Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Colombo, Elephant Orphanage, Dambulla Cave Temple: Day 1/5

After the NID, a group of us set off on what turned out to be a rather too rapid tour of Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka

We have never been to Sri Lanka before and knew very little about the country other than that it is a Democratic Socialist republic of 21+ million people, about 1/4 the size of the UK, it is the 25 largest island in the world and that they are fearsomely good at cricket. What I also did not know is that the capital of Sri Lanka is NOT Colombo, it is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte which is in a suburb of Colombo.

Colombo briefly

Getting there was both easy and a pleasure because Sri Lanka Airways were very good. Due to the airport runway being closed during every daytime for repairs, our Sri Lanka Airways plane had to arrive in the early evening and hence we arrived at our hotel very late and we do not count that day as one spent in Sri Lanka. Similarly we do not count our last day because the whole day was spent in a coach driving to the airport.

Military Parade

When we arrived at our hotel, in front of it were a lot of army vehicles - it was Sri Lanka Day on the coming Saturday and the army were rehearsing their parade techniques. However, this also seemed to require them to keep heavy lorry engines running most of the night in front of our bedroom window. Thankfully, fatigue won over noise.

We had a very brief drive aroundColombo the next morning. Having come direct from northern India, we were comparing everything to what we had recently experienced there.

Grand Hyatt Columbo

This is the Grand Hyatt Hotel and was until recently, the tallest building in Sri Lanka. Generalizing about Colombo, we would say that it is cleaner than northern Indian cities and the road traffic is more orderly. Those in our group who had been to southern India said that it was very similar and that of course would not be surprising.

Buddha in Viharamahadevi Park

Above is the Buddha in Viharamahadevi Park (which used to be called Victoria Park)

Independance Hall

This is Independence Hall, built in 1948 to celebrate independence from the British.

Independance Hall Colombo

It is a striking building both outside

Pat Independance Memorial Hall

and inside and is modelled on a hall in Kandy.

Lions at Independance Hall

It is surrounded by lions (one of the national symbols of Sri Lanka although there never have been lions in the country) 

Elephant Detail Independance Hall

and has delicate freezes throughout 

Freeze Detail Independance Hall

together with wood carvings from the 14th century Gampola Kingdom.

Western Province Secretariat Offices

Other buildings nearby show British influence from the time when Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon. This building is the “Western Province Secretariat Offices” (think of it as regional government offices).

Railway Station

The British built a large number of railways throughout the country and I have included this badly taken picture (as we were going over a level crossing) simply because I like the station

Railway Colombo

and this one because the carriages look like they were still in the days of British rule,

Train Engine

and this one because the little one can see of the train says that it is a diesel from the same family as Thomas the Tank Engine. 

Postbox George VI 001 Another Letter Box

As in many ex colonies, there are remnants of British rule everywhere. This George VI letterbox on the left has the royal insignia still showing and another one on the right is obviously exactly the same although the insignia has been hidden behind a plaque.

Posting Card Home

As always, postcards were sent home. Two things particularly impressed us about the postal services - firstly the number of collections a day (here 8 in the afternoon with the last collection at 2030) and secondly how cheap it was. It cost us about 14p to send a postcard airmail to the UK and it arrived one week after posting.

Clean Roads

Also we were surprised at how clean the roads were and also the lack of potholes.

Tuk Tuk

Tuk-Tuks abound and they were generally in very good condition when compared to their Indian counterparts.

We suspected that Colombo had much more to offer than we saw during our very (too) brief tour.

Elephant Orphanage Pinnawala

Elephant Orphanage Sign

About three hours driving from Colombo is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country - the elephant orphanage which is a part of the National Zoo. By the time we arrived, a number of the elephants had walked down to the Oya River partly for a drink but mainly (so it seemed to us) to have a bath in the river and a back scrub.

On the way down to the river, elephants do what elephants do

Elephant Dung

and so this picture will answer the question “How large in an elephant turd?” Their output is turned into expensive paper

Poo Paper sign Paper Sign

which I suppose has a uniqueness worth the price.

Elephants in river 001

There is a hotel / restaurant just in front of the elephants bathing place

Elephants in river 002

and so whilst we had lunch, the elephants kept us entertained in the river below.

