Despite other's attempts, the day is not ruined
06/26/2017 - 06/26/2017 81 °F
The Hindu temple in Matale, Sri Lanka, and its towering gopura
NEW! Watch this video and its panorama of the interior of one of the caves
The day started off on a sour note, but ended well. As I checked out of my hotel, they appeared to have no record of my prepaying for my room. I usually book my rooms on hotels.com, and pay for them in advance. I showed them my confirmation email, but he wanted to confirm they had been paid by the booking agency first. I ended up cooling my heels for an hour while he dialed his booking service, Expedia, and all the other hoops his hotel goes through to get paid. Several times I told him it was entirely between him and his agent — that I had paid and should be out of the equation. As it was, it ended up that I was right, and I simply lost an hour of my day.
Interior of Sri Muthumariamman temple
I had hired a driver yesterday - a friend of the tuk-tuk driver, to take me from Kandy to my hotel in Sigiriya with three sightseeing stops along the way. I'm beginning to feel that this is the way to go in Sri Lanka. Everything I have read about buses seems shaky (no room for luggage, nonexistent legroom, unpublished schedules). Trains are always booked, except for the third class which has people standing or hanging out doors because there is no limit on the number of seats they sell. It is more expensive to hire a taxi, to be sure. However, if you combine them with sightseeing stops you are essentially getting your own private tour at a bargain rate.
The Dambulla Caves, carved into the rock of the hillside over centuries
The rain came down and drizzled off and on for the first two hours of the way north. It was raining at the first stop — a Hindu temple in Matale. Sri Muthumariamman has one of those towering gopuras, or conical towers bedecked in statues of gods and creatures from Hindu mythology. It was so tall, and the surrounding buildings on the main road crowded close enough that it was difficult to get a good photograph of it. The rain didn't help,of course. Inside the temple itself, there were many Hindus leaving offerings and praying to the god Mariamman. I alway enjoy visiting Hindu temples for their riot of color. The brightly painted carvings and status make for interesting pictures.
Softly-lit statues of the Buddha in the Dambulla Caves
My driver inexplicably skipped the second scheduled stop I'd arranged the day before with his friend. Note to self: always review prices and stops before starting out! The driver looked like an adult version of one of my more ornery students, so I guess I wasn't surprised when “Yash” skipped Aluvihare, but also ignored my request to stop somewhere for a soft drink. Yash also set out to prove himself the most aggressive of Sri Lankan drivers, giving his tuk-tuk driving friend a run for his money. The steady diet of annoying pop music he played made me wonder if he was somehow channeling my former student.
Frescoes line the walls behind the statues
Yash also proved he didn't know the area well, parking at the wrong place for the highlight of the day, the Dambulla Caves. This amazing UNESCO World Heritage sight is a series of caves carved out of a granite hillside overlooking the countryside. Begun in the 1st century BC, the caves have been used as monasteries by Buddhist monks for centuries. Over the years they have added a bewildering variety of statues, and even more impressively, covered every every inch of the wall and ceiling with frescoes. I was reminded of Greek Orthodox monasteries I'd visited in Cyprus a few years back. It was stunning to see the detail and decoration bedecking the walls and ceilings.
Beautiful colors decorate the walls and statues
There was one large cave and four smaller ones. All had a subtly different atmosphere. A number of worshippers were honoring the statues, but most of the handful of visitors were tourists. I had to chuckle when I saw the French couple get roundly scolded for taking a selfie next to one of the statues. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised that photography was even allowed — let alone the flash photos I saw some people taking. The only prohibited picture taking was anything considered demeaning to the Buddha. Selfies fell into that category proving that somewhere there is justice in the world.
A small stupa decorates one of the caves
Although there were a number of visitors and only five caves, somehow it did not seem packed with tourists. There were times when I was alone in a cave, or with just one or two others. Perhaps the bulk of the people who climbed to the top of the hill saw just the main cave then returned downhill. I wasn't complaining, and even took a panoramic video when I was by myself in one of the caves.
A reclining Buddha dominates the first of the Dambulla Caves
Returning downhill, I took a number of pictures of the view of the surrounding countryside. Off in the distance, I could see Sigiriya Rock — which I would visit tomorrow. The sun had come out since we arrived at the caves, and it was a fulfilling end to the day’s sightseeing. Even Yash’s struggles finding my hotel (despite my giving him the phone number) didn't dampen my spirits. For an “in transit” day that began poorly, it ended well.
Beautiful scenery and a view for miles from the caves