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crellston Mar 8th, 2011 11:32 PM

Kathie - I recall from our previous posts on another thread that you were having problems contacting Reddot. So did I initially but once contact was established they were very responsive in the pre sales process which I couldn't fault. However, unfortunately we experience a number problems with after arrival. To be entirely fair to them, they did resolve most of those problems realtively efficently (although most of them could and should have been avoided in the first place). Communication with them by phone on the ground were always difficult. We would phone the numbers gived and it seemed that whoever was responsible was never there and would "call us right back" which on occasions took a couple of hours. We met other travellers using Reddot on the road. One couple were having some minor problems with their driver and another were very happy with the service. Maybe we were just unlucky..

SIGIRIYA – LION ROCK

Our intention was to set out early for the climb to avoid the heat. Unfortunately we had to wait around for Reddot to arrange hotels. After about an hour we depart for the rock but despite it being very close by we seem to take a circuitous route, possibly because of the floods, and arrive at the rock an hour later. On arrival our driver/guide announces that he will not be accompanying us on the climb as apparently he has a bad knee! Oh well there is only one way up and one way down and we have a guide book, how hard can it be?

The rock is impressive, a 650ft monolith rising directly from the plain. The site is rally in two distinct sections, the rock itself and the gardens surrounding the base. A long straight path leads from the entrance through the water gardens to the boulder and terrace gardens. The water gardens incorporate a number of gravity fed fountains which, once upon a time, formed part of a hydraulic sytem which fed water to the palace on the top of the rock. The boulder and terrace gardens are impressive with a number of cave paintings and frescoes. In the third century BC, this area was the centre of the monastery’s activities, a nice balance of man-made and natural beauty. It must have been quite something in its heyday.

At the base of the rock the real climb begins as we ascend a metal spiral staircase attached to the side of the rock which leads to Sri lankas most famous frescoes, the Sigiriya Damsels. Painted in the 3rd century, there are 30 or so bare breasted maidens and, as one Sri Lankan guide gleefully pointed out to us, some have 3 nipples!

Further on we walk along the mirror wall which is covered with centuries of graffiti but signs emphatically point out that no more is allowed! I suppose 1800 years of scrawling on walls is enough for anyone. I have to say that the graffiti of years gone by was a lot more imaginative and artistic than the stuff you see nowadays. Many more steps (1800 in total to the summit) and we arrive at the lion platform. We have a rest for 10 minutes, drink some water (take plenty!) before our final ascent to the summit, This area is alive with monkeys and we see at least one tourist chasing one who has stolen his camera -maybe he wants to take pictures of the tourists for a change?
The entrance to the final ascent is between a pair of giant lion’s paws through which we enter to we climb the stone steps before the ascent up a precarious metal staircase. Suffering from vertigo, this is a part of the ascent I am not relishing. However,iIt is not as bad as I feared, although I do keep my eyes fixed firmly ahead, ignoring Carolyn’s, continuing suggestions request to look at the fantastic views! At this point I really couldn’t care less about the views! The staircase is badly rusted in parts and will soon need repair but I try not to think about the inevitable consequences if it were to fail.
Of course it doesn’t fail and finally we reach the Royal Place atop the rock. Now just the ruins of square brick built buildings but it must have been truly breathtaking in its day. Hard to imagine how they actually managed to build such a place in such a location – a perk of being king I guess. Fortunately, this was our first really clear day so the views were fantastic. Well worth the effort of the ascent and for those suffering with a fear of heights, it really is not too bad. A sobering note was that in some directions we could see the true extent of the flooding which was really bad with vast areas covered in water.

The descent was a lot quicker than the ascent but still hard on the knees and we stop off at the boulder gardens for a better look around before heading off to find our driver for the drive to Dambulla town and some well earned lunch. All in all a most enjoyable morning and not as strenuous as the guide books had led us to believe.

