Friday, September 25, 2015

Melbourne - 26.9.15

There wasn't much to do after arriving back in Negombo other than washing the bike down - you invariably get asked at customs in Australia if you've done this - and packing it in the box. I was helped by the guest house owner and his son, but struggled to quite fit it in this time. It wasn't until I got to the airport in Colombo and was asked by the chap at check-in if I'd let the air out of the tyres before boxing the bike that I realised why it hadn't quite fitted. The airlines insist that you deflate bike tyres so that they don't explode at high altitude. This is a longstanding myth - my understanding is that the cargo hold is pressurized to the same level as the passenger compartment, and that even if the plane managed to fly into outer space the pressure differential would still be unlikely to cause the tyres to explode. And, even if the tyres were to somehow explode, it's unlikely any damage would be done to the plane. So I lied and said I had (because there was no way I was going to cut through all the tape and then rebox the bike again).

The final leg of the journey from KL to Melbourne was around 8 hours, and I was 2 rows of seats away from 3 sets of screaming infants who kept it up for most of the journey. I felt like joining in. Luckily, there were some action movies available for viewing and so I managed to block out some of the screams and sobs with the sound of explosions, punchups and gunshots. The noise-cancelling headphones are good against the sound of the plane engines but unfortunately don't cancel out the noise of children. 

I arrived back home in a maxi-taxi after a monumental wait at the oversized baggage area at Tullamarine airport, shortly before midnight, and can happily confirm that the tyres are still intact.

So, overall I was in Sri Lanka for around 23 days, and travelled 868km over 14 days of cycling - a daily average of 62km. I lost 5kg in weight, partly due to all the exercise and partly I think due to the change in diet. It was an interesting trip and I got to see a fair bit of Sri Lanka. It was hard to not compare it with India - Sri Lanka seemed a lot more ordered than India, and I saw much less poverty, slum areas and beggars. The roads were much better on average, the traffic more ordered, and vehicles actually slowed and even stopped at pedestrian crossings. English was more common. I found the food less interesting and varied compared with what is available in India. The religious breakdown differs: in Sri Lanka, around 70% of the population is Buddhist, 13% Hindu, 10% Muslim and 7% Christian (mostly Roman Catholic), whereas in India, around 80% of the population is Hindu, 14% Muslim, 2.3% Christian, 1.7% Sikh, 0.7% Buddhist and 0.4% Jain. 

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, it always amused me to see police travelling two up on their motorcycle, with one sitting imperiously at the rear, as if on a throne, and I was struck by how stern an image they endeavoured to project. I was struck by the scarecrows you could see on most building and construction sites and presumed it was about warding off 'the evil eye' or similar, although I did read one view that their intention is to distract people's attention and envy away from the expensive new building. 

It always takes a few days or longer from a trip like this to reorient back to life here. The cycling presents a tremendous focus, and thinking becomes very 'here and now', with little time spent reflecting on work, life back home and other matters. Routines become very different - I spent no time watching TV (although did watch some downloaded episodes of 'Gotham' on my tablet) and spent a lot of time reading during down time e.g. in my room or in cafes and restaurants if eating alone. I read about 12 books, mostly crime novels, while in Sri Lanka!

overall route

overall elevation

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

NEGOMBO - 23.9.15

Day 14 Cycling: NAYAKAKANDA,Wattala to NEGOMBO

Ride details (from Garmin): 
Distance: 28.67km; ODOMETER: 868.6km; Moving Time: 1:34; Elapsed Time: 1:45; Avg Speed: 17.8km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 18.3km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 11m; Total Descent: 10m; Max Elevation: 2m; Calories: 832C; Avg Temperature: 36.6 °C; Max Temperature:  42.0 °C

After a breakfast of omelet and chips and a coffee, I was pleased to hit the road on the final leg of my journey - back to the Angel Inn in Negombo (4000Rs a night). There was little traffic which made the score or so of police lurking in the shade at the side of the road at various locations along the way,  presumably to catch errant drivers, seem a little excessive. They typically present with very stern,  official-looking faces but occasionally break into broad smiles when waved at. It always amused me to see them on their motorcycles, one driving with the other sitting upright in the pillion position, as if on a throne.

