15th – 18th February – Chase the Elephants!

On the move… AGAIN! Not sure if this sightseeing is meant for us…

This time on to what it known as the cultural triangle. Basically three important and historic places to see; Dumbulla and the ancient cities of Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa. These places and its surroundings offer an ancient viewpoint of Sri Lanka’s past, dating back before BC. We based ourselves in Dumbulla for three nights in a homestay right opposite the caves.

To get from Kandy to Dumbulla we took an AC bus (£1.50) and taking just over 2 ½ hours. The bus was full of travellers, all dumping their backpacks at the front of the bus. I’m never going to moan about how much luggage we have, some of size of the bags that people were bringing on were just plain daft. Anyway, after checking in we had enough time to eat something (another average rice and curry, alas) and pop to the caves. Luckily for us these caves were free entry, which considering how expensive ‘things to do’ are here it was quite a relief, especially as it turned out to be a bit of a let-down. I only say this because it was quite similar in style, high up in a hill and carved into the rock, to the Ajanta and Ellora caves we visited in India. Once you’ve seen a giant Buddha lying down you’ve seen them all! The only difference were the views from the top – it was majestic (see below). Apart from that it was just another thing to take photos of and ‘tick off’ the list unfortunately.

The following day we took the morning out to relax and boost up our energy before taking on the giant rock within the ancient city of Sigiriya. It was only a 40 minute bus ride from Dumbulla costing approx 20p, and easy enough to know where to get off as you can’t really miss the thing! The last few days previously I had been trying to find out how much the cost of visiting was going to be, it seems finding the prices of things in Sri Lanka is impossible on the internet. Now I know why – it cost 9000 rupees, which is around £45. Steve’s jaw hit the floor. We wouldn’t even pay that amount for an attraction in Europe, so paying such a high entrance fee in Sri Lanka was annoying and surprising. And when you discover that the locals only have to pay 60 rupees to get in, you start getting a bit pissed off. I mean, fair enough paying a bit more as a tourist, perhaps double, but 90x more than locals?! Once you pay that sort of money, the experience gets off to a bad start. Luckily it was actually fantastic to climb, with amazing views from the top, to see all the old structures and carvings. Mind you, you would think for that sort of entrance fee there would be some information boards to tell you what everything is and what it was meant for… but no, not a scooby!

After Sigiriya I decided that we wouldn’t bother with Polonnaruwa, it was going to cost the same amount of money to enter as Sigiriya, and it was all set out over 4kms so you would need another full day to see it. We decided to head to Minneriya National Park and go on a safari trip instead. Again, this wasn’t cheap but I didn’t expect it to be (our budget is getting hit hard!). We got picked up from our homestay, driven to the park and back (which was about 40km away) and taken around for three and a half hours. Once again, the cost for ‘foreigner’ compared to a local wound us up. Why such a dramatic increase? Regardless, I loved it. Open top Jeep skirting around the park, it was a tough 3-hour ride, being shaken around like a rag doll. Saw plenty of birds around the giant lake and was lucky to see quite a few elephants. This is where it turned sour for me though. Obviously when you go on a safari you want to see the ‘main attraction’ – for Minneriya it’s the elephants – but it’s almost like the guides know that if the tourists don’t see them they’re going to tell people not to head to Minneriya and go somewhere else to seem them, therefore they ensure that Johnny Foreigner sees one. Hence the title of this post, chase the elephants! That’s what they should call the safari. At one point, there was a family of five elephants, including what looked like a baby, trapped in an area with about 20 Jeeps surrounding them, all pointing their cameras and smart phones at the poor things. There was no way they were going to be able to move anywhere. Luckily our driver didn’t stay long, he moved on somewhere else, to chase another group of elephants! This is a dilemma for me – are these safaris good or bad for animals? Or are they just open zoos? (I’d love to be able just to enjoy the bloody moment!). I suppose if you didn’t have National Parks then you would have a problem with poachers? However, how can an animal ever be at peace when you have noise and fumes from the Jeeps disturbing their habitat? Steve wasn’t particular fond of the ride, as I mentioned we were knocked about something chronic, so unless you saw it as a theme park ride you weren’t going to enjoy it. What I loved the most was the drive back to Dumbulla. One of the vehicles behind us got stuck in a bed of water, so our driver offered to help. Because we were delayed now,  the drive back home was in the dark in a convertible Jeep! Was very cold, but ended up seeing the most outstanding night skies I’ve ever seen. You could see all the different consolations, along with the various planets. Was mesmerising.

It seems the quick-fire travelling and sightseeing has taken its toll on Steve. He’s suffering with a throat infection and bit of fever. Oops! We had to get back to Kandy in order to get to Ella, so got the same AC bus that we took here. But this time the driver was an absolutely nightmare, he sped through Jaffna Highway like a raving lunatic. I could only just laugh at the situation. He was doing 50-60mph on busy and windy streets!  And we thought the driving in India was manic, haha…

I know this post probably sounds a bit negative in places. It’s down to numerous things really. Obviously Steve being ill and bed-ridden isn’t fun, but I’ve still headed out on my own a couple of times. It can be tough going though, being hassled and stared at. I salute the women who travel on their own. Money is an issue too now, we are getting through it like there is no tomorrow! Lastly, it’s the amount of tourists you see on a daily occurrence. It’s our own fault, the places we are seeing are the ‘top things to see’ in Sri Lanka, so we expected it, but there are LOADS. It all just seems a bit ‘fake’ at times, hard to explain. With India you saw it how it is, nothing is cleaned up for the ‘tourists’, you get thrown in the deep end and told to ‘get on with it’. We kind of liked that. Don’t get me wrong, Sri Lanka is naturally beautiful in every sense, and the people are fantastic, but wherever we go we feel that our wallet is more important to the locals than us actually being there. And we hate that. Come here if you have plenty of spending money is basically what I’m saying 🙂

Places

Mango Mango – recommended by Jerry, our homestay host (that wasn’t his name, didn’t find out what it was, but I nicknamed him this for some reason!) We finally got to sample two authentic Sri Lankan dishes WOO-HOO, Stevie had the Kottu Roti, which is basically mix vegetables, chicken and roti bread all chopped up and fried. Fantastic food, the sound of the cooks cutting it all up is the soundtrack to streets of Sri Lanka so far. I had string hoppers but again with some average curry!

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