Our driver attempted to take us to a big buffet restaurant on the main street frequented by tour groups but we declined and asked him to drive us to drive us to Samans Rest, a place we had read about in the Rough Guide. The recently published book quoted 300rps for a set lunch which seemed reasonable. However the place was completely empty (never a good sign) and there were no menus or prices and only one dish - rice & curry. How much? I ask of the owner. He ignores me amd rambles on about how fresh his ingredients are, I ask two more times and after a few glances between owner and driver and he tells us it is 700rps. Not a huge amount of money but I do so hate getting ripped off. We head back into the centre of town and stop off at Bentota Bakehouse a canteen type place with very friendly and helpful staff and we order the staple of rice & curry. A massive plate of rice arrives quickly followed by a superb chicken curry, 3 or 4 vegetable curries (including a delicious beetroot curry), sambals and papadums. At last we get some spicy food! The best meal we have had to date, all for 300rps for two. So nice we returned the next day and had a totally different set of curries but equally delicious.

Mohammed Mar 9th, 2011 12:19 AM

Bentota Bake House in Dambulla town - arrgh, my daughters favourite stop for some nice "short eats", great to read about the rice and curry which from your description sounds like a good one so we must try that next time we pass that way. Good decision to avoid the Buffet at the adjoining place called Gimanhalla - its lousy food for a big group in a rush, but they do have nice clean toilets. Unfortunaely most toursits who visit Sri Lanka are not adventourous and willing to try local food and settle for watered down versions at big hotels etc, as a result many people here do not understand your type of visitor who is looking for the "real deal". Most rest houses used to serve great rice and curry lunches but now many of these have converted to buffets which is very sad as it has really taken away from the style and quality of the service and food. Still, there are some places for good local food, one just needs to know these places and how to order the food. Many guest houes and holiday bungalows frequented by locals have in house superb care taker/cooks who will prepare fresh top notch food to your taste. Many of these places one could even bring in some ingredients from the market and have them prepare what one likes and this is what we do on most trips around our little island. Fresh sea food done this way is fantastic. Hope you had the chance to try a real crab curry lunch.

Sad to read about your experience with Red Dot. I am not a travel agent nor am I in that business in any way, just a passionate traveller and photographer myself and don't like to criticize others who do business but certainly wasting ones valuable prime time for finding a hotel, no specialist guide for Sigiriya, phone calls not returned for several hours, driver guides trying to make a buck on your meal - that is very shoddy.

thursdaysd Mar 9th, 2011 12:32 AM

Agree that the Sigiriya climb wasn't as strenuous as I expected - but I did do it on a grey, damp day - started raining as I reached the top. I imagine it would be much harder on a sunny day! (But then the views would be better.)

Femi Mar 9th, 2011 06:05 PM

Most of my lunches were mediocre, and I did feel like I was getting ripped off. Rs 1300 for a buffet lunch for 1??!!

Eventually I decided not to bother with lunch at all, or when I did I had it at the Cinnamon Lodge which provided the best lunch options of my entire trip.

My driver was frustrated by long waits for responses from Reddot. I guess I'm lucky I never needed to contact them for anything after I arrived in the country.

crellston Mar 10th, 2011 12:05 AM

DAMBULLA CAVE TEMPLES

In the afternoon we headed off to the cave temples. By now it was getting very hot and we were doubting the wisdom of two climbs in one day. The temple complex is fronted by the largest gold Buddha in the world (allegedly!). This was a much shorter climb (350ft) and well worth the effort. We ascend the many steps and rocks and reach the entrance where we have to remove footwear. The bare rock is REALLY hot so we walk very quickly right to the end of the complex and start off with cave number 5. All of the cave are set beneath a gigantic rocky overhang, all are impressive but the least so, are the ones towards the end of the complex. The caves increase in magnificence as you return towards the entrance. Each of the caves are packed full of statues of the Lord Buddha and many of the walls and ceilings are covered with the most beautiful murals. This is a really quiet and peaceful place and the caves provide some welcome relief from the heat of the afternoon.