It was a nice ride along the coast,  past fishing boats and the fish market, and past a number of quite extravagant Christian figures (e.g. Jesus, baby Jesus, Mary, a saint on a horse, etc.) often in glass cases. Elsewhere in the country,  similar glass cases held Buddha figurines, and occasionally the Hindus followed suit with statues of Ganesh or Shiva. It was hot, and I drank a litre of water during the first 20km. 

It was nice to get back here and the room seems almost too luxurious compared to what I've been staying in over the past weeks. The bike box is still here so I'll eventually get around to dismantling the bike and packing it again. Hopefully I won't have too much trouble removing the pedals this time. Overall it's gone well - no punctures (other than the one incurred here on day 1) or mechanical problems,  no accidents or near misses (well, there were probably one or two... the man with a long plastic drainpipe, and one or two trucks gave me a start yesterday). No major physical concerns either, other than some lingering bronchial issues for the first fortnight, some heat rash, and what might be described as a small lesion on the left buttock (boil, I suspect).

Time for some food and a rest I reckon...


Graves, and Jesus, on the coast

Tuesday, September 22, 2015



Ride details (from Garmin): 
Distance: 103.19km; ODOMETER: 840km; Moving Time: 6:51; Elapsed Time: 8:43; Avg Speed: 11.8km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 15.0km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 560m; Total Descent: 602m; Max Elevation: 60m; Calories: 3,206 C; Avg Temperature: 32.9 °C; Max Temperature:  41.0 °C

My plan for today was to avoid Colombo,  but I ended up skirting around its edges and found myself,  to my surprise, ending up on the coast, about 30km south of Negombo. 

Today's was a varied, again quite taxing ride as I was on the road for nearly 9 hours. I mostly used the Garmin to lead the way and as a result travelled along some interesting highways and byways. The bike and I travelled through villages, tea plantations, and jungle, and past quite a few Buddhist centres. The route started along the A8, then the B285 and I lost track after that. There were some very poor sections of road - some already prepared for resurfacing, and some clearly in need of resurfacing. Much of the surrounding countryside was very lush. In addition to drinking copious amounts of water, I refuelled with a large bottle of Pepsi and bought a bag of very juicy mandarins at a roadside stall for 400Rs (the labels on them indicated they were from Australia!). Toward the end of the ride, near and along the outskirts of Colombo, I began to feel a little nervous as the roads narrowed and the traffic became heavier - the buses and trucks are fairly forceful on these roads and not overly concerned about people on bicycles. Fortunately I made it without experiencing any mishaps or close calls and I was happy to discover a number of accommodation options along the coast. I managed to locate the Araliya Hotel where I'm now staying, with the volunteered assistance of a three-wheeler driver who saw me looking wistfully at the obviously very expensive Pegasus Reef Resort. After quite a bit of haggling and walking off I managed to get the absurdly overpriced 4500Rs room at the Araliya reduced to 3500Rs. It has a fan and aircon which is quite nice as it's reasonably warm around here. I wouldn't especially recommend this hotel. 

30km tomorrow morning -along the coast - and I'll be back where I started from in Negombo, having cycled around 870km. I thought I might do around 1000km in the 3 weeks I'd be cycling but I hadn't really taken the elevations in the hilly regions into account. I'll clean and pack the bike and then spend some time relaxing before the flight back to Australia. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

RATNAPURA - 21.9.15

Day 12 cycling: ELLA to RATNAPURA:

Ride details (from Garmin):
Distance: 109.1km; ODOMETER: 736.7km; Moving Time: 6:36; Elapsed Time: 9:28 (includes 90mins waiting for rain to lessen); Avg Speed: 11.5km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 16.5km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 1,081m; Total Descent: 2,021m; Max Elevation: 1,420m; Calories: 4,292 C; Avg Temperature: 27.3 °C; Max Temperature:  36.0 °C

Yesterday was a rest day in Ella for me and the bike. The town is geared up for tourists, in terms of all the accommodation options and the numerous cafés and restaurants in the main street. The Rawana Holiday Resort where I was staying had its own restaurant which was quite good and I used it for breakfast and lunch and an evening meal. I also ate twice at the Down Town Rotti Hut with Kerry and Chris and was introduced to the delicious kotthu roti which is now my favourite Sri Lankan meal.

