So you must be groaning for me, as city girl Sophie is “roughing it” in Sri Lanka. I was actually scared of day two as my friends were teasing me about the “climbing” that we were about to do! But let me tell you my tale of Day 2 of our Sri Lankan adventure!
Waking up to a glorious view of the lake at MPS Village, my friends drank coffee ( and I did not – did you know that I do not drink coffee? it screws up my nerves big time ), and I drank milk, and the thoughtful staff packed us breakfast as we needed to leave MPS Village by 7am to catch up with our itinerary, which was to go to Polonnaruwa, which was supposed to be during day 1, but the van broke down. So, we hopped in the van, and started our adventure!
It was at least an hour drive (or two), we arrived at the entrance of the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa, with a licensed tour guide waiting for us by the guard’s station. He hopped in the van with us, and started talking about Polonnaruwa.
The Ancient City of Polonnaruwa is declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site, as this city has well-preserved its history. According to Wikipedia, it is the second most ancient of the kingdoms in Sri Lanka, and this kingdom had so much improvements in technology such as irrigation systems, thanks to one one notable king that Sri Lankans really look up to, King Parakramabahu. King Parakramabahu advanced Sri Lanka in terms of irrigation systems, and made Parakramabahu Samudra ( Sea of Parakramabahu ), the largest reservoir surrounding that area. It was like a beautiful, mirrored, man-made lake that I gazed on the right of my seat inside the van as we travelled around Polonnaruwa.
What’s in Polonnaruwa? Well as we got out of the van, we started exploring. I carried my heavy DSLR camera ( on rare occasions, I bring it out with me, specially during travels ), and started walking around the palace complex.
Well first, I saw a Bodhi tree. It’s the type of tree that Gautama Buddha sat under, and achieved enlightenment there. The world’s oldest tree, the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi which was located in Anuradrhapura, is the sapling of the Bodhi tree that Gautama Buddha sat under, and has a well-documented planting date in 288 BC. I was asking Roshan if he could take us there, but it was very far from our whereabouts and out of the way from our itinerary, but he promised to take us to the “child” of that particular sapling. This is not it, but I was ecstatic with seeing a sacred fig tree like this!
Here is the statue of the great King Parakramabahu. I admire how Sri Lankans give respect to their kings, and to Buddhas, as they do not allow photographs to be taken beside statues of their kings, and even Buddhas. We are also asked to take off our hats and socks on some places regarded as sacred there.
We went inside the palace complex, and saw some well-preserved ruins ( contradicting? hehe ) . The city was well-kept, and it was quite an interesting walk.
This was where the parliament used to hold its meetings. Each parliament member would stand beside their own “post” here.
okay, two friends of mine seemed really happy with their ancient finds. Haha!
We also went to see the Galviharaya. Here, Buddha is depicted in different postures, and are carved in one granite rock. Each pose depicts stages in Buddha’s life, with the last stage being death. I went on to see it and gaze at such wondrous carvings, as I heard someone shouting, “remove your hat!” woops, I just really forgot!
There’s quite an intricately carved block of stone on the other hand with writings…
The Galpotha is a book/inscription carved in stone by King Nissankamalla on a granite block. There it is written about the King’s invasion of India.
Now, we went to see the Vatadage.
The Vatadage is a place built intended to house the Sacred Tooth Relic. ( the tooth of Gautama Buddha ). It is now housed in the Tooth Relic Temple in Kandy, which we will be going to in the next few days. The Vatadage has the moonstone on the foot of the complex, with two guards, also regarded as gods of wealth ( and I am allowed to pose beside it yay!!! ) and a Dagaba ( a conical shaped structure )
We explore some of the parts of the Vatadage – by the entrance, two “guards” which are regarded as gods of wealth –
yay, I am allowed to pose beside the god of wealth! Awesome! Shoes were removed as this was a venerated place.
and, a moonstone.
A moonstone! Now who among you watches Vampire Diaries? As our tour guide was talking about Polonnaruwa, it was me and Kats, whose eyes widened instantly with the mention of the moonstone. The moonstone! In Sri Lanka, a moonstone is not a stone that breaks a werewolf’s curse okay?
presenting, the moonstone *in my most haunting voice*
The moonstone here is actually a carving on the floor that depicts a stages of a man’s journey to enlightenment, with the aim of everyone being Nirvana, the state of nonexistence. ( they pronounce it as nir-wah-na, I was so impressed that I kept saying it that way for the entire trip duration. It sounded really mystic, I really love it. ) It’s carved from granite and are the “stepping stones” to get in the Vatadage.