We drive on to to our next destination, the NAMAL UYANA CONSERVATION FOREST, famed for its Ironwood forest and its mountain of Rose Quartz.The forest takes a bit of finding as it is some 8kms off of the main Dambulla –Anurhadapura road. Eventually we get there and stop at the park head quarters where we pick up a guide for the 2 km walk through the forest to commence the ascent of yet another mountain! It is a really pleasant walk through the cool of the forest, through several streams before we commence the climb up the bare rock of very pale pink quartz (not the vivid pink that is shown in the travel posters dotted around the area). The climb is pretty steep and harder than we expected but eventually we make it to the top (or so we think) and sit down next to the Buddha statue on the peak. Magnificent views all the way across to Dambulla. By this time my right knee (which I damaged slipping on some ice a few weeks before departure) is getting quite painful. So when the guide announces that we are not there yet and the best view is from the next ridge, I decide to let him and Carolyn get on with it and sit down next to the Buddha statue for a rest.

The way back down is, once again, very hard on the knees but we decide to take a slight detour to meet the solitary monk in the forest who seems really pleased to see us and has a chat. We leave a donation and head on back to the car.

To their credit Red Dot have arranged alternative accommodation for us for the next two nights (they are fully booked for the 3rd night so we will have to move on to another hotel Pollonuwara). On our drive back to our new hotel, the Kassapa Lions Rock, we see lots of spice stalls along the road and stop off to buy a large bag of dried chilies which are about 10% of the price we would pay back home. Also along the way the wildlife is out in force as we see a couple of Mongoose, a huge water Monitor, several tortoises and a very, very large snake.

The floods have now subsided and the weather seems to have changed radically with bright blues skies and sunshine. Perhaps because of this we also begin to notice the standards of driving in the country which seem to be in inverse proportion to the size of the vehicle. Perhaps of necessity, the tuk tuk drivers seem to be adept at defensive driving as they avoid the cars and buses. Whereas the buses seem to be driven by psychotic maniacs hell bent on the total destruction of all before them! It was our intention for the latter part of our trip to use buses to get from town to town as we returned to Columbo, however, having seen the state of the buses (many are literally falling to bits), we quickly reconsider our transport options!

Finally we arrive at our new hotel, a new and very smart place, a little concerned to see 3 large tour buses parked outside but are shown to our very spacious room complete with all mod cons. A shower, watch TV to catch up on world news and then a power cut! Power is resumed a while later and we head off for dinner in the hotel restaurant, a buffet which commences at 7.30pm. We arrive at 8.00pm and there is virtually no food left! We ask whether the intention is to restock the buffet and it seems not so we order from the a la carte. Note to self: – get to the buffet BEFORE the coach parties from one certain North European country!

Breakfast the next morning is a repetition of the previous night. We arrive and no food is left. I ask for some to be freshly prepared and the chef proceeds to scrape the left-overs out of the trays and heat them up in a frying pan! Words fail me, and I decide to cut my losses and just have some toast and tea and what is left of the fruit.
Despite the food problems which continue to beset us, this is a very pleasnt hotel, nice spacious rooms set in the villas in the grounds and an large swimming pool which was completely empty of guests.

Femi Mar 10th, 2011 05:01 AM

Yes, I learned to change my dining habits when competing with busloads of tourists!

crellston Mar 10th, 2011 10:58 PM

RITIGILA NATURE RESERVE
Our driver has mentioned several times that he will be taking us to Ritigala. We are not entirely sure why unless Reddot have thrown it in as an extra to make up for previous problems. Anyway, off we head and we only get slightly lost this time. We find the visitors centre and after driving 100 yards along the track to the reserve thedriver decides that the car can go no further because of the rough road and the quite deep mud. The car is a a basic saloon and quite low so this is becoming a frequent problem . Again, the driver elects to stay with the car as we head off for a 4 km walk along the track to the entrance proper. It is quite a pleasant walk and along the way we see quite a bit of wildlife, tortoises, mongoose (or is it mongeese?) one or two snakes and loads of butterflies. After a few kilometers, a 4WD drive comes along the track and we hitch a ride with the park wardens for the remaining few hundred yards.