There's not all that much to do in Ella other than hiking - up to Little Adam's Peak or Ella Rock (along the train tracks), or the easier walk to Rawana Falls which I did with the Kerry and Chris (also along the train tracks).

I decided that I would aim to cycle all the way back to Negombo, about 220km,  which I figured was quite achievable over 3 days, arriving back in Negombo on Wednesday as planned.

I felt cheered by the knowledge that Ella is at an altitude of around 1040m and that Negombo is at 2m. Downhill all the way, surely?! Unfortunately no...

The road I took out of Ella was downhill for a bit of the way but was then mostly a grind uphill for the first 20km (to Haputale). The first 11km - to Bandarawela - took about 90 minutes! The so-called 3 Mile Road was too steep for me to cycle - I reckon several of its uphill sections were about 18%.  The road went up and up, rising up to at least 1400m in elevation. I could feel the sense of defeat rise as the road rose up ahead of me. 3% sections began to look flat ('false flat' in cycling parlance) in contrast to the rest of the road which was typically between 6 & 8%.

Around 12:30, at the 35km mark, the ever-darkening sky erupted,  with thunder,  lightning and heavy rain. Luckily there was a concrete bunker-like bus shelter nearby so I holed up there for the next 90 minutes until the thunderstorm abated sufficiently for me to head off (it was still raining but only lightly by this time). While waiting in the bus shelter, classes at the nearby school obviously finished and soon I was surrounded by scores of students, and a couple of teachers, waiting for their bus. They all seemed very shy and giggly,  and I was surprised that no-one really took the opportunity to practise their English on me.
After a time,  the road finally began to plunge down, and the arduous uphill grinding was replaced with some wonderful downhill sections. The scenery was also quite spectacular. Overall though it was a tough day's cycling.

I eventually made it to Ratnapura and after asking a policeman came to the Ratnapura Rest House on top of a hill overlooking the city.  It was probably once a grand old colonial-style building; from the outside it looks quite posh and I feared it would be far too expensive.  I resigned myself to paying whatever, within reason, as the prospect of heading off to find somewhere else didn't enthuse me. They wanted 4500 Rs for a room but agreed to 4000Rs. The room is huge, with fan and A/C but is tired looking and very musty - quite overpriced for what's provided and the service is very lackadaisical. Finding somewhere to put the bike seemed just too difficult for them to figure out, and there was no soap or toilet paper in the room. Most places make an effort to help me carry my panniers and handlebar bag to the room, but not here.

Luckily the place has a restaurant and the fried rice & chicken was tasty. The enormous dining room was also hosting a function;  it was amusing to see that all the men sat together at one huge set of tables, the women at another and all the children at a third table. The table I selected to sit at elsewhere in the dining room had a filthy tablecloth on it. When I complained,  the waiter looked at me with a mixture of scorn and incredulity saying "well sit somewhere else then...". I was asked while eating my evening meal to pay in advance for the room, and separately for the meal, and told that checkout time was a surprisingly early 9am.

All I want to do now is take rest so that I'll be able to jump on the bike in the morning and continue pedalling toward Negombo. It's about 106km away; I don't think I'll try and do that all tomorrow - perhaps I'll leave about 30km to do so that I'll arrive there mid-morning on  Wednesday, ready to fly out on Thursday evening.

