Ravi our driver with his brother Johnson ran their small tour company Daphne tours. He was a very pleasant,well educated and knowledgeable man and a very safe driver to boot. He picked us up at 11am on the 16th March and we drove north to Dambulla with a few stops for road works. It took us about 5hours to reach there. Traffic in the cities can be bad and Ravi allowed for possible hold ups.

We stayed at the Piyasa Rest guesthouse with it’s four rooms and we were the only guests with our driver for the first night. It was a nice clean place with a very pleasant lady Sundria who ran the place. She had had a hard life with her father killed by an elephant and husband killed by a cobra bite. She had worked in Saudi, Dubai and Oman to support her two children and was glad to be back in Sri Lanka after 15years abroad. The driver’s accommodation was good too which is not always the case apparently in Sri Lanka and in other parts of the world. One place we picked in Ella was lovely for us but really sub-standard for the driver so much so that he went and overnighted at another place.

Ravi drove us to Sigiriya for dinner where there were a lot of restaurants and many backpackers. We ate a local dish called Kotthu Rotti- a chopped up rotti with vegetables which was very tasty accompanied by their delicious hot coconut and chilli sambal. There was a power outage from 1-6pm and from 8-10pm which was a bit inconvenient especially trying to negotiate the stairs when we left
the restaurant. Thank goodness it wasn’t too hot or humid when we got back to the guesthouse.

Since the end of the civil war 7 years ago so many eateries, guesthouses and small hotels have popped up, some with licences and some without.

There are not so many motorbikes on the road and helmets are compulsory except for small children. Everyone seemed to obey the rule. There is a heavy traffic police presence but bribery and corruption is apparently alive and well here too. There are emission controls but the buses don’t seem to have to comply as many belch out thick black smoke a lot of the time. The roads are excellent with Chinese built highways and secondary roads all built or reconstructed since the end of the civil war which lasted for 30years.

Ravi told us that tourism is growing every year and we found busloads of Chinese,English, Korean and French tourists as well as a few Germans and Russians in most of the tourist locations. I was worth having a driver to ourselves was that we could wait until a busload had left or got to a destination early so we didn’t have to fight to enjoy the sites. More than any foreign tourists were hundreds of schoolchildren of all ages who were ferried to the temples, archaeological sights and botanical gardens. Most were eager and well behaved and many asked us our names and from where we came.

The 20/20 cricket was being played in various places in India and TV’s were on in most establishements. The locals were passionate about the game.

Government female workers must wear saris to work – even our driver’s wife must wear one when she visits her children’s school. The Sri Lankan saris are worn differently to the Indian sari and seem slightly less cumbersome.

There were a lot of military camps in the country areas especially towards the north and east where Tamil Tigers had been prevalent. Most people in the south and west are Singalese but also most speak Tamil and a lot speak English. Apparently the different ethinic groups don’t like each other according to our driver who was half Singalese and half Indian Tamil but was born in Sri Lanka.

Our first sightseeing day was to Anuradhapura with it’s many archaeological Unesco sights spread over a large area. It was very hot and humid but we had lots of water/rehydration sachets on hand so it wasn’t a problem.
Sri Lanka has the most expensive entry fees we have come across on all our travels and compulsory amounts for guides. Entry fees ranged from $35-$40 each.

We had all morning in Anuradhapura which covers a large area and then got to Sigiriya at 4.30pm where we climbed the enormous rock which took about an hour with explanations on the way from the guide. We both made the 1236th step and had a wonderful view from the top over the national park and countryside. The remains of the Summer palace on top of the rock complete with swimming pool and Summer palace below are an amazing feat of construction. We stayed long enough to see the sunset on the way down. There were a few monkeys around but they were not bothersome ones, just curious ones.

We went back to Dambulla for a second night and Sundria cooked us dinner. The driver and I had string hoppers for breakfast with dahl and sambal while Maurice had his usual oats. Next visit was Polonnaruwa archaeological park and we had a very knowledgeable guide there who had worked in the Sri Lankan archaeological dept for 28years. The museum and sights were definately worth a visit.
We heard a noisy rustling of leaves and found two dogs having the time of their life in the mountains of leaves.

We finished the day with Dambulla rock cave temple another amazing feat of construction with so many buddhas in caves under the enormous rock. We were swamped with busloads of school children of all ages – most carrying lotus flower offerings which many of the monkeys managed to steal.

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