Sri Lanka is about the size of West Virginia, but it proudly owns seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These places have emerged as the hub for tourists from across the globe fascinating them at the very first glimpse of their beauty and mystery. I have to admit that when I decided to visit the country I was drawn by the raw beauty of Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress and palace ruin situated in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka.
Bandaranaike International Airport is 22 miles north of Colombo. It cost $20 for a taxi to the city. Or you can take a free bus transfer to the bus station where tuk tuks are plenty. It cost me 1,000 rupee (about $9) on a tuk tuk to my hostel, which is a private accommodation located at Colombo 10 (the city is divided into 15 numbered areas). After checking in, I decided to go to Pettah market, which is famous for its open air bazaars and markets. If you like shopping, this is the place to go to when in Colombo. It seems that each street has its own speciality; it kind of reminds me of the French Quarter in Hanoi.
Private buses or the regular ones to Dambulla are available at the Central Bus Station. I chose the private bus (cost 280 rupee or $2.50) the next morning. Surprisingly, the condition of the bus was better than I thought; velvet red seats with a cool air-conditioner that worked. It took three and a half hours to reach Dambulla. I had a meal of Sri Lankan rice and curry at Benthota Bake House, which serves realIy good local food. After my meal, I head to The Rock Temple, one of the seven World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. I purchased the ticket from a lady sitting in a tiny room with minimal lighting and bare furnishing. The walk up to the temple can be slippery when wet (it had rained earlier) with occasional steps in certain places and sloping rock face.
Shoes are not allowed in as you enter the temple, and I was asked to leave them to an attendant for a 25 rupee fee. "I can put the shoes in my bag" I said. But no, it's disrespectful to bring the shoes in with you. I don't think so! Nevertheless, the caves are gorgeous with endless paintings from wall to wall, and the ceiling as well. History suggests that the place was used as a place of worship when KIng Valagamba was driven out of Anuradhapura, and he carved the place into rock temples after he regained his throne. It started to rain again as I began to walk back down. I rode the tuk tuk to Sigiriya Holiday Inn, which is about 20 minutes ride from downtown Dambulla (cost 700 rupee).
The next morning started with the rain. Luckily it stopped before my tuk tuk arrived. An entire day with petrol cost me 2,800 rupee ($27). Sigiriya takes about 45 minutes from the hostel. The road to the site was still wet and muddy from the rain as I approached the entrance, but I could see the ancient rock fortress standing majestically from afar. I was mesmerized as I walked toward the rock. It took me an hour to reach the Lion's Paw, a reminder to devotees ascending the rock that Buddha was Sakya-Simba and his spoken words were as powerful as the sound of a lion's roar. Reaching the top means clambering up across a series of grooves cut into the rock with the handrail as an assistance.
What's left today is just a foundation, and as I gazed across the surrounding jungle, it's just a reminder of the Buddhist monks probably did over 1,500 years ago.
As I began to enjoy myself on the way to Polonnawura, it rained again. "Climate change" said the driver. "So much rain since last week!", he said with frustration. Tell me about it! Luckily, it stopped when I got to Polonnawura after two and half hours ride. The ancient city of Polonnaruwa remains one of the best planned Archeological relic sites in the country, standing testimony to the discipline and greatness of the Kingdom's first rulers. You need to spend at least 5 to 6 hours in Polonnawura. Unfortunately, this is not the case for me, and with the rain coming and going, I had to practically run in and out from one site to another. The Royal Palace, Watadage, Alahana Pirivena Complex, Rankot Vihara, and Lankatilaka are just some of the sights worth spending your time there. Soon the heavy downpour and night sky had made it impossible for me to stay any longer in Polonnawura. I was lucky that I had a wonderful driver who knew where he was going.
I woke up the next morning with the bathroom filled with bugs! It was then I decided to leave a day early back to Colombo. I spent my last day in Colombo walking around Pettah. This time I had more time to surround myself with the hustling and bustling of the heartbeat of the city.
I came to Sri Lanka because I had wanted to see Sigiriya. Now I leave the country not just remembering Sigiriya, but also Dambulla, Polonnawura, Colombo, and especially the friendly people. The country is definitely a place worth visiting again and again. Hopefully, next time I am able to visit Anuradhapura without the rain.