Ratnapura Rest House

Ella to Ratnapura profile

Saturday, September 19, 2015

ELLA - 19.9.15

Day 11 cycling: NUWARA ELIYA to ELLA:

Ride details (from Garmin):
Distance: 57.62km; ODOMETER: 627.6km; Moving Time: 3:37; Elapsed Time: 5:12; Avg Speed: 11.1km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 15.9km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 635m; Total Descent: 1,530m; Max Elevation: 1,808m; Calories: 2,287 C; Avg Temperature: 26.9 °C; Max Temperature:  34.0 °C

I woke up feeling a little glum this morning at the prospect of cycling off into a potentially very wet day, compounded by the fact that all of my cycling gear was still very damp. The bed at Park View was actually quite comfortable, but the room was quite cold and no heater was available when I enquired into the possibility. I got up fairly early, and so most of the shops were still closed when I wandered down for some food. I managed to get a coffee, an orange juice and 2 small cakes, and 2 bananas on the way. As I headed off out of town, the mist was rolling in and the poor visibility led me to attach a flashing red light to the rear of the bike. It was a cold and soggy start to the day.
However,  before long, the mist dissipated, some sun appeared, and the next 26km was all downhill... exhilarating! I hit nearly 60km/hr at times but needed to temper my speed a little because of the unpredictably of oncoming traffic and sudden incursions from the sidelines e.g. 3-wheelers, pedestrians,  blokes carrying pipes. It was a blast to be able to overtake the occasional bus, van or motorbike on the way down.
But it wasn't all bliss of course as there were a few very steep uphill sections. The Garmin, I finally realised, has some very sadistic programming... in deciding which route to take, it selects the shortest distance which on the face of it seems fìne. However it doesn't take the gradient into account and so on occasion it can direct you up some shorter but incredibly steep roads as I discovered today.
Getting to Ella felt good. It seems like quite a small and relaxed place with heaps of accommodation options and more tourists than I've encountered anywhere else this trip. It'll be a good opportunity to relax,  do my washing and decide what I'm doing next. Rawana Holiday Resort seems pretty good; I've got a room at the top with its own balcony or sundeck shared between 4 rooms, with terrific views - all for just 3000Rs. I decided I'd better go inside and do my washing when the young German woman next door came out to sunbathe in her bikini...
The Australian tourists I met yesterday,  Chris and Kerry, were smart enough to go into town to buy a bucket so they could do their washing - the Rawana, like most places, doesn't have sink plugs or even a spare bucket - and they've kindly lent it to me.

leaving Nuwara Eliya

gaudy Hindu temple

 rooftop sunbeds at Rawana Holiday Resort

my room at Rawana Holiday Resort

Friday, September 18, 2015

Nuwara Eliya - 18.9.15

Rain! - I hadn't reckoned on there being so much of it up here in the hill country. 

After performing my morning ablutions, I ventured into town and had breakfast of 2 samosas, egg roll, pineapple juice and coffee at the De Silva Food Centre and then spent some time chatting with 2 Australians who had been sitting at the next table and, as it turned, out were staying in the same guest house. I thought I'd better engage in some tourist activities and so I walked around the well-manicured Victoria Park (300 Rs admission) and had lunch at the adjoining cafe. This was surprisingly good and cheap (about 300Rs for rice and vege curries, a tea and then a coffee). 

After this,  I took a three-wheeler to the PedrTea Estate for a cup of tea and a half-hour guided tour around the factory (200Rs admission; 600Rs for the round trip). Much of the equipment is over 80 years old. Not much was happening however as most of the processing happens at night due to the timing of when the fresh tea leaves arrive and the required resting time of 14 hours.

My plan is to cycle to Ella tomorrow,  and for once I've booked a place in advance - Rawana Holiday Resort,  as suggested by the 2 aussies - so I won't have to search around town in my soggy gear (my hunch is that tomorrow will also be quite damp; it's been raining here all day on and off). Not sure what I'll do after Ella - one possibility is to just get the train to Colombo;  another is to cycle to Ratnapura and thence to the coast and back to Negombo.

Pedro Tea Estate factory

Tea leaves drying
at the Pedro Tea Estate - in my green cycling smock!

