Dambulla Cave Temple, Lion Rock and Kaudulla National Park.

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Dambulla Cave Temple, Lion Rock and Kaudulla National Park.

After our couple of nights in Kandy we moved onto Inamaluwa, which is situated midway between Dambulla and Sigiriya. It’s a very quite place with not a lot going on, but has a few home-stays dotted here and there. “Incidentally they are also very cheap, the cost of ours was just £14 per night” but the main reason for choosing Inamaluwa was because it is roughly midway between Lion Rock and the Dambulla cave temple. We decided to stay for three nights giving us two full days as we had a lot to pack in. On our first day we visited Dambulla Cave Temple, also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla. It was given UNESCO world heritage status in 1991. The rock in which the five cave temples are situated towers some 160 metres above the surrounding plains, so you can imagine there are plenty of steps to reach them. One Top Tip that I read about is don’t view the caves in the order you arrive at. Walk to the far end and view that cave first, as each cave gets more spectacular, until you reach the last which is the largest and the best. Try to get there early before the tour groups arrive.

Kaudulla National Park.

Now anyone who reads my blogs will know that I am extremely fussy when it comes to visiting National Parks where animals are involved, I have to make sure by thorough research that the park is run for the benefit of the animals and are not just in the business of making money from tourists. So after reading how busy Yala and Udawalawe National Parks were, and the amount of tourists that visit these sites we decided to give them a miss. On doing some further research we decided to visit Kaudulla National Park, which mainly houses elephants. We visited the park in the afternoon like most people suggest. When we arrived there were a few jeeps waiting to gain entry, maybe 15 to 20. It was not long after entering the park we saw a small group of elephants. Over in the distance I saw two much larger groups. Our guides then proceeded to drive over to them. When we got there he stopped and switched off the engine. At this time we were quite close, which was great from a photographic point of view. Our guides then pointed to a large female and told us “she was the grumpy one. Initially we just smiled and did not take much notice. Then the driver started his engine and quickly reversed backwards. All of a sudden we heard a roar and the elephant charged at us, at quite a speed I might add. The driver immediately accelerated hard and veered to the left. The Elephant missed us by inches “i had my GoPro attached to the jeep”. It was a quite exciting but scary experience. When we eventually stopped, our guides were laughing and chatting to other guides about our near miss. When we asked why the Elephant had charged us, he told us that five years previous their was an accident with a jeep resulting in the death of the female Elephants baby, the one that charged us. That’s why she doesn’t like jeeps. This news put a total damper on our day, and really made us wish we never went. They say a elephant never forgets, this poor female has to endure the sight of jeeps turning up every day, reminding her of her loss. In my opinion, the jeeps should not get so close to the wildlife and the companies who provide the tours should be strictly licensed and their guides act in a professional manner, like the many professionally run parks we visited in South Africa. Click here to view near miss. Watch the shadow of the jeep and elephant to see how close she was.

Sigiriya, Lion Rock.

Now before I start I will have my little rant. Every main attraction in Sri Lanka has two entrance prices, one for tourists and one for locals, which is fine if the difference in price is a reasonable amount, like India for example, but in Sri Lanka the price difference is vast. For example entrance fee for locals to visit Lion Rock is just 65 lkr which is £0.30 but for foreigners it is £21.50 per person. The same applies at Anuradhapura 50 lkr locals, £0.23p, foreigners £18. These price differences are the same all over Sri Lanka whichever attraction you visit. Now locals should pay less because there income levels are a lot lower than that of other countries, and I really don’t mind paying a reasonable difference in price but in my opinion this is way to much. Rant over. It was because of the price difference we nearly didn’t climb up Lion Rock, it wasn’t because of the cost “although we are on a budget” it was because out of principle. We were just going to climb Pidurangala rock, known to the locals as “cheap rock”, due to it’s 500 lkr entrance fee, which is situated next to Lion Rock, but after watching a couple of YouTube videos it would have been too much for me to climb. So we swallowed our principles and went to Lion Rock. Oh were we really glad we did as it was amazing. The climb up is a slog but the steps are in good shape, their also a iron walkway to traverse, which could be a problem with someone who suffers from vertigo, but it was really worth the climb. The views from the top are amazing. Click on the heading link for more information.

