Tag Archives: village tour

Day 4 – Rock Carved Buddha, Dambulla Caves, Polonnaruwa

21 Mar

Following toast, jam & cakes, we drove for 90 minutes, passing women harvesting rice crops.  We stopped briefly for a few of the group to give a small child a packet of sweets.  I dropped off the forwarding address for the dentist bill.

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First real stop of the day was to the Avukana Ancient Rock Temple – a 12m high Buddha that had been carved from the surrounding rock / cliff.  A new modern roof protects the 5th Century sculpture in its jungle setting.  Not quite sure why.  It is the latest in a long line of roofs.  Although we found it interesting, the monkey frog in the pond was also an appeal, not unfortunately listed in the guide books.  Yes, a frog that looks like a monkey.  It really does.  The statue had a huge wasp nest hanging from its right elbow, giving it a somewhat more striking presence.

Moving on, we also had time to find the cotton that comes from the fruit of the capoc tree, eating some small sweet bananas and some typical Sri Lankan “Hawaiian” biscuits (coconut flavour, of course).  We had a short walk along the side of a large reservoir – stopping for monkeys and plants that react to your touch by closing up, and then reopening.

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We reached the cave temples at the small town of Dambulla and faced some gruelling steps in the heat of the day.  The white clad school kids were all looking fresh as we handed over our shoes to a wild haired man and then trudged to the jobsworth entry attendant.

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We squeezed into the first of five caves to find a reclining buddha.  The second cave contained 57 statues in various poses.  One of these included a cobra hooded Buddha, which was supposed to have protected him when meditating in heavy rain.  These are ~2100 years old.  The third cave had 56 statues, including one of the last king of Sri Lanka.  He stood a respectful pace behind the buddha statues, but looked scary.  Atmospheric lighting and heavily painted rock ceilings made these caves unmissable.  Cave 4 contained an annoying high pitched ant deterrent, so we didn’t linger long time in the smaller caves 4 and 5.

Making friends with more monkeys on the way down, we then headed for a village tour.  Jumping on tuk-tuks, we headed off into the jungle.  Well, most people did, but there weren’t enough tuk-tuks,  so I settled on taking pictures of bullocks, with their owners initials carved into them, until one turned up.  The driver asked if I wanted to take the wheel, and I changed into the front seat.  As I drive an automatic, lurching was the best this could be described.  A clutch was foreign to me, especially on handlebars.  The accelerator seemed to go the incorrect way too.  But I managed a few bits of straight road before handing back to the driver.  Never did get the lesson on where the brakes were.

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Joining the rest of the group at the village hut, we were shown a coconut preparation demonstration.  Taking the outer layer off, cutting it open with a machete (drinking the juice), and extracting the shredded coconut from the inside with a special hand tool.  The two women also demonstrated the grinding of chillies using a large stone.  This was then combined with ground onions and lemon juice to make a coconut sambol.  This was added to the other lunch ingredients – rice and curry! – which we then had to eat off a banana leaf using only our hands.  Much harder than you might imagine.  The secret is to get the correct combination of sauce and rice, to form it into balls and throw it at your mouth.  Water buffalo curd and honey rounded off the meal – thankfully in plastic bowls with a spoon!

What followed was a masterclass in processing food.  Any members of the group who tried to copy, just ended up looking foolish!  Firstly it was pounding the raw rice to separate the shell from the rice.  This was then wafted in the wind (winnowed) to separate the two.  Red millet was ground.  This was slightly easier.  Lastly, we had a demonstration of leaf / frond weaving.  These were used as roofing on the huts.

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After this, we headed to the small lake, where what can only be described as tables lashed to 2 canoes were awaiting us.  One poor local man tried desperately to point us in the correct direction as we slowly burnt to a crisp on the water, with no escape possible.  I was at the front, which meant that the non swimmer was furthest from the supposedly available life jackets.

