Days 1,272-1,276: The Cultural Triangle

Mon 25.06.12 – Fri 29.06.12:

And so it came to pass that Monday morning involved waking up with a monster can’t-believe-we-lost-on-penalties-AGAIN!!! hangover and as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, I hoped that nobody had taken any photos from the previous night’s drinking games, lest they appear on Facebook and ruin my future political ambitions.

On Tuesday, a couple of backpackers – Marcia and Manisha – arrived at Sachal’s B&B. Marcia is a Canadian girl, looks like Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica. Manisha is from India but lives in Germany. Sachal, being Sachal, decided that we should all have another big dinner so I let it be known that biriyani and beer was on the cards to anyone foolish enough to turn up. Happily, we got a good turnout, with Marcia, Manisha, Natalie, Luisa, Elena, Marina, Tony, Subarji, a couple of randoms we picked up at the liquor store and the delectable Lily and Olivia coming all the way up from Colombo. Good night had by all.

Marcia and Manisha couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune time – they were planning to head off to the ancient city of Anuradhapura the next day: perfect for pinging me out of my rut and getting me to travel around Sri Lanka a little. And so the following afternoon the three of us teamed up and hit the road. It was a good few hours on the bus to Kurunegala, halfway to Anuradhapura (we gave up trying to pronounce ‘Anuradhapura’, instead referring to it as ‘Anna Kournikova’ or ‘Anna Made A Porno’).

From Kurnunegala we took the train the rest of the distance. After my great train journeys across Europe, Africa, India and China, it had been a while since I had been on anything but a local train. I must be getting rusty: we all managed to bundle on the train back to Colombo. I realised just in the nick of time and jumped off (the train had started moving). Manisha also managed to get off but poor old Starbuck was jammed in by a crazy old cat lady.

Luckily, the episode ended in hilarity rather than disaster as the Colombo train stopped a little down the tracks as points were switched and then returned to the station. Sorry about that, Starbuck, must have been those dastardly C(e)ylons…

We arrived in Anna Kournikova after dark and headed over to the cheap and cheerful Lake View Guest House. After grabbing a late supper, we all crashed out for the night, ready to take on the ancients sites early the next day.

Because the sites are so spread out, the best way to see Anna Made A Porno is by bicycle. I’m not one to stand on ceremony, so by 8am we were well on our way to go see our first sight… the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world: a 2,000-year-old Bodhi tree. According to popular myth, it was grown from a cutting of the sacred Bodhi tree under which Buddha himself received enlightenment. The people of Sri Lanka, it being a majority Buddhist country, have painstakingly looked after this mighty wonder of the arboreal world for longer than Christianity has existed. True!

A sacred relic from antiquity. And a tree.

Sadly, it’s quite hard to actually see the tree as they’ve built a temple around the damn thing. But I suppose it’s a bit like The Jacaranda in Liverpool would have looked when it had a jacaranda tree in the middle of it. That one only lasted a few years. Goes to show: if you’re going to build something around a tree, don’t make it a pub.

After that, we went to see a giant stupa. For those of your not versed in eastern religion (and Word spellcheck), a stupa is kinda like a large white dome that serves as a place of worship for Buddhists. In Sri Lanka, stupas are called ‘dagobas’, a word Word similarly dislikes and possibly where you might go to find Yoda, the Jedi Master who instructed me (only it wasn’t, was it? It was Liam Neeson). This particular dagoba was over a thousand years old and was brimmed by 100 elephant reliefs.

Honestly not photoshopped.

Surreal, innit?


Next up was the Twin (Amy) Ponds.

Twin Ponds. Like Twin Peaks but more wet.

Then off to see the monster brick degoba. For the best part of two millennia this was the third tallest building in the world, after the great pyramids of Cheops and Chephren. Bloody impressive stuff, Sri Lanka.

One damn big dagoba.

That afternoon we headed over to Sigiriya for more tomb-raiding the next day.

Man-handling my fruit whilst on the bus to Sigiriya

Sigiriya is a monastery (or a fortress) built out of a huge rock (a volcanic ‘plug’, no less) and is a well-deserved Unesco World Heritage site. It’s kinda like Meteora meets Petra via Machu Picchu with a couple of awesome lion’s feet added to Sphinx the place up a bit. LOVELY!

THE ROCK, aka Dwayne Johnson.
Stairway to Heaven.
Yeah, try scaling THAT, Ethan Hunt.
Paws For Thought.
A huge rock. WITH CLAWS!!
Up we go…
The view from the top.

There’s some debate over whether this place was indeed a monastery or a fortress, since people figured that the monks wouldn’t have tolerated the marvellous Hustler-like art that adorns one of the caves.

More hairy fruit! You guys are obsessed!

Yes that’s right, mankind’s love affair with big boobs has been around since time immemorial.

Then it was off to the rock caves of Dambulla. Loaded with goodies from the last few hundred years, paintings, sculptures, magic water buckets, you name it baby they got it on display. Only one problem. You see, in Sri Lankan Buddhism, the statue of Buddha IS a god (one the eyes are finished) and therefore, like when you visit the Queen, you’re not supposed to turn you back on them. However, in the caves of Dambulla, there are Buddhas EVERYWHERE! You’re surrounded! Spin on a sixpence and you’re seriously not going to be currying favour with the Gods. Show some respect!

“Ve have you surrounded!”

After the caves, Manisha, Starbuck and I hopped the bus up to Kandy. It was a hellish journey – the bus was packed, nowhere to sit (until I totally stole somebody else’s seat – snooze you lose baby!) and Starbuck ended up standing for about two hours (she could have had my seat but was down the wrong end of the bus).

Still, beats the Greyhound…..

Considering it’s the second biggest city in Sri Lanka, Kandy is a quiet little place, even on a Friday evening. After a stroll around the lake, we headed up to the Stag’s Head bar on the top floor of Hotel Casamara for some liquid refreshment. The nice folks at CMA-CGM shipping wrote back to me saying they hoped to have an answer by the end of next week. An answer to the question “can I take one of your ships across the Indian Ocean and thereby have me FINALLY complete The Odyssey Expedition?”.

Take me and I promise to stop pretending to be the backpacker version Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy…

Fingers and toes, baby, fingers and toes…

“It was high time to say goodbye to Negombo and hit the road…”

From Sri Lanka: The Ancient Cities, posted by Graham Hughes on 7/07/2012 (139 items)

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Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. cody

    That giant white Dagoba looks awesome. I’m liking all the photos you’ve added to your posts now.

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