I left Colombo in a rented Suzuki Marati equipped with a motor from a go-kart – it only accelerated when gravity-assisted. At least this time the rental contract was legitimate!
My plan was to drive to Sigiriya – also known as Lion Rock for reasons that will become clear – and, from there, to perform an anti-clockwise loop of the country.
En route, a car pulled out of a side road just in front of me and I had to go onto the other side of the road to overtake it. No sooner had I done so than I was signaled over to the side of the road by an officious-looking policeman. After showing him my licence and rental paperwork he addressed me:
“You’ll have to pay your fine at the post office in the next village.”
“Fine for what, officer?”
“For crossing the white line in the middle of the road.”
“But a car pulled out unexpectedly in front of me officer. My only options were to pass him or crash into the back of him. Would you have preferred that I hit the car?!?”
The policeman seemed to adjudge me to be too much hassle and I was summarily waved away, to my great relief. Now, here I should admit that the reason I had to pass the car was that I was going 20kph over the speed limit. Had the officer fined me for speeding I would have had no complaint. As it was, he tried to fine me for the wrong thing and my defense was entirely valid.
I arrived at my accommodation and scheduled my trip to Sigiriya for the following day. In the morning the other guests were keen to head in the same direction so I offered a free taxi service. I loaded a French couple and a German lady into the car and away we went.
The morning mists still hung in the air and, as we got our first glimpse of Sigiriya, we suspected the view from the top might be less spectacular than it ought.
That said, the mist did add an air of mystical (or mistical) stillness to the scene. So much so that even monks were taking advantage of the tranquility.
Scaling the rock to the fortress on the top meant some significant climbing. The French couple wandered off, anti-socially, so the German lady and I started the upward march on our own. At that very moment a huge earthquake caused vast boulders to come crashing down around us. Luckily, I was on hand to catch them and keep the path clear for others to pass.
The climb was in two parts and, even halfway up it was obvious that, if the clouds were to clear, the views would justify the hike. This opinion was shared by other primates.
I then swiftly realised that the monkey was not admiring the view but was, instead, a cunning pickpocket identifying gullible marks.
The second stage of the climb looked somewhat more daunting than the first. That said, it was busy enough that we could only go at the pace of the slowest, so getting out of breath was an impossibility, even if we had wanted to.
On reaching the summit, we were delighted to find that the clouds had lifted sufficiently to unveil the seas of green that lay below, unspoiled by human interference.
As mentioned, Sigiriya used to be a rock fortress. It was also then a monastery before being used as a fortress once more. The ruins of its final avatar were still well preserved on the rocks peak.
We decided, after the views had been sufficiently admired, that we should head back down post-haste to avoid getting stuck behind any of the slightly broader individuals now at the summit. On reaching the mid-point we at last realised that Lion Rock was more than just a name…
From Sigiriya it was only a short drive to the Dambulla Cave Temple, a World Heritage site dating back to the second century b.c.
Behind and above the imposing golden Buddha and golden tower, carved deep into the living rock are five chambers of an ancient monastery. These caves are filled with statues of Buddha of varying sizes, one 14m long that has been chiseled directly from the rock of the cave itself.
The interior of the temple was breathtaking for its art and its centuries of history but, just outside the temple, I found that contemporary things could also be memorable.
Bidding farewell to these simian socialites, I headed south to Kandy and to my next post.