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Deboating, we then headed for the bullock carts awaiting us.  Tuk tuks and motorbikes were able to overtake, but cars had a huge problem on the narrow roads.  We arrived back and emptied the fridge of the nearby shop of all his cold drinks – which resulted in my drinking Mountain Dew Neon, a high sugar, high caffeine product!

Driving on, we arrived at “The Lake” hotel, Polonnaruwa.  This is a 7th century man-made lake.  The hotel greeted us with a fresh juice drink and a towel to clean ourselves.  Showering was more important than catching the last rays of sun over the lake from the viewing platform around the swimming pool.

The evening meal option was only really in the hotel.  A buffet was available – containing the standard rice and curry, but also much more.  This didn’t suit some of the group who were after the previously promised a la carte menu.

After a tense stand off, french fries appeared.

Other interesting notes from today – only 85% of Sri Lankan homes have access to electricity.  Hoping for 100% by 2025-30.

Also, “How many pecks can a woodpecker peck, if a woodpecker could peck wood?”  20 per second apparently.  That’s a possible 11,000 a day.

Bloody annoying though.

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Day 12 – Mons, Monks & Monkeys

23 Mar

For some reason, my mind thought that 5:30am was a good time to wake up … two days in a row, does not make a pattern.  As the real start was due at 8:00am, this meant plenty of time for breakfast!  The made to order waffles and honey were fantastic, and went nicely with the bacon and toast.  I couldn’t get more un-Burmese than that!

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The view from OK Kyaung

We headed first to the temple of Ok Kyaung, which afforded spectacular views of a large number of other stupas and temples, after climbing only a short flight of stairs.  George’s “cousin” from yesterday was nowhere to be seen, but plenty of others had filled her spot.  I started a photo taking competition (starring me and some bricks) in which Karen, Albery and Ethna all took part.  Results will be announced later.

A short hop to the Dhamma Ya Zi Ka Pagoda, which stood in front, saw us do the now traditional clockwise tour of the outside.  This one had a large golden dome, shrouded in bamboo scaffolding, and lots of smaller golden stupas sitting on strikingly red bricks.  Instead of having the traditional 4 Buddhas, this one had space for 5 – in preparation for the coming of the next Buddha – due in about 2,600 years time. (Every 5000 years – the last Buddha was born in 600BC).  Now that’s future planning!  Also around here were a camera crew and a French presenter practicing her English speech.  That doesn’t sound like a great combination.  And it wasn’t.  Inside, next to yet another Buddha shrine, was a glass object bejewelled with rubies and sapphires, which would normally shine at the very top of a pagoda.

We moved on to the local village of West Pwazaw and met with the former village chief who was obviously a wealthy farmer.  He employed 8 people and seemed to enjoy not having to do much himself!  They farmed sour plums and we witnessed how they crushed and separated the kernels which are then sold to the Chinese for £6/kilo for unknown reasons – they really don’t know what they do with them!  They also grow peanuts, sesame, beans, pumpkin, corn and cotton.  There was a demonstration of how to spin the cotton into yarn, and of course an opportunity to purchase the final product.  Despite the rest of the village owning enough cows to keep Tesco in beef burgers for months, this family only owned two cows – because they also owned a tractor!  With 5 children, 2 sons were still at home, two daughters are nurses (one still in the village) and the fifth was obviously not important (or I didn’t listen).   Lacquerware production was also on show.  It’s made from bamboo, horsehair and the sap of the lacquer tree.  I wondered why all the horses had short hair.  Funnily enough, it’s “lucky” to buy two, rather than one.

After being offered some rather tasteless tea (or maybe it was just my cold), we walked around the village – highlights included a man painting a wall without moving the bricks in his way, or indeed, finishing building the wall; a pen full of goats who wanted to like my hand – little do they know what I have in store for their friends on Saturday; a woman with the largest cigar on the planet; and a man who made bamboo cages that confuddle George – apparently they were rubbish bins.  We saw bamboo being split, some friendly cows and a cactus hedge.