Top Tip. Make sure you get to the rock at opening time, 7am. Two reasons. First and most obvious it’s the coolest time of the day. Secondly if you go later you will have to endure the other crowds, and I mean crowds of tourists arriving in their coach loads. We came down around 09:30 and the sea of people arriving was amazing. When I turned around to look back up to the rock it was just like a swarm of ants scurrying along. Next stop Anuradhapura.

Cheap Rock

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Kandy

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Kandy

Like I said on previous blog post we were unable to get reserved seat train tickets for our journey from Nuwara Eliya so we had to take a taxi. Now you have to shop around when it comes to taxis as there prices vary wildly, as none of them appear to be metered. So I rang around and got a good price, but we all know cheap is not always the best. So when the car arrived it looked as it had just come from a banger race and it’s tyres had come straight off a Formula 1 car, they had no tread whatsoever. Oh well, like I said it was cheap. About an hour into the journey the driver stopped and said “I have problem”, it turned out to be a flat tyre. With no spare wheel and no jack, off he trotted. He appeared some 15 minutes later with a chap with a jack, who jacked the car up, took the wheel off and disappeared again, to return with the racing slick duly repaired. Thankfully we arrived in Kandy without further any problems, dumped our bags and took a walk around the lake which is one of Kandy’s attractions. The lake is man made and was built in 1807 and it’s circumference is of 3.1km. I have to say it is a very pleasant walk with lots of wildlife to see along the way, we saw monitor lizards, plenty of lovely birds and some extremely large fish basking in the shallows. The walk will also take you past the Temple of the Tooth, (which is what most people visit Kandy for). All in all a very pleasant stroll. So, like most people the next day it was our turn. Sri Dalada Maligawa to give the temple it’s official title. It is the location which houses the Relic of the tooth of Buddha. On further research I have discovered that there are in fact Tooth relics all over the world. Two in China one in Taiwan one in Japan one in Singapore and one in California. So it appears Buddha was well traveled and lost a lot of teeth along the way. The tooth ceremony is performed three times a day. One at 05:30 one at 09:30 and one at 18:30. The ceremony involves a lot of drumming, Buddhist monks praying, then culminating in the opening of the doors to where the tooth is kept so the worshipers can file past and give there offerings and take a glimpse of the gold casket in which it is housed. My advice if you want to visit is go to the 09:30 ceremony, or if your an early bird the 05:30. Because the 18:30 one is where most of the tour companies seem to go for. We witnessed coach and mini van loads turning up on our evening stroll around the lake. As right next door to the temple there is a theatre which has a Kandyan dance show every evening at 17:00 and after the show, all the masses of tour groups then head for the temple to see the evening ceremony. So if you want to avoid the crowds take my advise. Having said all of that we wished we had not gone to see the ceremony. Firstly we didn’t see the gold casket, as the door behind which is housed is only small and if your not positioned directly in front of it you have no chance. It was like being in the middle of a rugby scrum, everyone pushing and shoving to get a glimpse, it was staggering. Personally I think that the ceremony should only open to devotees. As I witnessed some poor little lady trying to push her way through the crowds of camera and camera phone wielding tourist to give her flower offering, it was quite upsetting. All that said don’t be put of going to the temple itself as there is much more to see than the ceremony alone. Entrance fee at time of writing is 1500 rupees, around £7. Now some blogs I have read have said Kandy is very busy and crowded, as it’s Sri Lanka’s second largest next to Colombo but it wasn’t that bad at all. There are some nice shops, a good market and a good eatery called Devon food court, where it appears all the locals go. It’s very cheap and serves some excellent food. Next stop Dambulla to visit Lion rock and the Dambula Cave Temple.

Sacred Tooth Temple Sacred Tooth Temple Sacred Tooth Temple

Little England. Nuwara Eliya.

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After our great few days in Ella it was time to move on. Next stop on our trip was Nuwara Eliya. Whilst we were in Ella we managed to get first class tickets for the journey, the cost of which was a 1000 lkr per person around £4.50 each. The journey takes around three hours and takes in some spectacular scenery along the way. The guide books and people we met who have done the journey say the best side to sit on, is the right side in the direction of travel for the best views, but this changes to the left side half way into the journey. Surprisingly as our first class carriage was relatively empty, we had the best of both worlds and could sit on the right and the left.

