Polonnaruwa – 18/2/2015

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.”

James Michener

History of Polonnaruwa

During the 11th century AD, King Vijayabahu I made Polonnaruwa the capital city, replacing Anuradhapura who had been plundered and left abandoned after being invaded by armies from Southern India.  Polonnaruwa would remain the capital for three centuries and a thriving comercial and religious centre for about 800 years. 

It was during the reign of the second king, King Parakramabahu I, 1153 – 86, that many of the parks, the palace, dagobas and various temples were built.  The king also built the large artificial lake, Toa Wewa Lake or Parakrama Samudray. The third king, King Nisanka Malla, 1197 – 96 tried to expand the empire with further building works, but ending up bankrupting the kingdom instead. During the early 13th century the capital was again moved, this time to where Colombo is now situated. 

Our Visit

We had organised a 9 day trip through Sri Lanka using a guy recommended to us.  We were supposed to be picked up from Trincomolee at 9 am, which ended up being 11 am.  After a long drive we finally reached Polonnaruwa mid afternoon.  There wasn’t enough time to see everything at the site, but we did get a look at most of the main parts.

  1. The Remains of Parakramabahu’s Palace

The Royal Palace is the first group of ruins, which look rather unimpressive today, but it once housed 50 rooms that were supported by 30 columns.  Some archaeologists believe it was 7 stories high, hard to believe with what remains.

The Audience Hall is another structure within the Royal Palace group of buildings.  At the bottom of the building is a freeze of elephants.  Each elephant is slightly different.

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2. The Quadrangle

The Vatadage is a circular relic house.  The terrace is 18 metres in diameter and has four entrances. 

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Atadage Dalada Maligaya is the ruins of the house which contained the tooth relic of Buddha, now in Kandy.  It was built during the reign of the first king of Polonnaruwa, King Vijayabahu.  The building contains 54 stone pillars and it is believed the tooth relic would have been kept on the 2nd floor of the building.  The building is called Atadage because Ata means eight and it is believed that it would have housed eight relics, including the tooth.

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3. Dagabas – There are a few Dagabas at the site.  Here are the two most impressive:

Rankot Vihara is a 54 meter tall dagaba, it is the largest in Polonnaruwa and the fourth largest in Sri Lanka.  It was built during King Nissanka Malla’s reign, the king who bankrupted the kingdom.  Perhaps he shouldn’t have built such a large dagaba.

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Kiri Vihara Dagaba was unearthed from the jungle and required no restoration work, as it was still milky white after 700 years. It was built in honour of the King’s queen.

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4. Buddha Statue at Lankatilaka is surrounded by 17 metre high walls and the Buddha’s head is missing.  This area was undergoing some restoration works while we were there. 

5. Gal Vihara is a rock temple and is part of the Polonnaruwa site. It was created during King Parakramabahu I reign. The highlight of this temple is the four statues of Buddha, which are carved from a single piece of granite. The images are of a large seated Buddha, a smaller seated one inside a fake cavern, a 7 metre high standing Buddha and a 13 metre resting Buddha.

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Tourist Information:

Adults tickets are 25 USD, children from 5 to 12 are 50% discount and children under 5 are free. For more. The opening hours are from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm. For more information visit this website.

http://whc.unesco.org

 

Sigiriya and Dambulla Cave Temple – 19/2/2015

Sigiriya

History

Sigiriya is located on a rocky plateau that was formed from the magma of an extinct volcano.  Sigiriya served as a monastery during the 3rd century BCE before King Kasyapa constructed a royal residence during the latter half of the 5th century.  After the king’s death it served as a Buddhist monastery until it was abandoned during the 14th century.

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As you enter the site you walk through the remains of gardens which are some of the oldest in the world.  The gardens encompass canals, bridges and locks.  The fountains were believed to have been added during the 5th century.

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The entrance leading up Sigiriya

The remains of the city are on both the rock’s slopes and on the summit, which stands at 370 metres. On your way to the top you pass the western wall which is covered with frescoes that were created during King Kasyapa’s reign.  The frescoes are depicting nude females and are thought to be either the portraits of Kasyapa’s wives and concubines or priestess performing religious rituals.  Eighteen of these frescoes still exist today.  To reach the frescoes you do have to climb the steep spiral staircase, which freaked Tristan out a bit as he hates heights.

