Adrian was up at 4.30 am after not much sleep. I had the ‘runs’ which wasn’t a good start! I got up at 6.00 am, and we left for Hilary’s around 8.00 am on a beautiful but cold winter’s day.
We had arranged for Hil to drive us to Heathrow, which was nice, except that as we were chatting, she missed the turn off. Luckily we were early, and still had plenty of time.
There’s always something, and at book-in this time it was lithium batteries which we weren't allowed in our bags, only in hand luggage. Hence Adrian had much sorting through his bag to find them! I was glad of the ‘special assistance’ which we’d booked, as I was feeling rather giddy. I didn’t relish the thought of being in a wheel chair, and being treated like a ‘patient’
I had just started back on chemo, but we had arranged to start this third lot of tablets tomorrow, after arriving in Sri Lanka.
We'd had various appointments – this last week there were eight between us! Since Christmas, when all of our family had come to Hermitage, time had gone very quickly, much of it taken up with Adrian planning this trip.
Our 10 hour flight to Colombo left at 12.35. We arrived at 4.00 am local time – 10.30 pm to us, as they are 5½ hours on. Apart from a lot of turbulence, the flight went well. We enjoyed having individual screens, but it makes for a rather antisocial time, as, with headphones on, conversation is pretty impossible. I enjoyed the film ‘Quartet’ but most of the other films didn’t interest me.
The flight attendants looked slim and attractive in their long peacock coloured outfits, which matched the décor of the plane. We were served two meals, with ‘drinks’, but like most aircraft food it was not very exciting.
A wheel chair was waiting for me on arrival which I was glad of, with the long walk. The man whizzed along, passing other people by a fraction of an inch! We thought that we were doing well, avoiding the long queue for passport control, but just as we were going through, about 30 crew came along (not all from our plane!), and took priority! We were pleasantly surprised to find that everything was written in English, with Chinese and Arabic characters too.
A lift had been organised to take us to our hotel at Negombo, which was further than we’d thought. At Hotel Lochana, we were shown upstairs to a pleasant room, with a balcony overlooking the beach. We unpacked the essentials, and fell into bed at 6.00 am (half past midnight to us).
Sri Lanka 2018
Monday 12th February Getting settled 10km
After a couple of hours sleep, we awoke to brightness, and looked out past the balcony to palm trees and a sandy beach.
I started my first day of chemo, so after taking the tablets, we went down in search of breakfast. We were the only guests as we sat overlooking the beach, where there was much activity. A hotel worker sat with us initially, calling out for a tea and a coffee for us. After about 15 minutes, these arrived. Some time later, we were served a cooked breakfast of fried egg and sausage (a no-go), and some puny warmed bread (toast). This was followed by papaya with lime.
Back in our room, we sorted all our stuff into the right bags for the next 3 weeks – at least this time there are no more flights, which necessitates resorting the bags.
We ate some cheese and biscuits which we had brought with us for lunch, sitting on our balcony. Hundreds of crows were noisily flying about the palm trees.
We had no Sri Lankan money yet, as you cannot get any outside the country and we did not get any at the airport this morning, having been whisked through!
In the afternoon we walked out along the typically Asian road, with vendors trying to entice us into their eating places, of which there were many.
We walked back along the wide sandy but grubby beach. Fishermen were still busy at their boats. Piles of floats and nets lay trustingly on the beach. The water felt really warm, but the sand shelved quite steeply.
Looking out from our balcony at Negombo
I felt exhausted when we got back – the heat, humidity, lack of sleep and chemo got to me!
The hire car arrived at the appointed time. Adrian went down to sort it out.
A bit later we went to try it out, and to get some Sri Lankan cash. Adrian was confused by the indicator switch being on the other side. Also it was an automatic, which he wasn’t used to. The unpredictable traffic – cars, buses, tuk-tuks, scooters, pedestrians was taxing too!
We drove into the busy centre of Kochchikade, and with difficulty he found somewhere to get some money, and also some booze, but it was all hard won!
There was a vibrant red sun descending as we returned to our hotel.
Fishing activity on the beach
We ate tonight at the restaurant next door, which, like our hotel, was on the beach, The setting was great, and there were other diners there, which was nice. Adrian had ‘seer’ fish steaks which looked like shark. I had calamari, which was unfortunately coated in garlic. Both came with ‘skinny’ chips. We drank a large beer each. An enjoyable first evening.
The sun goes down and we head for a beer
Tuesday 13th February The early morning fish market 34km
We went to bed early, and were both awake at 12.15 am – Adrian with mozzie bites, and me with various itches and aches.
I woke again at 6.00 am. We had wanted to go to see the fish market, which meant setting off early, but had wondered how I’d be with the chemo and side effects. Adrian was still asleep, having taken antihistamine for the mozzie bites!
I woke him, and we set off at 7.15 for the fish market. The sun was just rising as we set off for the atmospheric but hairy drive, not helped by Adrian still battling with the automatic gear box and the indicator controls on the other side. Then there was the ‘traffic’- scooters, tuk-tuks, barefooted pedestrians, often pulling carts, bicycles, lorries, buses, vehicles of all sorts, sometimes on the wrong side of the road.
