The final stop on our Asia tour!
16.07.2012 - 06.08.2012 35 °C
Click here to view our photos from site-seeing in Sri Lanka.
Like India, experiencing Sri Lanka can be somewhat of a sensory overload. The cities are alive with with tuk-tuks and buses, horns ablaze, whizzing down streets crowded with women in vibrantly-colored saris and men and school children in bright white robes and uniforms. The tantalizing smells of savory pastries and rich curries escape from roadside cafeterias, tempting even the most restrained passersby. Outside the bustling, polluted cities, the sights, sounds, and smells of the lush inland hills and the pristine, white sand beaches of the coast are equally, but refreshingly stimulating. Overall, the nation has that "island feel," the kind of peaceful, carefree atmosphere that only an island can generate, and one cannot help but feel immediately at ease even in the most active of city centers.
We began our tour of Sri Lanka in Kandy, a city surrounded by beautiful hills. Because Sri Lanka was the last stop of our Asia tour and also the site of our wedding, we decided to experience the country with a bit more luxury and style than we were accustomed to while traveling. As such, for our week in Kandy, we rented a cozy villa about 3 km from the city center on a scenic mountainside. The house provided a great opportunity for us to relax, prepare some home cooked dinners and barbecues (something we'd really missed since traveling), and enjoy the beauty of the Kandy plateau from the deck.
We were tired from traveling and enjoying the villa, so we wound up spending more time in than site-seeing. However, we did visit the Royal Botanic Gardens, a perfectly-manicured, 147-acre site featuring over 300 varieties of flowers, spices, medicinal plants, and trees. We spent the whole of a beautiful, sunny day exploring the grounds, admiring the countless varieties of orchids and palm trees for which the gardens is known, inspecting the numerous unfamiliar species of plants, and picnicking on the lawn.
The family that had rented the villa the week prior to our arrival left notes of their site-seeing ventures, and under their remarks about the gardens they wrote, "look up!" We didn't know what this meant, of course, so when we arrived at the gardens, we looked up. To our astonishment, the trees overhead were covered in bats. All throughout the gardens, we could see these little winged creatures clinging to the trees, and in some areas, our conversation was drowned out completely by the their piercing cries. Although it was mildly uncomfortable to be surrounded by swooping, shrieking bats, it didn't detract overall from our pleasant day in the gardens.
Kandy is at the heart of Sri Lanka's "cultural triangle," an area that includes several World Heritage cultural sites. Kandy itself is famous for Sri Dalada Maligawa or Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. We weren't interested in seeing the temple per se, but we did time our travels to Sri Lanka to match with the beginning of the Esala Perahera or Festival of the Tooth, an annual event, which celebrates this treasured relic. Though we could only attend one day of festivities, this incredible Buddhist festival actually spans 10 days in total.
The Perahera wound up being one of the best cultural experiences of the whole of our time in Asia. It consists of nightly parades that include dozens of elaborately-decorated elephants, some of which are even covered in lights. The largest and most impressive elephant of course carries the tooth relic. Thousands of local people are dressed in ornate costumes, most of whom are dancing and singing or playing instruments as they parade through the city streets. There are also fire dancers, who put on an impressive performance of fire-throwing and acrobatics. We attended the first night of the festival and were shocked at how long the parade of people and elephants continued; it must have lasted close to two hours. There was so much excitement and energy from the performers, as well as spectators, that we couldn't help but get caught up in the thrill. It truly was an incredible experience.
The only downside of our time in Kandy was an encounter with the cheeky monkeys that lingered in the trees outside the villa. We were forewarned that they could be a nuisance but would not enter the house despite a six inch gap between the wall and ceiling. However, when Colin went running one day, leaving Leah alone in the house to do her writing, the quietness of the house coupled with Colin's rapid departure created the illusion that no one was home. Apparently aware that there was a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter, three little monkeys climbed into the house, startling Leah, who was sitting nearby. The monkeys, too, we're startled, obviously unaware that someone was home. The monkey that had climbed down closest to the fruit, furry arm outstretched toward a banana, met Leah face-to-face with a look of shock, horror, and guilt. Leah reacted the way any person that discovers monkeys in her house would: she screamed. The monkeys subsequently turned and scrambled toward the gap in the wall. From that moment on, Leah insisted on never being alone in the house.
From Kandy, we continued our tour of the cultural triangle in Anuradhapura, a famous site of well-preserved ruins of ancient Sri Lankan civilization. We spent the day wandering from site to site, inspecting the stone remains of what were once impressive temples, a palace, and a monastery. We were completely in awe of two massive pagodas, which were easily more impressive than those of Bagan, Burma. Some of the stone relief work on the ruins was incredible, far surpassing even the artistry of Prambanan and Borobudur in Indonesia. Artifacts from these excavated sites are displayed in a nearby museum, which is definitely worth a look.
The greatest site of Anuradhapura, however, is one massive stone boulder that was carved to display five Buddhas in various positions. Although we've seen countless stone Buddhas throughout Asia, never before had we seen something as unique as this. The sheer magnitude of the boulder was awe-inspiring, never mind the craftsmanship of its many carvings.
Our next stop on the triangle was Sigiriya, famous for the ruins of an ancient palace and fortress built atop a massive rock. This singular rock juts some 400 meters out of an otherwise flat landscape and as such, can be seen from miles around. We even had the luxury of viewing the rock from our hotel pool.
We explored the network of gardens and reservoirs surrounding the rock before beginning our ascent. Although metal stairs have been built to accommodate tourists, one can still see the old, narrow steps carved into the rock face that would have been a normal, albeit terrifying, ascent for the ancient king and his court.
About halfway up the rock there is a cave featuring a handful of frescos that remain from some 500 original. These incredible paintings, depicting female figures, have inspired visitors for centuries to inscribe poems and verses in the adjacent Mirror Wall. Although most of the wall's inscriptions have since weathered away, the local museum offers translations of the original text. The content of the writings ranges from romantic to spiritual to comical.
The final ascent up the rock is at the Lion's mouth. Although it was once a massive lion carving, now only the paws remain. At the top of the rock, in addition to stunning 360 degree views of Sigiriya, it is fascinating to see the ruins of the palace. The king's stone throne remains, but our particular favorite was the massive swimming pool carved into the rock.
From Sigiriya, we traveled to Negombo. We checked into the amazing Ranweli Holiday Village in Waikkal where we were married on July 31, 2012. Click here to see our wedding photos.
Although we didn't do much site-seeing in Negombo, we did enjoy some hotel entertainment in the style of the Perahera (complete with fire dancers!), performed by the same group of dancers and singers that conducted our traditional wedding ceremony. We also took a boat ride on the river that separated our island resort from the mainland and had quite a few relaxing days poolside and on the beach.
Overall, Sri Lanka is an incredible country, rich with culture and history. Although it was the perfect end to our six months of travels between Korea and the West, we do look forward to a return visit when we can further explore all the country has to offer.
Thanks for reading our blog! We are currently in the process of deciding our next move, so stay tuned for a record of our adventures in another continent!