Above are some of the frescoes and the spiral stair case.  Below is a fresco and people making the long and crowded walk up.

Sigiriya is also referred to as the lions rock and you understand why when you reach the base of the rock. During King Vattagamini Abhaya reign a huge lion statue was created from brick and plaster, today all that remains of the statue that has weathered away over time is its feet.

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The lions claws

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The final part of the climb to the top.

After the final lot of steep stairs you reach the top, with a magnificent view over the surrounding area and the remains of the palace.

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We made it, all hot and sweaty!

Max and Ava reaching the top of Sigiriya Rock (569x800)

These two were particularly pleased with themselves

The view from the top

One of the most attractive sites in Sigiriya is the mirror wall. In the past, the king had it polished so thoroughly until he could see his reflection in it. The mirror wall is inscribed with poems and inscriptions that are written by the visitors to Sigiriya.  I personally could not see that it had been a mirror, but perhaps you will.

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The view from among the palace ruins

At the bottom of Sigiriya there are tourist shops and monkey, who kept us entertained.  After our experience of monkeys in Indonesia, Max and Ava weren’t too keen on getting close.

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Dambulla Cave Temple.

This temple was not on my list of places to visit, but our guide thought we should.  The complex is comprised of 5 caves situated under an overhanging rock, which contains 153 statues and paintings that document Buddha’s life.  The monastery itself dates from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE.

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Ticket booth and entrance to the Dambulla cave complex

To get to the Buddhist caves you have to climb a lot of stairs. The kids were not happy about more walking, especially after having walked up Sigiriya. There were monkeys on the way up, stealing flowers to eat from people taking them to the caves. 

The flower steeling monkeys.  Tired and grumpy kids and we haven’t even reached the caves yet.  Which is worse?

The cave temple was first constructed during King Vattagamini Abaya’s rein. There are actually some 80 caves in the complex but the first five contain the paintings and statues.  I have included the first four caves which were the most interesting.

Cave of the Divine King or Cave 1 is dominated by a fourteen metre statue of Buddha carved out of rock.  The Buddha has been repainted many times, most recently in the 20th century.

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Cave of the Great King (Maharaja Viharaya) or Cave II is possibly the most spectacular of all the caves, measuring 52 metres length wise and 23 meters wide.  The cave is named after the statues of the two kings it contains.

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The New Great Temple (Cave 3) was converted to its current form by King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe in the 18th century.  Its filled with Buddha statues but the one that is unmissable is the beautiful reclining Buddha. 

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Pachima Viharaya (Cave 4) is a fairly small cave with the central Buddha in a meditative pose.  There is a small dagoba which was broken into, you can see the cracks in it, by thieves who though Queen Somawathie’s jewellery was contained inside it. 

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Would I recommend Dambulla Caves?  I think that would depend on whether you have travelled much in South-east Asia.  If this is your first time, then yes I would visit.  As we have spent 2 1/2 years in the area, we have seen a lot of wats and temples and it didn’t hold a lot of interest for the kids, it was an ABW (another bloody wat)  I would skip it.  I also think that after having climbed Sigiriya, we were all hot and tired and to climb more stairs to see the caves was probably too much.

Tourist Information:

  • Sigirya – Go early as it is exposed to the sun and gets really hot.  For foreigners the entrance fee is $30 USD, this also includes the Sigiriya museum. For locals the entrance fee is Rs50. The site is open from 7:00 AM to 5:30 PM (the last entrance is at 5:00.) For more information see this website:

https://sigiriyatourism.com

  • Dambulla Caves – The costs for entering for adults are $10 U.S. and for children it is $5 U.S. The opening hours are from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. For more information see this website

http://www.ourplaceworldheritage.com

Temple of the Sacred Tooth or Sri Dalada Maligawa – 21/2/2015

History of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth or Sri Dalada Maligawa is a temple which houses a tooth of Buddha. The temple is located within the royal palace complex in Kandy. This tooth has played an important part in local politics since olden times, where it was believed whoever held the tooth, held the governance of the country, this caused the kings to protect it thoroughly.

