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Jan 14-15, 2001: The Cultural Triangle’s fourth and final key sight is Sigiriya – either a very large rock or a smallish hill, depending on your point of view. Formed from a magma plug from a long-gone volcano, the rock was briefly home to a fortress-palace, and for rather longer to a Buddhist monastery. It’s impressive from below, rising abruptly from a flat plain, but the tourist is encouraged to climb to the top – all 200 meters (660 feet).

Yes, you are supposed to climb all the way up

I tackled this on my last day in the region. The good news: it was a grey, cool, windy day, I didn’t have to worry about heat stroke and carrying lots of water. The bad news: it was a grey, cool, windy day that turned to rain – fortunately not until I reached the top, but that was no place for light-weight umbrellas. I was pleased to reach the top without finding the climb too much of a chore, but then I wasn’t doing it on a typical Sri Lankan day.

The stairs were mostly fine, but it had been raining for days

Unlike the other Cultural Triangle sights, Sigiriya lived up to my expectations, although the view was hidden by clouds, and then my camera lens fogged up. I enjoyed wandering through the elaborate former gardens at the foot of the rock, and breaking the climb with stops to see the caves near the bottom and the lovely frescoes part way up. Unfortunately, only the paws of the immense lion that guarded the final stairway remain, and the ruins of the palace on the flat expanse at the top are very ruinous.

Frescoes - my camera had fogged up by this time

The lion's paw

I followed a successful, if damp, morning with another good lunch at Gimanhala, but wasn’t sorry to leave the next day for Kandy. On the way I stopped at the small, old, and very atmospheric Nalanda Gedige temple, and the newer and not very exciting Aluvihara cave monastery, finishing with a Hindu┬átemple close to Kandy. The Hindu temple was a poor shadow of those I had seen in India, and I left when I discovered admission cost 200 rupees. My driver said he had never been inside a Hindu temple before, and I assured him that it wasn’t very representative.

Nalanda Gedige

A good tourist would also stop on the way to Kandy at the spice plantations and batik workshops along the road. I chose to do this as a separate trip while I was staying in Kandy, but I have to say not only wasn’t it worth a separate trip, I wouldn’t bother on the way to Kandy either. When I visited a spice plantation in Goa in 2001 I was taken round the actual plantation to see the spices growing, here I was just shown the harvested spices – it was a pure shopping opportunity, with the spices sold at inflated prices. Similarly, while some of the batik pieces I saw were attractive, the prices were much higher than I remember paying in Indonesia a few years back.

Mace and nutmeg

The view from Nalanda Gedige

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