In years long past, when explorers chanced upon lands undiscovered, everybody had flags to signify conquered victory and adventure held an altogether different meaning that involved fighting anatomically fascinating monsters, Sri Lanka was confusedly known by many names including Ceylon, Lanka, Sinhala and Taprobane by the Greeks. Like most countries that belong to the Asian family, Sri Lanka has culture, tradition, history, nature and wildlife galore! As victims of time and relatively empty pockets, we were only able to explore parts of central and south Sri Lanka, albeit the tried and well traveled routes but awe-inspiring none the less, particularly in the poetic monsoonal setting!
Public transportation in Sri Lanka makes for easy (not to mention cheap and scenic) travel, even if one of your traveling companions is a beaded cow head hailing from somewhere on the African continent. From trains to tuk-tuks, to considerate Russians and their unnaturally clean ATVs that consume tiny country roads and ask for very little sense of direction, the traveler is bound for an entertaining time (and bouts of fear that awaken the heart and paralyze the mind)!
When a Prince named Kassapa (477-95) brutally assassinated his father, King Dhatusena, banished his brother, Prince Mogallana (the true heir to the throne) to India, and built a fortress in fear of vengeance on top of an extremely large rock, it gave rise to the ancient city of Sigiriya and tested the physical fitness of generations to come. At the summit of the rock (which demands a considerable amount of oxygen to reach) is the fortified palace with its ruined buildings, its cisterns and its rock sculptures. The fame of ‘Lions Rock’ has not diminished since Kassapa’s defeat (and subsequent suicide) by Mogallana eighteen years after his betrayal. Although the forest has invaded the ruins in parts, it is still noteworthy for its terraced gardens embellished by canals and fountains and ancient frescoes (depicting unidentified) female figures) that grace the western walls.
Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka in 3rd century BC with Emperor Ashoka of India, experiencing a bumpy ride in existence, paralleled with Sri Lanka’s change in conquerors. Two prominent pathways of Buddhism, Theravada and Mahayana, are followed and Buddhist temples with colorful histories can be found at the turn of most corners. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy is named after the relic it hosts. The tooth of Lord Budhha is politically significant for the local belief that however possess it holds governance of the country. It is a venerable place for Buddhists the world over and is filled to the brim with shoeless worshippers, bat-crap crazy monkeys that never blink, and camera happy tourists alike. Similarly, the Dambulla Cave Temple holds significant religious value, and is the largest preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka with more than 9 functional cave temples and an additional 80 caves in the surrounding area. To add to the excitement of it all burial sites with human skeletons dating back 2700 years, were recently found in the area, denoting that ancient Sri Lankan communities once made a life here.
When I take over the world, I imagine Galle Fort would be my capital, where I would demand nothing more of my subjects than that they feed me desert crepes, strawberry mango shakes and mojitos around the clock. As an added bonus and in a not-so-great bargain find that left my bank account in a temporary huff, I even found a string of flags that would serve well to denote the fort as mine. Built by the Dutch in 1663, it is the largest remaining preserved fortress built by European occupiers in Asia. Even though prices inside the walls are three fold those outside, there is a quaintness and quirkiness here that is hard found in the hustle and bustle of the outside world. Now an amalgamation of churches, shops, restaurants and culture, the Fort is rarely missed by tourists. The only downside is that bedtime within the fort appears to be set at 9pm. Not that it poses much of a hassle, Galle and its surrounds including Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa and Mirissa, well known for their beaches, are a veritable party ground for locals and tourists!
For the majority of the trip, time sprinted past us, but not before we sent our cameras to photo taking boot camp!