Buddha’s tooth was smuggled into Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamali and her husband, during the reign of Sirimeghavanna of Anduradhapura.  On their arrival to Sri Lanka they gave the tooth relic to the king to safeguard.  Over time it was assumed the responsibility of the relic fell upon the monarch and it became to symbolise the monarch’s right to rule.  So monarchs kept the tooth relic in a temple close to their residence.

Our Visit

Upon arrival at the temple and paying our entrance fee, we were directed to hire sarongs to wrap around ourselves, as you can’t enter the temple in shorts.  Ava and Max were exempt to this rule as they were younger.

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Walking past the lake to reach the temple, you pass a lot of people carrying flower offerings.  Everyone queues to enter the temple and depending on the time of day and whether there is a service about to happen, will determine how long you have to wait.  We happened to arrive in time for ‘Ninth hour Poojava.’ which is also the time that Buddha’s tooth relic is open for the public to see, so there was a bit of a wait getting into the temple.

After you enter the temple you can really hear the noise of the drums and you shuffle along in the queue throughout the temple, there is no stopping.  Andrew and the boys did get a glimpse of the gold casket housing the tooth relic, but Ava, Max and I were unable to see above the crowds heads.

In the temple you are also able to see the stuffed remains of Rajah, a famous tusker elephant who was used in ceremonies and died in 1998.

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I think a visit to the temple is probably better suited to older teens.  The crowds inhibits younger kids from being able to see anything and there is probably not a lot that would interest them, with the exception of perhaps the stuffed elephant.

Tourist Information:

Entrance Fee:

  • Adults $10 USD/Children under 12 – free 

Opening Hours:

  • 5.30 am – 8 pm
  • Morning Thevava Service (breakfast)  – 5.30 am – 7 am
  • Ninth hour Poojava (lunch) – 9.30 am – 11 am
  • Evening Thevava (evening) – 6.30 pm – 8 pm

Mackwood’s Tea Estate and the Hatton Summer House – 23/2/2015

Written by Max 

History of Mackwoods

Maxwoods is the second eldest company in Sri Lanka and was founded in 1841 by Captain William Mackwoods.  Mackwoods remained in his family until 1956, producing Ceylon tea almost since the plantation industries inception. In 1956 the company was bought by N.S.O. Mendis a Sri Lankan and has remained in his family ever since.  In fact Sriyani Nonis was the first female Sri Lankan to run a plantation company until her death in 2005.

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Today the companies plantation has diversified from producing ceylon tea and now also produce green teas, herbal teas and flavoured teas.  Today you can do a guided tour around the factory and enjoy a morning or afternoon tea overlooking the tea estate. 

Mackwoods tea plantation and one of the workers picking the leaves

We drove from Candy through the mountains to reach Mackwoods plantation.  We purchased tickets to do the tour of the factory.  A lady took us and showed us the machines, that rolled, cut and dried the tea leaves before they package and ship the tea. 

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After the tour we had morning tea with chocolate cake, and b.o.p tea.  B.o.p. tea means it is made from broken leaves of orange pekoe tea and it tasted nice. – 11 year old Max

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Hatton Summer House

After having tea, we were driven to Hatten Summer House.  The estate has several cottages set on the  Castlereigh Reservoir and is surrounded by tea plantations on the surrounding hills.

When we got to Hatton Summer House, we relaxed and had some tea, we had a really good view. We walked around the gardens and looked at the pool, but it was a bit cold to go swimming.

Mum also had here birthday there and we had a cake.

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Tourist Information for Mackwoods Tea Estate and Hatton House

Train to Ella – 24/2/2015

Written by Ava (aged 9)

On the 24th of February, 2015 we drove in a car to the train station. When we got there, there was only 2nd class carriage tickets left, so we got them and had something to eat while we waited for the train.

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When we boarded the train we looked for seats, but we couldn’t see any, so we stood in the door way and looked out at the view as we raced past.

We went through a couple of tunnels and we saw a couple of carriages broken down on the hill. There was also a lot of tea plantations.  We waved to the local people as we went past.  It took about 4 hours to reach Ella and I LOVED IT!!