We found our way to the chaos of the fish market. It was a feast for the senses – sights, sounds, and after getting out of the car, smells! Photos can describe better than words – a conglomeration of people, masses of fish of all sorts, bikes with large flat boxes on the back. Sri Lankans must be born with an extra spatial awareness sense, as they pass through spaces we wouldn’t deem possible!
It was all rather difficult for me, particularity as the ground was most uneven, and often wet and bloody from the fish. Fish were laid out everywhere – some tiny ones in baskets, some huge. Most people were busy, but several were friendly, and one tried to act as our guide (no doubt for a fee!). Atmospheric boats lined the side of the water. Having experienced and enjoyed the hustle and bustle, we drove on to the fish drying area. Fish were all laid out on the beach. The men put them in rows, then the women bent over and ‘laid them all straight’ They greeted us, and one lady got chatting to Adrian, wanting to know our names, age and where we came from. She was 52 she said.
Some images of Negombo fish market
The river, in contrast, was tranquil, with herons and crows and surrounded by lush greenery. People were still everywhere.
We stopped after this at the main fish market, which looked more orderly than the first part we’d seen. We were aware of Japanese tourists taking their photos with abandon. We had come across a few people begging. The man sitting on the ground with emaciated leg and club foot really got to me.
The fish drying area, Negombo
I felt pretty exhausted when we got back to our hotel, well ready for breakfast! Again things came very slowly. The pots of tea and coffee were lukewarm. We asked for hot water, but that wasn’t hot either! We were served fried egg with toast, and a plate of pineapple and watermelon.
Then it was back upstairs to catch up. I had to cope with the dreadful bowel problems that the chemo and associated tablets cause, so we were pleased not to be on a ‘tour’.
We had planned to go on a boat trip on the lagoon to see the birds, but I wasn’t feeling good enough for that, so later we drove down past the fish market towards the lagoon.
Negombo’s main fish market
We reached the road which went along a spit of land between the sea and the lagoon, but we couldn’t see anything at all, so we began our return journey, stopping at a large supermarket which Adrian had looked up. Here we were able to buy two tumbler glasses (there are none in our room here) to drink our aperitifs from.
There was a lot of chaotic traffic as we returned. We stopped to get some fuel, which was lucky, as Adrian found that the tank was virtually empty. We wanted to get back before dark, when driving would be even more difficult. It was 6.30 when we reached Hotel Lochana, so we just made it.
We used the new glasses to have our aperitifs from on the balcony – no tea cups tonight!
We ate just along the road at ‘Fish Hut’ walking through the property to sit at a table on the beach. We had to climb over a low bank of rocks, as the waitresses did for each item they served. We were given a portable LED light, so that we could see. I had a very different fish and chips and Adrian had tuna. Again we drank a large Lion beer.
A group of three people, two women and a man – came and sat at the next table. One of the women appeared very arrogant and assertive. They spoke English, but also conversed in a different language – we found out that they were Swedish.
When we got back, we sat on the balcony for a short while, with many stars above us.
The lagoon entrance
Wednesday 14th February Not a good start! 104km
St Valentines day – we exchanged cards – even after all these years! We'd received several emails, including a pancake poem from Joanna.
We ate breakfast downstairs again, with the pleasant staff attending. After that we took ages packing up, trying to make sure that we knew what was where.
We finally got everything into the car, feeling very hot. Then disaster! Adrian went to start the car – absolutely nothing – the battery was flat as flat! So that’s why the air conditioning didn’t ever get going while we were waiting to go!
Adrian telephoned the car hire firm, and they replied that they’d bring a new battery. This would all take time of course, as they were coming from Colombo! We sat on the terrace in the shade, overlooking the beach, and had some of our tea and coffee, watching all the activity, and the crows with the fish they’d found. A few butterflies hovered around. We walked onto the beach, before coming back to the shade, where we then ate our meagre lunch – Adrian had sandwiches with a rubbishy loaf he’d managed to buy earlier, and me some cheese with a few remaining biscuits, and a banana each.
The gentleman arrived then with a new battery, so with this installed, we set off at 12.30 for Kandy. It was 70 miles, and Adrian was told it would be 3 hours! In fact it was longer than that! It was a slow old journey!
There was very little that was open countryside. There was constant activity – stalls, people, towns, one where it was market day. There were no place names, so we never knew where we were.
The schoolchildren were noticeable in their immaculate white uniforms – the girls in white dresses with coloured ties, the boys in white shirts and trousers. The younger boys wore dark blue shorts. Young children (often two of them!) were riding pillion on scooters, just holding round the waist of the rider. Ladies with umbrellas (sunshades), were a nuisance, as they were difficult to avoid.
Occasionally there were stretches of green. We stopped to look out at a rice field, where a group of egrets had gathered.
We joined the A1 at Warakaploa.
