Friday, 9 November 2018

Notes from a Travel Journal: Lion Rock and Elephants

In the summer, I spent a couple of weeks exploring the beautiful country of Sri Lanka. It's a country of contrasts, diverse landscapes and incredible sights, but one place I knew I had to visit was the Lion Rock Fortress at Sigariya. I was travelling around Sri Lanka as part of a Gadventures tour, an so I knew this site would be on the itinerary, and today's travel journal entry is about our group upping sticks to explore both the fortress and a national part, on the lookout for elephants.

This was the day of the much-awaited trip to the Sigariya Lion Rock Fortress, one of things I had been most looking forward to on my trip to Sri Lanka.

The fortress lies around a giant, flat topped rock and was built by a king who was clearly mindful of being overthrown (and who was indeed overthrown by his older brother later on). He had palaces and pools and chambers and pleasure gardens built around the rock, and then another set of buildings and pools and chambers right up on top of the rock, some 360m up. And it was our goal to climb it: the famed 1200 steps to the summit.

It was an amazing experience. Loads of natural caves open up in unexpected places and were used for meditation. The by now ubiquitous monkeys gambolled about and we climbed with the hordes of other tourists up the marble steps to the first viewing point. The steps were made of marble so that they would glow in the light of the moon at night. Is this the world's first eco lighting?

The views were spectacular and it was both unexpected and incredible to see how lush and green the surrounding landscape was, stretching for miles, right out to distant peaks and only occasionally yielding for a lake or clearing.

The climb continued up a spiral staircase bolted to the side of the rock (precarious much?) and we ascended to the King’s painting gallery. This consisted of rock paintings of topless women who were extremely well endowed and pert (they must all have had some work done) and had very tiny waists. They were half submerged in clouds giving them a mystical presence and were clearly meant to be very appealing. Indeed, graffiti from over the centuries is testament to this as we walked along the mirror wall, covered in scratchings and carvings approving the ladies and the work of the king.

The final climb was the longest bit: another iron staircase welded to the rock and we clambered to the top to discover the ancient ruins and admire panoramas stretching in every direction.

It felt like quite the achievement! The climb wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be and the wind at the top was exhilarating. 

Having descended again, I was starving (naturally), but fortunately, next up was lunch, preceded by a demonstration of how to make hoppers. Hoppers are sort of bready-pacakey-crumpety things made of a rice flour paste. The cook coats the inside of a little wok with the paste and it cooks into a little basket shape, and while the edges were crisp, the bottom stayed spongey. We filled them with chilli paste (I optimistically whacked in two big spoonfuls before I tasted it and found out it had a kick!) and gobbled them down. Fact: hoppers are good! 

The afternoon was devoted to a safari in Minnerya National Park where we hoped to spot elephants. We rode in jeeps with the top removed and our boy-racer driver pounded the vehicle mercilessly through the forest terrain.

We emerged into a huge flood plain with a lake in the middle, although in the monsoon season, the whole area is one giant body of water. And we saw elephants! Little clusters of them, mums and little ones meandering around, peacefully ignoring the insane number of jeeps charging about. 

It was mating time for them, and the “gentle charismatic giants” were coming together into herds for the season. As our guide put it, when it comes to finding a mate, it’s “young guns against old bulls” but as “old is gold”, the younger males don’t have the size or status to have much of an impact. Our guide had quite the turn of phrase.

We watched some of the elephants splashing around in the lake, cooling off, and others munching grass and coating themselves in dust. It was a lovely afternoon: invigorating to be outside, wind in my hair, flying along as our driver raced the others. The vehicle pounded the track slamming us about as we laughed, trying to hold our balance as we stood, clinging to the roof of the lurching jeep and watching the plains open out before us. 

Kisses xxx

P.S. This blog post is part of my November travel series; I'm spending the month documenting some of the trips I've taken this year, sharing extracts from my travel journal and my photos. My aim is to do this for each day in November as a personal challenge, to get photos and words put together and record some of my favourite experiences from the year. As the weather turns chilly, it's a lovely feeling to curl up in doors and reminisce about travels past, and plot travels for the future.

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