Park View Inn as seen from Victoria Park

A forlorn attempt to dry cycling gear in my room at Park View Inn - I think it became even more damp...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Nuwara Eliya - 17.9.15

Day 10 cycling: KANDY to NUWARA ELIYA

Ride details (from Garmin):
Distance: 76.58km; ODOMETER: 570km; Moving Time: 7:23; Elapsed Time: 9:30; Avg Speed: 8.1km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 10.4km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 1,797m; Total Descent: 438m; Max Elevation: 2,009m; Calories: 3,700 C; Avg Temperature: 20.3 °C; Max Temperature:  29.0 °C

Today was one hell of a ride but I made it to Nuwara Eliya - the "highest town in Sri Lanka" - at an altitude of 1889m, similar in height to Falls Creek and Mt Hotham;  a climb of nearly 1400m from Kandy. I decided to leave Kandy after 2 nights; I'd figured on 3 nights there but the weather was a deciding factor. There were thunderstorms yesterday,  on the 16th, and more predicted for tomorrow but today's forecast suggested 'showers' so leaving today seemed smart.

The Freedom Lodge where I stayed in Kandy was OK, and the communal meals were a good opportunity to chat to other travellers. I visited the Tooth Temple, the Alut Maligawa, Sri Dalada Museum, the Audience Hall, and the World Buddhism Museum. Afterwards I had a very pleasant snack at the Olde Empire Cafe and then returned to my accommodation
as the heavy rain precluded doing much else. 

It was difficult to know which way to head as there were at least 4 options - in the end I decided to just take the A5 highway all the way, in the absence of any relevant information. My reasoning was that if I got stuck on the way, there'd likely be some  accommodation; the road was likely to be in fairly good condition; there'd probably be a good shoulder to ride on; and there'd be more likelihood of finding shelter from the rain.

It was raining reasonably heavily just before I left, but it didn't resume for quite some time. The traffic out of Kandy was atrocious - stopping and starting - and the first 8km took me about 40mins. It was fairly flat for the first 20km, until Gampola when it began to rise up, and it was around 5 to 6%, with the occasional 8 or 9%, for most of the way. 

It rained quite heavily a number of times and while usually I could find some form of shelter when needed e.g under shop awnings, bus shelters, etc., I had to use my umbrella a couple of times when I couldn't find any.

Despite being drenched with a combination of mist, rain and sweat, and feeling at times that I could go no further,  it was a pretty good ride. Fantastic scenery, numerous waterfalls, tea plantations and reservoirs, and Ramboda Falls was impressive. I also cycled through Ramboda Tunnel, which was a bit scary given the unpredictability of other drivers at times. I also encountered 2 German cyclists heading downhill and we stopped and compared notes, as cyclists do.
As I ascended higher, truck drivers and others began to honk their horns and give a 'thumbs up', which was cheering. Many of them I'm sure thought I was nuts. Many magnificent gumtrees dotted the countryside, and there are many to be seen around Nuwara Eliya as well. I reckon Australia and Sri Lanka could do a deal - a monkey-koala exchange;  both I'm sure would thrive in their new environments andenrichen both.

I finally arrived here sometime around 5pm. I hadn't booked any accommodation and the first 3 places I tried had no vacancies (or was it perhaps my soggy presentation, with bicycle and panniers,  also soggy). I eventually got a room next door to one of the places recommended in the guidebook - Park View Inn - for 3000Rp. It's not great and has a slightly damp, musty smell about it, and there's no way any of my clothing will dry here. No meals or anything available such as a snack or drink. So I headed in to town for an evening meal at one of the placesk recommended in the guidebook - the De Silva Food Centre. Not much chop I'm afraid.
Time to rest.

the lake at Kandy

on the way to Nuwara Eliya

beginning to wonder if this cycling is such a good idea...

Welcome to Nuwara Eliya

Profile of ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

KANDY - 15.9.15

Day 9 cycling: NALANDA to KANDY:

Ride details (from Garmin):
Distance: 47.4km; ODOMETER: 493km; Moving Time: 3:41; Elapsed Time: 5:07; Avg Speed: 9.3km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 12.9km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 571m; Total Descent: 356m; Max Elevation: 539m; Calories: 1,795 C; Avg Temperature: 31.5 °C; Max Temperature:  39.0 °C

Today's ride covered some hilly terrain, especially the road leaving Matale. I was fortunate that it was nowhere near as hot as yesterday,  and a heavy but fairly brief downpour cooled things considerably. It was a nice enough ride given that it was along the A9 highway all the way.