Trains to Ella Tourist Information

Train tickets can be purchased 30 days in advance at a train station or you can turn up on the day and purchase them from the ticket counter.  Further information on train schedules can be found by either clicking on the link or using the following website: http://www.railway.gov.lk/web/

Prices:

  • 2nd class – 160 Rupees
  • 3rd class – 90 Rupees

 

Little Adam’s Peak – 25/2/2015

written by Tristan (aged 14)

Little Adam’s Peak looks similar to its big brother, Adams Peak, where the foot-print of  Buddha is preserved.  Some people also call it ‘Punchi Sri Pada’.  Little Adams Peak stands at 1141 meters.

While we were in Ella we decided to do the easiest and closest hike up ‘Little Adams Peak’.  Everyone except Josh went for a walk, Josh unfortunately had to stay behind to get an assignment finished. 

It was a long walk through the tea fields, where we passed a lot of tea-pickers, male and female, who were plucking and collecting the tea leaves.

Tea pickers.  Beware if they see you take their photo, they will want you to pay.

Max and Ava had a go at picking a leaf too.  Our walk up the peak.

The view at the top of the hill was amazing. Unfortunately, the pinnacle of the hill was a bit too high for Dad and I, so only Mum went up to the very top, while we relaxed and waited for her. Mum said she had a 360° view from the top and it was breathtaking.

We passed a few cows grazing on the hill and Ava patted one of them. On the way back down, Dad, Max and I had some curd and honey, which was really nice.

 

Yala National Park – 26/2/2015

Written by Max (aged 10)

About Yala

Yala has been a wildlife sanctuary since 1900 and then a National Park since 1938, but prior to this it was a hunting ground used by the Elite, while Sri Lanka was under British rule.  Today the 130 000 hectares is divided into 5 blocks and two are open at any one time. The park is made up of forests, scrub, grasslands and lagoons.  While Yala has the biggest concentration of leopards in the world it is also home to 44 mammals, including sloth bears, jackals, peacocks, spotted dear and 215 bird species. The best time to visit Yala is between February and July when the water levels are the lowest and you have the greatest chance of seeing the wildlife.

Our Visit

We were picked up at 12:30 and driven to Yala National Park in a jeep. While we were driving towards Yala National Park we almost hit a star tortoise. The tortoise was pretty lucky.

When we got there we bought the tickets and then went in the park. We stopped and the driver pointed out a tusker elephant, there are only 9 tusker elephants in Yala, so we were lucky. We saw birds, buffalo, pigs and wild boar.

We stopped suddenly and the driver said we needed to be very quiet, he pointed out a leopard. It was very cool and definitely the highlight of our trip.  We got to enjoy the leopard to ourselves for about 5 minutes and then we were surrounded by about 20 jeeps all trying to see the leopard.

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Tourist Information:

Opening Hours:

  • 6 am to 6 pm

Entrance Fees:

  • Park Entrance: adults – $15 USD/Child (12 and under) – $8/vehicle – $8 (VAT of 15% will be added to ticket price.
  • Jeep Tour Costs for up to 6 people: $40 for half day/$75 for full day

https://www.yalasrilanka.lk/
Prices and tour costs updated in April 2019

Udawalawe National Park – 27/2/2015

Udawalawe National Park was established in 1972, to create a 30 000 hectare sanctuary for animals who were displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir. Udawalawe has a herd of about 250 elephants, which are believed to have been attracted to the park because of the Udawalawe reservoir.  Other animals which call Udawalawe home include the leopard, sloth bear (seldom seen), jackal, water buffalo and deer.

We had an early morning start as it is quite a drive from where we were staying to reach Uldawalawe.  Once in the game park we stopped by a section of the reservoir for breakfast.

The most prolific species of animal we saw was definitely the elephant.  We saw them pawing the dirt, swimming, eating and in the pouring rain.

Dotted throughout the reservoir are dead trees which is a visual reminder that the land was once home to forest.

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We did see a variety of birds like storks, kingfishers and a beautiful peacock.

As we were driving around the park we had a jackal come out in front of a jeep, so we stopped to have a look.

