A long and stressful day was ahead of me so I left Negombo early in the morning. My plan was to get to up north to a city called Anuradhapura which is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka. It’s now a World Heritage Site and also a great place for pilgrims. My big plan was followed by an even bigger failure. My ass was already hurting halfway through.
Most of the road was flat and uneventful. I had one goal apart from getting to where I wanted to. Not to get under a bus or hit anyone. So far I’ve managed as I’m still at large and alive. I might have run over a few ants. Sorry… Bip Bop gives me freedom which I really enjoy. No plans just some sort of direction. I have the time to enjoy the scenery and I can stop anywhere I want.
I took the first longer pitstop in a wooded stretch of the road. That’s where I met the naughty baboons. Our unfortunate relatives are always hungry and as it is dry season now they can hardly find any food in the wild. They do what they can. They are mostly around people and steal or beg for food. Or just go through the thrash. It’s not a pretty sight but ce la vie. And it’s prohibited to give them food as they get used to it and if they don’t get it they become aggressive. On the other hand, they look really cute just sitting in the middle of the road munching on bananas. Obviously, I gave them some as I’m a reckless and stupid tourist.
In Kurunegala, which is barely 50 kms from Negombo, came the first real shock. So far I only drove between cities but I didn’t have to travel across a really big city. Riding on a single-lane road was ok so far but in Kurunegala I was shitting myself. Three-lane roads, roundabouts, wheelbarrows, police, buses, trucks, cows and an infinite number of tuktuks. I had a rough idea which way I should go but even if I had known for sure I couldn’t have gone that way as it was impossible. I just wasn’t in the right mindset and I didn’t have the courage and routine to go the way I wanted. So I just followed the traffic. As a result I got fucking lost and instead of getting closer to Anuradhapura I got farther away. Although I had GPS on my phone I didn’t have a phone holder or whatnot so I could only check my route from time to time. As a result I managed to drive 30 kms completely the opposite way. That doesn’t seem much but since I’m driving a three-wheeled washbasin instead of a Ferrari that meant an extra two hours. It would have been only a 2 hour detour If I hadn’t got a great idea to make a shortcut as I didn’t want to go back the same way I came. The secondary road was a secondary of the secondary road. After 1 hour of swearing and driving on a road which had more pits than tarmac I decided it was time to throw in the towel and call it a failure and go back to the main road. All of a sudden the 30 km detour became an 80km one. My main concern was that it was getting dark. Dark means serious chance of dying on the road. Darkness is the favorite time of the top predators. Buses.
I was forced to stop at the nearest city and find a place to stay for the night. So I arrived to Dambulla which is only half way between Negombo and Anuradhapura. But at least I drank Sir Lanka’s best flat white which didn’t make any sense to me because the cafe was in the middle of nowhere. That’s where I found out that Sri Lanka has a coffee culture. It even has its own coffee brand. What’s more Sri Lanka used to produce more coffee than tea but it was before our European friends started to arrive and colonize the shit out of Sri Lanka. Well, the truth is that the coffee plantations were destroyed by a fungus and that’s when the tea production started kicking in. (I’ll write more about tea and coffee in Sri Lanka in another post.)
Dambulla itself is not the most charming city in the area. Not many tourists stop there but there are a few attractions which are worth a visit. The city claims that it has the world’s largest statue of Buddha. This statement is completely false. Firstly it is not the largest as the largest Buddha statue is in China. And secondly it’s not the largest in Asia but in fact it is not even the largest in Sri Lanka. The city definitely has a good marketing team. But what’s really unique and interesting around there are the caves of Dambulla. They really are the largest. At Least in Sri Lanka. I can’t recall the exact story but a king was exiled and he went into hiding in the mountains for 20 years. And since he had plenty of time on his hands he started carving/digging. There are 5 or so huge caves around Dambulla. Some of them are the size of 50-metre in length and 10-metre in height full of statues and really unique sculptures from that time. He made a pretty cool place for himself. Since then it has become a pilgrimage place and a World Heritage Site which means no touching and no photography. Really impressive sight. Only the tourists spoil the overall picture. No, you will not be able to photograph a 50-meter-long cave with flashlight. Never. Fucking. Ever. But hey, good luck!