On arrival at the entrance to the monastery we hand our ticket to the warden who asks whether we would like a guide. Looking around at the dense jungle we decide yes, that would definitely be a good idea. Legend has is that the mountain was created when Hanuman (does this guy get everywhere?) dropped a chunk of the Himalayas on his way back from India hence the diversity of flora in the area. Anyway it is certainly a peaceful and beautiful location with the ruins spread throughout the forest right up the hillside.
Our guide shows us the way through the forest along what were once paved pathways. Apparently the ruins are being restored but it was difficult to see any evidence of this, although it is nice just to see it in its current state. It is similar in some respects to some of the outlying temples at Angkor. The walk up the hillside takes us I km through pristine forest to the ruined temple at the top. A magical sort of place which would have been really something in its day.

We descend to the bottom of the hillside and begin the long walk back to our car and see quite a bit of wildlife on the way back (thankfully none of wild elephants that inhabit the area). In all a pleasant morning and Ritigala is well worth the time if in the vicinity.

It has been a strenuous couple of days so we head back to back to Dambulla for another delicious lunch at Bentota Bakehouse where we also pick up some “short eats” and beers for our dinner this evening (no way are we trying the buffet again!).

crellston Mar 16th, 2011 02:00 AM

POLUNNARUWA
We set off early for the 90 min, drive to Polunnaruwa. We drive through areas still suffering from the floods which, at least in part, have now subsided. There are still large areas of flooding visible from the road but at least the sun is shining and the local population is taking advantage of this by spreading all their clothes and bedding over bushes and trees to dry out. Furniture is piled up on any high ground to dry out. It is heart rending to see at first hand the effects of nature on these already poor people. Along the road we pass through village where the army is setting up food and water distribution centres. Hopefully the weather has finally changed and these people can get back to some semblance of a normal life.

45 mins into our journey and Carolyn points out that the car is shaking a bit. I say that it is probably just the Sri Lankan roads. The driver seems oblivious to the shaking but after a few minutes I tell him to pull over, I open the rear door to get out and I am greeted by clouds of smokes emanating from the rear wheel! Now what I know about cars you could write on the back of a postage stamp but even I realize that the brakes have seized up. Fortunately we are yards from a “garage” i.e. a wooden shack with bits of car and lorry strewn around.

The mechanic jacks up the rear wheels and starts to fix the problem. No parts of course but with various grinding, lubricating and freeing up of parts, he manages to fix the problem after an hour or so. Quite impressive really! In the meantime, a soldier pulls up to get his jeep fixed and has a chat. Apparently, he has similar problems but he takes one look at the state of the brakes on our car and says that our need is greater and he will come back later.
Whilst the problem is probably due to the floodwater, the car is clearly not fit for purpose and we have already lost a significant amount of time on this trip so I call Reddot tell them we need a replacement car. After the usual wait for them to call back. I call again and they confirm that a new car and driver will be with us tomorrow.

The car is fixed and onwards we go to Polunnaruwa. On arrival we head directly to the ruined city and call in at the visitors centre for a look around at the exhibits there before our driver takes us to the various sites around the city. Any guide book will describe better than I the various sights to see, but suffice to say we were very impressed with this place. Whilst nowhere near as large as Angkor the temple etc is beautiful and relatively uncrowned. Before we came we read the guide book which debated which was better Polunnaruwa or Anurahadpura but for me there is no comparison, Polunnaruwa wins hands down.

Again our driver was reluctant to come with us to any of the sites to explain anything, preferring instead to sit and wait in the car. Due to a “misunderstanding” we got lost and had to call him to arrange a meeting place (not easy when you don’t have a clue where you are!). By now we are so glad we are getting a replacement driver. After several hours we head off to our hotel SUDU ARALIYA. A bit tired and past its best but this is more than made up for by the staff that is extremely helpful and friendly. A couple of beers in the gardens overlooking the tank (artificial lake) we watch the sun set before a shower and then the buffet dinner.
Have learnt from previous experiences with buffets in this type of hotel, we arrive early. We are not the first as there are a small group of Japanese men well into their second or third bottle of Sake (very tempted to ask for a glass!). The buffet is really good and the various curries are well spice for a change and make no allowances for western tastes.
In the morning we say goodbye to Anu our driver and wait around for our new driver who soon turns up and introduces himself. A Much nicer car and a much more enthusiastic driver but more of that later. We go to leave but are stopped by the hotel. We haven’t paid for our room! We point out that Reddot should have paid for the room and after 30 mins or so of phone calls this is eventually resolved and we leave for Kandy.

