A 145 km drive brought us from Negombo to Sigiriya. 145 km would take about 3-4 hours, depending on traffic. Slow going. But it was a great ride with plenty to see. Halfway there we stopped at a manmade lake, which turned out to be beautiful. There’s no natural lakes in Sri Lanka and all are manmade actually, which was a fact that sounded a bit weird to me first. The sun was hot and high, but it was great to stretch out and take in the sights. See also the cover image of the blog entry!
Just before getting to Sigiriya, almost every tourist will stop at Dambulla. Famous for its UNESCO world heritage cave temple, it is a must see. Just before we got out of the vehicle, rain was hammering down and made this a very sweaty and wet affair. The climb up the hill is not as bad as it first seems, so totally worth the effort. Also known as the golden temple of Dambulla, it covers 5 big caves that host a total of 153 Buddha statues. The caves, built at the base of a 150 meter high rock during the Anuradhapura (first century B.C.E. to 993 C.E.) and Polonnaruwa periods (1073 to 1250), represent by far the most impressive of the many cave temples found in Sri Lanka.
If you’re lucky, you’ll also a monk or two in their traditional bright orange dress. Even though you have to be respectful and approach them in a decent way, they’re usually happy to crack a smile and give you a great memory and shot to take back home.
After our visit to the temple, we checked into our hotel, which was also our home for the Christmas days. For me, it was actually the first time away from my family during Christmas time, but I had good laughs and even some very happy people when we exchanged our secret Santa gifts.
The hotel was pretty nice and brand new. I really liked the breakfast and our Christmas dinner buffet was very tasty! Check out the Oakray Fresco Water Villa while you’re there!
Christmas Day actually started very early for us, as we wanted to be early at the Lions Rock. The rock itself was once a fortress and was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. There’s a lot of history to read about, so I’d ask you to visit this link and read about it!
We saw some pics of other travelers, who almost couldn’t get up the day before. Too crowded and therefore not really a nice experience. So a piece of advice: GET THERE VERY EARLY. Best to go before it opens up.
The way up is actually not as hard as it seems at first. Humidity, 1200 steps up. Sounds a bit horrible to most. It’s not. Even a big guy like me got it done easily!
We didn’t get too lucky with the view though. As a photographer, you constantly hope that the mist will finally go away, that the sun will burn it out of the air. Maybe if we’d have waited a bit longer up on top, the pics would have been even better, but in the end you’ll have to take what you get. And while going down the steps again, the crowd already got so big that I was happy to leave.
And hey, I wouldn’t miss the chance to show you how wet my shirt was after climbing up there in what felt like 174% humidity 😀
If you go and have the time, you might also want to consider climbing the hill next to Lions Rock, you’ll get a perfect view from there and you won’t face the crowds. We didn’t go up, but went to a different viewpoint to get a good last look at this incredible little present from mother nature.
The day was long from being over.
After a shower and a moment to relax, we started again to have some lunch. Before we went into the restaurant, we got to try some hoppers, handmade by a lovely woman over a fire. We tried them with a very yummy chili paste. Spicy as hell, but soooo worth it!
Split up in several jeeps, everybody had a good view and we were able to shoot photos of a lot of elephants. I wasn’t sure how much I liked the experience in the beginning though, the first few animals we saw were more or less surrounded buy 12-14 jeeps and it made me feel quite bad. You could tell the elephant family didn’t like it either and quickly disappeared into the thicker bush.
One shot I took turned out to be a bit funny, as the shadow of the plants “drew” a face on the side of the elephant. What do you think, is this a good pic and can you spot the face? Leave a comment if you do!
At some point, rain was rolling in again, followed by the ultimate heat. While we constantly changed from putting the roof back onto the jeep and rolling it up again, it didn’t prevent me from getting soaked at the back. From a camera perspective, I was happy to carry my water resistant Fujifilm X-T3, so I didn’t have to worry about the water too much.
The park doesn’t only offer elephants to spot and watch, there’s of course all kind of other animals around. From water buffalos to birds, but also incredible landscapes.
Part 3 – Kandy will be coming up shortly.