Shortly after leaving the Hotel Country Side in Nalanda I was pulled over by the police. They often lurk in the shadows so they can't be seen by drivers, and pull vehicles over to inspect papers. In my case, I think it was just for a chat and an opportunity for one of them to invite me to visit his friend's herb and spice garden. I politely declined but further down the road in North Matale after seeing many similar establishments agreed to take a look at a 'spices & herbal farm' when beckoned to by a fellow who identified himself as the grandson of the founder of the farm. I was given a quite nice cup of herbal tea and then shown around the various plants and their various byproducts e.g. jasmine,  cinnamon, aloe vera etc and told about their alleged health benefits. I was given a forehead and scalp massage by a fellow who was introduced as being a student (it was actually quite good and presumably designed to soften the customer into buying stuff) and then shown to their 'pharmacy' where all sorts of ayurvedic medicaments were available for purchase. They thought I might like something for sore knees, or perhaps even 'herbal oil against varicose veins'  for the obvious varicose vein on my right leg. I did wonder about buying the 'lady tonic herbal syrup for ladies' for a friend but elected to buy  some cough syrup on the off chance it could help my ongoing chest issue. Apparently it will "cleanse the lungs and respiratory system" and "cures the chronic bronchitis".

The Garmin has been very helpful today in navigating my way through the heavy traffic I encountered on entering Kandy, although did direct me up one hill that was so steep and narrow that I had to wheel the bike. I checked in to Freedom Lodge in Saranankara Road that the guide book highly recommended. 5000Rs per night, breakfast included, is a little higher than I prefer to pay but after trudging up the hill, wheeling the bike,  I just couldn't be fagged trying anywhere else. It's quite a clean and spacious room although no view and it's next to the kitchen so I imagine it will be quite noisy in the morning. I'll try and change to a room with a balcony tomorrow if possible.

 downpour on the way to Kandy

 on the way to Kandy

Monday, September 14, 2015

Nalanda - 14.9.15

Day 8 cycling: POLONNARUWA to NALANDA:

Ride details (from Garmin):
Distance: 81.25km; ODOMETER: 446km; Moving Time: 6:13; Elapsed Time: 8:18; Avg Speed: 9.8km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 13.1km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 618m; Total Descent: 381m; Max Elevation: 293m; Calories: 2,534 C; Avg Temperature: 32.7 °C; Max Temperature:  38.0 °C

I'm currently lying on my bed in Room 105 at the Hotel Country Side in Nalanda,  somewhere along the A9 between Naula and Kandy, awaiting my pre-ordered evening meal at 7pm. I was fortunate to find this place - well strictly,  it found me when a chap in a restaurant waylaid me and offered a room. I'd nearly given up hope of finding anything. .. He wanted 6000Rs but agreed to 3300Rs including tax; the whole place looks fairly flash, and this room's not bad (although the massive lizard that just ran up the wall scared the daylights out of me. I hope it keeps to itself).
I arrived at Naula having cycled south for some while  and then west for hours and hours - over 8 gruelling hours - from Polonnaruwa. I decided,  against the advice of the guest house owner, to cycle a little off the beaten track. From the Leesha Tourist Home I headed south on the Kalahagala Road beside a big lake (Parakrama Samudra) and then cut though the southern end of the Angammedilla National Park before heading west on some obscure roads to the B112 or Elahera Road and then on to Naula on the A9, north of Kandy.

Surprisingly, given I've got the Garmin 800,  access to Google maps and an actual paper map of Sri Lanka, I became lost! (the trouble started when the Garmin told me I needed to make a U-turn, which made no sense to me at all). I eventually got back on track by asking for directions. It was a very challenging ride today,  and the challenging factors were: strong winds; highly variable road surfaces, including gravel, badly degraded bitumen, uncycleable (?) rocky sections, and sections of road being readied for resurfacing; some steep gradients (up to 10% in places) & the heat. I guess the other factor was me... I felt I ran out of gas at the 55km mark & I wasn't sure I could go much further (but somehow managed another 26km).