Femi Mar 16th, 2011 05:10 AM

Another vote for Polonnaruwa as favorite historical site in Sri Lanka :)

Kathie Mar 16th, 2011 05:55 AM

I'm so glad you enjoyed Polonnaruwa! I'm surprised your driver didn't recommend a guide. Each of the sites has licensed guides and they are very inexpensive. The guide we had at Polonnaruwa made the place come alive for us!

crellston Mar 19th, 2011 01:44 AM

Polonnaruwa was definitely the highlight of the "cultural triangle". Anurahadpura just didn't compare but I certain the we did not make the most of that palce partly becaus eof the floods and partly our guide/driver. Maybe I misunderstood the role of the driver and expected too much in terms of actual guiding..

Anyway our trip continues..

KANDY

Our new driver Namunu is a huge improvement. Knowledgeable, enthusiastic and great company. Before leaving Polunnaruwa he makes sure that we have seen all of the important sights and explains a few points of interest as we head out of the area.

En route we stop at on eof the ubiquitous spice gardens. We are shown around by one of the workers. This “spice garden” is in fact just a roadside garden with specimen plants in the grounds. I can see no eveidence of spices being grown on a commercial basis, but the worker has a few interesting things to point out to us as he shows us the various specimen spice plants dotted around the garden. Ineveitably we are shown into the shop. We are keen to takes supplies of spices back home and had already noted the prices of spices for sale in Cargill’s supermarket in Coloumbo. We are not entirely surprised to find that the prices in the shop are at least ten times that of those in the supermarket. We decline to purchase and move on.

As we drive towards Kandy the countryside changes to something much more like the Sri Lankan scenery we were expecting. As we drive through the spice town of Matale we pull over as a big Hindu festival is going on in the streets around the temple, lots of drums and brightly coloured saris and people being carried around on wooden platforms. Not exactly sure what is going on but it is nice to see a bit of the local culture.

Eventually we get to Kandy and spend another couple of hours trying to find our guest house Kandy Cottage. Eventually we do and find it along a ravine close to the jungle and a long way from the town and we do try and find somewhere a bit closer to the centre of things but there is no room at any of the inns. We return to the guest house, unpack and return to the town for a walk around the lake. Very pretty and, despite being right in the centre of town we see several very large monitor lizards. We explore the town a little before getting something to eat (at Pizza Hut of all places!).
We have arranged for dinner that evening back at the guest house so we return there and meet up with another English couple who are also travelling with Reddot, we exchange tales and find that they too have been experiencing one or two problems! The food in the guest house is home cooked by a local lady and is delicious if not very warm.

The next day we rise at 6.30 and set off at 7.30 on the hour or so drive to Pinnawela Elephant Orphange. It is Sunday but the traffic in Kandy is horrendous and we lose a lot of time getting out of the city. Once outside the city limits Namunu puts his foot down and overtakes all in sight to get to the orphanage in time for the feeding of the elephants. We make it in time, pay the extortionate 2000Rps per person entrance fee and walk up to the feeding ground where 50 or so elephants of varying shapes and sizes are eating there breakfast. Most are young elephants with a few very small babies all are rapidly consuming the piles of tree branches being delivered to them by the handlers. All seem well cared for even the elderly, blind tusker which is being kept separately underneath a corrugated iron shelter. We take a look at the baby elephant feeding enclosure but this is pretty dull so we move on down to the river and take a seat to wait for the elephants to arrive for their morning bath.

