired muscles. A special treat at a place you would least expect it. Our last visit was to the shop at he spice garden where you could buy the spices and herbs. Olivia stocked up.
It was now time to go back to the bus for another ninety minute drive to a town called “Kandy”. Kandy was the last provincial capital. We drove through small cities and towns where there were masses of humanity buying and selling all sorts of things. The traffic was quite slow. Kandy is located high up in the mountains and we kept on ascending up. It also rained along the way. I kept on thinking of a cold shower and comfortable bed to rest my weary bones.
We arrived in Kandy and am staying in a new looking hotel named “Ozo”. I finally got to take my shower and lay down. The next thing I knew it was ten thirty and had not written my blog yet. I had completely collapsed from this exhausting day. The visiting of the Temples of Dambulla will stay with me for a while. I need to go back to sleep and crawl into my nice awaiting bed.
Talk to everyone tomorrow