Habarana, 18-19 August
We start the day with an easy 100 km bus journey to get to Habarana in the northeast. This sleepy little town is built on crossroads leading to an elephant safari park and several major Unesco sights, two of which we will be visiting. After Kandy, the comfortable homestay in Habarana is a breath of fresh air and the owner is very helpful in arranging our day trips.
Given our recent visits to Ella and Kandy, it’s easy to forget Sri Lanka is still a developing country. In Habarana you can find families doing laundry in the lake in front of a newly built luxury resort and spa. Although the resort looks almost abandoned today, the country has seen a lot of tourism over the last years and rice and tea farmers have become tuk-tuk drivers. There’s over a million registered tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka. A lot of these stand idly by in the centre of town waiting for tourists to return.
But we’re here and we take a tuk-tuk to go climb Pidurangala Rock for its famous view of the nearby ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, which was once the home of an ancient king. After all the hiking in Ella we can do this one with our eyes closed.
The climb starts at an ancient Buddhist temple believed to date back to the second century BC, and then halfway up is a platform with a giant reclining Buddha. And also a giant hornet’s nest.
Other visitors in front us and behind us get stung, but we have the Buddha’s favour today and whistle our way to the top. Ta big man! We creep through a crevice, haul ourselves up and find the view we came looking for.
For our second stop we head to the Golden Temple of Dambulla, Sri Lanka’s largest and best-preserved cave temple complex, towering 160 m over the surrounding plains. Prehistoric Sri Lankans are believed to have lived in these cave complexes before the arrival of Buddhism converted the caves into a temple, which currently holds no less than 153 Buddha statues. Seeing all those Buddhas together makes me think we might actually be inside a giant Buddha statue. Like Inception (or a Russian nesting doll): A Buddha, inside a Buddha, inside a Buddha. Riveting stuff. The murals are very cool though!
So after covering a distance of close to 1000 km so far in Sri Lanka we’re heading to the beach. It’s high season on the northeast coast and we’re looking forward to do absolutely nothing in Trincomalee!