Daily Archives: February 16, 2013

Cultural triangle: Dambulla



A relatively short hop South from the small sedate town of Sigirya lies the economic centre of Dambulla. It lies on a crossroad that links each part of the country. The town hums with activity.
I cycled around a large food depot off the main road where fresh produce was being transferred from truck to truck.


A little beyond the main town are the famous Golden Temple caves carved in the rock high above the road. Below is a large golden Buddha, round golden stupa and Buddhist radio station (Rangiri Sri Lanka Radio). I had a chat with a security guard on the gate and then went to find accommodation directly opposite the entrance and detailed in the Lonely Planet guide.

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I was surprised to find that I was the only guest at the hostel which is owned by an elderly widower. Her home was excellent with brightly painted walls and basic but very authentic accommodation. Despite the rustic conditions it was very comfortable and an ideal place to stay. Cheap too! I considered staying a few days and using it as a base to explore the wider region.

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The entrance fee to the caves was 1500 SL rupees (@£7). Reasonable I thought. Before entering the cave complex there is a shoe stand to leave shoes for 20 rupees prior to entering the sacred area.
The caves contained an incredible number of Buddha statues including three huge reclining Buddhas. The artwork including wall paintings is superb. Most of the caves had been one large cave but had been separated over time by artificial walls. The caves date back to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Having uncovered the caves the British created a covered wooden walkway during the 1930s between the caves. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and undoubtedly one of the most important and  best preserved buddhist sites in Sri Lanka.

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I found the whole experience very moving. I sat and ate my lunch by the shoe stand as it began to rain.

Cultural triangle: Sigirya


IMG_0920As I left Pollonaruwa it began to rain quite heavily and I joined a scooter driver taking shelter under a building. As happens endlessly I was then subjected to a barrage of questions.
‘Where are you going?’ is the Sri Lankan mantra that everyone asks. “Sigirya’ I replied. He suggested a ‘short cut’. Somewhat foolishly I followed his directions and began skirting a huge expanse of water. On and on I rode. The short cut became hours of  additional cycling as I followed a road that ran alongside a river flowing in the opposite direction. I stopped to pitch my tent before the light faded.
The sun shone the next day and had a delightful breakfast in a village store where men were playing a game of carom outside. Carom is similar to pool; uses counters instead of balls and the playing board has little pockets in the corners.

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I finally found a good road which swung back towards Sigirya and its fabled rock fortress. I stopped to help some chaps push a truck out of a ditch. Apparently the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and wandered off the country lane. A tractor arrived just after we had got it back on the road.

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Talking to a couple of chaps manning a vehicle exit to the fortress revealed the location of a similar rock and shrine a short distance away which was not subject to an outrageous entrance fee. As I pushed my bike I spotted another chap called Loah walking in the same direction. He was an Mexican/US traveller.. and a bit broke. He told me of a secret way onto Sigirya rock used by local archeologists and which he had heard about from the owner of the hostel where he was staying. He had already been to the shrine at the other rock  and was looking to see the rock fortress too. We found a track leading up and I hid my bike whilst Loah hid by a wall. It was fun in a school-boyish manner to sneak in. We soon joined the tourists at the rock to view the huge lions feet hewn out of the rock. Then we ascended the metal walkways leading to the ruins on top of the rock. To be frank the ruins are not a great deal to look at but the view is magnificent. There is a museum but having chanced our arms that far decided that the rock and its surrounding ruins was enough to see. Highlights were an ancient bathing pool, an audition seat and of course the view which revealed Adams Peak in the distance with a little cloud below the top of Sri Lanka’s highest mountain.

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IMG_0991 IMG_0993Loah had suggested a good hostel and which is detailed in Lonely Planet. It looked great with lots of travellers but sadly was full. Alternatives in Sigirya were few. The place was full and a popular destination to visit.
I avoided the touts and set off on the road South towards Dambulla. It was dark and used my bike lights not knowing how long I would be cycling. Bicycles with lights are extremely rare in Sri Lanka.
I found a wonderful hostel and negotiated a decent price for a quality room with en suite and hot water. I was asked not to say how much I was paying to the other guests staying either side of my room and which consisted of a German couple and two French girls. They had paid about a third more but my problem as always is not being able to get single rates. Two to travel is very cheap when sharing. I do claim to be two. It is me and the bike.

A great nights sleep and back on my mechanical horse. To Dambulla!