I already wrote about my travel to Sri Lanka, but today I’m going to focus on the very first day of my journey.
Let’s jut say I experienced first hand why the island was called Serendib (term which originated ‘serendipity’). I expected a tour of discovery in the many cultural sides of Sri Lanka, but I could never imagine to live in two completely different realities on the same day.
Our plane landed in Colombo at four in the morning, so although it took us three hours we arrived in Dambulla while it was still very early. Dambulla is part of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, the area comprised between the country’s ancient capitals – Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy.
Dambulla itself is quite an anonymous town, but it’s a necessary step for an unmissable highlight: the Royal Rock Temple, one of the country’s most renown landmarks.
The very moment we stepped out of the car we were in front of a huge golden Buddha located on top of the Golden Temple. This temple, whose flamboyant and kitsch appearance might leave the visitors a bit puzzled, is but the façade of the more charming Royal Rock Temple, which stretches from 100 to 160 metres above the street and has its entrance through a long way among the rocky walls.
Once we arrived at the caves hosting the Rock Temple we enjoyed a nice view over the countryside. Dozens of sentries were waiting for us, entangling monkeys waiting and hoping that from the offerings to the gods something might be left for them too.
Our visit happened on the first day of the year, therefore we found a lot of worshippers and just a few tourists. Sri Lankan people were taking to the temple any kind of food, offerings for a prosper and happy new year.
The temple is made of five caves – among them two minor ones which are closed – and each of them has some special appeal that amazes the visitors. No way one could figure out such magnificence from outside.
In the first cave there is a wonderful, 15-metre long lying Buddha. And it’s just the beginning: the most spectacular cave is in fact the second one, Maharaja Viharaya. 23-metre deep and 52-metre wide, this cave conceals 16 standing and 40 sitting Buddha statues. Another sculpture has been crafted directly in the wall and the sight of it it’s just incredible. And if you look at the ceiling you will see some XVIII cave art depicting some scenes from the Buddha’s daily life.
After a quick lunch break we went to Kaudulla National Park, about an hour and a half drive from the Rock Temple. Here I would experience the astonishing difference I was talking about at the beginning.
After diving in Sri Lanka’s culture and history, here we were all of a sudden surrounded by the island’s wild and spectacular nature. A three-hour safari in this park allows to take a good look to the elephants living here, up to 250 specimens gathering here especially in October.
Kaudulla National Park is a 66-kilometre long corridor that allows the elephant to move from two different parks: Somawathiya Chaitiya and Minneriya National Park. Moving by jeep, we could get close to the animals and watch them while they were going to the artificial pond Kaudulla Tank to water themselves.
The Indian elephant is very different form the African one. First of all, it is smaller. And moreover not every specimen has fangs, just some males. We did not see any other animal beside the elephants, but there are also leopards, wild fishing cats and wild rusty-spotted cats (the latter are facing extinctions).
This very first day of our journey foretold us how spectacular and surprising Sri Lanka would be: a country whose many mysteries never fail to charm and astonish tourists and travellers.