We sat looking out over the beach before finally leaving Lochana Beach Hotel
We gasped in disbelief at the overtaking procedures, and at the buses which started and stopped at random, with no indication. Vehicles emerged from side streets without signalling, or even looking! All quite hazardous!
After Kegalla, where we passed lines of pottery stalls, we ascended into the hills, with a great green valley below. At Kadugannawa we espied the ‘National Railway Museum’ Adrian enquired, but there were no leaflets. It closed at 4.00pm, and it was now 3.30. Soon afterwards at Kiribathgoda we passed a collection of road rollers beside the road, so Adrian went to investigate. Then a train came and all the mad traffic had to stop. Having photographed that he returned to the car to find Rosie very hot!
Egrets in a rice field
The green hills at last!
The traffic now became frenetic as we neared Kandy. Adrian managed to get us through to our hotel - Janora Hills, arriving at 4.40. By now I was feeling pretty jaded!
One of the Steam Rollers in the Highways Museum at Kiribathgoda
About the only thing that stops the traffic!
We were booked in by a rather ‘official’ gentleman. We ascended by LIFT to the fifth floor, and were shown into our large, smart room – with even an extra bed. There was a tiny balcony, with a sign saying not to leave the door open at night as monkeys were rather curious! We'd hoped for a view over the lake, but this inhabited mountain view wasn’t unpleasant.
You want a tuk tuk?
We pass Kandy Lake
The bathroom was quite smart. There was also a kettle and a hair drier – but no fridge, as we knew. When Adrian enquired – he was told that there were only two, both in use, so a new one was ordered, and a brand new fridge arrived an hour or so later!
Adrian had booked us an evening meal here, as we are up a hillside, and he didn’t think that there would be eating places nearby. I was glad not to be going anywhere tonight, still feeling rather fragile from the chemo. We’d been asked what time, and we’d said 7.30. Just after that time, the phone went, to remind us. We were slightly surprised and disappointed to find that we were the only diners in the smart, large dining area. Hence we were rather ‘watched over’ by the staff who were keen to please. We were served a pleasant vegetable soup, but I hadn’t finished mine when the main course was brought – coated fish, cauli, rice and a strange bit of mashed potato. There was too much for me, and we were slightly ‘tut-tutted’ for not finishing. We were given papaya nicely served for afters. We were only offered water to drink! The cook came and chatted, along with a 9 year old boy (her son?) who shyly talked a bit.
Our mountain view from Janora Hills Hotel
Thurs 15th February Botanic Gardens, Railway museum and a Buddha 43km
At 7.15 we heard children’s voices, and looked out to see lots of little schoolgirls in their pure white dresses running up and down the hillside. One was practising cornet, and was joined by another. It was a delightful start to the day. Soon afterwards we heard beautiful singing drifting up to our room, presumably from their school.
We went down for breakfast – omelet and bacon followed by a plate of cut-up fruit – water melon, papaya, pineapple and a banana. There was some ‘yuk’ bread, which we were slightly reprimanded for not eating!
At 10.20 we left to drive through the chaotic traffic of Kandy. The lake looked lovely this morning. We were heading for the Botanic Gardens, where Adrian knew that parking would be difficult – no car park, just pull off beside the road. Miraculously we did manage to find a spot on the second attempt, double parking, but not hemming anyone in. The vast gardens were expensive (for foreigners), as we knew. I wasn’t feeling at all good. Adrian sensibly said to take my hiking stick, which was a great idea.
We headed first for the orchid house, which of course was colourful and pretty.
Delightful little girls waiting for school to start
After that, we just wandered about in the gardens, which could be compared with Kew. Our one complaint is that there was very little seating, and the few seats were of course occupied. I did ask a couple, and sat beside them for a while. It was very hot, so we enjoyed the shady areas. Adrian was asked to take a photo of a group of Chinese people, who wished us happy new year – we found out afterwards that tomorrow is Chinese New Year.
It was 12.30 when we made our way back to the entrance.
Then it was out into the traffic again. We were heading for the Railway Museum which we had passed yesterday. Adrian was convinced that he’d seen a bakers before, but we saw no such bakers. Just before the museum we did spy one, and he jubilantly got a strange ‘wedge’ of bread, and a long roll. I thought that it smelled strong, and sure enough, after a bite of the pleasant end bit, the rest was filled with a strong garlic mixture!
We went into the museum – the only visitors, so we got the attention of the ‘guides’. It was, of course, more of interest to Adrian, and I began wandering around on my own. I was still ‘grabbed’ by one of the girls, who demonstrated to me how they use the tablet on single line tracks.
She then led us down into one of the carriages, where we were shown a video, with subtitles, of railways in Sri Lanka. The tracks here are all broad gauge – Brunel would have liked that! The museum was in part of the station, so people were waiting on the opposite platform, and schoolboys walked along the line.
Kandy Botanic Gardens
Then it was back to Kandy, where the road was luckily much quieter now. We diverted to look in at Kandy War Cemetery, which, like all war cemeteries was beautifully kept. It was set amongst lush vegetation. You had to step over a narrow channel of water to get in!
