Day 4 – heat wave: I don’t think the day was hotter than any other day, but you really feel it when you start the day climbing a huge rock and finish it climbing another huge rock. Sigiriya was about 15km from my hotel, so a pleasant and cheap ride in my tuk tuk (if it would survive the journey). Sigirya is beautifully lush and the rock formations are striking and colourful. It’s a long way to the top, but with many rewarding views over the surrounding countryside and a number of frescoes halfway up the rock in a sheltered gallery. The final ascent commences between two giant lion paws up steep ladders.
Even with the wind and a dump of rain on Sigiriya I needed some time to cool down once I’d made it to the top. Just as I summited there was a huge downpour. I cowered under my poncho with a tree for extra shelter. The resulting clouds and mist once the rain passed were rather dramatic, making the monkeys I photographed look especially pensive and brooding.
On to Dambulla after a quick banana snack, just a short trip down the road about another 10km. The Royal Rock Temple, five caves absolutely filled with paintings and carvings, totally spectacular and worth the sticky climb up the hill to see them. The size of the caves and amount of detail was breath taking – not something to miss. The tuk tuk ride back to the hotel was a welcome relief generating a much needed breeze. Next I hopped on the bus to Polonnoruwa, the wrong one as it turned out (thanks, tuk tuk driver)- luckily the conductor asked someone who was getting off at a small bus station further along to escort me to the place to wait for the right bus to continue my journey. Here my local sim card with internet access saved me as I noticed I had passed my guest house (which was slightly outside of Polonnaruwa) although the bus driver disagreed with me when I asked for directions. After asking several people and not getting a clear answer, I decided to ditch the bus and look for a tuk tuk, which took me on to Tishan Holiday Resort.
These guys are gunning for the number one spot on TripAdvisor in Polonnaruwa and they absolutely deserve it, I hope it happens. This was my favourite stay of the trip, the food was out of this world. They took my order when I arrived and off I went to the pool (yes, for £20 a night, they have a pool) to cool off. The pool is awesome. Rigged with colour changing lights it looked absolutely amazing as the sun set and it light up the night. I was alone out there watching the sunset and the growing number of bats circling overhead in the twilight. As it started to rain, hundreds of tiny frogs emerged and fringed the swimming pool croaking away. After my dip I was treated to a feast of a huge plate of rice and 8 accompanying dishes of various curries. It was absolutely amazing and I still look back on it as my favourite meal of the trip. I definitely recommend staying at Tishan Holiday Resort for the food alone (and of course the crazy colour-changing swimming pool).
My tips for this leg of the journey
Habarana seemed tiny, although I didn’t explore it, but there’s everything you need within the Cinnamon Lodge hotel complex (although it’s around £100 a night, so wouldn’t work for those on too tight a budget), which offers plenty of tours and day trips to the surrounding areas (but check the prices- you can probably do better organising it yourself). If you’re not a fan of budget travel then staying here for a while and making day trips to the neighbouring sites at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa (a little over an hour each if you had a driver) would make a great two or three days before you moved on.
When a tuk tuk driver tells you which bus to get on, it’s worth checking with the conductor or driver where it goes before you hop on! But don’t worry too much, everyone I met was very helpful, and as long as you find a way to communicate, your fellow bus riders will be able to help you find your destination.