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Tourist Information:

Park Entry Fees

  • Day visit: Adult – $15 USD/Child 6 – 12 years – $8 USD
  • Overnight visit: – $30 USD/Child 6 – 12 years – $16 USD
  • Vehicle Fees: Jeep – 250 R/Car – 125 R/Van – 250 R/Bus 650 R
  • Not there is a $8 USD service charge and 15% VAT on top of the prices

Opening Hours

  • 6 am – 6 pm

Stilt Fishermen and the Snake Conservation Centre – 28/2/2015

Written by Tristan 

Weligama Stilt Fishermen

Stilt fishing began after World War II as a result of food shortages and a lack of boats and already overcrowded fishing spots. Stilt fishing involves driving a vertical pole into the sea floor or a riverbed and then attaching a crossbar onto that vertical pole creating a seat for the fisherman, a couple of meters above the water.  It does require skill and balance to be seated in such a precarious position. The stilt fishermen then use a rod to cast out a line and bring in spotted herrings and small mackerels.  The catch is collected in a bag either tied to the pole or attached to the fisherman. Two generations of fishermen used the stilt fishing method to eek out a living along the 30 kilometre stretch of shoreline between Unawatuna and Weligama. 

Over fishing and the effect of the 2004 tsunami, which decimated the coastline, has meant that there are now very few real stilt fishermen left, most have turned to farming or other industries and rent out their stilts to those who are happy to pose for photos for the tourist.   Mum was really keen to see the stilt fishing even if it wasn’t real, so we visited the area and found some young men posing as fishermen.  3 minutes and $5 later mum had some photos and the guy was happy enough.  Apparently there are still a few genuine locals who catch small fish using the stilt method at dawn and dusk.

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Snake Farm

The snake farm is located just outside of Matara and is run by the owner, Wikman Bandera, although his father Wijepala still helps out.  The farm has been in the family for three generation.  The farm is also a Ayurveda treatment for snake poisoning.   They apparently receive up to 40 rescued snakes a day.  The have both venomous and nonvenomous snakes and only Wikman handles the venomous ones.  The first snake we were introduced to was a poisonous one, a cobra.  Apparently Wikman had already been bitten five times in the past, and his father had been bitten 32 times!

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After he put away the cobra, he took out a small viper. We got some photos of that.

Ava and mum don’t look particularly happy

The next snake was a Green Tree Snake and we had that around our necks. It was very calm, just like the next snake, a Green Vine Snake. It’s head looked like a dragon, and we all held the snake except Josh, and Max, who by this point had gone back to the van.

Green Vine Snake

Next was a large brown snake, which I can’t remember the name of, and a tiny snake, which was Ava’s favourite.

A couple more cobras were taken out, including a baby Black Cobra, and we had an Ornate Flying Snake on our arms. It was my favourite of the snakes as it was beautifully patterned. Finally we had a python on our necks, with Mum pulling horrendous faces and even Josh holding the snake.

All in all, I thought the snake center was great!

Entrance Price

  • Adults 800 rupees/children 450 rupees

Galle – 1/3/2015

Galle is located in the south-western tip of Sri Lanka.  Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, Galle was known as Gimhathiththa.  The Galle port was used long before the arrival of the Portuguese by Persians, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, Malays, Indians and Chinese.  The Portuguese fleet arrived in 1502, when on route to the Maldives they were blown off course by a storm and ended up in Galle.  Their reign was short lived, because in 1640 the Portuguese were forced to surrender to the Dutch East Indies Company.   The Dutch built the fort in 1663 and ruled the country until the British took it over in 1796.  It wasn’t until 1948 that Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was granted independence from Britain and became a republic within the commonwealth.  In 1972 the country became a republic, changing their name to Sri Lanka.

We only spent a day in Galle having decided to cut our trip short.  We unfortunately had a terrible guide for 9 days and we had, had enough.  The only thing we visited was the Galle Fort.

The Portuguese originally built a fort at Galle, but the one we see today is largely due to the dutch who constructed the thick walls or ramparts that surround the city during the 17th century.  The walls are thick enough that you can walk along them and look down at the surrounding city, the lighthouse, clock-tower and if your lucky you may see kids playing cricket.

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The clock tower

One thing I have learnt from this trip is that we are not really tour people, we are more independent travellers.  I usually research what we are going to see, book all the accommodation and car and we drive and do it ourselves.  I think we will stick to our own method of travel.

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