When we arrived, we immediately tried to get reserved seats for our onward journey to Kandy but surprisingly discovered there wasn’t any, in fact, the reserved seats were all booked for a whole month and we certainly wasn’t going to travel in the unreserved carriages, as we have seen how absolutely jammed packed they get. We later discovered that tour groups block book tickets. They take coach and mini bus loads to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy for a one night stay, then drop them at the rail station for the return journey back to Kandy in the morning.

We stayed in Nuwara Eliya for just two nights, which is enough in my opinion to see the main sights. The owner of the homestay we stayed at gave us a list of things to do in the area, and suggested we take a tour by Tuk Tuk. Fortunately for us we found a really nice Tuk Tuk driver at the station the day before. He asked us how long we were in town and what are our plans were, “well to be honest they all come out with the same line” but he seemed a real genuine guy so I took his number. Next day I gave the him a call, negotiated a price for the tour which was 3000 rupees which is around £13.50 for the five & half hour tour. On the way to our first stop, the Damro Tea plantation, our driver stopped at various viewpoints, explained how they harvest the tea leaves, how often they pick the leaves “once every 7 days”, basically all things to do with the tea growing business. I can assure you it was very interesting. One fact that he told us was about the tea pickers themselves. Firstly they are all woman, they work until the age of 55. Work an eight hour day and have to harvest between 18kg and 20kg of tea leaves per day to earn just 600 rupees which is £2.74. There is no company pension scheme, no worker benefits, just hard work, quite terrible really. He then pointed out the tea pickers homes which at first glance looked just like one average size bungalow in England. He then went on to tell us that this was not just one home in fact it was five, consisting of just one room with a family living in each. When we reached the Damro tea plantation we noticed that it was adorned with Chinese New Year banners, Chinese lanterns, and had coach loads of Chinese tourists arriving, even the Sri Lankan tea factory guides spoke Chinese. The factory itself was a very sterile experience. You really could not see much of the tea production except through perspex panels. It was in my opinion just a huge tourist attraction. Our Tuk Tuk driver told us that in fact it was a Chinese owned factory as Sri Lankan tea or Ceylon tea is very popular in China. He also told us that large Chinese companies are buying up some of the more profitable tea companies in Sri Lanka. Also they are investing heavily in the country’s infrastructure, roads, rail etc. We were having an in depth conversation with an owner of a homestay we were staying in, who was also a lawyer, she told us that the people are not really happy about the situation. I really do hope that the country doesn’t loose it its identity in years to come. Next stop was the much nicer Bluefield Tea Factory which is owned by two brothers and has been producing tea since the late eighteen hundreds. Touring the tea factory was a much nicer and personal experience, also much more informative. We then visited a couple of waterfalls which were quite spectacular and this was in the dry season. After our tour had finished we got the guy to drop us off at the Grand Hotel for afternoon tea “which one has to partake”. Afternoon tea at the Grand is mentioned in most of the guide books, so we thought why not. The Grand Hotel is one of the many colonial buildings in Nuwara Eliya, hence the name “Little England” Tea is served on a lovely terrace with, as you would expect, a three tiered cake stand with all the goodies that come with afternoon tea. The price for all this is 1300 rupees per person £5.97, considering how much you would have to pay in a high end hotel in the uk for this it’s an absolute bargain. Next stop was the Hill Club another throwback from the British Empire. It was originally a gentleman’s club, quite what that means exactly, but is now a lovely hotel. It costs 100 rupees to look around £0.46 but it’s well worth it. While you’re there have a nice cold beer in the really quaint bar. There are some other attractions, like the old post office and a golf course. Also there is Victoria Park, which we didn’t visit as it costs 300 rupees for foreigners and 30 for locals. It wasn’t the money it’s just that in Sri Lanka the prices for foreigners (tourists) are so over inflated, it was the principal. Besides I can visit much grander parks in the uk for free. Next Stop Kandy.

Ella. The place we did not want to leave.

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Ella. The place we did not want to leave.

