13.09.2013 - 13.09.2013 32 °C
Yesterday we moved on from rainy Kandy via another cheap and easy local bus - just with a little help from a local to point us in the right direction of the bus we needed. Our destination was Habarana, on arrival you notice that it is nothing more than a small town on a cross roads, but it is a excellent base to visit Sigiriya and Minneriya National Park.
Today has been one of the best days we have had. We got up early to eat breakfast ready for our tuk-tuk to collect us at 10am. After a confusing driver change and a detour to a shop we had arrived at Sigiriya in no time. Tickets for the famous Lion Rock are quite expensive, $30 per person but it is something we have wanted to see for a long time. First we went into the museum. We were not expecting much but actually it is brilliant. Full of well though out exhibitions with lots of information. We were too excited to get a glimpse of the rock however so we rushed though it.
We entered the main gate and in front of us was a long stone path with the huge rock at the end.
It is amazing, it is as if a giant has just thrown a huge boulder. The area around the rock is flat and it just sticks out, there is no gradual incline. The walk up to the rock is lovely, through gardens and ruins and as you reach the rock you begin to climb stone steps..... Be warned there are quite a few. After climbing for a few minutes you come to a metal spiral staircase. At the top there is an enclosed walkway where you can view the original rock wall paintings. They are in really good condition and afterwards you descend a separate staircase and walk around the rock about half way up and view the mirror wall. This is a stone wall that is filled with 14th century graffiti that has been important in Sri Lanka to determine the development of Sri Lankan script.
At the end of the mirror wall you are brought out at the foot of the Lion feet staircase. It is amazing.
Two huge carved lion feet flank a very steep staircase up to the top of the gargantuan rock. We admired the feet for a while and then set off on our ascent. The steps are not too bad, there is just one area where they seem to just be metal slats poking out of the rock. On the way up Liam acquired a Friend who was hellbent on 'helping' him up the rock. Liam tried to just run off which resulted in the man holding on to his t-shirt while Liam tacked two steps at a time and was almost keeling over at the top. Never the less a the top the man asked for money to which Liam had to refuse on the grounds that he was only a hinderance.
At the top the views are spectacular. You can see 360 degrees for miles.
There is lakes, mountains and green fields as far as the eyes can see and we sat under the overcast skies enjoying the wind and the sporadic drizzle of rain stroking a lovely dog we had made friends with.
The top of the rock is full of ruins, foundations of what they suspect was a monastery or temple. We explored and then made our shaky decent down the stairs to investigate the ground level sights. We saw the auditorium and the cobra cave, a cave which looks like the hood of a cobra. The area around the rock is nice and is filled with big boulders and mature trees. There are people selling souvenirs and there was a snake charmer with a cobra in a basket which he played a flute to a angered with the lid of the basket for money.
Our tuk-tuk driver was waiting at the exit and after politely declining a visit to his friends shop and his friend the masseuse we were allowed to go back to our hotel. We arrived back at around 1pm and had thoroughly enjoyed our morning visiting Sigiriya. It is an awe inspiring sight, vast and beautiful and even though it is expensive it is a must when visiting Sri Lanka.
Once back at our guest house we ordered some cold ginger beers to cool off and decided to visit Minneriya National Park in the afternoon. Our hotel owner advised that we go as soon as we were ready as it gets busy by late afternoon. After a change of clothes we were ready for our afternoon sightseeing session by 1.30pm and the hotels jeep driver picked us up. It costs 3500 Rs to hire a driver and jeep and costs 5870 Rs for two people to ever the national park. This is expensive, all in all it has cost around £50 but it is something we wanted to do and it is one of the most amazing natural wonders in the world at this time of year.
In August and September the water of the lake in the national park dries up and new grass shoots grow in their abundance. This means that wildlife flocks to the national park at this time of year and often you can see huge herds of wild elephants grazing on the park.
On first arrival we went on a rough and ready ride through the jungle. Once through the dense jungle of thorny bamboo you emerge onto flat plains of land with lots of lakes. We couldn't see anything at first apart from lots of water birds and some peacocks but our driver soon pointed out a huge eagle.
We had made a bet that the first one to spot an elephant, if there were any received a present from the other one and Liam won the bet. In the distance we could see a small gathering of wild elephants. Our driver headed around the lake towards them and as we approached we realised the scale. It was a huge herd, between fifty and a hundred and they were grazing on the trees in the shade.
We pulled up and were one of three jeeps watching the gentle giants. After a while they started to move and they all walked towards the water. The whole herd of them stood on the side of the lake, some bathing, some squirting water and others just content to graze on the grass. There were lots of tiny calves being protected by their mums and we watched for a long time. It was spectacular and was one of the most beautiful things we have seen.
After about 45 minutes just sat quietly watching we moved on. We rode around the lake to a watchtower where we could see the scale of the park.
The National Park itself is vast and stunning.
It is flat plains of lush land framed by mountains. All around you can see massive flocks of birds sat on the water foraging for food.
The driver then took us back into the jungle where we saw lots of different things. We saw a group of langur monkeys, some deers, some lizards and more eagles. The jeep was bumpy but we had so much fun standing up looking out for things in the trees.
On the way back the driver took us back around the other side of the lake where the elephants had moved. It was later on by this point and we counted twelve jeeps watching the elephants, some a little too close. On the way out we counted more than fifty jeeps entering the park. The whole experience was amazing, something we will never forget and probably once in a lifetime to see so many wild elephants in one place. If we had one criticism however it is the amount of jeeps that go into the park in the later afternoon. Thankfully we didn't have to witness it but we wouldn't have been comfortable sat in a group of fifty plus jeeps surrounding the elephants. It's seems too disruptive to us and can only do one thing, put them off from gathering in such a spectacular way.
Today has been just perfect however. Both Sigiriya and Minneriya National Park are both once in a lifetime sights for us. The Lion Rock is something we have wanted to see for a long time and it did not disappoint us. Minneriya however surpassed all our expectations. We thought it might be a long shot to see a wild elephant so to see a huge herd just cannot be described in words. It was magical.