Day 4 of our tour with World Expeditions: In My Sri Lanka Episode 2 I wanted to show the world the place I consider to be the Eighth Wonder, the ruins of the ancient fortress of Sigiriya.
Also known as “Lions Rock” Sigiriya is a UNESCO world heritage listed site and was once the centre of the Ceylon civilisation during King Kassapa I in the years 477-495 AD. After the death of the king the site was returned to the monks who had once inhabited the area.
The top of the rock holds the ruins of the palace at a lofty 370 metres high, the peak is accessible by stairs which lead up through galleries out of the mouth of a giant stone lion. The climb is not easy for visitors and was a challenge for some of our group. Some very helpful men had their work cut out for them getting Ian and Dorothy up the rock but everyone was in good spirits and the ancient atmosphere created an energy of perseverance for us all.
One of our youngest members of the trip had a fear of heights and unfortunately did not join us at the top. The experiences we have encountered along this trip even in our short 4 days on the road have tested us, but I believe that a part of the reason we NEED to travel is to step outside our city-comfort zones and test our capabilities, courage and physical limits. If you try, you have done well in my book.
Our guide Jeremy was as excellent as always and we finished the trip in the cool of the bus with a well-deserved ice-cream.
On our way by midday we discussed souvenirs each group member wanted to collect while in this country, Dorothy wanted an ebony walking stick and another of our group had their heart set on a star sapphire. Sri Lanka is a place where many things are attainable if you know where to look so Jeremy and I put those on the list.
We stopped for a king coconut along the way. Before I left I’d been seeing coconuts pop up in grocery and health food stores in Sydney. The Sri Lankans have been revitalising themselves with its nourishing water and mineral-rich meat for centuries. Did you know that the “saturated fat” in coconuts is actually called Lauric Acid and is easily absorbed and utilised by the body? It doesn’t head straight for your wobbly bits and stay there like the fats we normally consider “saturated”. Coconut water is naturally sterile, is easier to process than milk and is actually similar to human blood plasma in its structure so it helps heal us from the inside.
Needless to say we all enjoyed our cool coconut on a hot day.
We drove on through Dambulla which is a major centre for vegetable cultivation in Sri Lanka and is home to the country’s largest cave temple complex. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop but I hope to next time.
We stopped for lunch at Matale Spice Gardens, this place smells incredible. It is where they grow the finest cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, pepper and so many more of the spices that make Sri Lanka feel like home to me. A large part of being a great cook is knowing your spices and how to use them. Many of my recipes have such flavour because I ensure to use the right combinations of spices and added at the right times so that they season the dish, not overpower or smother it.
We ate in the paddy fields and afterwards were treated to a cooking demonstration of some local dishes including Laveria and a Matale favourite Seeni Sambol which is a Sinhalese side dish.
A very relaxing massage and some shopping time was scheduled in for the rest of the day and by the time we headed home to the Mahaweli Reach Hotel we were very tired and happy to see the comfortable beds and showers.
Day 5: The Temple of the Tooth or ‘Sri Dalada Maligawa’ is a Buddhist temple in Kandy. It has been very important throughout Sri Lanka’s history as it houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha which gave control of the country to whoever possessed it.
The story goes that the tooth of Buddha was snapped up from the flames at his burial fire in 543BC and brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century hidden in the hair of a princess. This temple was finished around 1782 and is connected to the royal palace of Kandy. It suffered some damage from bombings in the late 1990’s but is still an incredibly sacred site for Buddhists. Many vow to make a pilgrimage there at least once in their lifetimes.
Two religious groups worship daily at the Temple of the Tooth and we were lucky enough to witness a ceremony of the opening of the lower chamber. You are not allowed to see the tooth itself and it is kept in a series of cases inside a chamber patrolled by guards, you can feel the history and importance of this place hanging in the air.
We watched the temple elephant ritual where a child is brought around and under an elephant supposedly making him invincible. I wonder if it’s that easy maybe I should bring my boys for a trip next time, though they seem to already think they’re invincible.
Fulfilling the request of a few ladies in the group we visited a gem store and a silk shop where quite a few souvenirs were purchased for friends and loved ones back home (and probably for some nice shawls and wall hangings too). While the ladies shopped the boys enjoyed a few beers on a rooftop.
Happy and ready to move on we headed to the Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya for a picnic lunch under the trees and a leisurely afternoon stroll around the beautifully manicured gardens. The gardens are very old, dating to the late 1300’s and have over 300 kinds of orchids. A number of trees and plants have been dedicated to the area by the hands of famous and historically important people and we enjoyed reading the plaques and information while wandering around and soaking in the smells and beautiful colours of the place.
After a quick beer at the Queens Hotel we were treated to some traditional dance and fire-walking. Fire-walking is actually practiced in countries all over the world and is typically now done for entertainment although it originated as a right of passage. It was incredible to watch and the traditional dancers were excellent.
Back at the hotel I challenged my group to an egg hopper cooking class, we also made kottu roti. Everyone got into it and created some excellent hoppers and delicious roti. Such a hoot, this is a really great group and we’re all having a lot of fun in this adventure together.
Day 6: This was the day an article was published in the Sri Lankan Sunday Times, written by one of our group, a Sri Lankan-Australian named Dinoo Kellaghan and it took me to a very emotional place concerning my father.
My dad was an incredible man, he taught me to not just see the world but learn from it, love it and embrace all cultures. His words are with me every day and I feel that if the things I accomplish in my life can do any justice to his memory then I have succeeded. This article was the most sympathetic and beautiful tribute to him I have seen put into words and I am incredibly grateful.
Join me in my next blog as we travel to tea country and onward in our journey through my Sri Lanka.