It was time to move on from our lazy hazy days on the coast and move inland to Ella our first stop in the hills. Ella is situated in the Badulla district of Sri Lanka, and is some 1041 feet above sea level. We decided to take a car from Talalla, as getting there by bus involved two buses and took most of the day. When we arrived in Ella it was raining, shrouded in mist and very grey, not a great start. We had not booked any accommodation but had a homestay in mind that we liked the look of, but when we arrived it was nothing like the photos and it was situated too far out of town, so we got the driver to drop us at the nearest cafe, dragged our luggage in and sat down to search for our home for the next few days. Luckily it wasn’t long before we found Eeshani Guest Inn, run by a lovely couple who have lived here for 50 years. It was just like visiting my grandparents house, they were both so lovely. (Cont)

Ella is quite a small town with just one main Street, which consists of mainly restaurants and the odd shop here and there, but the place is buzzing and has a great vibe and chilled atmosphere about it. We only stayed for four nights but I felt I could have stayed for weeks. The only downside I feel is that in the not too distant future it will become a much larger and much busier town. This is because the amount of building work going on in the area is, in my opinion, too much. I can see this lovely little town being over saturated by tourists, so get here quick. There is plenty to keep you occupied in the town and surrounding area, like Little Adams Peak, Ella Rock, Ravana Falls, the Nine Arch Bridge and a couple of tea plantations. I will try to give you a little insight in each attraction.

Little Adams Peak.

The way to reach little Adams peak, is walk or take a Tuk Tuk up the Passara Road from town about 1km until you reach Ella Flower Resort on you right. Take the path just to the left of the restaurant (there is no sign indicating the way) and just follow the path for some distance. This path takes you through some really nice tea plantations. “If you set out early you will see the tea pickers at work”. You will then come to a set of steps to your right. This is where the fun starts, and where after a while your thighs and calf’s will start to protest. Well mine did anyway, but trust me it’s worth it as the views from the top are amazing. We did meet one couple who had climbed it twice in a day, once for sunrise and once for sunset, rather them than me. (Cont)

Ella Rock

Ella Rock

I can’t really tell you a lot about Ella Rock as we did not climb it, but the guide books do suggest you take a guide as it’s easy to get lost as the path is not very well marked. The climb to the top takes around three hours. We got this information from a group of guys we met on the train to Badulla.

Ravana Falls

Situated around 6km from town are the Ravana Falls. You can take the bus which costs 20 rupees, 9 pence or take a Tuk Tuk. The buses normally run quite frequently but on the day we visited it was election day so the buses were every hour “quite why an election should affect buses is beyond me”. So we decided to get a Tuk Tuk. 200 rupees, £1.40. (Cont)

Nine Arch Bridge.

If you do a google image search on Ella you will almost definitely see many photos of Nine Arch Bridge, it seems synonymous to Ella. There are a a few ways to get to the bridge. One is by walking along the train tracks from Ella which is around 4km. The way we got there was by walking once again up the Passara road until you reach a small homestay called Rose Garden Ella and take the path on your left a few metres beyond, be careful as it’s not marked, then just keep going until you reach the bridge. If there is a local around perhaps just ask to make sure you are going the right way. Top Tip check out the train timetables, as watching the train go over the bridge is quite a sight. (Cont)

Scenic Train Journey

Another great thing to do is take the train from Ella to Badulla. The journey takes around an hour and takes you through some beautiful scenery, you cannot reserve seats for the journey but the train isn’t busy, “we had nearly the whole carriage to ourselves” Once you get to Badulla there isn’t a lot to do, but perhaps get a drink and some food, although there is a nice Buddhist temple which is worth looking at. The return train leaves around an hour and forty minutes later. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon and all for 160 rupees for two people return £0.75p (Cont)

Next stop Nuwara Eliya.

Shh! Can you keep a secret.

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After our disappointing experience in Mirissa, we had one more beach destination to visit before moving inland to do some serious sightseeing. Our final stop along the coast is Talalla beach. Situated at the southern most tip of Sri Lanka (well almost, in fact Dondra is the southern most tip). We were still a bit apprehensive after our experience in Mirissa, but according to the guide books and google images it did sound and look lovely. We sourced an accommodation on booking.com, who was advertising a deluxe room, close to the beach. The pictures looked good, “but from previous experiences on our trip the camera does in fact lie” searched on google maps for the phone number and gave them a call, and negotiated a price of 5000 lkr around £22.50 per night. Subhasha Cottage (+94 71 965 8388) is located in a quiet lane leading down to the beach. The owner Isuri showed us to our room, and we were both gobsmacked. Our deluxe double room was in fact a two bedroom cottage complete with a separate kitchen with dining table, a separate dining room, a private seating area and an outside seating area and a really lovely shower room. Just amazing, we could not believe our luck. We dropped our bags and headed down to have a look at the beach, before we made our decision on how long we were going to stay. After our short walk of around 150 metres we were confronted by a glorious curved white sand beach, stretching for around two to three km, with just a handful of beach front restaurants and hardly any people, Paradise. So we decided to stay for five nights.

