….to the Kaghan Valley, up north 🙂
Somewhere along the way, after Mansehra, a pit stop for chai, the river Kunhar gushing busily by.
Seven months have gone by since our holiday in Sri Lanka, and here I am, still blogging about it. All of it is still fresh in my mind though, perhaps because of all the pictures.
From Colombo to Nuwara Eliya to Kandy to Dambulla to Habarana to Anuradhapura and back to Habarana and then off to our very last destination on the itinerary….Trincomalee, situated in the northeast.
Though I enjoyed getting to see so much of Sri Lanka from a car window, I do confess I was by now a tad weary of the long drives and sightseeing expeditions, and sitting in a van for hours made me simultaneously fidgety and sleepy. Unable to nap comfortably, my eyes simply grew unfocused and hence I cannot remember much about the landscape we traversed on our way from Habarana to Trincomalee, except that it felt hotter and drier and way less green. Moreover, spoilt by the hotels we had stayed in so far, the relief I felt at reaching the resort at Nilaveli beach was dampened by the very basic look of the place. I felt like I had been transported into the 80’s.
The young man who led us to our room mentioned that the entire resort had to be restored and renovated after the tsunami of 2004. That melted my heart and I looked around with a less critical eye. By the end of our stay, the old-fashioned-ness of the decor was part of its charm, and though we had been sad to leave every place we had been on this trip, Amu and I were saddest at leaving here. It had been a peaceful stay, lots of relaxation and delicious buffet breakfasts and dinners.
I befriended a lot of squirrels.
And a ginger kitty.
A strange drumming sound on the roof was discovered to be packs of monkeys bounding around, picking edible buds from the trees. There were a couple of bright-eyed frogs, quite a few geckos and at least one big brown toad outside our beach hut. No pictures, alas.
We checked out after breakfast and got back into our van. The drive back to Colombo was supposed to take seven hours, but we made it in six.
After reaching the beautiful resort at Habarana, we sipped a cool drink at the reception while being checked in. It was so peaceful and relaxing to just be there, admiring the layout as we walked to the little chalet that was assigned to us. All the hotels we stayed at in Sri Lanka had their own charm, and Chhaaya Village was perhaps the most charming, long-tailed monkey families scampering across the lawns next to a lotus lake, on the other side of which marched a row of elephants.
Funny thing about road trips and travelling together is the three of us sharing the same bathroom along the way, and it gets funnier if we all need to go at the same time 🙂
We opted to have a relaxed afternoon, freshening up with showers, a leisurely lunch followed by nap for me while Huz and Amu went for a romp.
The next day we set off for Anuradhapura after an early breakfast. It was a long drive to get there and ultimately we kicked ourselves for it.
We paid $25 each to explore this place (probably a hundred times more than the locals), Anuradhapura being one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, famous for its well-preserved ruins of ancient Sri Lankan civilization….but we skedaddled from there as fast as we could. It was horribly hot!! I would have loved to roam around on a cloudy, drizzly day and the remnants were indeed fascinating and terribly historic. But Amu and I found ourselves longing to be submerged in the cool pool at the resort in Habarana
And once again, I was far more fascinated by the monkeys than the ancient Sacred Bodhi Tree
A bit damp from that tremendous cloudburst at Dambulla, we got back into our van and continued on our way to the base camp from where all exploratory expeditions in the Cultural Triangle head out.
The landscape had flattened out considerably and I noticed that these parts weren’t as lush and green as the ones we left behind that morning. Fewer people too.
We emerged from the largest of the five caves to be greeted by a downpour.
It was a surreal setting to be in….torrential rain high up on a rock, surrounded by a green expanse bang in the centre of sacred Buddhist land.
We sat there, sheltered, yet soaking it all in. It was beautiful and the air was suddenly cool.
Where were we?
Oh yes, day 4 in Sri Lanka. We had left the gorgeous botanical garden and were making our way towards the Cultural Triangle.