The National Railway Museum
Now we followed a circuitous route uphill, which led to a large Buddha. To access this, we had to first deposit our shoes, then (‘having covered up’- I put on my parea, which had doubled as a sheet last night as we only had a duvet), climb many stairs to the Buddha (Bahiravokanda Vihara). The views down to the lake were great!
Kandy War Cemetery
Back down by the lake, we went on a fruitless wild goose chase to pass the hotel of an eccentric person called Helga, and got back to Hotel Janora Hills at 4.50.
We ate at the restaurant downstairs again. There was another couple here tonight, using it as a restaurant, not staying here.
We had noodle soup, followed by fish in a spicy sauce. It turned out to be tuna. It was served with noodles. For afters we were given fruit.
We came back upstairs and started the website. The computer was running very slowly, and was missing out every letter after an apostrophe, so was hard going.
Buddha - Bahiravokanda Vihara and the view down to Kandy Lake
Friday 16th February The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic 49km
It was a fine morning again, with the schoolgirls playing happily on the steep steps before school started.
I asked for scrambled egg for breakfast, and the women said no, and offered sausages – she had thought that I’d said hamburgers! We did get our scrambled egg, after some flavoured cornflakes, and followed again by a plate of fruit. The people here are certainly keen to please.
Today we took a tuk tuk down to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, the most important Sri Lankan Buddhist site. It apparently houses a tooth of the Buddha.
The tuk tuk ride was quite hairy, as we’d imagined. The whole site, situated beside the lake, was seething with people, including dozens of school groups, all in their immaculate white uniforms.
There were steps to climb, and we had to go through ‘men’ and ‘women’ gateways to be checked that we were appropriately dressed!
People were carrying gifts of lotus flowers, which were being sold from kiosks
Shoes had to be removed again – we put ours into our bags, rather than leave them in the piles as others had done, or handed them in. Adrian had thoughtfully said to bring socks to wear, which much improved things.
We followed the crowds – we realise that locals walk as they drive – push past in spaces which seem impossible to us. Somehow we were never asked for our tickets – we hadn’t seen where to buy them until we left. I was finding it all a bit difficult with all the swarms of people and the ups and downs. I couldn’t face the final climb up more steps to the room of the actual relic, which apparently you don’t see anyway!
A journey by tuk tuk
We found our way back to the exit, beside the lake, which was still busy, but more peaceful. We looked out to birds - a pelican and Indian cormorants. Across the lake we could see the Buddha (Bahiravokanda Vihara) we had visited yesterday, high on a hill.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
We walked back along the lakeside. Unfortunately the path was being dug up, so the supposedly pleasant walk was not so good - half the path was cordoned off and it was busy.
In the centre of Kandy, we walked around a bit, and Adrian got some cash from an ATM (the hotel wants to be paid in cash again).
We got a tuk tuk back to our hotel, and enjoyed a late coffee. The schoolgirls obviously had playtime, so were back on the hillside.
We left again at 1.50, after having lunch. Adrian had thought that we’d drive into the hills – but had forgotten that Sri Lanka has habitation almost everywhere, and there were few green spaces!
First of all we were back into the chaotic traffic, then we headed northeastwards, towards the Victoria Reservoir. This seemed to be illusive. We spied some water in the distance and followed a road towards it, which became a narrow track, but still with unbelievable traffic to negotiate! Once we found a spot wide enough to turn round, we returned to the road and continued back to Kandy by a different route, driving through one village or town after another. At Menikhinna I spotted a supermarket, and as we needed a large bottle of drinking water (the hotels all supply some, but we get through a lot) we wanted to stop. Easier said than done, as we’d just passed it. It took two diversions before we eventually pulled in right outside the shop – there was no parking space. The shop was very untidy, and didn’t have much to offer – all the crisps etc. were flavoured - we bought some wheatbran crackers. We located a small bottle of water, but on enquiring, they did have large bottles in the storeroom upstairs.
On our way back through Kandy in the chaos, someone knocked our mirror cover off in a typically stupid Sri Lankan overtaking manoeuvre. Luckily some helpful people picked it up before it was crushed in the traffic chaos and Adrian could fit it back on when we got to Janora Hills at 4.15.
Tonight when we went down to eat, they had cooked us a Thai curry meal. The young girl had obviously gone to great effort. Sadly, although we’d said no strong spice, it was still too spicy for us. With the mound of rice came 6 or 7 bowls of various things, including manioc (we’d had that in Cape Verde), fish in curry sauce and ladies fingers (okra). They came to see if we were enjoying it – even the young boy, who reminds us of Manolo.
For afters we were brought sliced banana with yogurt and honey.
Two other diners came to the next table – a pleasant couple from near Munich. They said that this was the best food they’d had in Kandy. They also pointed out that only the fifth floor of the hotel is taken, the rest isn’t finished. That explained why the lift still had its part torn wrappings on it - they still had stuff to be brought up. As the owners had said, they’d only been running it for four months.
