UNESCO check list: Kandy, Dambulla, Sigiriya

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.

murunga (moringa oleifera) curry, grean bean curry, mellum?, dhal by bryandkeith on flickr
clockwise from top left: murunga curry, green bean curry, dhal, gotukola mellum
chicken with kızartma-style veggies, mango curry, pol sambal, dhal, cucumber, papadam, green bean curry, potatoes by bryandkeith on flickr
chicken with kızartma-style veggies, mango curry, pol sambal, dhal, cucumber, papadam, green bean curry, potatoes

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:

This rope is made from coconut rinds/skins.  Sri Lanka does a lot with the coconut. by bryandkeith on flickr
in Naula

The coconut fronds can be used to make an elaborate decorative pavilion where a monk might sit presiding over a funeral:

A monk sat here to preside of a woman's funeral.  This is made from coconut palms. by bryandkeith on flickr

Shall we move into the touring? When we left off, I was in Kandy where there’s some underpass art:

IMG_20211202_163928 by bryandkeith on flickr

some colonial buildings:

International Buddhist Museum by bryandkeith on flickr
World Buddhism Museum – very good
IMG_20211203_162758 by bryandkeith on flickr

an excellent dance show popular with tourists:

great costumes and great music by bryandkeith on flickr

and a beautiful lake:

IMG_20211203_163003 by bryandkeith on flickr

But what UNESCO is excited about is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This is the main event:

This is the shrine of the Sacred Tooth Relic by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211203_114343 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211203_063952 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211203_064643 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211203_074220 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211203_095335 by bryandkeith on flickr

I’ve now seen more Bodhi tree shrines that I can count. Here’s the one at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

one of many Bodhi tree shrines in Sri Lanka by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

Aruni from Wategama.  She treated me to bananas and tea from the small shop she operates out of her house.  On the map this place seems to be called Gal Ambalama. by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211205_095252 by bryandkeith on flickr

I continued to find nice scenery and Buddhist temples.

IMG_20211205_081523 by bryandkeith on flickr
in Raithalawela
IMG_20211205_090206 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211205_063607 by bryandkeith on flickr
Udathalawinna Purana Bomalu Viharaya
IMG_20211205_111152 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211205_110312 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211205_115755 by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211205_125142_5 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211205_132035 by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211206_063655 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211206_085041 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211206_084758 by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211206_091947 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211206_092432 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211206_092632 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211206_093009 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211206_093357 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211206_093627 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211206_094451 by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

Dambulla is really more of a large rock overhang than a cave.  The overhang has been closed off with walls so it's a series of rooms fulls of stautes and paintings on the ceilings and walls. by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211206_123859 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211206_110753 by bryandkeith on flickr
Sri Sudharsanaramaya
IMG_20211206_120542 by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211207_062621 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211207_063512 by bryandkeith on flickr

I guess that white one is a new stupa, and the brick one is ancient. Sometimes Buddha is protected by a cobra.

The cobra is supposed to protect the Buddha. by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211207_070931 by bryandkeith on flickr
another view from above of the water garden by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211207_094659 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211207_100119 by bryandkeith on flickr

Here you can get a bit of an idea of the garden layout from the ruins on the top of the rock.

These ancient gardens were influeced by the Persians. by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

This photo clearly shows a drip ledge, cut in the rock to preserve the paintings underneath the overhang.  Perhaps they worked but weren't designed to last 23 centuries? by bryandkeith on flickr

Since there are few paintings left, one might question how well this technique worked. Perhaps they weren’t designed to last 23 centuries?

IMG_20211207_091257 by bryandkeith on flickr

Here’s a Bodhi tree shrine with no more tree left.

Bohdi Tree Shrine, but the tree is no longer here. by bryandkeith on flickr

I was excited here to see my first ever Grizzled Giant Squirrel.

Grizzled Giant Squirrel (aka dandolena) by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

museum replica of one of the paintings that still remains on the wall by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

The lion's paws are easily visitable here. by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211207_080757 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211207_080800 by bryandkeith on flickr

These stepped brick walls reminded me of the (contemporary?) Mayan ruins at Comalcalco.

IMG_20211207_080515 by bryandkeith on flickr

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!

IMG_20211207_111926 by bryandkeith on flickr
Sigiriya Temple
IMG_20211207_122239 by bryandkeith on flickr
Ramakale Stupa
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One Response to UNESCO check list: Kandy, Dambulla, Sigiriya

  1. Mike Painter says:

    The unexpected is always best!

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