The other interesting sight around is a 500 million-year-old pink quartz mountain. It is just there. So let’s climb it. Well cimbing in 40 degrees is not much fun. I got sunburnt as it was expected. Living in the same body for 39 years I kinda know what happens next. And still it didn’t happen. I usually go really pink then like snakes I shed my skin and I’ll become pure white again. It didn’t happen as yet. It’s not normal. It might have something to do with the quartz’ healing properties? Or the sun is different here? I donno. Magic.
The mountain and the view again is really worth it. The climb is a little bit tiring and since the quartz is really sharp I cut my feet many times. On the top of the mountain they built a Buddha statue which gives a welcoming shadow after the climb. While I was trying to cool myself down and take a few insta photos a family gathered around me. They looked a bit worn. They were friendly and nice but they were all chewing on that betel shit so they had less teeth amongst the eight of them than a healthy person. They naturally asked for cigarettes which I gave happily. In exchange I took some photos for which I was ready to give more cigarettes. But I didn’t give them money. Cigi is ok. Money. Not so much.
Since there aren’t many foreigners in Dambulla the food is really cheap and you can eat with the locals. Or, let’s put it that way, you can only eat with the locals. There is also a cool market with lots of food and inflatable penguins. There I tried for the first time a sweet called ’kalu dodol’. This is a brown ugly jelly looking stuff and it has only 80% sugar content. I managed to eat a pound of this lovely stuff in under 20 minutes. I won’t go into details but the following day I spent more time in a specific place than in my tuktuk.
Once I was able to walk a hundred meters without searching for a toilet I left Dambulla. But before that I went into a shop to buy a phone holder and a 12V charger. That charger gave up after one week. I don’t know what I was expecting since it only cost 50 pence. Later I got another expensive branded one which, to my surprise, was stolen a week later. So I just gave up on charging on the move altogether. I set the GPS and after another half a day of jolt I finally arrived to Anuradhapura.
I had an image of Anuradhapura in my mind but that picture was far from reality. I imagined that there were a few ruins and some stupas and that’s it. I can do it in a day. Anuradhapura takes up 7000 square kilometers. To get from one end to the other took me half an hour by tuktuk. Massive. I quickly realized that one day wouldn’t even be enough to see half of it. There are some really huge and fascinating stupas and temples there. They are separated by forests and lakes. I got lost not once. However, I was lucky too as there was some sort of celebration while I was there. Although I had no idea what was going on I could marvell on those colorful flags and other things I won’t be able to name now. The celebration also led to another problem. I had to drive around and avoid a lot of people. Still being a rookie I have not once had a near miss. I hate that expression. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s a miss or not a miss. How can it be a near miss? Anyways, since I thought I was riding a bike which has two brakes on, operated by foot and the other by hand on the right side I almost ran over a monk. Obviously, it was his fault as he appeared out of nowhere. They just do it on a regular basis. I was about to brake but to my surprise the right hand brake just wasn’t there so I pulled the other one on my left side which is the clutch. Clutch doesn’t help. On the contrary. So my only option was to bear left and avoid the collision but I ended up nudging another monk. Just slightly. He was a bit scared while I was scared as shit. Luckily we both survived and after a few apologies and smiles we were on our way. I hope he didn’t curse me.
The most important experience for me was to finally get to like my feet. It might sound weird. Well, I’m pretty sure it sounds weird. I hate my feet. Or I did hate them until then. I do not know why I just never liked them. I know that I need to have them to be able to walk but otherwise I could live without them. As much as I like my hands, I hate my feet. Now it’s over. How did it happen? So during the ceremony one of the stupas was being wrapped in an unbelievably long material. Really long. And it was carried by hundreds of pilgrims walking neatly behind each other. The other end was handled by a few monks and they did all the wrapping. It took at least half an hour to do it. Also all of them were walking on a red carpet thingy laid down around the stupa. I accidently stepped on it, looked down and fell in love. With my feet. I’d never ever seen such filthy, dirty, well-crap feet in my life. Your feet become something like that if you don’t wear shoes for about a month. I don’t know why or what happened there but after 39 years of hatred I finally like my feet.
