KandyWe were ready to head upcountry by train to the hill country again and set our sights for Kandy in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Kandy was the government center of the ancient kings of Ceylon. Today Kandy The Temple of the Tooth Relic, one of the most sacred places of worship in the Buddhist world. Declared a world heritage site in 1988 devotees come from all over the world to do puja here.
Situated in a valley surrounding a lake, Kandy is a very large sprawling city.While
visitors come here to see the Temple of the Tooth, we found the highlights to be the
Royal Botanical Garden and a zany artist's therapy house, Helga's Folly.
The Royal Botanical Gardens are worth spending a full day in. We were only
there for 3 hours. These gardens used to be the actual grounds of the Royal Palace.
They are fabulous and colorful, well maintained and have every tree, flower, spice and
plant that can be grown in this region of the world.
The Temple of the Tooth and World Buddhist Museum
We went to a World Buddhist Museum which had Buddha statues contributed from every Buddhist country in the world, before visiting the Temple of the Tooth. The museum held beautiful Buddha statues and replicas of the Buddhist temples like Swedagon in Burma and altars from Lhasa in Tibet.
We gathered for the evening puja along with a crowd of Buddhist devotees from all over the world. While the Temple of the Tooth itself has little to recommend it other than the actual relic of the Lord Buddha's tooth, it is the centerpiece of Kandy and a prominent pilgrimage site of the Buddhist religion. All ages, young school children, their parents and grandparents gathered for the monk's blessing at dusk. The devotion of the attendees was impressive. Upon exiting the temple at dusk, we were treated to the flight of thousands of bats who found this the perfect time to head out in search of food for the night.
Unfortunately, we were not in Kandy at the right time to see the annual procession known as the Esala Perahera, in which one of the inner caskets used for covering the tooth relic of Buddha is taken in a grand procession through the streets of the city. This casket is carried on a richly decorated royal elephant.
The Cultural Triangle: Dambullah, Sigiriya and Pollanaruwa
Hiring a driver from Kandy we headed North to Sigiriya and the Cultural Triangle in the middle of Sri Lanka. We stopped at the Dambullah Caves. Ancient and impressive is the best way of describing the over 80 caves found in Dambullah that house some of the oldest Buddhist statues in the country along with remarkable cave paintings.
The monolithic rock that sticks up in the jungle of trees is the Sri Lankan equivalent of Acoma's Sky City in New Mexico. However, this was where King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) choose to build his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes.
We started early to miss the heat of the day having remembered climbing a similar rock in scorching hot temperatures in Burma. There were already crowds so we basically followed a line of tourists up the stairs that climbed the face of this immense rock.
Huge lion's feet carved at the base of the stairs lead up to the top portion of the rock and thus the name Lion Rock.
Despite my concern about needing to take a Xanax to climb the rock, I was fine. metal hand railings had been installed all the way up to the top of the rock. Huge water cisterns had been built to gather water and support the people who lived atop the rock. It did hold a prominent overlook of the entire countryside which had a defensive benefit.
For whatever reason, traveling in India and Sri Lanka is a great opportunity to just let the days unfold and await the mystery of a place. Rather than a dedicated agenda of where we were going and what we had to see, we floated from place to place and event to event drawn by listening, watching and inquiring of others.
Returning to Sigiriya Water Cottages we saw a large black open-top jeep being washed by the driver. We inquired and found that he took tourists to Minneriya National Park for wildlife viewing. Because elephants are my totem and something I did not want to miss seeing in the wild, we arranged to go the next afternoon. Seeing the elephants roaming free in the wild there proved to be a high point of this trip.
On the way down the rock, we passed tourists widely skirting a snake charmer with his cobra. The vendors lined up at the base of the rock selling cold drinks and trinkets. We sat in the shade of a tree and watched life unfold sipping on our lukewarm sodas.
From the open top of our jeep, we watched elephants emerge from the forest toward the Minneriya tank to drink and bathe in the evening. They move peacefully and deliberately, watching for their young. Having long ago established an easy truce with the jeeps lined up on the road to see them, we tourists were largely ignored as scenery. It is a delight to see the elephants move freely, not shackled by heavy chains and at home in their natural environment. Sri Lanka once had tens of thousands of elephants roaming the jungles and hillsides. Now there are only 2,000-3,000 wild elephants here and only about 250 more in captivity.
The young ones here are just as frisky and noisy as any two year old would be. The older elephants patiently watch over them at a distance while systematically gathering grass with their trunks and eating it. Getting to see these elephants in the wild is a pleasure and makes one want to contribute to their continued peaceful and unfettered existence.
Pollanaruwa is a World Heritage site covering hundreds of acres, best seen by bicycle.
We rented bikes somewhat rusty but functional and headed off in a northern direction through the grounds populated by dozens of temples that were built around 1070.
It is the second most ancient of Sri Lankan royal grounds.
The temples built here while large are not particularly ornate. They have been redeemed from jungle growth for tourists to appreciate. The most spectacular Buddhist statues are found on the Northern end of the Park at the Gal Vihara.
The grounds are peaceful and even with tourists you feel somewhat alone in this quiet ancient ruins. We spent a rather hot day working our way to the far end and were richly rewarded with beautiful carvings of Buddha at the end of our journey.
The devout spent years creating the huge reclining Buddha that spanned about 40 yards. The peaceful countenance of the Buddha made us ready to return for a late afternoon nap at our guesthouse. Spent from a long and full day we returned to the busy streets of the city to take our bikes back.