About 72 km later, we stop to explore the Dambulla cave temple on a rock that towers 160 m above the surrounding plains. Though the slope of the Dambulla rock is gentle, climbing it is a task and a half for a respiratorily challenged person such as I, while my poor legs had yet to recover from the 4 and a half hour trek through the Horton Plains.. But it is worth the effort. Plus, there are monkeys. Lots and lots of frolicking, playful monkeys 🙂
Yours truly would, of course, much rather monkey-watch than appreciate a World Heritage Site!
The temple complex features five caves under a vast overhanging outcrop, the walls and ceilings of which are painted intricately with religious images following the contours of the rock. It dates back to the 1st century BC…..the architecture was embellished with gabled entrances and arched colonnades in 1938.
Inside, there are a total of 153 statues of Buddha, 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and 4 statues of gods and goddesses. The caves are very dimly lit.
Our 11 days in Sri Lanka were essentially a road trip. We criss-crossed the island, winding up the hills, then down the hills, and onwards to flatter landscapes. It was lush and green all the way. We clicked hundreds of pictures, the camera passing from hand to hand, silently watching the landscape unfold, exchanging awed smiles.
I got a taste of how Huz must have felt on his way up to Nuwara Eliya. Realized no matter how breathtaking the landscape, you can’t enjoy it if you’re car sick. Winding mountainous roads unfortunately go hand in hand with amazing beauty 😐
I’m so glad I have these panoramic pictures to enjoy now with none of the queasiness 🙂
Myth has it that Ravana held Sita captive in the highlands of Lanka. Sita (the heroine from the Indian epic Ramayana) meditated on a rock and cried a river of tears. Then she dropped lotus flowers into the water, in the hope that they would make their way to her husband Rama so he could come rescue her.
It is believed that the monkey-god Hanuman was instrumental in finding her and bringing her back.
This could be the only Sita temple in the world.
After a few minutes of contemplation by the falls it was time we continued along our way. Climbing back up to the main trail felt like quite the accomplishment as my legs protested going against gravity.
Amu and Huz were now keen to get to the end, whereas I would have been happy to dawdle my way slowly back, one step at a time. It was a long walk, and saying we were tired out would have been the understatement of the year.
I do think we left a piece of our souls there, or perhaps the place seeped into our souls. It seemed we had already experienced the highlight of our trip on day 2….and nothing henceforth could beat this.
(All pictures have been taken using Huz’s phone camera as I was too tired to mess around with the Nikon. I think the results aren’t half bad!)
The terrain hitherto was largely open and expansive. The wind was a consistent part of the hike, with varying intensity depending on the topography. Feeling like Frodo, I climbed a rocky, muddy incline, buffeted, until we entered a sheltered green tunnel. Soon, we reached a divergent path that led down to Bakers Falls.
It was a steep hop, skip, and several jumps for Huz and Amu, slower for trepidatious me, who proceeded with caution, for as you can see, the path was not only steep, it was quite wet and full of obstacles and puddles. As a result, they saw the Falls before I did. And Amu captured my slightly exaggerated reaction 🙂
It was considerably damper and cooler way down at the Fall level. We spent some time absorbing the scene, with the sound of gushing, splashing, roaring water filling our ears. After hours of listening to wind through trees and grass, this was a different auditory experience altogether.
Soaked and quite achy now, my poor legs quaked at the thought of climbing back up to the main trail. In the course of 9 kilometres, this part tired me out the most. So the home stretch, although it continued to be breathtaking, had us all counting the steps till we had come full circle
(Credit for half the pictures (and a lot of the best ones) on this hike go to my better half, Amu. As mentioned earlier, we fought over the camera a lot, and I (being wise and mature) allowed her to be the official photographer 😉 Some of the pictures (like closeups of foliage and the interesting roots and tree structures) have been taken using Huz’s phone camera (by me) and of course, all the pix that feature Amu mean I did sometimes manage to wrangle the Nikon from her hands)
Sri Lanka, Horton Plains: (is it still only Day 2?)