Leaving the village behind, we attempted to document any remaining stupas that we’d not yet seen.  This started with the tallest (Thatbyinnyu Temple) and then Nanpaya Temple – with a very hot tiled floor outside, I was back to doing the Burmese Waltz across the ground in bare feet.  They should at least have a bucket of water on standby, if not a full first aid team. Inside were four columns with intricate Hindu inspired carvings and a missing Buddha on the raised middle platform.  This is different from most temples, in that they normally have four Buddhas facing every direction.

Outside the temple were some ogres and haspa (sp?) “curvings” (sic), as well as a good assortment of children trying to flog some postcards.  “Very nice, but I don’t need any” was a standard John2 response.  They’ve got to try refining their technique, as the bargaining reached $1million at one point.

In the next door temple, we had four large Buddhas, who looked like they had forgotten the dimensions of the building they were in.  As a result of their size, they look down on the visitors, apparently in reference to the sorrow of the king and queen that had them built.  Saving on the traders here, they had a large gold pot where you could just throw your money away.  Unfortunately, I was suckered in on the way out – another sand painting bought!

Back at the hotel, I had a chance to freshen up and eat (chicken and cheeseburger and fries) before heading off to Mount Popa with Tom and John.  We ducked the Explore version for a local taxi (saving $17 each!).  The journey took an hour, but it completed all possible methods of transport during this trip.  And it had working air con!

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Not the real Mount Popa

On arrival at Mount Popa we faced a 777 step covered climb – 1/3 in shoes, and 2/3 in bare feet.  The steps were full of local tourists and macaques (monkeys).  Fortunately the tourists had been toilet trained.  The macaques had not.  The monkeys were scavengers and would happily grab any food from your hand.   They also didn’t respect the Buddhas.  A team of cleaners managed to mostly keep the tiled steps clean and a group were feeding the monkeys at the bottom to try and encourage them to stay there, rather than pester tourists all the way up.  This didn’t work.  There were two sections of steep metal steps which had obviously been frequented by the monkeys more than the cleaners.  Razor wire was used to try to keep the monkeys away from key areas, but they didn’t seem bothered with it at all, using it to climb up and through.

At the top, it was a bit confusing, as there was a collection of shrines, no open space, lots of plaques and lots of people.  We worked our way around, admiring the views from all sides and were asked to star in a few photos by a monk.  We then persuaded a monk to take part in the photos as well.  Fair’s fair.  Anyone can sponsor anything for any reason – a few restaurants had plaques – from Beijing and San Francisco!

As a side note, we didn’t actually climb Mount Popa, but the rocky outcrop, half its height, officially called Popa Taung Kalat.  But known to the casual tourist as Mount Popa.

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Monks slapping monkeys

Descending and using all the available wet wipes to clean the monkey pee and monkey poo off our feet, we rejoined the taxi driver for the trip back to the hotel in Bagan.  My Pringles and Haribo were cracked open and eagerly finished off by traveller Tom.  I may have helped a bit.  The road back had some roadworks, the men making the tar and the women carrying it to the road for it to be applied by hand by more men.  Time consuming work!  In the middle of nowhere, we also ran the gauntlet of some people, mostly young, begging along the road.  They did this by trying to run in front of the cars to get them to slow down.  We sped up.

After dressing for dinner (well everyone else did – I put clean socks on), we met in the hotel foyer and the group flag photo was done.  Hotel staff are better photo takers than I am!  Disappointed to find that I’d been sold a dirty flag though!  George seemed to have a problem knowing which way up it went!

For our final group meal, we headed to the Star Beam restaurant, and after the meal Graham led the group thanks with a speech he’d spent all afternoon preparing for.  George replied.  “Yes. Yes.”  I hadn’t appreciated this was his catchphrase until this moment.

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Cassandra then led us on an ice cream hunt ending, very easily, with a peach and guava variety.  Delice. An early night as we all have planes to catch tomorrow – some of the group are heading to the beach extension option, and the rest of us have a couple of days in Yangon before our flight home.

Still plenty to come from me …