Dambulla Caves: Buddha Statues and Impressive Sinhala Art

We felt fresh in the morning – had a good night sleep and ate a hearty breakfast of toast, egg roti and a cup of tea (lots of tea here in Sri Lanka!) – and most of all, we were excited. We had read quite a bit on the UNESCO sites prior coming to Sri Lanka and it was our intention to see these places. We discussed with our host’s daughter, Michelle, the evening before, and she offered to arrange for a private car and driver to take us to Dambulla Caves, Sigiriya and Kandy city for US$65 a day. As it turned out, the driver was our host himself – George – we finally met him at breakfast.

George has been in the tourism industry for almost 20 years now, and he is actively running Kandy Guesthouse and Michelle Tours. George and Michelle made every effort to ensure their guests are well taken care of in the guesthouse and provided excellent service in their tour excursions for guests, not only within the nearby province but pretty much everywhere in the country. If you would like to know more about their tours, please click Michelle Tours and their reviews on Tripadvisor.

The journey from Peradeniya to Dambulla was about 2 hours (or perhaps a little longer as we stopped for more tea!). The first UNESCO site we visited was Dambulla Cave Temple. Situated in the central province of Sri Lanka, it is the largest and most well-preserved cave complex in the country. The main attraction is the 5 caves which contain statues and paintings so well-preserved in terms of design, pattern and vivid colours but according to Wikipedia, there are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area. The statues and paintings are related to Buddha and his life.

Golden Temple Sri Lanka

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Ideally, we should have hired a guide but decided not to as we wanted to appreciate the incredible Sinhala art frescoes in the caves by ourselves at our own pace. However, I have read the historical facts about the caves, and here’s a summary:

-          The caves were converted into temples by kings way back in 1st century B.C. It was also believed that the caves became an established monastery by the 2nd and 3rd century B.C.

-          Kings continued to build temples and added statues in the caves as centuries went by, thus by the 11th century, the caves became a major religious centre.

-          By the 18th century, Kandyan Kings restored and painted the caves.

The most impressive is the 5 caves under a huge overhanging rock and they were converted into shrine rooms. To access these caves, we climbed up Dambulla Rock – the climb was not steep, instead it was gradual (some locals especially old men and women climbed up bare feet!), and the view was amazing. We saw a panoramic view of the surrounding flat lands of Dambulla. Although the weather was hot and humid, there was some breeze, thus giving us some respite from the heat.

Dambulla Cave Temple

Cave No.1 (Dev Raja Viharaya or Temple of the King of the Gods)

Cave No. 2 (Maha Raja Viharaya or Temple of the Great King)      

Cave No. 3 (Maha Aluth Viharaya or The Great New Temple)

Cave No. 4 (Pascima Viharaya or The Western Temple)

Cave No. 5 (Devana Aluth Viharaya)

Is the smallest of all shrine rooms of the Dambulla Cave Temple

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If you like to read more in detail about each cave, please click The Rock Temple.

As we continued to travel for the next couple of days, we found that, overall, the Dambulla Cave Temple was the real highlight of our  trip, and it was a real treat. :-)

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Useful Information:

Visiting Hours: 7am-7pm daily

Entrance Fee: LKR 1,500 (US$11.50)

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If you have missed previous posts on my Sri Lankan travels, please click Pleasant in Sri Lanka and Peradeniya

Collecting Sulphur on Ijen Crater: Endurance and Strong

(This post is linked to Weekly Photo Challenge theme Endurance, and Ailsa’s Travel Theme Strong).

This trip was back in 2009. My friends and I climbed Mount Ijen in Java, Indonesia, to see the 1-kilometre wide acid lake crater (Kawah Ijen in Bahasa Indonesia). The colour of the lake is turquoise and is also the site of a labour-intensive sulfur mining operation whereby workers climb up and down the crater, carrying baskets of sulfur chunks by hand. Each basket of sulfur weighs about 70 kilos and some workers carry up to 90 kilos. It’s a lowly paid job. We, travellers, wear proper hiking shoes to climb up the volcano but these workers wear normal boots or sometimes just rubber slippers. They may take a breather or two but never rest long, unlike us. I was told some of them actually sprint their way up and run down the mountain with their sulfur-laden baskets!

There is a weighing station at mid-point, and this is where the workers come down and weigh the “fruits of their labour”. They do not earn a lot from this risky job – a journey made twice a day to collect sulfur for a nearby sugar refinery, an occupational hazard job which makes them susceptible to respiratory ailments – all for an average of US$15 a day. I sat there at the weighing station, taking a breather from climbing, and observed the workers arriving at the station, looking tired and worn from the journey but being paid very little.

Kandy Guesthouse in idyllic Peradeniya

In my last post on our arrival in Peradeniya Railway Station after a 3-hour train journey from Colombo, we were whisked off by our host’s driver to our accommodation for the next 3 nights. We stayed at Kandy Guesthouse, reachable from Peradeniya within 5 minutes’ drive while Kandy is only 15 minutes away. Peradeniya is famous for the Royal Botanical Gardens and is the location of the University of Peradeniya which is the second oldest in the country.

