#8 Sri Lanka, Mar. 2, 2008

Dear Everybody,

Thirteen curries along with rice, pappadum, soup, fruit salad and tea were brought to my table for lunch, just for ME! The menu at the A and C restaurant outside of Matale said ‘several curries,’ but I didn’t expect 13. There were curries of chicken, jackfruit, okra, banana, dal, potato, pumpkin, yam, wild cucumber and some more that I can’t remember. It was a good lunch but of course I overate. I had taken a long walk with lots of climbing on some house-sized rocks that had fallen down from the mountain eons ago, probably in an earthquake. There were caves in and between these rocks made into Buddhist temples, two of which showed all the bad things that will happen to you if you go to hell. I didn’t think Buddhism had ‘hell’, but this place certainly did! This site has been a Buddhist Monastery since the 1st century BC.

From there I walked a long ways, mostly uphill, trying to find the Matale Heritage Center that sells crafts but I found it closed because it was Sunday, so the huge lunch was my consolation.

Matale had almost no tourists and I was greeted with lots of friendly stares. I visited the Sri Muthamariammam Thevasthanam Hindu temple—doesn’t that name just roll off your tongue!





The temple was quite beautiful and had five handmade, wooden, colorful, 25-foot-high chariots that were still on display as they had pulled them in parade a few days earlier.





After a couple of days in little Matale, I moved on to Dambulla, which is home to five Buddhist cave temples high up in a hill of rock. They were quite spectacular with about 150 Buddhas in them—another religious site from the 1st century BC. Why is the Buddha always pictured with tightly curled hair? Someone once told me it is because Alexander The Great conquered northern India, where Buddhism started, and that since Alexander had curly hair, it was taken as a sign of greatness. Is this true? Dambulla was also the site of a bus bomb blast about three weeks ago. So it goes.




And can you stand one more mention of Geoffrey Bawa? About 10 km from Dambulla is the big Kandalama Resort/Hotel designed by Bawa. I took a bus/walked/got rained on/tuk tuked there and had a five-course lunch. I was planning to take a dip in one of their three pools but it rained pretty hard. The hotel was sleek and modern and huge and nice. I could see the Sigiriya Rock from there, my destination for the next day.

Goodness, life is sacred here. Within one block of the Golden Temple right in Dambulla I encountered 18 feral dogs, 3 cows, 8 egrets, and 15 monkeys.

The next day I bussed on to Sigiriya, a huge rock (700 feet tall) rising out of the jungle floor. My guidebook says it’s an ancient volcano magma plug with the volcano eroded away. It has been lived in/on since prehistoric times and by the 3rd century BC, it was used by Buddhist monks as a mountain hermitage.






There is a plastered wall with 10th century graffiti and some 5th century cave paintings of beautiful women well preserved and gorgeous. They are in the same style as paintings I saw at Ajanta in India. In past times there were about 200 paintings but in 1967 some idiot vandalized most of them and only 22 remain.

It rained hard during the first two days I was in Sigiriya so no climbing the rock then, but the third day was magic so I climbed to the very top of the Lion Rock and was rewarded with beautiful jungle views and a nice cool breeze to prepare me for the walk down. The rock is really majestic and with the lovely weather and the paintings it was a magnificent outing.

There certainly seems to be a big emphasis on education in Sri Lanka. Public, private and Montessori schools are everywhere as are signs advertising classes in English, even in small rural settings. Every morning on my walks between 6:30 and 7:30 I see myriads of school-uniformed children waiting for buses or walking to school. And the private school network must be extensive as I see many different buses/vans picking up just certain children, here and there.

This morning I bussed on to Polonnaruwa, the second of the three ancient cities. The security presence is increasing the farther north I travel. Our bus was required to pull over enroute; all the men got out and walked ahead with their parcels, while the women were inspected by an officer who boarded the bus. He asked the driver where I got on (“Dambulla”) and that was it for me.

Now I’m ensconced in a very enjoyable guesthouse in a balconied room overlooking a park-like setting. Polonnaruwa had its heyday from the 10th century to 13th century as the capital, first of the Indian Chola invaders and later of the Sinhala when they drove the Cholas out of Sri Lanka. I look forward to exploring the ancient ruins tomorrow.


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