In my first blog about Sri Lanka, I tried vaguely to compare the food to that of India, specifically Kerala. Wrong! But that’s what first impressions are for. Two weeks in Sri Lanka and I think I’ve had a bigger variety of dishes than during four months of traveling in India.
Red lentil dhal is almost ever present. I’ve also tried potato curry, green bean curry, batu moju (eggplant curry), polos (young jackfruit) curry, ash plantain curry, mango curry, luffa curry, murunga curry, pumpkin curry, fish curry, and chicken curry. With chicken I’ve also tried deviled chicken and what Turks would call kızartma chicken (if such a thing actually existed). The very common garnish that I called “coconut thing” in my first blog is pol sambal. Tending into salads rather than curries I’ve tasted cabbage, carrot, gotukola mellum, and winged bean.
I’ve tried some juices as well: coconut, soursop, papaya, banana, avocado, wood apple. There are still many more curries, juices, and fresh fruits to try. Guess I can’t leave yet! If you want to read more about Sri Lankan dishes, this page is good.
Coconuts must be Sri Lanka’s national fruit. In addition to coconut water (straight from the fruit), coconut toddy (mentioned in my last post), coconut milk (sometimes added to rice), and pol sambal (mentioned above), coconut fiber can be used to make rope:
The coconut fronds can be used to make an elaborate decorative pavilion where a monk might sit presiding over a funeral:
Shall we move into the touring? When we left off, I was in Kandy where there’s some underpass art:
some colonial buildings:
an excellent dance show popular with tourists:
and a beautiful lake:
But what UNESCO is excited about is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This is the main event:
Pilgrims come from all over the country (the world?) to pray at this shrine, which I suppose houses a part of one of Buddha’s teeth.
For tourists, well, there’s a whole complex to explore, hopefully justifying a visit to the city.
I’ve now seen more Bodhi tree shrines that I can count. Here’s the one at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.
Not far out of Kandy heading north, I ran into Aruni who used to work as a maid in Doha for a couple from Goa. She invited me for bananas and tea at the small shop that she runs out of her house. This was exciting for me as I’ve found it a little difficult to connect with Sri Lankans. Covid is at least part of the culprit here.
I continued to find nice scenery and Buddhist temples.
Starting to see a pattern here? Seriously this is what riding is about in Sri Lanka — great food, nice scenery on quiet roads, and colorful temples.
I headed to a main road to find a place to spend the night. I was lucky that day as less than a km later, I came across a hotel (in Naulu). Twice I’ve had to ride on main roads over 10km before coming across anything. I’m a bit worried as I’m heading into less populated areas. I don’t have a tent so I have no backup plan. People recommend booking.com and/or google maps, but neither show most of the little hotels (“rooms”) where I’ve stayed between larger towns.
The next morning I made it Dambulla, the next UNESCO World Heritage Site on my list. After breakfast I found the requisite temple.
UNESCO’s interest here is the “caves”, really just large rock overhangs. And it’s not actually the caves so much as the paintings on the ceilings and walls. There are about five separate caves filled with Buddha statues and paintings.
To appreciate Dambulla you kind of have to consider how old it is. The site has been a sacred area for 2200 years. The paintings, however, are, I think, 18th century.
Here’s what the caves look like from the outside.
On the road again I found more great scenery and roadside temples. It seems like I’m enjoying the unexpected in Sri Lanka, more than the expected.
It didn’t take long to get to Sigiriya, perhaps Sri Lanka’s most famous UNESCO site. In the morning before the main site opened (covid has them opening later than usual), I poked around Pidurangala.
I guess that white one is a new stupa, and the brick one is ancient. Sometimes Buddha is protected by a cobra.
The rock of Sigiriya used to house an ancient Buddhist monastery, starting around 3rd century BCE. It served as a royal palace briefly (5th century CE), then a monastery again, before being abandoned around the 13th century.
You walk through beautiful gardens on the way to the rock. The Water Garden reminded me of Persian gardens, and then I read that the Persians definitely influenced the ancient Sigirya garden. It’s noticeable in the symmetry and the long straight lines.
Here you can get a bit of an idea of the garden layout from the ruins on the top of the rock.
The visitor then walks through the Boulder Garden where there are plenty of examples of the drip ledges, cuts into the rock to prevent the rain from ruining the paintings.
Since there are few paintings left, one might question how well this technique worked. Perhaps they weren’t designed to last 23 centuries?
Here’s a Bodhi tree shrine with no more tree left.
I was excited here to see my first ever Grizzled Giant Squirrel.
In the 5th century CE the main west face of Sigiriya was covered with paintings of 500 female figures. There are only about 19 left. Here is a museum replica of one of the remaining paintings.
Visitors from the 7th to the 13th centuries wrote poetry on the Mirror Wall, proclaiming their love of the paintings (or something).
Continuing up we get to a plaza on the north side of the rock. It’s here where we walk between the lion’s paws to get to the monastery/palace/ruins on the top.
These stepped brick walls reminded me of the (contemporary?) Mayan ruins at Comalcalco.
Is it obvious from my enthusiasm? I was definitely more impressed with Sigiriya than Kandy or Dambulla.
And of course on the way back to the hotel from the site, I found another temple and another old stupa!
The unexpected is always best!