After leaving the Kandalama, my sister and I went to Sigiriya, a rock fortress built in the 5th century CE, by the King Kassapa, who killed his father, and stole the Sinhalese kingdom from his brother, Mogallana. Kassapa built the palaces and gardens at Sigiriya so he would protected when Mogallana came back from India to reclaim the kingdom. Eventually Mogallana did come back, defeated Kassapa, who died, either in battle, by poison, or by suicide, the history is somewhat unclear. After his death Sigiriya was used by monks, and later by the Kandyan kingdom.
The gardens around Sigiriya are impressive, and include a water garden, and a boulder garden. The plumbing at these ancient gardens still functions.
View of gardens from the top of Sigiriya Rock
The walk up the rock involves thousands of steps, but about halfway up, painted on the rockface is a series of beautiful women, now called the Sigiriya Damsels. There is some debate who they were, but even though the paintings are 1500 years old the images seem modern. What surprised me was that the women are topless and quite curvaceous. In modern day Sri Lanka the standards of modesty are rather strict.
After many stairs, Steph and I made it to the top of the rock and we were the only people there. We walked around the foundations of the palace and the royal buildings. It was very windy on top of the rock, but the views were amazing, and the breeze helped me recover from the climb.
We explored the rock for a while before heading back down all those stairs, and hopping in the car for the drive to Nilaveli, a fishing and beach town north of Trincomalee. The roads to Trinco from Sigiriya were in pretty good shape, but many of them were undergoing construction that slowed our drive. We passed through a few checkpoints as we got closer to the coast. The north and east have been isolated from the rest of the country because of the civil war, and security was more prevalent than anywhere else I’ve been in the country.
As we drove on the landscape changed from hilly and somewhat green to flat and dry, with almost no vegetation. Once we passed through Trinco and started north to Nilaveli the road deteriorated quickly. Instead of asphalt there was red dirt, and very uneven. The road had been worked on first by a Chinese company, but now a Korean company had taken over. The last 15 km took over an hour. We saw a few UN vehicles speed by, but most local travelers were on bicycles or on foot.
We were happy to arrive at the Nilaveli Beach Hotel and to see the Indian Ocean. Many Sri Lankans have told me that the east coast beaches are the most beautiful in the country, and after seeing Nilaveli, I agree. The sand was blazingly white, and the ocean aqua blue and clear to the bottom. The east coast of Sri Lanka was hit hard by the tsunami, and tourism in the north and east suffered because of the civil war. Our hotel was very quiet our first night there. The second night a large family, probably thirty people, arrived adding a lively atmosphere.
Bringing in the fishing net, Nilaveli
The hotel was nice, and we had a peaceful few days there, aside from a slight snorkeling misadventure that involved one malfunctioning mask and snorkel, and a long swim back to a boat against the wind and waves.
We left the Nilaveli Beach Hotel and went back down the treacherous road to Trincomalee, where we visited Fort Frederick and the Koneswaram Temple. The fort is on a peninsula, and was built by Portuguese and also used by the Dutch and the British. At the end of the peninsula, up on high cliffs, is the Hindu temple. Nowadays, the fort seems to be have been taken over by the Sri Lankan Army. There was a checkpoint at the entrance and we had to hand over our cellphones and cameras before entering.
The buildings in the fort are classic British colonial, and were beautiful, but had not been well taken care of. The Koneswaram Temple is the first Hindu temple I’ve been inside, and it was very cool. Even better were the views from the cliffs looking out over Trincomalee and the ocean. The city looked small and peaceful.
Sisters in Trincomalee, just outside Fort Frederick
The drive back to Kandy was long, about six hours, and we were stopped at several checkpoints. At one the police officer opened the hood to try and find the engine number and compare it to the number on the chassis. He wasn’t able to find either, and he let us go after half an hour. I was glad to have a driver, especially one who spoke Sinhala and was able to talk to the police when we were stopped.
Once back in Kandy we went to the Temple of the Tooth for an evening visit. Apparently my skirt was just barely modest enough, and as we went through the security at the temple, the female guard gave it a good tug down so that it would more fully cover my knees. She also asked why I wasn’t wearing a slip.
The next morning, Steph’s last day in Sri Lanka, we went to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. Because it was a Sunday the gardens were busy with families and couples. We wandered around the gardens for an hour, had a rice and curry lunch and then Steph had to go to Colombo for her long trip back to America.