Sri Lanka: Culture, Caves, and Rocks Kandy, Anuradhapura, Dambulla, and Pidruangala

Kandy: Drums & Buriani

“Hello, my friend! Where are you from?”, is how most conversations in Kandy started. That’s how we met a guy who, after asking what we were looking for – tea in bags – lead us through Kandy and into back alleys probably no tourists ever venture into. Instead of just sending us to the supermarket, he went with us from shop to shop (and there are lots of tea shops around here!) until we finally found one that sold tea in bags. What we also found on this tea shopping tour was a restaurant that served the best (and probably the cheapest) buriani rice ever, at least in Kandy. The waiter was so delighted with having us there that he kept bringing more and more sides; we had to tell him to stop eventually.

Kandy is famous for the Kandyan dancing and drumming, a performing art native to Kandy and famous in all of the country. Since the weather was not good for hiking or visiting a tea plantation, we decided to go see one of the shows that are on every night. It was fun and entertaining but far from professional, but the drummers were amazing.

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Dambulla’s cave temples

Involuntarily, we chose to travel from Kandy to Dambulla on the day of Poson Poya, the full moon day in June that commemorates the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It’s one of the most important Buddhist holidays in the country. The bus was full and traffic slow because, as part of the festival, people were handing out food and drinks for free so obviously everybody had to stop again and again to grab something – because it’s for free.

The places we wanted to visit were packed because of the festivities. We decided to wait until the next day and instead headed out to get something to eat (we were willing to pay for it). The temples were all full but Dambulla resembled a ghost city – we never had to search for so long to find a place to eat in Sri Lanka.

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The cave temples of Dambulla are the country’s best preserved cave temple complex and dates back to the first century BCE. They’re situated in a huge rock that towers over the surrounding plains. This means that in order to reach the caves, you first have to ascend the rock. It’s a fairly easy walk but because of the heat it’s better to go as early as possible (also because you’re supposed to leave your shoes at the entrance.

The temples are amazing, especially the second and biggest one. You can’t help but saying”Wow!”, when you enter. The entire ceiling and all four walls are painted with beautiful and colorful ornaments and elaborate paintings that depict stories from Buddha’s life. All around there are dozens of Buddha statues

in different sizes, styles, and positions. There’s no lighting inside so the only light comes from the door which makes the place even more intriguing and magical.

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Sigiriya and Pidurangala

Close to Dambulla is Sigiriya or Lion Rock, a massive rock 200 meters high with the ruins of an ancient city on its top. An astonishing sight, a masterpiece of urban planning, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sigiriya draws many tourists despite the high entrance fee (at least for budget travellers) for foreigners of USD 30. But: there’s another way to see Sigiriya, and maybe even a better one. Because you can’t see the rock when you’re standing on it, right?

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The view from Pidurangala rock over Sigiriya and the surrounding countryside

Just to the north of the Lion Rock there’s another huge rock, Pidurangala. It’s the same height as Sigiriya (not the same form, though, but who cares) from where you have an amazing view over the famous rock, the plains below, and the mountains in the distance. The entrance fee is ten times lower and includes some adventure, too: the way to the top involves some climbing which is a lot of fun. And it doesn’t keep anybody, including families with kids and people in flipflops, from going to the top because the views are just fantastic. Sri Lanka has stunning landscapes, some of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and standing on top of that rock, you can really appreciate the country’s beauty, especially in the golden light of late afternoon.

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Anuradhapura: History in Ruins

Anuradhapura was one of the many capitals of ancient Sri Lanka. Today, the old city is just ruins and it’s quite hard to get a feeling of how it might have looked like once upon a time. We hired a tuk-tuk driver to show us around and he managed to show us quite a lot of the place without us having to pay the USD 25 entrance fee (which is a lot of money when you’re on a budget and we thought it was too much for what you actually see). “Now we go to the expensive area. I drive slowly and you take pictures. But don’t leave the tuk-tuk!”. Said and done. He wasn’t a guide, however, and we hadn’t read almost anything about the place beforehand so I have to admit that we probably missed out on a lot of interesting things. But it was a nice tour nevertheless. The Poson Poya festival was still going on (nobody seemed to know for how many days it actually lasted, or maybe we just always asked the wrong people) so there were lots of people all dressed in white surrounding the huge white pagodas – a beautiful sight!

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