I’m letting this website explain the moonstone for your reading pleasure,
Sri Lanka’s moonstones, the step stones to temples, dagobas & other important buildings are among the world’s finest artistic achievements. Polished semi-circular slabs of granite are carved in concentric semi-circular rings (“half-moons”, about 1m in radius). The first ring depicts flames of fire, through which one must pass to be purified. The next ring shows animals which represent the four stages of life: 1 Elephant-birth; 2 Horse-old age; 3 Lion-illness; 4 Bull-death & decay. These continue in an endless cycle symbolizing the continuous rebirths to which all beings are subjected to. The third row represents the twisting serpent of lust & desire, while the fourth is that of swans carrying lotus buds, representing purity. The lotus in the centre is a symbol of nirvana. Moonstones are designed for the soothing of mind & concentration of the devotees.
our very very kind tour guide! thank you so much!
Well, it was certainly a very interesting morning as we were able to learn really rich Sri Lanka ( or Sinhalese ) history. Have I ever told you that archaeological sites interest me, as I wanted to be an archaeologist when I was in third grade? Surely is a dream come true for me to walk around this ancient city.
Now again, we were on the road. I would see this big, big Buddha statue as we travel to our next destination, which was lunch, before climbing the Sigiriya Rock. I can see that Sri Lanka is really a religious country with statues of Buddhas, Hindu gods, or even Jesus or Mary on the streets. For the Christian counterparts, they were more evident in the city than in the provinces. For the provinces, it was more of Buddhas or the Hindu gods.
After lunch ( I shall skip this part, we had more fries, and that was about it hahaha! ), we were on our way to the most daunting task of the day – to climb the Sigiriya Rock!!!!
Why do we need to climb Sigiriya Rock? Well here are the reasons why :
* It is regarded as one of the 8 World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka – I would want to remember climbing an important place such as this!
* It was also declared by UNESCO as the 8th Wonder of the World – okay, I am more convinced!
* It may have been inhabited during the prehistoric times as it might have been a monastery – I am getting more and more interested!
* It is a fortress in the sky, you climb up the rock, and when you’re successful, you get to have a breathtaking view on top of the rock, surrounded by gardens, and baths – well, I was only able to read this, but how cool would it be to actually climb up the top and see for myself what’s there, right?
There is actually a story behind Sigiriya Rock. During AD 466-495, King Kashyapa actually built this, after killing his own father, and usurping the throne from the rightful heir to the throne, his brother Mogallana. He moved his palace to Sigiriya, which was said to be a place of pleasure, and of course, a fortress, which was hard to climb up to. Upon Mogallana’s return with an army ( he fled to India and vowed revenge so now he was back ). During the peak of the battle between the two, King Kashyapa committed suicide as he saw that his troops abandoned him. End of story, according to The Mahavamsa, a historical chronicle of Sri Lanka. How sad the story is, right? But it left such a majestic palace in the sky. Afterwards, it became a monastery, and later, it became abandoned. I would have to say that it was surely fitting to be a monastery that you can really meditate on such a high place, and quiet place like that.
But wait, we’re still climbing it! Ahhh!! They said that it was 800 steps going up there – well, it was 1,214 ft above sea level. The athletic Sophie who always promised to exercise but never did will really have a muscle tear after this. Help me!!!!
As we entered the grounds, the rock was surrounded by outer gardens and moats. Okay, walk, walk, walk.
Psyching myself that I can do this. Yes, I am afraid of heights, but it’s about time that I face my fears! I’m not getting any younger and I want to be brave. I can do this!
First was climbing up the Lion’s Mouth. We can do this!
First obstacle : steps made of quartz. Yes, they are steep ( I’m a size 7.5 and the steps are too small for me ), and they are slippery! Careful, careful!
