After a 6am start yesterday we decided on a sleep in today, left the hotel at 7am with our pre-ordered breakfast boxes. Today’s journey starts with a visit to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, about an hour and half’s drive depending on traffic. It’s a fairly silent start as Helen and I tuck into our breakfast of sandwiches, pastries and fresh fruit. Traffic is fairly light and we are making good time until up ahead there’s some sort of road block.
The block turns out to be a mother elephant and calf taking a stroll down the highway. Cars, bikes and buses are all pulling up for a look at the family outing. Not far down the road and another elephant is holding up the traffic, just doesn’t seem real to see these majestic creatures wandering down a busy highway.
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is spread out over several acres so the easiest way to see this mix of Buddhist and Hindu ruins is to drive between the various locations. This also help to keep the heat, it’s already 30c at 8:30am, and the itinerant sellers at bay, well at least for a little while as Helen was to find out.
Polonnaruwa is the Island’s 2nd largest kingdom. Today the ancient city of Polonnaruwa remains one of the best planned Archeological relic sites in the country, standing testimony to the discipline and greatness of the Kingdom’s first rulers. Its beauty and serenity was captured in the Duran Duran music video Save a Prayer in 1982, threw this in for the music lovers out there. The ancient city of Polonnaruwa has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The Lankathilaka temple and a colossal statue of the Buddha made from stone is located here.
Polonnaruwa is the 2nd largest city in north central province. But it is known as one of the cleaner and more beautiful cities in the country. The greeny environment houses amazing ancient constructions, Parakrama Samudraya (a huge lake built in 1200 A.C) and above all nice hospitable people. Scientific observation has been made about its climate changes it has been noted that the temperature of the later part in the year drops significantly lower than surrounding areas. Nevertheless leaving the country without even stepping on to the fertile land would be a huge waste, make sure that Polonnaruwa is a part in the itinerary.
Buddhist pilgrimages are organised among people to visit ancient ruins of temples, stupas and even Hindu temples. Rankot Vihara, the largest stupa in the city is about 180 ft high. Lankathilaka Gedige, was built during the rule of Parakramabahu, however the roof of it is missing but still is worth a visit to view the temple’s magnificence. Kiri Vihara another stupa rediscovered during the 19th century, it was surrounded by the dense forest and thereby wasn’t known to man for long periods of time. Shiva Dewale, a hindu temple that was built during the 13th century, is also one of the famous attractions in Polonnaruwa.
As we wandered the various Helen made a new friend, an elderly gent selling handmade palm leaf bookmarks. I politely said ‘no’ as I passed him by and he left me be, Helen tried the same but to no avail. Over the next twenty minutes as we passed through various ruins, each time she stopped to take her shoes off or put them back on there he was. Even as we left the complex he followed her down the final set of stairs still to sell his wares, I almost gave him money just for his efforts. But as we reached the bottom he found a new target and began his routine all over again.
Leaving here we headed back to Kelley’s Dine-in hoping to sample the beef curry we had missed on our previous attempt as the chef was still on holiday. Today we were in luck and the buffet was in full swing, well at least for the three of us. The food was amazing, a great range of local favourites and so damn cheap. Lunch and a couple of Cokes cost the princely sum of 2, 250 Sri Lankan Rupee, less than $20AUD.
After lunch we had the option of another spa treatment or a safari drive through Minneriya National Park, with Helen being the worlds biggest elephant lover the choice was obvious, another treatment! So as we climbed into the Jeep for our drive, yes the treatment was a diversion, we were curious how many elephants and other animals we would see. There is a board in our hotel that gives approximate elephant numbers for the various reserves, it suggested about 150 – 200 for Minneriya. Our drive started very slowly in terms of wildlife spots, it was more of a 4wd track and a bone shaking experience. Things though hotted up when we came across a family group of 5 elephants in a bush clearing, as we stopped to watch it seems like we were in Bunnings car park on a Saturday morning, vehicles appeared from everywhere jostling for the best vantage point.
After watching this group for about 5 minutes we set of down the track again. It’s amazing what people consider appropriate attire for this sort of outing, there was a group of 20 something’s in four jeeps, who thought they were at the beach. Let’s just say there was a fair degree of skin on display, I would guess a few of them are a little red tonight.
As we crossed a small creek we emerged on a plain bordering a lake and the wildlife was suddenly abundant. Around the banks of the lake were herds of elephants and water buffalo as well as flocks of Asian Spoonbills and the odd pelican or two. The elephants were amazing, some just carried on grazing while others stopped to watch us watching them. There was the odd bull elephant standing removed from the herds, we watched one attempt to make contact only the have the group trot away from him. He stood looking quite forlorn for a few minutes then tried again this time is a gentler manner. This time he was success for a few moments it looked like love may be in the air as he and a female became a little friendly, gently nuzzling each other. But his intentions came to nothing, perhaps having a dozen jeeps full of spectators is not exactly an aphrodisiac. Our drive continued for a while longer and in all we probably saw around 100 elephants, quite amazing.
The drive over, we headed back to our hotel, tired and dirty and in need of a refreshing shower. Susantha had suggested dinner in the village of Sigiriya for our last night here. This sounded like a great plan and we assumed he was dining with us. When we got to the venue he left us to eat saying his meal and a few drinks were included in his accommodations. We felt a little bad that we were keeping him from his meal but he insisted it was all good and that he was happy to chat with his fellow drivers while we ate. The meal was great but knowing he was waiting we didn’t linger and headed out to return to our hotel.
Tomorrow we head for Kandy and along the way a stop at the caves at Dambulla..