Schoolboys entering the temple
The Buddha across the lake
Saturday 17th February A spice garden, the Golden Buddha and a jungle retreat 136km
It was busy at breakfast with a family of 5 (2 girls and a boy – made us think of Paul & Nicky’s family), and a local, plus the German couple and another man.
We were amused by three monkeys running along the wires round the building, and jumping up and down on them. The children were really excited by them.
Back up to our room in the lift with its ‘lift music’ and ding-a -ling when we reached our floor, like times of old.
We left at 10 o’clock. We'd really enjoyed this hotel, where they really wanted to please.
Back round the lake, and then north through constant habitation. At Alawatugoda Junction Adrian spied a bakers, and we bought an inch long loaf – like the two ends joined together!
Soon afterwards we were amused at the tuk tuk bread van which we followed for some way, playing music like an icecream van!
At Matale we stopped for fuel. We knew that after here there were lots of spice gardens which you could visit. We stopped at one, Surathura, which seemed to be a good choice as later we saw others with coachloads of people at them. We were given a free tour by a very likeable young guide, who was 3 years into his training in herbal medicine. After a sample of pleasant herbal spice tea, he showed us each plant, with a small sample to see of its seeds or oil. We were shown all sorts, some which we’d seen before. There was curcumin, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and many others. It was all in an attractive jungle garden. We stopped in a hut, where he talked about the different remedies. I was then given a ‘free’ massage of my shoulders and neck by another man. That was very welcome! We made a ‘donation’ of course.
It ended, as we’d expected, at the shop, with its shelves of herbal potions – at a price. You could have your pulse taken by a ‘witch doctor’ who would tell you about your health. We said that we didn’t need to know that. Our guide seemed genuinely moved when Adrian said about my brain tumour.
It was now past lunchtime, but as there is never a place to stop, we wondered what we would do. Fortunately we were able to pull into a shady area beside the road to have our lunch. This wasn’t easy, as it meant cutting up the ‘inch long loaf’ to eat with our cheese. We wondered how we used to manage with all our children in the car when it was wet, and we had to eat inside!
Driving on, we stopped by a kapok tree with its large white seedheads. We’d noticed these trees, which we’d seen in Central America and other places.
We knew that there was an important Buddhist site at Dambulla, but had driven right through the town (no signpost) before we realised. We backtracked, and found our way to the entrance to the climb up to the special cave. I knew that this was a no go, as it was a 20 minute climb up a steep hillside. Anyway, the ticket office was somewhere else, at an unknown place! Instead, we headed for the Golden Temple. This you didn’t actually go inside, so we didn’t need to have covered ourselves up. There was a large Buddha above an ornate building, but I was more interested in the surrounding plants – bougainvillea, frangipani and lots more. There were monkeys too. We had to pay for parking – but at 25p, we didn’t mind!
The tuk tuk baker’s van
In the spice garden
Now we made our way to Giritale, where we are staying for the next three days. The road now was good, and went past a jungle sanctuary which we hope to visit. Adrian actually spied an elephant beside the road. The drive up to our hotel was through this jungle, with wonderful sounds all around. It was a once grand place, but still quite marvellous, if not with the friendly feel of the previous two family hotels. We were given a pleasant juice drink while we booked in, then shown upstairs to our room. From here we had a fantastic view down over the lake, and the sanctuary beyond, where we spied an elephant by the lake.
As soon as we’d got all our luggage, we went down to the pool for a refreshing swim, again with marvellous views over the lake and jungle.
The Golden Temple at Dambulla
Back in our room we enjoyed an ouzo aperitif, a present from Emma.
Supper tonight was a very different affair from the previous hotel. The dining area was very busy with people tucking into a buffet style meal. This is good value for people with huge appetites! We found enough things for us, but there really wasn’t a lot that we fancied, much of it being spicy.
We came back up and did a bit more of the website.
The sun goes down at Giritale
Sunday 18th February Ancient sites and elephants 35km
It was lovely to look out over the lake in the early morning from our room. We spotted an elephant on the far side of the lake.
Breakfast was buffet style. The chef cooked us good scrambled egg.
Afterwards we booked a jeep safari trip for this afternoon.
At 9.30 we left for Polonnaruwa, arriving at 10 o’clock by the museum. We bought our expensive tickets, and had a quick look in the museum, but knowing that both time and energy levels were limited, we didn’t stop long.
You couldn't take photos, and they had no plan of the massive ancient site. We enjoyed seeing the antics of the monkeys outside, in the lovely setting by a lake.
We concentrated on some of the major sites, starting with the ruins of the Royal Palace, the Audience Hall, or Council chamber, and the Bathing Pool. The vendors were all out in force - we did buy a model tuk tuk and an attractive elephant puzzle for Edward.
Looking across the lake to see an elephant
Next we headed for the Quadrangle area, which was really busy with tourists. There are so many ancient ruins here, so we can only hope to get a glimpse.