We came across Kandy Guesthouse when we were browsing for accommodation options on the net. Its 4.5 stars on Tripadvisor helped quite a lot and as we scrolled down the page reading reviews of this guesthouse, we couldn’t help but felt drawn towards it. And it had indeed exceeded our expectations.

When we arrived at the guesthouse, we were greeted by the host’s daughter, Michelle. She led us into the house and immediately brought us to our bedroom which was situated at the back of the house on the ground floor. As we climbed down the stairs to the ground floor, we heard a loud roaring sound behind the house. At first I thought it was pouring down with rain but it wasn’t raining at all. It was actually the sound of a river flowing at the back of the house!

The gardens and the river flowing behind the house.

Accommodation costs US$50 a night including breakfast. Our twin bedroom was superbly clean and neat, towels were provided and hot shower was available. No air-conditioning but a standing fan is available as the house is surrounded by greenery and lush jungle, thus the weather gets cooler by nightfall. Michelle invited us to have tea on the balcony which faces the river…my gosh, it was so idyllic. We were tired from waking up very early in the morning to catch a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo and then went on a train journey from Colombo to Peradeniya…it was so relaxing to have a cup of tea (or two) while we rested our feet with sounds of the roaring river in the background.

Our bedroom is at the foot of the stairs

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During tea, we discussed with Michelle about our plans for the next 2 days, and she was very helpful to give us advice on the places to visit, the distance from Peradeniya and other options. Prices were reasonable, so we took up on her offer as she went ahead to arrange our excursions for us. As it was already late, we decided to stay in and have dinner in the guesthouse. Dinner costs LKR1,100 (US$8.45) per person and it was absolutely delicious. Home-cooked meals of rice, chicken curry, carrots, pumpkin, beetroot, egg and pappadoms – a combination of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food as my friend is vegetarian. You know the feeling of being tired and all you wanna do is go home and eat Mum’s food? That was exactly how I felt – it was so yummy! Dessert was buffalo milk curd served in a tiny claypot and you can add coconut treacle if you like it a little sweet :-)

Tea on the balcony

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We only got a chance to walk around in the neighbourhood 3 days later – on our last day at Kandy Guesthouse – have a look at some of the pictures I took. It was 7.30am, and we walked for about 20-25 minutes soaking in the atmosphere of stillness, the landscape of lush green fields, birds chirping (we now know the sounds that squirrels make!), the occasional car and motor vehicles drove past us and the deafening horn  of the locomotive as it came rolling in the railway tracks.

With a neighbourhood like this, would you stay in an urban jungle? ;-)

 

If you would like to read more about Kandy Guesthouse, here are my reviews (Kathleen P) on Tripadvisor.

If you have missed the previous post on Colombo, please click on It’s Always Pleasant in Sri Lanka

 

 

 

It’s Always Pleasant in Sri Lanka

It was March 2014 and exactly a month after I had booked flights to Sabah in Malaysia, I was already on a look out for the next adventure. Mid-year seems to be a good season to take time off from work for a while but most of the countries in Asia have very hot and dry weather or monsoon during that season. No doubt flights and accommodation can be cheaper during that time but I prefer to travel with the right kind of weather. In that way, my experiences will be more pleasant than soaking in perspiration or rain!

I had decided on Sri Lanka for end of August. Weather is fairly balanced in Sri Lanka. No extreme dry or wet season. Even if it’s the wet season, it rains for about an hour or two, and the sun shines again. Or perhaps more cloudy days than usual.

The first time I visited Sri Lanka was in October 2009. The 25-year civil war had ended just 5 months prior to my visit. Sri Lanka was in my travel bucket list for quite some time but it was way down the list because of the war. Until a friend of mine from India who had travelled to Sri Lanka several times for business reassured us that it was safe for tourists, war or no war…and he offered to travel along with us at that time.

When I arrived in Sri Lanka in 2009, I fell in love with the island immediately. Despite the war and tight security (army roadblocks every few kilometres), there is something uniquely wonderful about Sri Lanka – gentle and lovely people, laidback lifestyle, delicious but spicy foods, beautiful greenery landscape…and the beaches are just awesome! Don’t expect the Maldives kind of beach, but there’s something about coconut trees and strong breeze from the sea, you just go…aaahhhhh…relax. Chill. Have a beer.

We had visited the city Colombo, a pit stop at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, toured the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, and went on a coastal drive to the beaches in Galle. Fast forward to August 2014 – 5 years later – I returned to Sri Lanka for a different kind of visit which was to explore the UNESCO sites in the central province.

Mini cinema on the platform

Since we were going to spend more time in the central province, we decided to be based in Kandy for 3 nights, and go on excursions to these sites from Kandy. Upon arrival at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, you could opt to hire a taxi direct to Kandy which is about 3 hours’ drive but we opted for a train journey instead. The number of travel hours by train is the same as driving but we had read internet reviews that the views on the train route were spectacular.