Eventually the elephants arrive in the river and it is quite some sight to see these supposedly wild creatures up close. We sit on the rocks to get some close up photographs and stay there for an hour or so. The mahouts are there to ensure that the elephants and tourists don’t mix too closely but it is possible to get very close. There is something incredibly peaceful and calming about being close to elephants (apart that is, from the bull elephant which charged us in the bush in Tanzania!). Pleasant thought the experience is, I cannot help but wonder how much this place really is an orphanage. Undoubtedly it started out as such but it does now seemed to have morphed into a major money making tourist attraction. Apparently there is now talk of moving Columbo zoo here. Finally we leave the elephants and head on back to Kandy.
Back in Kandy we visit the WW2 cemetry which must be one of the best kept in the world. We are shown around by the keeper of the cemetery who has some interesting stories to tell of the British and Commonwealth servicemen and women buried here. From here we move on to another cemetery, this time the Kandy Garrison Cemetery whci is close to the National museum. This one was established by the British in 1817 shortly after we seized control of Kandy and was used to bury the British Colonists. Again we are shown around by the cemetery keeper who again has some interesting stories to tell. Few made it past the age of 30 most dying from tropical diseases or in childbirth. A few were dispatched in more exotic ways like the man riding along on his horse, seeing that a tree was about to fall on him, leapt from his horse avoiding the tree but impaling himself on a pointed stake at the side of the road! Another was trampled to death by a wild elephant…

We stop in the centre of Kandy at an old colonial building for a delicious lunch of short eats. A huge variety of different snacks the normal procedure is just to sit down and the waiter will bring you a selection on a plate. We are keen to try as many different varieties as we can so I go to the counter a make a selection which is then delivered to our table. Mutton curry rolls, fish and egg, curried vegetables all are really delicious and are washed down with a pot of Broken Orange Pekoe tea (which has become my favourite variety).

Later that evening we return to the centre of town for the evening Puja ceremony at the temple of the tooth, the most important of Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka. The temple is heaving with both pilgrims and tourists. There are four drummers banging away in the lead up to the ceremony. Very loud but great drumming – if Charlie watts ever retires I am sure the Stones could find a replacement here. No one gets to see the actual tooth but you can file past for a glance at the gold casket in which it is contained. We stand in line 15 mins. only to be turned away as we finally approach the casket. apparently we are in the pilgrims only queue – clearly we don’t look like pilgrims!
All things considered we really like the city of Kandy and could easily of spent an extra day here but tomorrow we leave town by train for the journey to Hatton and the tea country.

Kathie Mar 19th, 2011 07:28 AM

Enjoying your report. We also wished for more time in Kandy. Next trip.

thursdaysd Mar 19th, 2011 09:38 AM

"we do try and find somewhere a bit closer to the centre of things but there is no room at any of the inns" - did exactly the same thing with exactly the same results, lol.

crellston Mar 20th, 2011 12:40 AM

thursdays, I am really glad we decided to book most of our accomodation in advance. our original thought was to arrive and find places as we travelled around which would have been a nightmare.

ADAMS PEAK
Our plan is to start the climb at 02.00 in the morning so we take a siesta before dinner at 7.30. The dinner is a substantial buffet and very good although once again the curries lack any real chili heat. We mention this to the manager who instantly provides a bowl of chili paste which spices the food up immediately and he promises us provide with a “special” Sri Lankan curry the following night. I appreciate that not everyone likes spicy food but it is such a shame when an amazing cuisine such as Sri Lanka’s is dumbed down just for foreign tastes.

As we eat dinner the rain starts, then the lightning and then the thunder. Th storm continues with torrential rain for several hours and as we retire for a few hours sleep we seriously wonder whether we will be able to make the ascent. We arise at 01.00, half wishing that it is still raining but no, it is now a clear moonlit night so we star our ascent. There are lights along the path and steps to the peak. The walk to the top will cover 8 kms (5 miles) and allegedly, 8000 steps. Trying not to think too much about this we start off and we pass through the food market at the base of the mountain where all the stalls are open ready to service the many pilgrims which make the climb. The peak is sacred to moslems and Christians as legend has it that the footprint at the top is where Adam first set foot on earth. The Buddhists believe that the footprint belongs to the lord Buddha, whereas Hindus are convince it is the footprint of Shiva . For the first 2kms it seems that the pilgrims are not about tonight as we see no one else. There are food stalls and toilets every kilometer or so along the path and even some showers for the hardy. Eventually we start to meet some of the pilgrims making their way down the mountain all are very friendly stopping to have a chat with us and telling us how much further we have to go! Eventually, on one of our many rest stops we are caught up by a group of three Sri Lankan guys in there mid twenties. We chat to them and share some sweets and carry on the ascent together. One of them is a soldier whose right arm was badly injured in the civil war but who is otherwise extremely fit and he encourages his friends (and us) if anyone begins to flag. One of his friends is somewhat less than fit and he get some “special” attention from his friend as he really begins to struggle 9although to be fair, for some bizarre reason he is climbing in bare feet! One of the guys is clearly a devout Buddhist and begins to chant as we ascend. The chants are returned by the people coming down the mountain and it all gets very musical and quite hypnotic after a while.

