Joy and I made it to Sri Lanka ready to learn about another country. We were met by our guide, Lakmal, who took us immediately to the hotel in Negombo at 1 a.m. and then 9 hours later, left for Dambulla for 2 nights in the middle of nowhere with beautiful scenery on a lake.
In that new setting, we soon were sleepy and fell asleep around 8 pm. At 9:30 pm, I hear a tap-tap-tap on the glass door and I freak out, my heart beat rises and I freeze. Who is that I wonder and wait and wait but nothing happen. Soon, I am sleep again, and again I hear tap-tap-tap on the glass door and I freak out again. This process happens several times more before the morning arrives. I asked Lakmal, our guide, what could it have been and he said it was a monkey!! They are little pests, he said, and want food and will take anything you leave outside. At daylight, we noticed a sign on our glass door warning about monkeys. Then, the following night the same tapping on the glass door occurred again. They are persistent little devils!
Our first adventure was riding a Sri Lankan elephant for about 1 hour on the side of a lake. Our elephant was Kandula, a 30-year-old who was named after the King’s elephant. He carried us on his back in a medal frame with blankets on his back. We had to get in and, with our backs back-to-back; we hung our feet off to his side. And as he walked, we rocked and rolled slowly as he made his way on his well-worn path along the lake and back. Of course, he had to stop and pee and poop along the way and then the poop man had to come and pick it up before we made it back that way. This was my fifth elephant ride around the world and it was different that the rest because we sat in a medal frame box on his back and the others I had ridden were bareback and in a seat.
Kandula was a perfect boy and we talked to him the entire time, telling him what a good boy he was and what a good job he was doing. He made the route up to 3 times a day and he knew it well. Joy enjoyed her first elephant ride and didn’t even want to do it because she was not fond of elephants. But Kandula kind of changed that.
Then, my favorite of all adventures was next. We went on a Sri Lankan safari to see elephants!!!! And it was so cool being on my 7th Safari in the world—6 African and 1 Sri Lankan. We did it by jeep in the Habrana Eco Park, a 16,000 acre former tea plantation owned by the government and now converted into a park for elephants. Sri Lanka has 5800 wild elephants and 200 domestic ones. The vegetation was more lush, thicker and higher than the vegetation I had seen on African safaris, making it a little harder top spot the elephants.
But, alas, we saw elephants and elephants and elephants. They were everywhere when we finally found them and they were in front of us, behind us and beside us. We had to watch very closely to make sure one didn’t sneak up on us. We must have watched around 50 elephants in several different groups. Since they tried to remain behind the thick brush, it was hard for me to count them. And just as soon as one group would leave, we would find another one to watch. Several one-year-old babies were in the groups and they were so cute, always hanging out with their Mother.
One teenager bull elephant tried and tried to get us to leave by stalking us, stomping, snorting and blowing the trumpet sound, but we would not leave. Finally, he gave up and left, but he sure gave me a few seconds of stress and anxiety over being harmed by that teenager practicing to be a bull elephant one day. The thrill of a safari was there and I enjoyed every minute. Even Joy enjoyed it.
Speaking of elephants, all 5,800 in Sri Lanka roam free. And no animal is as intimately connected to the culture and history of Sri Lanka as the elephant. It has fulfilled many religious, social, and economic roles in the island over the centuries. The Sri Lankan elephant is a subspecies of the Asian elephant which is lighter and has smaller ears than the African elephant. And most males do not have tusks. Roundups often occur to get the elephants back into the 3 national parks, the main one being Minneriya National Park. We went to Habrana Eco Park because that was where most elephants were when we were in Sri Lanka.
As we drive down roads, we see elephants. The other night as we were returning to the hotel, we saw a big one just standing beside the road as the cars passed. And we see others giving rides to tourists on the side of the road. And sometimes they cause villagers and farmers major problems. We also see monkeys crossing the road and they are so cute but such pests. They are always looking for food and we have to remember that these little critters have hands and fingers and can get into anything. Sri Lanka has 3 kinds of monkeys-toque macaque, grey langur, and purple-faced leaf monkey. We have seen the first two and should see the leaf monkey as we continue south. Their antics are so funny and we have sat several times just watching them.
It was a thrilling first day in Sri Lanka, but now it was down to learning about this wonderful country, which is now on the “to do” list for this year. So we started in Sigiriya to see the Sigiriya rock fortress which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, created 2500 million years ago in granite by a volcano. Built by King Kashyapa (477-495 A.D.) the “Lion rock” is a citadel of unusual beauty that rises 656 feet out of the jungle and his palace sat on the top. The rock was the innermost stronghold of a fortified town.
A moat, rampart and extensive gardens including the renowned water gardens ring the base of the rock. We did not climb to the top of the rock that took 1200 steps. Instead, we viewed it and all its history and contents at the museum. A monastery was around the rock. We really enjoy it and felt we saw and learned everything as if we had climbed the site itself.
A highlight in the Museum of Polonnaruwa was a copy of the world famous frescoes of the “Heavenly Maidens of Sigiriya”. On the rock, these are in sheltered pocket of the rock approached by a spiral stairway. These frescoes are painted in earth pigments on plaster and all of these ladies have HUGE breasts. The museum had a copy of these frescoes that we could see without having to climb all of those steps. The exhibit was excellent and my favorite part of the museum.
Following the museum, we visited Polonnaruwa, which was the second capital of Sri Lanka built in the 11th and 12th century A.D., also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, we saw the ruins of the Royal Palace, and the Gal Viharaya, where we saw four outstanding statues of the Buddha in “upright”, “sedentary”, and “recumbent” postures carved out of the rock. It was magnificent and reminded me of Abu Simbel in Egypt.
Sri Lanka has 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and we have seen 2 in 1 day. They are just outstanding and a “must see” for any visitor. But in between these sites, we had to do some shopping at the silk store and the woodcarving store, where I bought an mahogany elephant with its truck curved up in the air, representing good look. I named it in honor of Kandula.
We then viewed the Golden Pinnacle Stupa or Rankothwera, a beautiful water bubble shape. That is when we learned that there are 5 shapes of stupa, water bubble, paddy heap, bell shape, upside down pot and netti pot.