This is going to be a longer post covering all the places I visited in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Hope its still a good read.
Dambulla Cave Temple : The monastery is still a functional temple and is one of the best preserved and impressive edifice of ancient Sri Lanka. It is on the Kandy-Jaffna road and you can easily get a tuk-tuk from the Dambulla bus stop or a local bus. I am not sure if the buses plying towards Kandy would drop you off at the entrance of the temple. There is an entry fee of 1500lkr and the ticket counter is behind the cave. From the entrance you climb quite a way up and reach a small plateau where usually there are vendors selling artifacts, and then you walk downwards, take a right at the end of the road and you should hit the counter. There are no directions about this and you may have to ask the vendors or other guides to help you out. If you have a hired car there is route which will take you to the backside counter directly and the drivers seem to know about this.
As seen from the entrance gates, actual cave temples are behind this temple
The cave temples which are embedded into the rock
Although there are supposedly more than 80 documented caves the Cave temple complex open for visitors consists of 5 caves. Among these the first and the second cave are pretty impressive. The first cave called the “Cave of the Divine King” houses the impressive reclining statue of Buddha which is cut out of a single rock. And I had to agree with one of the guides that this statue of Buddha must be one of the best reclining statues that you come across Sri Lanka.
The main statue of reclining Buddha in Cave 1
Innumerable statues at Cave 2
Several Hindu gods are also seen along with the statues of Buddha
All the caves have distinctive paintings all over the cave depicting life of Buddha and his teachings. One that caught my eye was a depiction of the tussle between the good and the evil with a painting of Buddha sitting with his disciples in the center. The second cave is a huge cave housing a large number of statues along with a small dagoba towards one end of the cave.
As you step out of temple the surrounding view is very picturesque.
Beautiful hills around the cave temple
Sigiriya : The famous Lion Rock is around 19kms from Dambulla with frequent buses plying between the two. The bus stops right in front of the park with the ticket counter being a 1km walk from here (mud road). Again the ticket is priced very high, 30USD for foreigners and 15USD for SAARC nationals. Due to this high cost many visitors opt instead trekking the Pidurangala rock for 500LKR which is in the same area. You will miss out the ruins at the Sigriya but I was told by the couple who stayed in the homestay and trekkked the Pidurangala rock that you get great views of the Sigriya rock itself.
Sigiriya Rock as seen from outside
Pidurangala rock as seen from Sigiriya an alternative trek
The entrance opens at 7am and I was suggested by my host at the homestay to start early as the crowds would then be much lesser. So I was at the Dambulla bus stand around 6:30am entering the entrance gates a little after 7 am with quite a crowd around me. You walk through the long section of the water gardens before you start the climb itself giving you breathtaking veiw of the rock. I made a mistake just walking by this section intending to spend more time on my way back, however it is worthwhile to spend sometime around here as there is a separate exit path you can take which will take you through the Cobra Hood Cave, the huge rock seat etc. No shops after the entrance gate so advisable to carry enough water with you.
The water gardens at the lower levels of the rock
The climb itself is like in 2 sections, the first part, quite a steep climb which is through the jungle surrounding the rock taking you to a plateau on which this huge 200mts high rock sits. Its like as though the rock was neatly placed over this plateau by mother earth. The base of the rock has the manmade lion paws carved out with steps to start the climb up. I read that there are 1200 steps but not sure if this is just the steps up the rock or overall from the water gardens. The steps take you up a clyindrical section where you can view a few frescoes (no photographs allowed), just a few of them visible now though at one point the entire face of the hill is suggested to be covered with them. Next you walk by the “Mirror Wall”, most of the wall now vandalized with scribbles however still one can imagine the magnificence of walking by here seeing yourself in this smoothly polished wall as a mirror. Finally you reach the summit and the ruins of the kingdom that must have once flourished here. The first thought that came to my mind was how did they manage getting up here and building a fortress in those times and the city to have flourished for nearly 15years.
Maginificent 200mts high rock view around 7am
The Lion paws that been carved into the rock
Ruins on the roof of the rock
Several such tanks are seen on the rock used for storing water
History states that the fortress and city was built by King Kashyapa after he murdered his father and usurping the throne from the rightful heir his brother Moggallana. He moved the capital from Anuradhapura to this Rock to fortify his rule. Currently the entire surface is in ruins with just the few inches of the walls of the citadel and the fortress to be seen. Still very much worth the climb and the ticket price. And to add to the experience after about an hour or so it rained. It was a sight to observe the dark clouds brewing up and moving over the rock pelting us with showers. Was completely drenched with all of us hudled under the very few trees found on the rock and after the downpour all of us were like “wow that was an experience”. Soon after this I started my climb down with the exhilarated feeling of accomplishment.
Me with a big smile of accomplishment, around 11:30am with huge crowds
Kandy : Main city of the Central province and also the capital of the province. With Kandy being a UNESCO heritage site and housing the famous Temple of Tooth relic Sri Dalada Maligawa becomes a must stop in Sri Lanka making it either a one day trip from Colombo or for longer stays. It is well connected to all major areas and getting to Kandy by train or bus is very easy. Lots of AC buses plying on the Jaffna-Kandy highway too.
Its a quaint little city with the old buildings still maintained possibly because of the UNESCO requirements with modern establishments like the banks and offices taking over part of them. The city resides over a hill with it slopping down to the Temple of the tooth relic and the adjacent lake.