The Royal Palace
The council chamber
The bathing pool
We drove on to Ranihot Vicara, a huge Dagoba, but devoid of all the crowds. By the time we reached Lankatilaka it was too hot for me, but Adrian walked on to see the headless Buddha.
The Quadrangle area
The final site in this part of the complex Gal Vihara, was too far to walk in the heat, so we drove on to the gate. The man there said that we’d missed the ‘very beautiful’ site. It was now 12.30, and we needed to get back to be ready for our 2.30 safari.
Ranihot Vicara dagoba
Lankatilaka - the headless Buddha
When we reached our room, we were surprised to find the bed covered in bougainvillea blossoms. A man knocked on the door soon afterwards. He didn’t speak English, but proudly wanted us to know that he’d decorated it. He’d also fixed the lamp.
We ate our simple lunch, and then managed a quick swim before preparing for the safari.
At 2.30 the jeep arrived. Contrary to what we were expecting, it was just for us. We travelled for half and hour to Kaudulla National Park. For me it was not good, as we bumped around on the uneven roads- it didn’t help that they were digging the road up for most of the way. When we got to the park entrance, Adrian asked the car driver if I could sit in the front, which I did – so Adrian spend the whole of the time standing up in the back on his own.
We then entered the park, known for its elephants. We did see plenty of them, plus different monkeys, eagles, peacocks – one displaying beautifully and bees on a tree. Our driver didn’t speak English, except to say - ’monkey’, ‘eagle’ so there wasn’t much conversation!
It was 5.30 when we left the park, getting back to Giritale Hotel at about 5.45, just as the sun was descending beautifully across the lake. It had been a good safari, but strange not to be able to share anything with each other.
Supper tonight was very different from last night, as there were very few people, not the hordes of before. We find the waiters and staff very attentive and pleasant.
Some of the elephants in Kaudulla National Park plus a peacock
Another beautiful morning with our exquisite view. When we went down to breakfast, one of the workers was arranging flower heads in the large bowls of water near the entrance.
Monday 19th February More ancient sites 91km
While we were eating, a large group of teenage French children from near Paris arrived. It was interesting to see their excitement, mixed with being a bit unsure about everything.
At 9.30 we set off to drive to Sigiriya, another ancient site. As we reached the small shop at the end of the long hotel drive, a monkey stole a banana and raced up to the roof to eat it!
The roads were quiet this morning. It took about an hour to reach Sigirya. We’d stopped to look at a black capped kingfisher.
The flowers were changed each morning
The thing to do at Sigiriya is to climb a huge rock to view some ancient sites. We weren’t going to do that, but there are also some lovely gardens at the base. However the entrance fee is $30 each! We'd hoped that there might be a fee for the gardens only, or that we could creep in there before paying. It was not to be! We drove right around the area, fringed by a moat, and parked near some coaches, next to a large termite mound! We were actually near the exit, and were going to try walking in that way. Unfortunately we were accosted by a tuk tuk driver who wanted to drive us around, or we might have made it!
A lovely black capped kingfisher
We decided to drive around more ourselves, where we’d read that there were more sites to see. This proved to be a good move. We had some views of the huge rock, and did in fact try to walk in from a different point, but were spied, so set off towards Pidurangula. This is another huge rock which you could climb. Nearby we found a shady archaeological site where we were able to stop by the road. This was wonderful – beautifully looked after ancient monuments, and virtually nobody else around. It was quiet and peaceful, with just the sounds of birds in the high trees, and with butterflies hovering around.
Having had a good look around, we sat on one of the walls and ate our lunchtime sandwiches – perfect!
Sigiriya and its moat
A bit further along we stopped by another site, with a Buddha and a dagoba and a view of the big rock - again just us, really tranquil.
The road back to Giritale was initially narrow, with sandy sides and often a steep drop off. We wonder why it is always us that has to go ‘off road’ when another vehicle approaches!
Near Minnreriya NP we passed an elephant beside the road.
A nearby Buddha and dagoba
We got back to our room at 2 o’clock. The bed was decorated even more prettily than yesterday!
We had a swim in the lovely pool at the second attempt – the first time it was packed out with the French children.
Little ground squirrels scampered along the rafters as we watched the sun go down beautifully, sitting with our ‘sundowners’. We knew that supper time would be busy, so went down early, ahead of the French children. It was a good last meal here. One waiter has been particularly pleasant, getting a Union Jack flag for our table, and going for cutlery when I came back without a spoon for my dessert. (He got a tip). I spoke to the staff with the French students. They said that they were aged 14-17. They were keen to know if they were noisy or disturbing us. We said on the contrary, we were pleased to see them.
We were greeted by geckos as we came back to our room at 8.30, working more on the website.
Tuesday 20th February Ancient ruins on the way to Anuradhapura 115km
The view across the lake looked even more beautiful this morning.
Breakfast was unexpectedly quiet. Our special waiter had put a posy of flowers with ‘goodbye’ written with buds!
