north-eastern coast, I now return to the central lowland.
7/1. It is still raining, and as fare as I can see, it will continue that, in the entire country, for the next two or three days. I got the time to wait it out - except the rain is predicted to return after only two cloudy days. Problem is; what should I do meanwhile?
The expensive safaris are out of the question, but I give the ruins of Ritigala a shot. It remains almost dry on the 20 km drive to the site, but once again, I'm caught by a police officer, and my papers are at the hotel. A lot of sweet talking, and I can continue.
The ruins are located within Ritigala Strict Natural Reserve. As I enters the area, my car is swarmed with desperate young men, offering rides and guiding within the site, and an old man real eager to offer something, could be water or moonshine? They all talk about elephants on the 3 km road to the ruins, how bad the road is, and so on.
I give them a slip, starting walking the route myself. Here are quite some elephant droppings, and well used tracks from the crosses the road often. Some temple monkeys and some illusive, rather large monkeys make a lot of noise, and I keep my senses sharpened for the sight of huge, gray bodies, the odour of elephant and heavy noises.
That kind of keep on my toes, and despite I eagerly look for orchids, I fail to see any in the dense forest. The track could easily be driven in a 2x4WD car - especially a rented one, although it does contain a few., large and orange pools. I kind of regrets I didn't drive, especially when I sense something big and close.
The dirt road leads through dense forest with crossing creeks. At one point, the mist-engulfed mountain reveals it self, just to disappear again. It is the high peak of Ritigale, towering 766 meters above the sea, 600 above the surroundings, making it the highest peaks in the north. A few birds twits, and big drops falls occasionally from the trees. I make it to the entrance, and the guys are real eager to get a donation of no less than 1500 LKR. They make a big thing out of dropping it to the locked box, but I'll bet they have the key anyway. Not saying they will nick it though. I think this is one of the most straight people I have met on my journeys around the world. Defiantly the most smiling!
A narrow path leads up to some huge granite stairs. Then a rather well preserved path, made of cut granite, leads into and up in jungle. It connects several platforms, which seems to have formed the base for large buildings in wood. Some have impressive stone work, other are more or less dissembled. I would have expected more constructions, based on the stairs and the long and work-consumed path.
The area is famous for its monk-urinals, and I don't need a guide to guess where they are. Well, at first I think of the traditional foot-prints of Buddha, but not with the hole in-between. The several kilometre long and smooth granite path end at a large construction, but far from at the peak of the mountain. I consider to continue, but I have quite some walking back through elephant infested area, and I don't have the required permission.
I don't see many animals, just some nice golden skinks, the spine from a porcupine and a "centipede". At one point, it is clear the elephants have crossed the road since I was here. I can hear them lurking around 30-50 meters within the dense vegetation, and I leave with no photos, but in good health. The old fart now expect payment for watching over my car.
It is just after noon, and I figure I go orchid hunting in the area. First, I drive to the nearby village of Gunnawalpule. It seems to be a Muslim society, and not as prosperous as some other villages I have visited. I make a stroll along the shops, and buy a cup of tea and a cookie.
Back in the country side, I make a few stops - despite the drizzle, but fail to find any interesting plants at all. Then I reach the larger village of Kekirawa. Another tour through town, and I have a pair of shorts! In the outskirts of town, the traditional tank is found. It seems like any prosperous society have to have one, presumably to adjust the water for the rice patches. The huge road-trees have the usual orchids within them, and the bathing locals get a laugh while I investigate.
The next stretch of 20 km towards Dambulla reveals even more of these orchids, sitting in cubic-meters of clusters, in the giant road-trees - and nowhere else. The tree's stems are from two to three meters in diameter, and their canopy could easily cover additionally two lanes of road. That reminds me: How many busses can you fit into a two lane Sri Lanka road? One more!
I kind of remembers the name Dambulla, and I might have been here before, unless we only visited the museum and stature? Despite it is a rather large city, the shops are quite warn down, the sidewalks even worse. I find some nice sweets, could be a mix of rice flower and sugar with some added taste? Another cup of tea while the rain picks up, and I head back home to Habarana.