There were some positive aspects to today - riding along obscure roads can be fun, and the scenery was pleasant along the way (much of it was alongside the lake, and also followed a river or rivers). Contrary to my usual practice,  I took a lunch stop at a small husband-and-wife-run place about 25km before Naula. He cooked up a very tasty fried rice and she made a thirst-quenching cup of tea.

The ride to Kandy tomorrow appears to be about 50km.

 rough section of road near Angammedilla National Park

Lunch stop

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Polonnaruwa - 12 & 13.9.15


Ride details (from Garmin):
Distance: 55.63km; ODOMETER: 364.7km; Moving Time: 2:58; Elapsed Time: 3:32; Avg Speed: 15.7km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 18.7km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 198m; Total Descent: 338m; Max Elevation: 227m; Calories: 1,810 C; Avg Temperature: 32.9 °C; Max Temperature:  38.0 °C

It was quite a nice ride from Sigiriya to Polonnaruwa this morning although the Garmin, seemingly with a mind of its own, directed me down a tertiary road that eventually turned into a gravel path that I didn't fancy cycling down for any length, and it wasn't clear to me just how far it did extend, so I re-routed back to the main highway and made it here in good time. I noticed quite a few army camps and training grounds along the way, and imagine that knowing what to do with all their soldiers now that the war is over is a bit of a problem. Those that I saw seemed to be engaged in gardening.

My plan was to head for the Leesha Tourist Home in Polonnaruwa - at 105 Newtown Road - and so when I arrived in town I stopped at an intersection to clarify briefly, on the Garmin, where it was. While checking it out, some bloke on a motor scooter stopped to ask me what I was looking for.  I was about to tell him to 'take a hike' or 'shove off, thank you' as I knew where I was and that I had already planned where I wanted to stay - "the Leesha" - to which he responded by telling me he was the owner of the Leesha (!) and to follow him - he would lead the way there.

The room is large, very new and spotless with both fan and A/C (3000 Rs with A/C and just 2200Rs for fan only). While I usually don't, I elected to have the A/C as I've felt a bit overly warm the last few nights. The owner (Mr Upali, apparently) is a helpful fellow and advised me that I might like to join several of the other guests who were heading off on a 'safari' in an hour's time to the nearby Minneriya National Park where we'd see some elephants. Seemed like a good idea, although I was a bit sceptical that we'd see much. As it turned out, I was totally wrong - we saw scores of elephants roaming about, feeding and generally just hanging out, and were able to drive up fairly close to them. In addition to the numerous adults there were quite a few infants, some just a few weeks old. We also saw lots of birds - storks, pelicans, cormorants, eagles, peacocks - as well as some foxes, a water buffalo and some monkeys (?toque macaques). Overall a worthwhile trip, and it was nice to spend some time with some of the other guests here. We finished the day by tucking into a huge meal of rice, vegetarian curries and fish, made for us by the owner's wife.

On Sunday, after a healthy breakfast (fruit plate, rice hoppers, coffee) supplied by the guest house I teamed up two other guests who went on yesterday's safari -  Chris (from the UK) and Veronica (Czechoslovakia) - to explore the ruins around Polonnaruwa by bicycle. After yet again forking out an excessive 3300Rs (USD $24 or AUD $33) entry fee, no map or anything helpful provided, we spent 4 or 5 hours pedalling around. The highlights were probably the cathedral-like Lankatilaka temple containing a huge standing but headless Buddha and Gal Vihara, containing four separate Buddhas - 2 seated, a 7m standing one and a 14m reclining Buddha. Chris and Veronica were good company and I might even bump into them again in Kandy. Today seemed even hotter than usual and I was glad I hadn't planned to head off as it would've been hard going.