When we set off it was still very warm but halfway up it starts to get colder and the climb gets increasing steep. It reminds me of other climbs we have done in the Andes and particularly on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo. Everyone, even the super fit soldier, is beginning to feel the strain. At about 04.30 we finally reach the summit. The last kilometer is very steep and seems to go on forever. But we are there and are surrounded by sleeping pilgrims. Our new found friends show us around. We touch our foreheads the required three times on the Buddha’s footprint and are blessed by the monk. One of the guys rings the bell at the top three times to signify that this his third ascent. He insists that I do the same. For good measure I also visit the Hindu shrine and am blessed once again and am give a yellow mark on my forehead by the priest (not entirely sure of its significance).

We hang around the summit for a while. Everyone is trying to get a little sleep but it is very cold and it is made worse by the fact that we are barefoot having removed our shoes when entering the summit area. The sunrise is a must apparently because, as the sun rises, it casts a shadow of the mountain in the shape of a perfect triangle on the clouds below which doesn’t correspond to the actual shape of the peak. After a while, partly because we have seen the sunrise from a mountain top on several occasions and partly because I am suffering from a minor gastro-intestinal issue (and really did not like the look of the toilets on the way up!) we decide to descend down the mount without waiting for dawn,

We see very few people on the way back. Today is the start of a major 2 day holiday and an influx of pilgrims is expected and apparently the mountain becomes jammed with human traffic. We continue our descent and stop by a bonfire built by a group of pilgrims to get warm and to witness the magnificent sunrise. As anyone who has done this sort of thing will tell you, climbing up is hard enough but the downward trip is often even harder as you use an entirely different set of muscles. For me the problem is exacerbated as I badly twisted my knee slipping on some ice just before leaving the UK. By the time we reach the bottom are legs are really sore and feel like jelly. The last couple of miles seem to go on forever (we passed through this area in the dark on the way up so it is difficult to work out how far we are from the end). We eventually make it back to the guesthouse just as the bus loads of pilgrims star to arrive to commence their climbs.
A quick shower and then into the dining room for one of the most welcome breakfasts I have eaten. An attempt at sleeping fails miserably so after a couple of hours we get up and go for a gentle saunter around the tea plantations. We meet some school children, very smart in there blue and white uniforms. Are They on their way home who stop for a chat, they tell us, in exceptionally good English, that they attend one of the tea estate schools and that their families all work on the estate. A bit further on we pass some of the women picking tea on the slopes of the estate. It looks like back breaking work. Apparently they work in gangs of around 40, moving around from area to area, picking the very top tips of each bush all for 400 rupees per day ($4). The plan was that this little stroll would ease the stiffness in our legs. Great theory but it does prove somewhat less than effective as we hobble back to the guesthouse.

All in all, it has been a great day and their is always a sense of achievement gained from a trek like this one. I would strongly recommed it as a diversion for anyone visiting teh hill country.

A few words about the Slightly Chilled Guesthouse. This is just a basic place but it is in a great location. The rooms are not luxurious but they are clean, comfortable and the views and food are outstanding. But what makes it stand out from other places in we have stayed at in Sri Lanka is that the owners and staff are really enthusiastic and welcoming and do go the extra mile to help guest enjoy their stay. Highly recommended if you are in the area.

thursdaysd Mar 20th, 2011 01:41 AM

Many congratulations on making the climb!!! All that merit was definitely earned.

"an amazing cuisine such as Sri Lanka’s is dumbed down just for foreign tastes." - it's not just Sri Lanka. I posted a very PO'ed review on TA after a restaurant recommended on Nancy Chandler's Bangkok map served food virtually without any spice at all. I expect to have to insist on spicy food in Thai restaurants in the west, but not in BKK!