Now, we’ve reached the Lion’s Mouth, and it just phase #1 of the Sigiriya Rock! We had three more phases to conquer, which was the the Mirror Wall, Lion’s Gate, and ultimately, the top of the rock! Now, by the time we are on the foot of the mirror wall, I was already really exhausted, feeling really tired, and unable to carry my camera bag further. Kats who had fever a week before bailed out because of her condition ( it was understandable ) and I was thinking if I should just stay. I thought, and I thought, and at the end, I decided to go for it! I know, crazy decision, but I just hope that I would come out of it alive! I left my camera bag with Roshan and Kats, whipped up my Canon S95 ( yes, I brought two cameras for the trip! ) and my baby towel, and this was my most exciting adventure of a lifetime!
Now, the REAL adventure just started. Oh my goodness what was I thinking? Now, we started going up the stairs to the mirrored wall. If you can see from the photo above, we climbed the stairs up, and there was a steep, spiral staircase leading to the frescoes before the Mirror Wall. I gripped the railings pretty tight, and I was scared! ( bear with me I’m terrified of heights! ) by the time we reached the frescoes, we were like “whew!”. As it was a high place, it was also getting hotter. Scorching hot!
Now, our reward for climbing up the next phase was the beautiful frescoes on the wall.
According to our tour guide, the frescoes depicted legends from the early days, it was more of a depiction of the creation of the world, I believe. It was really beautiful, and for it being painted during the ancient times, it was really fascinating, and I could not believe that it was painted so high from the ground. Haha!
Now, walking further, we reached the Mirror Wall. It was said that it was built as the king wanted to see his reflection, so a mirror wall was constructed just like that. It also served as a guestbook by guests ever since the wall was built up ( now, thousands of years ago! ) , so you can see thousands of years’ worth of guests, carving with their ancient alphabets and such. Very fascinating.
Now, we’re off to the next phase, which was the Lion’s Gate. I was scared just by crossing the Mirror Wall to the Lion’s Gate, that I told myself that I’m not going any further.
We just needed to climb this stretch and we’d be at the top of Sigiriya Rock already. As I said, “I can’t do it anymore I’ll just wait for you here Marion and Cheryl!” two Caucasians by my side laughed at me. Hmmm. Hey. *inner glare.haha!* I told Marion and Cheryl that we could rest for a bit, and decide in around 5 minutes, and so we did. We sat on the foot of the Lion’s Gate, and maybe it’s the sight of the dog climbing up the stairs with the tourists that enabled us. I just jumped up and said, “let’s do it!” but before that, I made Marion swear not to tease me, as he kept on telling me to look down and see the magnificent view during our climb.
Conversation between me and Marion :
Me : Do you promise not to tease me?
Marion : Okay Soap!
Me : Alalayan mo ko ah! Lola ang peg ko!
Marion : Okay Soap!
Okay, and so we climbed, and it was NOT an easy climb. We had to agree to pause part after part, and Marion, who was so cool and unaffected with the heat and the climb, told me, “Soph, you should look down, the view is sooo nice!” Okay, and I said, “You want to go down later without your precious DSLR Marion?” hahahaha! Sorry, I was really scared already and I kept murmuring “face your fear, face your fear!” In fairness, Marion was quite a BFF to me as he allowed me to hold on to him during the steep climb! Thank you, my friend! Cheryl was very calm and composed, and was the leader who would ask us to stop part by part, as our legs were giving up on us ( well maybe not Marion! )
So! We managed to reach the top of the rock. Major yay!!! I could not believe it! Though you must understand that after all the challenges to the top, I couldn’t get to smile anymore because of exhaustion!
Now, I’m really sorry for all the whining. I’m not really used to climbing, and it was just a crazy, spur of the moment decision to do this, and I certainly did not regret it! The climb was exhausting, but exhilarating. It gave me an unexplainable thrill of danger, and yet giving me such sense of achievement that I was able to climb something as majestic and grand as the Sigiriya Rock. By the time we went down, my legs were shaking so bad from exhaustion that I had to pause from time to time to rest my feet. But then, I was a happy girl. I achieved something that day, and I think that it encouraged me to be more adventurous in these kinds of things!
Now, the adventure wasn’t over that day. We were set to go to Dambulla Cave, but that’s another entry! I’m still in the process of writing down what happened! Hope you’re enjoying the read, so far!