The train to Sigiriya was long and bumpy, but interesting and fun.
We rushed to get there and to get a ticket in time, so didn’t have a chance for breakfast, that meant our only option was to sample the on-board snacks.
Sellers would get on at one stop and off at the next, walking up and down the ailse continually shouting the name of the food they were selling.
We tried vadai first, little lentil fritters with fried onions and chilli. They were nice and amusingly, served in a paper bag made of school work… After this we tried more vadai shaped like a doughnut which was softer and a little nicer I thought. This was served in a paper bag made of homework!! Finally we tried halapa, which was sweet coconut wrapped in a Kanda leaf. This was really delicious!
The train took about 5 hours and passed through many villages as well as slums and shantytowns. At one point the train got very busy, but as we nearned our stop, it started to quiet down. We sat next to a family who looked like they were on the way home from the hospital, their son’s eye was bandaged up. We roughly communicated with them through food! At one point we had to stop and wait on the tracks for a long time, pulled up next to a train going in the opposite direction. A family there got very excited to see me… I still don’t fully understand this, but everywhere I go in Asia I get photographed and stared at by locals – much more than other people I’m travelling with, I’m not sure if it’s cause I’m so tall, or fair skinned… The family waved and giggled at me, took photos, then offered me an ice-pop which I reached out through the window to get. I snapped a quick one of them back!
When we finally arrived in Habarana, we then had to negotiate for a tuk tuk price to take us to Sigiriya. After a few annoying moments, I gave in and we probably paid way over what you’re ‘supposed’ to. But in reality, this tuk tuk driver has probably waited at the station for well over an hour (our train arrived 45 min behind schedule) for the one and only train a day on the off-chance that someone would need a tuk tuk. He then drove us for 40 min to our guest house, down dirt tracks, having to phone the owner because we got lost and stopping along the way at view spots for photos for a measly £5… It’s not worth the hassle negotiating over a quid…
Along the road we stumbled upon a Buddhist monk procession. Our driver told us that it was Thai monks over in Sri Lanka for a pilgrimage from Colombo to Adam’s peak (where it’s said is Buddha’s footprint). The pilgrimage takes around 5 months and the monks walk barefoot the whole way. Locals gather on the street to give offerings and also to wet the hot road or place leaves down to help the monks poor feet. In this village a big truck drove just in front of the procession pouring cold water on to the road… It was so interesting to see.
After getting lost a little, we finally made it to our guest house to meet the owner Nera. Nera was a great guy. Over our stay there he told us his story where he used to be a humble tuk tuk driver. Then about 6 years ago he opened a fruit stall with his wife, which gradually became a juice shop, then a restaurant. Ahinsa restaurant in Sigiriya (named after his daughter) is now number 1 on trip advisor, and so, with that success he has recently opened a small guest house. The house is built around a tree (the same as his restaurant) and is named after his son, Anushka. The treehouse was beautiful, right in nature with everything hand crafted (he showed us the pics of him doing it!). He was also a great cook and I don’t think we felt hungry once during our stay!! He piled the food high on our plates! He also fed us shots of Arrack, a coconut rum!
After a tasty lunch of rice and curry, we asked if Nera could help us go on a Safari to Minneriya National Park. Nera had a Jeep, so he just asked his friend to drive us round for 3 hours and we certainly got the miles on during that time as the guy was the fastest driver… It was pretty nerve racking how quickly he drove down the narrow roads, over taking on bends and having to brake so hard… We just tried to laugh about it and nicknamed him Colin McRae lol
Before we even got to the park we saw elephants and deer on the side of the road! But we continued on anyway…
Once we paid the high price to enter the park we stood up in the Jeep and held on for dear life as ‘Colin’ continued to drive like a maniac on the dirt roads. We saw lots of birds, some eagles, monitor lizards, peacocks (which felt normal, forgetting that all the UKs peacocks came from Sri Lanka originally!), Some foxes which were very skittish and we barely saw, and some deer which are also very skittish. And then we saw elephants, just a few at first, but deeper in the park we stumbled upon a large family group right on the road, we stopped to watch them for a long time, it was amazing, especially as we were pretty much the only jeep in the park, we only saw 2 others the whole day!
That evening I got a ‘cooking lesson’ from Nera as we got down to the kitchen at about 7 and he was still cooking so I got to watch.
The next day we wanted to do something with a little more flexibility, so we hired a scooter from Nera, which was actually just his bike which he let us use. We drove down to Dambulla where there is a stunning cave temple with painted walls and ceilings. The walk up steep steps to get to the entrance was hot and tiring, and the caves were so humid we didn’t really cool down, but it was still beautiful.
We then took a different way back to Sigiriya via small villages and a large lake. Just being on a moped together again was amazing, it’s something we both completely enjoy, the sense of freedom and the wind in your hair! We hadn’t been on a motorbike together since or Thailand adventure last year!
After a quick bite to eat at Nera’s restaurant, Ahinsa (which was absolutely delicious, our first taste of kottu roti!), We headed over to Sigiriya Rock. This is something I had wanted to do from the first day I spent planning Sri Lanka. They think that the area around Lion’s Rock has been inhabited since prehistoric times, with Buddhist monastries from about 3rd century bc. But the ruins that lay here now are about 1500 years old; the old palace of King Kashyapa.
We had read about how amazing the rock is and how good the views are from the top. But what we didn’t expect was how scary the steps were and how difficult the climb would be, especially with my knee and Pete’s foot…
The walk was extremely hot and humid, and the steps were relentless. At one point we had to ascend a giant spiral staitstase only to find it was an optional detour to some cave paintings and actually, we had to go straight back down a second spiral… Pete was not impressed to put extra strain on his poor foot.
We eventually made it to the Lion’s gate, about 2/3 of the way up – Just a couple of rusty old metal staircases bolted into the sheer face of the rock… Easy… This bit was terrifying, even for us and we don’t usually have a fear of heights! I followed Pete, using him as inspiration and motivation to make it up the final steps.
The view from the top was incredible though and we spent a good amount of time up here cooling down, resting and looking at the views.
We returned to our guest house tired, soaked with sweat and covered with dust! Luckily Nera had prepared an amazing rice and curry for us! What a fantastic 2 days in Sigiriya!