After that big revelation I sat down next to a statue and listened to the chanting and watched as the sun went down and the sky became that really cheesy vanilla sky. I think I had my first real spiritual experience. The second happened when I took a photo of that guy who meditated and made me cry. But I already covered that. On my way out I bumped into a guy who gave me flowers and asked me to jointly offer the flowers . To whom it was a mystery to me. . Again, I didn’t get what was going on but it felt nice. Then he invited me over to his place but I passed on that opportunity. Somehow I felt that it would have been a little weird to stay at a random guy’s place who was showing half naked really masculine photographs of himself. But maybe it was me with my polished nails who misunderstood his intentions.
The following day I did a few more rounds around the ruins and played with the monkeys. And that’s when they stole my breakfast. The other drivers were really amused by it. Shit happens if your ride doesn’t have a door. And they even managed to make a complete mess in my tuktuk. But I wasn’t upset as I can buy more food. They cannot. Oh, and they love the sunset. No kidding. Just before sunset I saw hundreds of monkeys running up to the top of a 100-metre stupa. They then sat down like in a cinema and waited for the magic. They quarrelled a bit too. I guess a few of them sat down the wrong place. Funny creatures.
I only saw roughly half of the attractions in Anuradhapura but I did not want to spend more time there so the following day I left for Sygiriya.
Sygiriya is also an important pilgrimage site, World Heritage Site and all that, but the really interesting stuff there is that mighty big rock, called Lion Rock which had a full on castle back then. Nothing was left of the castle now just the foundation but fortunately the 200-meter-high rock is still there. How the fuck did it get there? It’s not like Stonehenge but still why is there a massive rock in the middle of nowhere? The surrounding park is also beautiful. So much that you cannot step on the grass. Naturally you cannot step on the ruins which leaves you with no place to sit down and rest. I found a few trees to get some shadow but I was sweating like hell within 10 minutes after entering the park and there was the rock still to climb. They built a nice staircase but it isn’t the moving one. The view, however, was worth the struggle. I could see for miles. I could see where I was before and where I was heading to. I couldn’t recognise any of these places but I was told I could see everything. Really. Absolutely worth the visit.
There is not much going on in the city which is only like 200 meters long but there are many places to cater for the hungry tourist. One of my favorite places was a place called Rastaurant where only Bob Marly’s music was played. The staff was a little bit disorientated. I think it is clear why. But I got all of my gin and tonics within 15 minutes. Although I got beer once and the other time I was asked three times what I ordered, but a place like that comes with a charm. The only drawback which made me crazy was the mosquito situtation. The Rastaurant was built next to a lake. Or to a pond to be precise. I was smoking as much as I could to keep those beasts away. Ah, one more thing why I would remember Sygiriya forever. My accomodation was the shittiest of the shitty. The worst up to that point. They must have had a very good photographer as the photos didn’t reveal any ant nests nor the roof made out of tinfoil. And naturally the mosquito net and the curtains were taken away by the photographer after the photo shoot. Fortunately, the room was lit by 10W bulb so none of these bothered me much. I skipped showering too as I was afraid I would be dirtier than before the shower. But at least it was really cheap.
In the morning I left Sigiriya and headed back towards Dambulla where I had to stop for another night. I was wearing the same 3 T-shirts for a week now and even the monkeys were circling around me so I really had to find a place to do my laundry. And since I saw everything in the area I thought I would have a rest day but instead of doing nothing I spent most of my time running some errands.
In my next post I’ll write about a city called Kandy where Bip Bop went missing and where I had to find a drug dealer to get some cigarettes. I also managed to get so drunk in a bar recommended by Zandi that I could hardly walk straight. I love that city!