It was not even 6am yet as Akash waited outside the gates to our hotel and greeted us warmly. He was our driver for today to explore a few places in the center of Sri Lanka – in fact the actual geographical center was part of our itinerary. The main ambition, however, was a visit to the ancient Sigiriya rock fortress.
Sigiriya: Ancient penthouse
While there is sufficient evidence of pre-historic activity at Sigiriya, the focus is on well-preserved leftovers of a palace constructed by King Kasyapa (AD 477-495).
There are water and other gardens in the lower city and a fortress on top. The gateway to the c350m high rock is an enormous lion – the paws of which are still visible. The lion also gave the name to the rock – Sīnhāgiri, the Lion Rock (an etymology similar to Siṃhapura, the Sanskrit name of Singapore, the Lion City).
While completely overrun by tourists and not cheap at USD30pP, the views are pretty spectacular. A more budget option is a nearby hill without the archeological features for 1/10th the price.
Note on inflated entrance fees
While public transport is dead cheap in Sri Lanka, food is more pricy than expected yet nothing is overpriced as entrance fees. The UNESCO world heritage sites stand out with USD30 a going rate. This is not only a multiple of the local price (50 times in case of Sigiriya), but also bad value in general. #backpackerbudgetbuster
For comparison, €60 get you into all Dutch museums for one year, £25 into the tower of London and £43 an entry-level day ticket to Disneyland Paris.
Further, be it a dollar or USD5 – you will be charged for every temple, cave etc. So brace yourself for a sizeable sightseeing bill.
Nalanda Gedige: Right in the middle of it
More than a 1000 year old stone temple right in the geographic heart of the island. It has both Hindu and Buddhist architectural features and is situated in a lovely location.
A visit to the spice & herbal garden
It’s nice to smell and taste some spices and herbs of everyday (and not everyday) use with the actual plant right in front of your eyes.
They make a lot of natural creams and potions using local ingredients (Laura’s favorite was a hair removal cream) though the prices in the shop at the end of our tour were prohibitive. However, we got a good taste of it during a Ayurveda treatment.
Ayurveda – Science of life
The definition of ‘Ayurveda‘ means “the science of life”. Ayurveda represents a system of healing that has been perfected over more than five thousand years. It is famed as South Asia’s ancient health care system based on herbs and diet. It sees health and disease in holistic terms. It takes into account the relationship between energy and matter. This system of healing believes in treatment of not just the part affected by disease but the individual as a whole. It emphasizes on the harmony of mind, body and spirit to cure diseases.
Dambulla Cave Temple
Another steep hike up to a temple built into long rock cave with loads of Buddha figures inside. Entrance Rp. 1500pP – nice views included.
Used by Hindu’s and Buddhist’s, the temple stands out due to its large tower decorated with lots of figurines. Entry Rp. 150.