Kandy as seen from Arthurs Seat Viewpoint, one of the best views
Places of visit :
1. The Tooth Relic Temple. There is an entry fee into the temple for foreigners 1500LKR and 700LKR for SAARC nationals. The altar doors to the relic which is placed in a golden case is open only for the evening ceremonies. So apt to get here late afternoon spend some time taking in the beautiful interior architecture of the temple, walk around the 2 floors of the temple and the grounds surrounding it . There is a museum, the entrance of which is towards the back and on the upper floors of the same building itself, is worth a visit and can be entered using the same ticket. Also the gallery of drawings tells a good story of the journey of the tooth relic. The World Buddhist museum which is housed in a different building behind the temple has an additional 500LKR entrance so I didnt visit it. There is a huge pillared hall on the left where you can spend some time along with a place to light lamp and incense sticks. Around 5:30 or so head back into the temple to the first floor where the tooth relic is placed to get into the queue which will take you as close to the doors with a few seconds of view of the casket once the doors open. Very crowded with both locals and tourists. The evening ceremonies on the ground floor has the musicians performing their ritual. There are many smalls temples around the complex which is worth going around when the doors to the deities are opened in the evenings.
Temple of Tooth Relic, Kandy
The altar on the ground floor opens for the evening ceremonies only
Altar on the first floor which houses the Tooth Relic in a golden casket
The Lamp house and the incense stand area
2. Kandy Lake along with Arthurs Seat Viewpoint. Its a good walk around the lake and then you can either take a tuk-tuk to get to the viewpoint or there is a nice little pathway from the base of the lake near the Wales/Royal Palace Park leading you uphill to the viewpoint. Great views of Kandy city and this was the only time I could appreciate the fact of the city being a UNESCO heritage site.
3. Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue. The statue can be seen from anywhere in Kandy and yes you can go all the way to the Vihara.
4. Kandy Cultural Show. The Show is at the Lake club adjacent to the Temple of Tooth Relic. Show starts at 5:00p but preferable to get there early to get a good seat. Costs 1000LKR.
5. Ceylon Tea Museum. I was told that this is different from visiting the tea factories of Ella or Nuwara Eliya as this is more a museum. So yes if you have time worth a visit.
6. Udawatta Kele Sanctuary. This was actually very close by to the homestay I was at and would have loved to explore it however reading the reviews on how deserted most trails are and me travelling solo I opted out. But if you are staying for longer in Kandy surely worth a half day visit from all that I heard about the park.
7. Pinnawale Elephant Orphanage. This would be a half/full day trip out of Kandy being about 45kms away. You may not get a direct bus to the orphanage but you should be able to get down at the Karundupana junction on the Colombo-Kandy highway. Even if you say you want to go to Pinnawale most bus drivers and conductors will let you know where you need to get down. From this junction you can take any bus that turns towards Rambukana and get down right in front of the orphanage. The elephants are brought down to the river at specific timings so its a sight to see them enjoy the water bath and then later the mud bath. There are many shops on both sides of the pathway leading to the river so time to shop especially the stuff made of elephant poop. Although the prices here were almost similar at Galle, some were even lesser at Galle with better collections. I was at the orphanage in the afternoon so waited for the feeding sessions of the smaller elephants before heading out. All said really an experience but if you are planning on visiting Ududwalawe National Park you can totally miss this as the national park is full of wild elephants and seeing the elephants here is a much better experience.
The river where the elephants enjoy their baths
Elephants enjoying the mud bath after they have rolled around in the water
8. For longer stays here you can also visit the Botonical garden, and nearby temples
Nuwara Eliya : The train journey from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, Ella, Horton Plains etc is highly overrated. Yes it does give you great views of the mountains and the tea estates but I am sure taking a bus is as picturesque. Especially if you are from India sitting on the train steps, swinging by the door is nothing new. The train is packed, the second class train tickets that are sold at the railway station on the day of travel is not limited to the number of seats available. So even if you get a ticket does not guarantee you a seat. I am really not sure how reserving a second class ticket works as it was same coaches that were opened for both the earlier booked tickets and the tickets brought on the day of journey. There was no way I could get into the train in the second class coach so I just got into the third class coach, got talking to the locals near me and was offered a seat by one of the men and we shared the seat for some distance till one set of locals disembarked a few stations later.
The much talked about Train from Kandy to Nanuoya
A view from the train, tea plantations with pines tree forests
Aptly named Little England the area is full of tea estates. So visit a tea factory, walk around the tea estate and get to some of the waterfalls around the area. I visited the Pedro Tea estate which charges 200LKR. They show you the tea making process and then you can buy some tea and of course you get treated to their tea that is brewed at the time of your visit. Since I was staying closeby I was able to enjoy a long walk in the tea estate, should have done the Lovers leap waterfall which is closeby too however thought would do it the next day and never did make it. A guest at the homestay had hired a tuk-tuk for a day and so shared the same along with him and we visited the Ramboda Waterfalls, almost 1 hour trek up the mountain to get to the waterfall but totally worth it. Visited a strawberry farm, Mackwood tea estate (no entry fee) and stopped by several smaller waterfalls that we saw on the way.
Lush tea gardens a common site at Nuwara Eliya
Ramboda Waterfalls a good 1 hr trek up the mountain, worth the effort
From Nuwara Eliya I traveled on to the south to the beaches stopping by Uduwalwe National Park for a day. But as I passed by Ella and got glimpses of the mountains I was like I should have made this a part o my iternary too spending a day or two in this part of Sri Lanka. So Ella , Ohiya, Horton Plains National Park, which all come under the Uva province, places for my next visit and should attempt to climb up the Adams Peak.