The ants have been busy in the else so spotless room, piling up a huge mount of gravel. I enjoy a great dish of fried rice with crispy chicken and a pot of tea, while I work. I am running out of sights, especially considered I'm not even half way in time. I might have to come up with some more sights, or else I would be bored to death in empty hotel rooms. I desperately go through the guidebook once again, to get some inspiration for additionally sights.
8/1. There seems to be only one way for me to explore the nearby national parks; Minneriya and Kaudulla. That is by hired Jeep with driver, guide and park ranger. That will make it quite difficult for me to ignore the elephants, and get close to the plants though. I spend the morning trying to find a back-door, but fails.
Back at the hotel, I'll have to bite the bullet, and order a Jeep for the afternoon. Normally, they start at two, but due to the weather forecast, I like to start at noon. That give me a bit of time to do the entire city. The marked is real nice, spanning from vegetables over pottery and black-smith's tools to colourful clothing and equal flashy plastic ware.
The Jeep is early, and I try to fit in the back, but my head hits the sealing, and I sit with my head way up in the canopy, and can't see anything. I jump inside, next to the driver, and off we go - but he only drive 30 km/t on the long way to the park. I quick look through the "museum" which only reveals some spare-parts for the local animals. Then I get ripped of for the full fees for car, driver, guide and all, but there are no point in them getting in the back, when I'm in the front.
Well, there might be, because the driver don't spot animals. I get him to back-up to the first elephant. It is within the dense forest we first drive through. Then we reach the savannah, which is lush and green. We have been driving several kilometres without any sights, except a few herons and storks.
Then, with a bay, two large bulls - without tusks - are foraging. They collect a trunk-full of grass, shake the dirt of and stuff it in their mouth. I would have like to get closer, but on the other hand, I like to leave the animals at piece. We drive around the bay and find three elephants walking in the lakes water. Again, in way too good distance.
As we continues along the shoreline of the enormous tank, I spot some coyotes. When I get the driver to stop, they are almost gone. A few eagles crosses the sky, a dead tree is full with swallows and just as we leave the park, I see a huge wasp-nest. Despite my eager lookout for both animals and orchids, the named make up the entire list.
On the positive side; We seems to have been absolutely alone in the park. As we exit, a long line of 4WD'er is lined up with pale people - where do they emerge from? - and we pass even more on the way back to town. It must be a train of them in the park after two! I had 1,5 hour there by my self - and the driver.
On the way back, I spot a large elephant in the bushland, around 50 meters from the road. There are many "business-cards" along the road, but they can hide so easily in the vegetation. Which I do have in mind, walking in it!
Considered the sad outcome of my substantional financial investment in the park, I decide to try and get some free entertainment. I drive back through the villages I gone through yesterday, to get to a western area. On the way, I passes the high Ritigale mountain, this time in the clear.
Then I spot some tall, almost finger-like boulders some distance from the road. I find a minor dirt track and get close. All that separates me from them is someone's home. I enters the yard with a wide smile on my face, and get in contact with the owner. I think I get his consent, and wanders off, into his backyard.
The boulders are really spectacular. Around 20-25 meters tall 5-8 in diameter. I can't imagine why they are not a tourist sight? OK, they are a bit hard to find and even harder to get close to, but so much more impressive. I wave at the owner on my way back, and he still seems a bit baffled.
Then I reach the huge Kalawewa Reservoir. The dam is 30-50 meter tall, and the tank stretches for 6,8 kilometres. People are bathing in it, cows grassing on the dike's sides and some of the numerous Sri Lanka dogs approaches me in optimism. That fades, when they figures I'm only going to consume some mangoes. If any fruit should be turned to triploid, it ought to be mangos! Would be so nice without the giant seed!
On the back side of the massive dike, lush green rice fields and palm trees get the best out of the constantly supply of water. I somehow misses the turn-off to Aukana, and the GPS go high-wire. Guess it gone into enemy-army-mode once again. I get a tour over fields, on the most awfully road I have experienced in Sri Lanka and end up getting further and further away! In the scruffy village of Negaria, I've give in, and returns.