Just a few of the French school party came in, including the leaders – they were about to leave in their coach. Adrian saw one girl latecomer being frogmarched to the waiting coach – she had overslept! We spoke to the French family with two little girls. They came from Toulouse. One had celebrated her birthday on Sunday (the waiters had brought her a lighted cake) – she was 8 and her sister was 10. They were very shy when we talked to them.
Clearing up took ages, and paying the bill took even longer! Hence it was gone 9.30 when we left. People were busy cleaning. It had been a really lovely stay here.
As we were driving the first part of the way on a road we had travelled several times, it seemed time to play our music on the ipod.
We were travelling to Anuradhapura today, with one planned stop at the ancient site of Ritigala. The road off to here was 5½ km on a narrow paved road, followed by 2 km along a narrow sandy track.
We reached the parking place and attempted to view some of the ruins. These are set amongst forest greenery of ‘Ritigala Strict Nature Reserve’. We paid our small entrance fee, and were asked to take a photo of the one plan they had! We were told that the first part was difficult, but that later it was OK. Well! None of it was OK! The first part was more than difficult – scrambling up uneven rocks. Luckily we wore our walking shoes, and had our sticks.
Our waiter and his special ‘goodbye’
After ages, we reached some sort of ruin, and continued through the jungle – all wonderfully atmospheric. When we reached number 2 site, and we knew that there were 13! we decided to call it a day! Adrian pushed on to the next lot of ruins, but didn’t find them very exciting, so we began our downward journey. Several other people were walking, including a couple with two small girls and many older people. We spoke to a couple who live in Cardiff, but have a sister in Essex Street, Newbury, where John & Jacky live!
I’d enjoyed the wild setting and the butterflies- especially beautiful blue ones, and yellow too. There were monkeys round the parking area as well.
After we’d made the descent, we ate our sandwich for lunch sitting on a log, watched by a nice black dog with white tipped tail – he enjoyed my scraps! Another dog joined him, but was too late! Just as we were leaving at 1 o’clock, a group of cyclists arrived, having cycled that long track.
On the way back to the road we saw a snake scuttle away.
We drove on – Adrian was enjoying the good, quiet road today, but you still couldn’t let go of your guard. We saw rice being cut by machine.
Soon we came to an area of shallow water on either side of the road at Ganewalpola. We stopped for a while, looking at a variety of birdlife – including a red wattled lapwing, an Indian pond heron, and a purple swamphen.
We stopped for fuel, then just before Anuradhapura we passed a large stretch of water which was being used for washing and swimming, and also had a lot of birds. There were some huge dagobas nearby – tomorrow we intend visiting some of the many sites here.
We arrived at our hotel Gamodh Citadel Resort at 3.15. It looked a beautifully luxurious place surrounded by lots of greenery, and with an exotic looking swimming pool. We had a large room with a sitting area, a bathroom with a huge jacussi bath, and a large balcony. After a cup of tea sitting here, we made our way to the delightful pool for a refreshing swim, listening to the birds in the palms around us.
Ganewalpola where we saw lots of birds including a red wattled lapwing
We had aperitifs on the balcony – quite beautiful with all the lights shining amongst the trees - and then the sound of Abba’s ‘I had a dream’ came floating down!
We ate in the restaurant – the only diners – others were eating outside, which we might do tomorrow (if Adrian sprays himself against mozzies!) Our fish meals were good, and we drank a Lion strong beer 8.8% (which knocked us out!). Other diners arrived as we left.
The lovely pool at Gamodh Citadel resort
Wednesday 21st February Around Anuradhapura 35km
There were only two other people at breakfast, so we felt a bit ‘watched over’! We were brought a thick fresh juice. The bacon which came with our egg was not my image of nice crispy bacon! The toast was cold and pale. No chance of any extras to take with us for lunch today!
We left at 9.30 to see some of Anuradhapura. There are hundreds of sites here, so we were only going to get a glimpse.
We pulled in beside the road for me to take a photo of deep pink water-lilies in a large pond, with a dagoba up behind. A guard beckoned to me and said ‘come here’. I thought that he was going to reprimand me, but no, he showed me a better place to take the photo from! He then gave us both a stick of cane sugar!
We headed first for the number one site – the sacred Bodhi tree. Hundreds of ‘pilgrims’ were visiting here, most wearing white, a holy colour, and very many with offerings of flowers. There were stalls everywhere selling them.
The next part all got lost on the computer, so here is a precis.
Hundreds of people, very devout. No shoes or hats – very hot! Lots of shrines and offerings.
Religious banners hanging out like a ‘knicker line’!
Dogs in shade, cows, egrets, monkeys.
Looking past the water lilies to the dagoba
Nearby site Lowamapahaya (Brazen Palace) – once had bronze roof – now just mass of columns – was 9 storeys high.
