Posted by: tim ellis | August 1, 2010

Saturday April 24th 2010

This morning’s breakfast is the most disappointing of the trip (Cheese sandwiches possibly excluded) – They sit me in a corner y the window, which is too hot, unlike the sausage and bacon, which, even though I am near the start of Breakfast time, are barely warm.

Our first stop today is Matale, to visit the tallest Hindu temple in Sri Lanka. It is decorated with many statues of various gods, and in a garage in the car park are the enormous chariots in which statues are placed and pulled through the streets by worshippers during the Pancharatha festival at the end of February.

From here we go to a Government and Tourist Board sponsored spice garden, where the guide shows me many herbs and spices grown in Sri Lanka (not all are native to the island as it includes cocoa beans) and explains how many are used in ayurvedic medicine – he applies an aloe vera cream to my face which he says will make me 10 years younger (does this mean I’ll live to 107 now?). His colleague gives me a neck and back massage – they use a mixture of oil and a balm that heats the skin so the oil is more easily absorbed and leaves no greasy residue – though I can’t help thinking that heating the skin is the last thing I really need in these temperatures! While I am being massaged, an inquisitive giant squirrel peers through the branches of a nearby tree – it obviously realises that I can’t take it’s photo at the moment!

Then on to the Golden Temple at Dambulla – the gold plated statue of Buddha is the largest in the world, and is quite modern (only about 10 years old) – the temple complex is much older though, and there are five cave temples behind the statue. It is quite a steep climb up some stone stairs with little shade. There are 4 Buddhist and one Hindu cave temples. The Hindu one is very crowded, so I don’t force my way in, but the Buddhist ones contain a large number of statues, mostly of Buddha in various poses, but also the last Sri Lankan king, and a Hindu deity who, I am told, is honoured by the Buddhists as the future Buddha. On the hillside below the caves is a troop of Toque Macaques, close and confident enough to allow for photographs.

And so on to Sigiriya, a fortress on top of a 200m plug of rock – access is via stone steps (fortunately not the original 5th century footholds carved into the rock, but still not the easiest route in the world), and arriving at around midday, there is very little shade again. Part way up are some famous frescoes of scantily clad women – the only ancient secular art surviving on the island. After viewing these, I decide I really don’t want to climb any further in this heat, so we retreat back down taking a slightly different route through the ruins at the bottom and finding both an inquisitive skink and a couple of bold giant squirrels, giving me my best view yet of Sri Lanka’s national animal.

We stop a few minutes drive away for food and drink to replenish the energy expanded climbing Sigirya, then it’s a long drive back to Negumbo, during which it starts to rain, sometimes quite heavily. I check back into the Blue Oceanic again, into a different room this time. I am now on the first floor, with a proper balcony rather than the ground floor with just a patio.

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