On the way out, I glimpses what looked like a tortoise in the side of the road. It is! A yearling of the only land tortoise in Sri Lanka; Indian Star Tortoise; Geochelone elegans. I haven't thought of it, and would not have thought I could be lucky enough to see one.
Back at the huge dike, I spot a stone with the inscription: Auukkana, and I figures it must be it. The GPS claims I'm in the lake, but I end up at the right temple. The resident monk is a real sympatric person, speaking good English on top. He invites me to stay there for some time, for free, in a real nice house. He even throw in meals. I'll keep it in mind, and head for the attraction.
A twelve meter high Buddha statue have been cut out of the bare cliff. It is a magnificent work, but the entire setting is marvellous: A degoba, the view to remote mountains, rice fields, ancient granite buildings, a massive bodhi tree, a natural pond and the people. I do several rounds on the rather little sight, but it is getting late.
The monk ask me, if I can give his brother a lift to the nearest city. Of cause, I can. I just wished I understod, what it was he so eagerly tried to explain to me. Well, I do get that at a specific location on the dike, the Buddha can be seen, way in the forest.
I delivers him in Kalawewa, and continues in the dusk and then the dark. I spot a dark shadow in the side of the road, and it turns out to be a fully grown Indian Star Tortoise. The local teenagers turns up like Jack-In-A-Box, and that complicate the portrait of a active tortoise significantly!
It is almost impossible to see anything with the bad headlights, the tinted windows and the winding miner road. Guess I will find out if I hit a dark elephant? They ought to put reflexes on them - but then again, they ought to wear them themselves, and turn on light on vehicles.
I make it to the hotel, and just as I get my food, three Danish "hillbillies" settles at the table next to me. I stick to English and mind my work.
9/1. I get some work done during the morning. Mails have been piling up, and I should take advantages of the good internet I got here. When I tell the owner, I'm leaving for Polonnaruwa, he invites me to dinner at his home there, this evening. I've said it before, but I will have to be repeated: This is the most heart warmed people I ever have come across!
I only have 40 km to Polonnaruwa, but I planned to spend the entire day on the tour. The road leads right through Minneriya and Kalawewa national parks, and it turns out; that is the backdoor I've been looking for. A new sign at the side of the road warn about monitors and crocodilians, others about wildlife in general.
If you are one of those people, whom I promised to take care of my self, and not jeopardising my life on this tour, please jump to tomorrow. The first clearance I stop in, have been made by elephants quite recently. I thought they all gone to Kalawewa, but apparently, some stayed put. There is only one thing that kind of get the ubiquities elephants of my mind; The scary large amount of leopards, this park is famous for.
The vegetation is dense bush underneath huge trees. The only tracks I can penetrate without hurting myself, it those made by elephants. Their calling-cards seem quite fresh, and I even find scrapings made by them, after this night's rain.
Here are surprisingly little of botanical interest. A single new bush, baring clusters of flowers on the stem, next to the leaves, is more or less all. That repeats from stop to stop, until I reach a large clearance. A huge swamp with Lotus, surrounded by open grass. I do a round at the open area, but someone start shouting at me. I don't get the full content, but I figures he want me out of here. I did see a a sign leading to a fancy resort - or is about elephants?
As I walk back through the forest, I sense something big in front of me. Dammed, I've been cut of by at least one elephant. I back off, and wait for an eternity, but is just remains on the trail or nearby. I end up crawling through dense bushes, back to the road. Scratched, punched, acing and in general misery, I make it back to the car, and I don't even get a picture of the long-snouted pest!
A bit further up the road, I see a Water Monitor crosses, just like the sign predicted. The magnificent golden skinks is everywhere, and I even get photos up-close. I crosses a service road for the electric wires, and take advantages of the cut-down path. A tortoise try to sneak away, but not before a photo session with me. As I get further into the area, elephant dung tend to be a bit too fresh.
Next stop is called by a large eagle, sitting in a tree next to the road. In the same area, I find the first orchids of the day, and I go for a rather long tour, within Minneriya park. Despite my efforts, there don't seem to be more, and I reluctantly drive on.