We took the airport taxi to Colombo Fort Railway Station and the fare was LKR2,900 (US$22). We bought the tickets online – Rajadhani Express – the route Colombo-Kandy Intercity runs daily for a price of LKR1,100 (US$8.45). The InterCity seats are available for booking every 2 weeks only but travellers will not be given an e-ticket. Instead you are required to print out a reference, validate the print-out at the railway station office and then you will be issued an actual ticket for your journey.

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The train was due to depart for Kandy at 3.35pm but we arrived at Colombo Fort about 3 hours early! Well, we factored in a couple of hours early in our schedule as the low-cost airlines which we flew into Sri Lanka sometimes have the reputation for delayed flights. We had a simple lunch of rice and curry at a café on the platform, and then after that, we just sat on a bench right in front of the TV screen to while away our time.

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The one thing I do notice about Sri Lankans is that they don’t bother foreigners at all, unlike their neighbours across the Palk Strait i.e. India. But after 7 visits to India, I’m already immuned to the stares and gawks, simply because I’m a foreigner. Only on a few occasions, I might be mistaken for a local Indian of North-East origin. Sri Lankans, however, may look at you because you’re a foreigner but they also turn away quickly to avoid embarrassment, I think. Or they just smile their pearly whites at you :-)

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So for the next 3 hours, my friend and I chatted with each other, people-watched and watched a Hindi movie played on the TV screen. After a while, perhaps due to boredom, I found myself actually following the story of the movie! Not that I understood Hindi (I might know a few words here and there) and unfortunately subtitles were in Sinhalese but it was like watching a silent movie :-) Our waiting area eventually became a mini cinema as that was the only TV screen on the platform or perhaps it was the actress, Aishwarya Rai, a popular Bollywood movie star, acted in that movie – all that attracted the crowd to the TV screen while trains came and gone.

CF-4

Which platform?

A word of advice to foreign travellers at Colombo Fort Railway Station: do obtain confirmation from the station master which platform to board the train. The platform number is not stated on the ticket and unfortunately, announcements are only spoken in Sinhalese. Even if the station master informs you of the platform number, it is also good to be observant when closer to the departure time as the train may actually depart from another platform! This is what happened to us: we were informed that the Colombo-Kandy Intercity train to depart from Platform 2 but we found out later it was actually Platform 3. We were observant to see “Rajadhani Express” displayed on the side of the train which rolled in at Platform 3, and luckily, we asked around to confirm, or else we would have missed our train!

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The train was comfortable and air conditioned, and the window was big enough for us to have a clear view of the scenery. Free wi-fi is available and you can order from the menu if you wish to have a meal on board.

The scenery was breathtaking – views of rice fields, coconut trees, villages, greenery absolutely everywhere! As the train reached closer to Kandy, the view changed to hills and mountains. I didn’t manage to take good pictures of the view because of the train movements but here are some pictures sourced from the internet.

Our accommodation was Kandy Guesthouse in Peradeniya, a village town about 8km outside of Kandy (15 minutes’ drive). We alighted at Peradeniya train station which is the station before Kandy and our host’s driver met us at the station, and off we went to our guesthouse in a tuk-tuk, with luggage and all!

Stay tuned for next few weeks on more posts on Sri Lanka!

Sardar Market in Jodhpur, Rajasthan

(This post is linked to Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Merchandise)

Back in Dec 2011, I was travelling in Rajasthan, India and stayed 3 nights in Jodhpur. I had spent some time walking around Sardar Market, a bazaar where locals come by to shop for food, shoes, fabric, accessories, second hand books, arts and crafts, you name it. I browsed through the shops, taking photos of the daily going-ons of the traders and customers, and bought a few second hand books (books by the late prolific writer Khuswant Singh, which are difficult to get in Malaysia).

Here are the womenfolk of Jodhpur selling their merchandise of bangles and accessories:

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Sardar Market is overlooked by the imposing Mehrangarh Fort, the former centre of Marwar and the largest princely state in Rajputana. The mighty Fort is huge and dominates the city.

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If you would like to read more about my adventures in Rajasthan, click Royal Rajasthan

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure!

Whether your own or someone else’s, literal or figurative, take us on a photographic adventure.

The good thing about living in Malaysia is that the various interesting places to travel in South-East Asia are within short distances – maximum 4 hours or so – and they are weekend getaways for us. A typical Malaysian would always check the next public holiday date (even better if it is a long weekend public holiday!) and start planning travels. In addition, there are a couple of low-cost airlines available within the region. As a result, we are spoiled for choices :-)

As for me, any travels that are longer than 4 hours is an adventure because that means, I would spend more than 5 days exploring the destination. My logical mind would rationalise this: why spend more time flying to a destination but only spend a few days at the destination?

The longest time I have ever been away was in May 2011 when I spent 2 weeks travelling in France. Let me take you on a photographic adventure of Paris and the French Riviera :-)

Paris

French Riviera