We can only enjoy our jungle villa for one night, there’s a road ahead to be discovered. First we head to the “temple” again for breakfast where we are greated in the same friendly manner by the staff. Lots of curries on offer, just like Sri Lankans like to eat in the morning, but my stumach isn’t up for that yet. After check-out Rohan is waiting for us with the car. Most hotels have lodgings for guides/drivers and offer them buffet dinners. He was very happy with the curry breakfast :-)
We have a 3 hour drive ahead of us, to Polonnaruwa, another ancient city set in the so called ‘cultural triangle’. We’re talking 12th century, one of the great urban centers of South Asia at that time. But as it goes, civilisations come and go and for seven centuries the city was abandoned to the jungle, where it remained unknown and virtually unknow for all that time. Maybe you think,”ok, more ruins and more monasteries and stupa’s”, but Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura are really different. If you’re interested in history and archeology it’s worth visiting both sites.
We start our visit at the museum, it’s a quick introduction to what’s to come, with some scale models showing how the city must have looked like in its prime. Still, I prefer to see the real site, so soon we head out again. Rohan is guiding us. The ruins of Polonnaruwa are scattered over an extensive area about 4 km north to south. Many people cycle around the site. At the centre lies the Royal Palace complex. According to old sources the palace stood seven stories high with “a thousand rooms” (though this might have been an exaggeration J). Today the remains stand 3 brick storeys high. Enough to fuel the imagination.
We walk on the ancient stones and walk down the steps again towards the Royal baths, then moving on to the Council Chamber where the king would have granted audiences. Lots of schoolkids out today, they are all dressed in white. The main site of Polonnaruwa with the biggest concentration of impressive remains, must be “the Quadrangle”. It’s a rectangular walled enclosure, the religious heart of the ancient city. The place is dotted with remains of buildings. By now we are used to walking barefoot on the hot stones. I won’t even start giving a description of all the ruins, it’s simply too much to describe and it won’t do the place justice. If you’re interested in history, culture, buddhism, ... this is a place you need to see. Take your time to wander around, also outside the busier areas. Another eyecatcher is the Gal Vihara or Stone Shrine. Four giant buddha’s are carved in a massive granite outcrop. The largest buddha, lying down, is 14 meters long.
All the buddha’s and ancient ruins make us hungry and we still have a lot to see today. After a quick but tasty lunch buffet we hit the road to Kaudulla National Park for a gamedrive, hoping to spot elephants. We are in a bit of a hurry and we get pulled aside by the police. It’s still not very clear why, were we speeding or did we cross the line? Rohan gets out of the car and talks to the officers. It turns out to be a negotiation: he pays them 500 rupees and they don’t give him a fine. “They use the money for alcohol,” Rohan explains when he gets back into the car and continues the drive.
Finally we reach the park and a jeep with driver and spotter is waiting for us. We have the car to ourselves but we are definitly not alone around here. Many vehicles are heading out for a late afternoon drive. Soon we spot our first elephant. A male walking around on his own.
But the real treat is spotting a group of 3 adult females with 2 little ones, right by the lake. They don’t seem to be disturbed by all the vehicles and they move around slowly, staying close to eachother. It’s a marvellous sight. The Asian elephants are smaller than the African ones. And sadly they are an endangered species. Rohan tells us that besides the elephants in the national parks up to 2000 elephants are domestic, mainly kept by rich people as a status symbol. Sad ...
Still, the elephants rule, because this is their land and they will even bump against houses on their path. Apparantly they love salt and they’re not afraid of reaching for it with their trunk. In some rice fields we see high watch towers where the farmers keep an eye out, even at night, so the elephants don’t destroy the fields.
We leave the park as the sun sets and head for Dambulla, our home for two nights. By the side of the road we see large panels saying SLOW SLOW SLOW for crossing elephants. And indeed, we come across two elephants. Lots of cars stop to observe. You just need to drive carefully here because you definitly don’t want to hit one of these guys, but most Sri Lankan drivers don’t seem to be bothered and pass by speeding like they always do.
Luckily we reach our hotel safely and are welcomed in style again with a warm “Ayubowan” wich litterally is much more than just ‘hello’, Sri Lankans actually wish you a long and prosperous life. We are lead to our ‘tent’ in the large garden. Star signs are the theme here and ours is Auriga. The tent isn’t really a tent. It’s a proper room with beds, lamps, a bathroom. We feel very spoilt again!