Femi Mar 20th, 2011 11:31 AM

If the vast majority of a restaurant's clients prefer dumbed down food, it would seem a rational decision to serve exactly that. Perhaps you could have sought out more 'authentic' restaurants to cater to your taste.

crellston Mar 20th, 2011 11:43 AM

Believe me Femi we did search out more "authentic" restaurants whenever we could. No doubt the guesthouses are catering to the demand but whether that demand is real or perceived I am not sure. We found the problem with Sri Lanka, unlike other countries in Asia, was that there were comparatively few independent restaurants. Most of the dining seems to be done in the guest houses which naturally enough cater mostly to foreigners.

Thurdays, I agree with your comment re Bangkok restaurants which have changed immensely during the twenty or so years I have been visiting the city. Whilst it is still possible to get great Thai food the proportion of restaurants serving watered down versions is undoubtedly increasing which is why I mostly head for teh street stalls and hole in the wall type places when I am there.

Kathie Mar 20th, 2011 12:23 PM

Congrats on completing the climb!

No matter where I travel, I find that restaurants are glad to comply with a request to make the food spicy, even though some do so with great trepidation.

crellston Mar 21st, 2011 12:02 AM

ANOTHER TRAIN JOURNEY (TO HAPUTALE)

We leave Dalhousie village for the drive back to Hatton station. We arrive early and have a look around town which is hosting some sort of political rally. The place is heaving with soldiers and police. The centre of town seems to have little to offer so we head for the station to wait on the platform for our train.

There is no first class on this train so we take our reserved seats in our second class compartment. Apart from slightly less leg room there is little difference. As we set off we notice that the carriage next to us was once the buffet car. Now its occupants are a group of Sri Lankan men already off their heads on Arak. As we leave the station they recommence playing their drums and singing and this continues more or less unabated for the next 4 hours! They are harmless enough but this is really the most tuneless drumming and singing I have ever heard. Thank you Steve Jobs your iPod saved my sanity!

As we climb higher and higher into the high tea country (where the really good stuff is grown!) we pass through countryside which is incredibly beautiful. As the train meanders through the teas estate along ridges and through countless tunnels we see many amazing vistas and gradually the tea estates give way to market gardens growing all manner of vegetables and fruit. There are no doors on this train so as we ascend into the hill country it does get quite cool. We pull into one station and stop. After around 20 mins. we realise that we are still not moving! Eventually, we see some workers standing around pointing at the wheels right below where we are sitting. This goes on wor a while and then the man with the big spanner arrives! The workmen begin taking the undercarriage to bits and after a while we see the brake pads being taken away. They clean these up on the platform and then re install them and then move to the other side of the train to repeat the exercise. We are not too worried as the train barely reaches 10 mph so the chances of an accident are, hopefully, minimal. The scenery in this part of Sri Lanka is really something and, upon reflection, I wish we had spent more time here and less in the “Cultural Triangle” area.
After a wait of 20 or so minutes our driver, and that of the other couple travelling on the train, catch up with us and pick us up at Haputale station.

En route to our hotel, Namunu mentions that he has been talking with the other driver and, he has managed to secure a trip for the 4 of us to do the Worlds End trek in the Horton Plains National Park. However, yesterdays hike up Adams Peak combined with sitting on a train for 5 hours have caused our legs to virtually seize up. This, coupled with my recollection of Thursdaysd’s comments on the subject of Worlds End a few weeks previously leads us to decide that we will give Worlds End a miss this time around.

The train journey has been fascinating and has taken us through some of the most enchanting scenery Sri Lanka has to offer, but it has been a long day and we are glad when we reach our hotel for the night, the Melheim Resort just outside Haputale.

The hotel is in a stunning location and is a really nice place, all plate glass windows and stone, set on the side of steep valley with superb views of the valley. When we go for dinner that evening the clouds have come down and the mist is swirling through the candlelit restaurant, quite atmospheric really.

Femi Mar 21st, 2011 04:49 AM

The train journey seems like it was really worthwhile. I'm sorry I missed it.


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