Subhasha Cottage

Talalla Beach

Our first couple of days in Talalla were spent just relaxing on the glorious beach and soaking up the sun. In the evenings we just sat outside and watched “something that I have never seen before”, fireflies darting in and out of the trees and bushes I watched in amazement for ages. I had to Google why and how they light up, I won’t go into detail but it was fascinating reading.

We decided to hire a scooter for our last two days and go and explore the sights further afield. Our first day we visited the Wewrukannala Buduraja Temple. (entrance fee 200 lkr) The temple is located some 14km from Talalla just outside the town of Dikwella. The temple is home to the largest Buddha statue on the island. The Buddha which is in the seated posture stands “or sits I should say” some 50 metres high. Behind Buddha almost like a back rest is a large staircase which you can climb, to reach Buddha’s head, once there you can peer through a viewing window and see a miniature Buddha shrine. As you are climbing to reach the top, you will see some marvellous Jataka paintings on the walls. The temple complex also houses some magnificent reclining Buddha’s in various poses.

Tallest Buddha statue on the island 50 metres Jataka paintingsReclining Buddha

Our next stop was Mulkirigala Raja Maha Vihara Temple, which is located some 22km inland from Dikwala. Mulkirigala is a series of 5 cave temples built on a 205m natural rock. (entrance fee 500 lkr) Each temple is accessible by some steps, “some of which are steep, so be warned”. In each cave there is a reclining Buddha, one of which depicts his passing surrounded by mourners. The walls and the ceilings inside each cave are lavishly painted and are well preserved. Once we reached the top we were greeted buy a really nice Buddhist monk who gave us a blessing. He chanted a prayer and anointed our heads, the ceremony was quite touching really. After we went outside and rang a ceremonial bell situated at the top of a bell tower, by pulling a rope. There is a donation tray for this experience “isn’t there always”. Unfortunate for us we did not have any small change, the smallest was 1000 lkr (about £4.50) but it was worth it as it was a lovely experience. Also he prayed for me to have a long life, so it’s a small price to pay if it works, don’t you think. Once you have been blessed, or not as the case may be, walk behind the temple down a very precarious slope onto the top of the large rock. “Beware of the sheer drop at the edge”. This is definitely worth it as the view’s stunning.

View from the top

On the way back to Talalla we stopped for something to eat in Tangalle. Tangalle beach is in my opinion somewhere in between Mirissa and Talalla for tourist numbers, but it has a much nicer vibe than Mirissa.

On our second day we visited Dondra and it’s Lighthouse, which is located at the southern most point of Sri Lanka. Unfortunately you cannot go into the Lighthouse and climb to the top,”contrary to what our guide book says” but it’s worth a visit as it is architecturally very nice and it’s stands in some nice grounds. Another fact that I learnt was that if you sailed in a straight line from this point, the next land mass you will encounter is Antarctica, some 15000 miles away “although I could not see any Polar bears on the horizon”. Next stop was the Devinuwara Raja Maha Viharaya temple. It’s a Buddhist and Hindu temple in the same complex. We have visited a couple of Buddhist temples so far in Sri Lanka. Now I have said for some time if I was to adopt a religion it would be Buddhism “although Buddhism’s not a religion it’s a way of life” but for Buddhists to preach that we should care for all living things, it’s a little contradictory to have elephants chained up in the larger temples to be used just for ceremonial purposes. The Elephant in chains at this temple was what appeared to me quite mentally distressed, as it was just swaying from side to side and unable to move from its spot because of its shackles, for us it was quite disturbing. I recently read an article about the taming of wild elephants and it was quite a barbaric process. Such as starvation and beating, quite shocking reading. So it begs the question, why! After Dondra we drove to Matara quite a nice town. Most people use Matara as a hub as the bus station here serves most areas in southern and eastern Sri Lanka. We came to visit the Star Fort, but unfortunately it is closed on Tuesdays “note to self, study guide book more carefully”. Another sight worth seeing is the small Paravi Duwa temple which is sited in a small island, connected to the town by a small suspension bridge. We had such a great time in Talalla it was sad to leave, but it was time to stop lounging around and head inland for some serious sightseeing. Next stop Ella.