Adrian by the holy flag ‘knicker line’
The offerings of flowers
A young sacred Bodhi tree
Devout holy man praying
Part of the stone floor
Sri Maha Bodhi, Anuradhapura
Ruvanvelisaya dagoba, which we’d passed yesterday. Very hot. Lots more people and offerings. Surrounded by 344 carved elephants
Lowamahapaya (Brazen Palace)
Went to Food City to buy things for lunch, then bakers for rolls – found frankfurter in my croissant!
Back to hotel 1.00. Men hadn’t cleaned our room - we waited on balcony.
Back into Anuradhapura in afternoon. Royal Palace gardens – Isurumuniya Vihara - Cave Temple, first – viewed from outside. Schoolboys talked to us cheekily but shyly.
Ruvanvelisaya dagoba with its hot steps to climb
Some of the 344 carved elephants which surround it
Women workers moving soil in the intense heat - 34°C today
Into vast area of Royal Park/Gardens.
Climbed up to some huge rocks where Adrian looked at some rock art.
As we drove back, we could hear chanting. Orange ‘bunting’ was across the road - we wonder if something special is going on.
It was 4.40 when we got back to Gamodh Citadel Resort. Just beforehand, we’d seen a beautiful tortoise on the road. We returned to look at it – luckily someone had moved it to the side of the road.
Isurumuniya Vihara - Cave Temple
Rock art in the Royal Gardens
We drove on a bit to Vessagiriya, an area of huge rock boulders, making us think of places in Australia. This was a former rock monastery. We wandered around in the heat, climbing up to be amongst the boulders. In the distance we could see several dagobas. As we left, a peacock paraded about.
Bright orange bunting by the Buddhist Centre
Vessagiriya cave monastery, with dagobas in the distance
We had a well deserved delicious swim in the gorgeous pool, surrounded by Royal Palms, and with exotic birdsong.
Afterwards I had a bath in the ‘spa’ bath, but no way did it ever get deep enough for that, especially as it leaked out over the floor! Adrian even did some washing in it!
Then it was time for aperitifs on the balcony. A ground squirrel and a monkey scampered past!
We ate our meal outside tonight. The food was a long time coming but the seafood dishes were good, and the setting was great. A white and grey cat enjoyed the scraps!
Why did the tortoise cross the road?
Thursday 22nd February To the east coast 134km
We had our breakfast in the ‘garden’, starting in the shade, but then the sun reached us.
We'd read that evangelist Billy Graham had died, aged 99.
Packing up always takes an age, so it was 9.30 before we left. This hotel had been really pleasant and in beautiful surroundings – near the town, but very rural.
We had to drive back into Anuradhapura before travelling north east to the coast. This gave us the chance to see one or two more sites. We passed an area of water (called a tank here), where we saw lots of birds – a crowd of cormorants, lots of openbills, a heron, stilts and an ibis.
We could see various dagobas, including Thuparama.
An Asian openbill and a black headed ibis
Jetavanarama dagoba was huge – it apparently is made of 90 million bricks, which could build a 3 metre wall from London to Edinburgh!
We didn’t get to see Abbhayagiri dagoba, although that is also massive. We'd passed two ancient ponds, and were just crossing a junction, when there was a banging on the car. It was a guard, who said that we must have tickets. He didn’t seem to speak English, or understand that we were just passing, and weren’t going to visit anything.
We now left Anuradhapura, but a few miles further on, we drove through Mihintale, which also had a dagoba on a hill, and lots of associated sites. We could just glimpse the dagoba above the trees. We came to a gate across the road. A man approached and said that we needed tickets, but could visit the museum free. We should have done. He wanted to know, like most people ‘where you from?’
The twin ponds of Abbhayagiri dagoba
We passed another large stretch of water, where there were openbills and cormorants.
Finding a place to stop for lunch was difficult, as always. We finally found a bit of sandy ground to pull onto, opposite a roadside shrine. A couple stopped on a motor bike –she wearing a long flowing peach coloured dress - and crossed the road to light a candle. Beside the shrine, and man had set up his meagre stall with a few vegetables on it.
Some miles on, we reached the sea at Nilaveli, turning off onto a sandy track where a man in short blue check ‘skirt’ was leading his flock of skinny goats. We could see the sea beyond the pale orange sand. It looked glorious, but this wasn’t where our hotel was!
The roadside shrine where a man had his simple stall and a couple came to light a candle
We found that down another track – Cardamon Hotel - a smart hotel right, on the beach, with a swimming pool beside the sea.
We were given an orange drink before being shown to our large room, overlooking the pool and beach. The four poster bed had mosquito nets around it, and there was a nice balcony.
We reach the east coast
It wasn’t long before we made our way to the beach, where Adrian got a ‘wetting’ from the sea, then we both swam in the pleasant pool.
Back upstairs, we had a cup of tea on the balcony.
The track to Cardamon Hotel
Our grand bed
We ate our meal outside. We'd both ordered seafood rice, but were brought a plate of chips first, and a fresh fruit salad sundae afterwards. The seafood seemed to be mostly crab, served in its claws, so a messy business!
Afterwards we walked down to the peaceful beach before coming back to work a bit more on the website.