The huge Kalawewa Tank almost meets the road, and on its brinks, three huge elephant bulls are foraging. One it relatively close to the road, the two others on an isthmus, way out in the mist. Seeing those enormous animals mowing slowly, brings me back to a scene in Jurassic Park.
The odd jersey cows kind of look like lions in the mist, but it is the elephants that make the traffic stop. Tuck-tucks, lorries and a few tourists admires the giants, while I try to figure a way to avoid them. I do several more stops, but I can't shake that encounter with the elephant in the forest off, and I tend to be a bit to anxious, to enjoy the nature.
When I reach the 25 square kilometre large tank of Parakrama Samudra (Sea of Samudra), the most significantly feature, is the elephant fence, following its entire coast. Some fishermen try their luck, and I get mine in form of an orchid in the huge trees along the road. I have to penetrate some barb-wire fence to get close, and then I discover the ruins. The first one is a almost endless wall in ancient bricks. On it, two members of each species of monkeys sits, nursing each other.
In this area, I find several rather well preserved fundaments for temples and alike. A bit further in, I meet quite some pale tourists. I guess I have found the backdoor to an popular site? Then I recognises it from the descriptions; I am at the magnificent Quadrangle. It is from around 1000-1200, when this was the capital for kings.
Here is the huge, round Vatadage with four moonstones, the hollow Thuparama Gedige with Buddha statues inside, the massive Gal Pota; a nine meter monolith with a long text on, weighing 25 tonnes, and brought here from 100 km away. The Hatadage with yet another tooth, the weird looking stone fenced Latha-Mandapaya and quite some other structures. Considering the steep fees they charge for a one day visit at these sights, I sneak off before I'm caught. I will go back tomorrow, paying the fee. On the way out, I surprises a rather large snake.
Round the corner, and I'm in Polonnaruwa. I have found a guest house from home, and this time, I actually find it right away. Unfortunately, none else it there, except someone's "looked after" luggage. I get a pot of tea nearby, but still too vacant. So are the neighbour, but the third have a charming lady in charge. I get a 1000 LKR room for 1500 LKR, but only because I ask for warm water. Quite a shower one can get for that amount, but I must admit: I appreciate it so much, compared to a cold.
It is four in the afternoon, and I figure I might take a stroll around town. I'm recommended the dike, and give it a shoot. A rather large canal leads from the tank, and it is used for bathing. Not swimming, but bathing with soap and all. Some even drive here in their cars, to bath.
On the other side of the dike, the enormous lake houses cormorants, terns and herons along with a few fishermen. I let a Tieck tourist have the first shot at a drying bird, before I get a close-up. An area, called Island Park houses some ancient ruins and pools. A massive stone lion was the throne for King Nissankmalla from 1187 to 1196. The pillars for the throne hall stands intact, and it is yet another impressive remain from Sri Lanka's past.
The nearby trees have orchids on them, and as I get up close and personally, I step in front of three Malaysian tourists. Then I do a long stroll along the canal, waiting for sunset. It ought to be great on the lake, but it kind of fades of in the low clouds. Three French women arrivals at the scene, and despite I great them politely, they ignores me completely. I have to move 50 meters away, to avoid their brainless babble.
Back at the hotel, I do some work, before heading out for dinner. The restaurant in front of the hotel, where I got tea earlier, had a good menu, but when I order, they are out of most. I end up with fried rice with chicken - besides from I have to pick-out fish-bones time and time again. Two Swiss girls ask if it is any good, and I can't lie. I figure I deserve a desert, and try another place. Here, I get Curd & Traeisan, which might be yoghurt and honey?
As I return to the hotel, I meet not only the Tieck, but the Malaysians and the Swiss are staying here too! And as the top of the icing, the French are not! I wonder how all the other hotels get bye? While I work, I get to entertain the patrons grandson, who is around five or six. He speak a real good English, and is truly bright.
The photos from this area can be found in this slide-show.
I remain in the central area, but now in Part 2.