Cultural Triangle

I’m not sure what woke us first – the alarm clock or the beep of the horn outside. True to his promise of “between 6:00 and 6:30” our guide arrived at 6:15. Evil man.

Our chariot was a large van with very soft suspension that felt like a bouncy castle mounted on a bath of jelly going down some of the roads outside Kandy. We had a very short breakfast stop around 7:30 and then Hans and I attempted to sleep as we drove to Sigiriya. We were aided by our heads being slammed off the sides of the van with each bump. In effect, we slept. In real terms, we were knocked unconscious.

Sigiriya is one of the ancient cities of Sri Lanka and a feature part of the Cultural Triangle. It’s $US20 to get in ($US40 for a Triangle Ticket) – or the equivalent in Rupees. In fact, they only accept Rupees though the local currency is linked to the dollar. This posed a problem as Hans didn’t have enough and paying for both our tickets wiped me out financially. The Triangle Tickets we got allow entrance to Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and a half-dozen or so other sites. They cost the same as the combined entrance to the two cities, so are worth the fee. They’re also valid for 14 days from the date you start using them, so it’s possible to buy them in advance somewhere and spread your touring out over a fortnight.

Given that the city is around 1500 years old, it’s forgiveable that much of it lies in ruins, though these have been very well excavated and tidied up. Metal stairs have been bolted to the rock face allowing easy access to the heights for those who don’t suffer vertigo. It’s a heck of a climb!

The first obstacle to get past, though, is the huge crowd of “very good” guides who throng around the entrance and even tail to inside once you’ve said “no” a dozen times. One of them kept walking around with us until Hans eventually asked, simply, “Who are you?” at which point he took the hint and left us alone.

On the way up the rock face, there are frescoes of ancient paintings in remarkably good condition for their age (5th century) despite some numpty vandalising a few of them in the 1960’s. Of the 500+ original portraits, 22 remain and it’s staggering how new they look.

Above these is a level area where you can stop and rest and feel the first of the breezes that help reduce the temperature. I’m glad we did this tour fairly early in the day – at lunchtime the heat would have been ridiculous. On this platform are a pair of huge carved lion’s paws discovered in 1898 and thought to date back to the 5th Century with the rest of the older remains. Originally, the steps between these paws led into a carved mouth, but this has sadly decayed over the years. The paws themselves are in fantastic condition.

So up we climbed. The stairs are very narrow in places and quite steep. The view from the top is well worth the climb. I didn’t count, but I’ve been told there are 1200 steps plus a final two right at the top of the topmost platform (which resembles a helipad) if you want to make sure you can claim to have reached the utmost summit.

This is one of the best views I have seen anywhere. In fact, it’s so good it doesn’t look real. With the slight haze in the air, it gave the impression of being a painting hung up to fool tourists. As ever, my photos just don’t do the real thing justice.

I ended up with a new friend when one of the stray dogs (how it got up there I don’t want to know) kept following me around. I suppose it was really my fault for feeding him small bits of ginger biscuits. Well, he looked hungry.

The clamber down didn’t take too long – a good thing with the heat starting to build up. Running the gauntlet of souvenir sellers (“Look! Magic Box! Try and open – you like!”) we met up again with our driver and chatted with him as we drove to lunch. It turns out he was a soldier in his youth so he kept peppering Hans with random questions about modern guns. When he tired of that, he asked questions about Canada. I sat in the back and read books. Some things don’t change, no matter how much older you get.

Lunch was lovely, in a very pleasant restaurant with a lakeside view around thirty minutes from Polonnaruwa. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of the place but their chicken omelette was lovely and fluffy!

After letting our food settle, we stopped at the first of several points within the ancient capital of Polonnaruwa. This city is over 1000 years old and a lot of the ruins are still standing, minus their roofs. We made about five stops in the area, taking in buildings, statues, carvings, monuments and a rather good museum. All of this was included with the Cultural Triangle ticket so after lunch we had no further outlay until we got back into Kandy.

There are many more sites of interest around the area, but we simply didn’t have time. Instead, at around 5pm, we began to head back towards Kandy with our driver slamming the anchors on suddenly to point out “fox!” or “bee-eating bird!”. He certainly knew his stuff.

With a quick stop for snacks at a town about 90 minutes away from the city, we made our way back. Today was a full moon and therefore a public holiday for religious reasons. All the Buddhist temples we passed were busy, with lights and torches burning. Our driver seemed to be struggling to stay awake, so we kept him talking right until we got back to the hotel.

The walk into town was a welcome chance to stretch our legs after over four hours of travel and we managed to catch an internet cafe before it shut. Then over the street to Pizza Hut. Everywhere else was closed, and we only just caught this place before they locked up. Besides, you can’t complain at a meal for two for £2.50 including drinks, starter and dessert.

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