So we walked on from World’s End, juggling three umbrellas, a backpack, a sling bag and a bulky camera bag between us. Wasn’t easy to take pictures AND keep the camera (and phone) dry, and Amu and I kept stopping to look around and look at things and capture it all through one lens or the other (we had three) while Huz was content to just focus on walking and enjoying being ‘present’.
There was a disembodied sense of floating in a cloud, where only the trail was in sharp focus and the rhododendrons all around. All else (streams, waterfalls, bridges) seemed to just…materialize…through the mist.
I’m glad we took as many pictures as we did. Really, it all seems like a dream now.
And so began a 9 km hike.
The wind made my hair dance.
Into the strange hush we trudge…
Except for a curious knocking sound made by an unseen bird, and the rustle of the wind through the grass…not a sound.
The trail was sandy at first…
Wet and surrounded by vegetation further on..
Just the gentle sound of light rain on the overhead leaves…
When the going got rocky…
We reached World’s End, the lesser one. A misty, windswept precipice not as high as the actual World’s End, but the view was similar….if only we could have seen it. (It is a cloudforest after all.)
We walked on from there and soon….
We were halfway through our trek! Here stands a triumphant Amu, at the edge of a precipice that plunges dramatically for almost a kilometer down to the lowlands below.
This is what we saw.
An assortment of nationalities.
One of the local guides there warned us that if we had found the walk challenging thus far, it would get tougher henceforth, especially the detour to Baker’s Fall. We could turn around and go back the way we came….or continue to walk till the end.
It was a no-brainer. 🙂
Day 2 in Sri Lanka.
It was arranged that a man with a jeep would pick us up reeeaaalllyyy early the next morning, and take us to Horton Plains, a plateau 2100-2300 metres above sea level.
It was cold, drizzly and foggy, and I began to get doubts about how warm our flimsy cotton hoodies would keep us…
The driver stopped at a bend in the road, where he thought we might spot white-bearded monkeys in the misty trees.
And we did 🙂
It was a longish drive, but our gazes were riveted to the landscape we were passing through, forests, rivers, lakes and farms with Fresian cows grazing on the slopes, all enveloped in cloud. The driver was friendly and eager to educate, so he shared titbits of information as he pointed out various noteworthy sights, some left behind by the British, like this forest of Australian eucalyptus, a non-endemic species, not to mention a thirsty bunch of trees.
And a sulky monkey.
I was amazed that the driver’s eyes were sharp enough to spot this poor badly injured female (whose name I forget, a species of lizard endemic to Sri Lanka as I was informed).
How did we know it was a female? Take a look at that egg…
Nothing much could be done, but to pick her up and deposit her in the foliage on the side of the road.
We drove on, and soon….
We ate our packed breakfasts huddled in the relative warmth of a bare basic restaurant, where we drank some horrible but warming coffee before setting off on our hike, umbrellas in hand. I had half a mind to skip the whole thing altogether, as my hoodie and three t-shirts were doing nothing to keep the wind from chilling me to the bone. But then I figured walking would warm me up…..and it did.
I’m sure glad I didn’t chicken out, as what followed turned out to be a dream-like hike through surreal landscape, the undisputed highlight of our SrliLankan experience 🙂
After a 6 hour, winding drive up hilly terrain, we finally reach Nuwara Eliya, once called Little England. Huz had been pretty car sick, so it is a relief to get out. It is cold here, compared to Colombo, and a waiter (at The Grand, where we are staying) brings us hot cinnamon tea, to be sipped through pieces of jaggery. It is deliciously warming.
We don light hoodies and set off for an exploratory walk around the hotel.
Peeked out of the balcony and saw a cute kittycat sitting on the wall. Ran to get my camera. When I came back, he was gone. As I stood there, wondering how he could have disappeared so fast, he scrambled up on to the ledge, right in front of my face. I shrieked….the kitty was momentarily startled, but regained his composure pretty fast I thought. Wandered off and settled down for a nice little scratchy scratchy.