Thursday, 22 May 2008

Travel Journal #14 (12 May): Sigiriya

I spent my last two days in upcountry Sri Lanka which is one huge World Heritage site. The first day was a very long one: Wake up at 5:00 am to get ready for the long drive to the ancient ruins of Sigiriya.

Two short but very good stops along the way. First for breakfast, at this restaurant in Kurunegala. It was clearly a restaurant for tourists but nevertheless I had one of the best meals during my stay in Sri Lanka. When asked how hot I wanted the food I said medium which was probably cheating but I don't care. Bread, a delicious fish curry, potato curry, coconut sambol, fresh papaya juice, and to top it all a cup of hot sweet tea with milk. Simple but oh so good. I was sitting outside in the cool breeze and my table had a nice view of the Eel Rock (Kurunegala has seven animal rocks, naturally shaped of course.)

The other stop was in Dambulla which single most popular attraction is an ancient cave temple with over one hundred Buddha statues dating back to the 1st century BC.

Dambulla was on the news not too long ago. Last February a girl with links to the LTTE got on a bus on its way to Anuradhapura. She got off a few stops later but not before setting the timer to the bomb left underneath her seat. 20 people killed, 50 injured. I saw it on the news when I was in Brazil last summer and remember thinking that if that kind of thing went on I would have to cancel my trip to Sri Lanka. I am glad I didn't.

On to Sigiriya. Fabulous place. The story goes like this.

Around the year 500 BC there was this evil prince who for some reason or another got annoyed with his old man (the king) and killed him. His brother didn't like it and wanted revenge but the evil prince (who was now king) won the fight and the brother fled to India. The evil king didn't feel safe though because he knew his brother would soon come back to get him.

He then found the perfect location for a new fortress/palace where enemies could be spotted from miles away. The evil king proved himself to be quite the visionary. The palace and the fortress around it were build during seven years by 12,000 slaves and it an impressive display of engineering, stuff that gets you thinking "How on Earth did they...?" It was also an amazing display of about 500 frescos of beautiful ladies (the king's personal harem) painted in the many caves around the fortress.

Anyways, after a few years the brother did come and the evil king ended up committing suicide in the battlefield. What a way to go. The brother then became king and everyone lived happily ever after. Except for the paintings, that is. The palace was given away to monks who used the place for meditation and the paintings of lovely ladies were too much of a distraction so they decided to destroy them. Just like that. Only about 20 paintings are left but they are so worth the trip.

After that it was time to go to Kandy and get some sleep!

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