on the way to Polonnaruwa

Minneriya National Park

Minneriya National Park

(noisy) video of elephants at Minneriya National Park

 Royal Baths


 Buddha statues in the Hetadage

stonework inside the Hetadage

 Pabula Vihara (12th Cenury)


 headless Buddha statue in Lankatilaka

 seated Buddha at Gal Vihara

 Standing & Reclining Buddhas at Gal Vihara

 Standing & Reclining Buddhas at Gal Vihara

Standing & Reclining Buddhas at Gal Vihara

Evening meal at Leesha

Friday, September 11, 2015

SIGIRIYA - 11.9.15

Day 6 cycling: DAMBULLA to SIGIRIYA:

Ride details (from Garmin):

Distance: 18.9km; ODOMETER: 309km; Moving Time: 1:01; Elapsed Time: 1:11; Avg Speed: 15.9km/hr; Avg Moving Speed: 18.6km/hr; Max Speed:; Total Ascent: 109m; Total Descent: 85m; Max Elevation: 200m; Calories: 656 C; Avg Temperature: 27.4 °C; Max Temperature:  30.0 °C

It was a very short ride this morning and I arrived in Sigiriya by 9am. Last night I rang a place the guidebook recommended - the Lion Lodge - but they were booked out so I thought I'd try my luck elsewhere when I arrived in town. The Flower Inn had a room - it's large & clean, with all the basic requirements (fan, towels, power point), right in the heart of town, yet quiet, and within walking distance of 'the Lion Rock'. And only 2000Rs (for some reason cheaper than previous guests appear to have paid, according to the sign-in register I was obliged to complete). It's strange how some places need to see and record your passport details and others couldn't care less.

I fell into a deep sleep quite quickly last night but was woken around midnight by a tremendous thumping sound coming from above. For a few seconds I had the horrible feeling that the ceiling fan was about to detach from its mounting and 'thermomix' me to death but eventually figured out that it was probably langurs or monkeys engaging in a vicious squabble on the rooftop. Prior to that, I'd found them quite endearing - they're everywhere, and quite fascinating to stop and just watch for a while, especially the mothers and babies. I'd even begun to think how cool it would be to introduce them into Australia - it'd be such fun to watch them hassling koalas and hanging around in gum trees.

After checking in to the Flower Inn, I headed out straight away to see 'the rock'. I must say however that the 3960 Rs ticket price is a bit rich. That's roughly equivalent to USD $30 (or AUD $40!). No doubt about it, it's an impressive sight...  but really! I note that it costs USD $20 to see Angkor Wat for a day, $20 for Borobudur, $10 for the Pyramids, $11 to see the Taj Mahal, and AUD$25 for Uluru (for 3 days). You don't even get given a map or information handout.

The sights include the Royal water, boulder & terraced gardens, frescoes (in a niche on the sheer rock face), the so-called Mirror Wall, the Lion's Paws (surrounding the final ascent to the summit) and the Summit itself - a broad terraced area that contains the ruins of previous structures, and with spectacular views in most directions. The Cobra Hood Cave can be seen on the way down. There are some steep, precipitous climbs, although it's all fairly safe, but definitely sweat-inducing. A hat & a bottle of water are advisable. Overall, despite the cost, worth seeing.

Back at ground level, near the ticket office, the Sigiriya museum was well worth visiting. It was quite informative, and I especially liked the building and the way it integrated some of the pre-existing trees into its design.

The most surprising event of the day however occurred when I arrived back in town. I was quite thirsty,  having drunk all my water, so stopped to buy a small Coke in a plastic bottle. I've always considered myself to have fairly strong hands but there was no way I could remove that damn top. I tried wrapping a towel around the cap to get a better grip, I tried jamming it in the door... nothing. In the end I had to cut the lid off with my Swiss Army knife, and of course splattered the wall of my room with the by now highly-agitated Coke in the process. I perhaps should have listened to the French tourist the other day who was strenuously advising me how bad Coke was.

Tomorrow - Polonnaruwa!

 the moat

 another section of the moat

 Sigiriya rock

walkways and  staircases


Part of the Mirror Wall 

Lion's Paws Terrace

The final ascent 

Sigiriya Museum

Room at the Flower Inn 

I decided to refrain from bathing in the moat...