Elephants in river

It was interesting to see how the elephants were obviously enjoying being sprayed with water 

Elephant Bath 0

and willingly lying down in the river

Elephant Bath 2

to be scrubbed 

Elephant bath 1

by their keeper. 

Elephants on Parade

Afterwards they went back up the hill to a place where for 250 Sri Lankan Rupees (about £1.50 or $3 US) 

Fruit Feeding Ticket

you could buy a large basket of fruit pieces and feed the lucky elephant of the day. 

Pat feeds an elephant

Here Mrs Harvey is making close contact with her elephant 

Pat feeds elephant

which seems to have got the knack of taking food from an inexperienced feeder

Elephants Tongue Pat and Elephant

using its rather large tongue (described by the feeder as “Soft and Squishy”) without any problems. 

Feeding time

The younger elephants are not left out and there is a feeding arena to which they ran as soon as the keepers arrived in order to consume some of the 28 litres of milk which they drank every day for their first five years (51,100 litres approximately). We have never seen a litre of anything disappear down a throat so fast.

Dambulla Cave Temple

The hyperlink above has a very good description of the temple, the caves and how to get there - far better than my account.

One recurring theme of this trip was to be Temples and another was that their commissioners / designers / constructors seemed to have decided, in the same way as in Europe, to build temples on the highest piece of rock around.

Drambulla Cave Temple is one such temple built 160 metres above the surrounding plain. The web reports that there are 364 steps to get there plus a number of long slopes - we did not count but 364 certainly seems a good starting point.

This has been borrowed from this website

Dating back to the First Century BC, the Golden Temple of Dambulla has been the centre of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus alike for 22 centuries. It is Sri Lanka’s most popular historic site. The Cave monastery, home to Buddhist monks is covered with exquisite 2,000 year-old murals depicting the life and times of the Lord Buddha. The shrines also house a collection of 157 statues of Buddha in various sizes and poses, including a 15 metre long reclining Buddha and vividly coloured frescoes on the walls and ceiling, making this the largest antique painted surface in the world.

To reach Dambulla’s rock temples, pilgrims and tourists alike must climb barefoot up the sloping ground and several series of stairs almost to the summit, 100 metres above the plain. From here, the strikingly distinctive rock fortress of Sigirya is visible, but the five caves or shrine rooms of Dambulla lie just ahead. All of these house multiple images of the Lord Buddha, either lying, standing or seated. The astonishing frescoes and the sheer size and antiquity of the caves convinced UNESCO that Dambulla should be preserved as a World Heritage Site.

The largest and most impressive of the caves, the Temple of the Great King, is 52 metres from one side to another, and 23 metres from the entrance to the back, with the sloping ceiling seven metres at its highest point. The entire surface of the cave is a mosaic of frescoes with so many themes and styles that it is easy to be overwhelmed.The paintings at Dambulla are representative of many different epochs of Sinhalese Buddhist art, although the classical school of Sinhalese painting (which ceased at the end of the 12th century) is not represented. The so-called New School supposedly influenced by the contemporary South Indian Deccan School — is less successful than the earlier indigenous art forms, using brilliant colour schemes with red and yellow predominating. It is not possible to date the Dambulla paintings precisely, since they have been over-painted throughout the centuries. Some, however, were originally done by Kandyan artists during the 17th century. 

At the base of the hill upon which the cave temple has been built is another temple 

Temple at foot of Drambulla


together with a large Stupa 

Monk Statues

and also a long line of statue monks, something we were to see at other temples. 

Drambulla Caves

When you eventually get to the top of the hill, have handed in your shoes and walked through the entrance gate, this is what awaits you. The entrances to the caves are within the white veranda.

Cave inside views small

and this is the plan of the temple caves.

Fresco 1

Within the caves, the state of preservation and the detail within the frescos 

Fresco 2

is quite astonishing and makes the climb well worth while.

Fresco 3

This is on the ceiling of a cave.

Fresco 4

this buddha seems to have been carved out of the rock wall within the cave, 

Fresco 5

and there are over 50 Buddhas within one of the caves, all arranged in line. 

Fresco 6

This shows the size of one of the larger caves 

Fresco 7 Fresco 8

and here we have some fine detail of two of the carvings.

As well as the caves, there is of course the view over the countryside below 

View from summit Drambulla

and this is what we saw towards the end of the day.  

The route today was

Day Two Route

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