The day started with a 7am departure from Greenview, we had a scenic (and of course chaotic) journey through country side with a quick stop for breakfast of kimbula banis (a delightfully sweet pastry) and to check out some trees that make rubber (an education for me…!).
We reached Dambulla, dressed in our shawls and wraps to make sure our knees and shoulders were covered, bought our ‘foreigner’ ticket (1500 LKR = just over £7) before ascending the long staircase up to the caves. It was impossible not to be enticed by the views from even half way up: mountains, forests and lakes as well as monkeys swinging above our heads. Up we ventured before we reached a modest white temple entrance and a stand in which to leave our shoes. On entering, a cool shaded courtyard led out with each cave entrance to the right. The first cave I ventured into left me speechless: a giant Buddha statue lay out before me, surrounded by smaller, elaborate statues whilst the cave walls and ceiling were adorned with ornate paintings. It truly amazed me to think these paintings had been completed hundreds to thousands of years ago! The other caves (there are 5 in total) were much the same and all astounded me with their beauty, intricacy and tranquility.
Once we had had our fill on the beauty at Dambulla we headed back down the mountain and journeyed on to a tour of a local traditional village. This eye-opening experience had us ride cow-drawn carriages, paddle down the river (watch out for the crocs!), visit a traditional Sri Lankan house in which we were shown how to weave and got to sample some delish tea and coconut treats. Further down the river we paddled to reach a lake; an area known for wild elephants coming to bathe and drink. From here we had stunning views up to Sigiriya and Pidurangala Rock (Sigiriya’s lesser known neighbor) and the enormity of our next challenge became apparent…
Sigiriya. The ancient ruins of a 5th Century fortress standing 200m tall, surrounded by an extensive network of fortifications, gardens, ponds, canals, alleys and fountains; it is not hard to see why many regard it as the 8th wonder of the world. The climb up was certainly not easy but we were undoubtedly rewarded for our efforts: about halfway up there is a small alcove in the side of the rock containing the remains of the Sigiriya Frescoes. Many theories suggest who these paintings are of and their meaning however I think anyone who witnesses them will agree on their outstanding beauty and incredible vibrancy especially considering they are 1600 years old! Upwards still, you pass the ‘Mirror wall’, stained orange and matte it is easy to miss the allure however imagine it plastered, painted and polished; consider that ancient kings admired themselves on that very wall. The magic of the centuries old structure begins to be reflected. The next milestone reached is the lions claws: giving the rock it’s name it is incredible to imagine the huge lion structure that once stood proud, looking over Sri Lanka. The upper parts have been destroyed leaving just the two feet behind which we passed between onto Lion’s Staircase: the final ascent (not going to lie, by this point my legs were aching and I was very sweaty!). The biggest reward was definitely waiting at the top for us: spectacular 360 views of forest, mountains, rice paddy fields, lakes and temples; I felt like I was in Eden. To sit and rest here (and take basic ‘on top of the world’ pics) was a treat like nothing else I have experienced; the breeze was cooling, the air fresh and the feeling of being so close to nature was overwhelming. I’m not going to try and explain it further: words will never do it justice.