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Wonderous Caves and Killer Wasps

If you think my trip to Sri Lanka was exceptionally well-planned, let me tell you the truth. During the planning process Chloe and I emailed quite a few guesthouses and heard back from only a handful (read: one). So, we decided we would land in Colombo, buy a SIM card and then head for Kandy to the one guesthouse that responded. Then we would pray that the phone numbers listed in the Lonely Planet would work. For someone who likes to be organized, this was a bit worrying. But, to my great surprise, the phone numbers all worked! So from Kandy we decided we would head to the ancient cities and then we would go to climb Adam’s Peak. From Kandy, a driver took us to visit the ancient cities of Dambulla and Sigiriya. Dambulla is famous for the royal rock (cave) temples filled with Buddhas and exquisite murals.

At the base of the area is a large new golden Buddha. Then the hike up begins. The views over the surrounding areas were incredible, but I felt a bit winded hiking up to the caves and I began to worry whether our planned hike, beginning at 2 a.m., of Adam’s Peak was a good idea.

After cautiously walking around many temple monekys, we entered the first of five caves. This cave featured a reclining Buddha:

The second cave, temple of the great kings, was large and impressive. I was really fascinated by the murals in all of the caves, particularly scenes of nature and animals:

I’m not sure of the total number of Buddhas here, but I think it’s fair to say the kings didn’t hold back:

As I have mentioned before, I enjoy watching monkeys. But at Dambulla, the monkeys were running in and out of the caves stealing offerings and eating them. It’s when they sneak up on you that you have to be careful. Also, as a general note, monkeys may appear to be cute but they are wild animals, so middle-age European men should really not try and touch them, although it was amusing to watch the reaction.

After visiting Dambulla, we headed to Sigiriya, a rock that was perhaps once a fortress or a monastery, no one is absolutely sure. We were excited to see the frescoes painted inside. But, this wasn’t meant to be. We arrived and paid the very expensive $30 entrance fee. Then we started to walk towards the rock. When we reached the platform to enter the fresco area, we were stopped and informed we couldn’t enter because bees were inside the area and it was too dangerous. The man told us we could continue up to the top of the rock. Along the way we had a nice view of the surrounding area:

When we arrived at the base of the famous lion stairs we were again stopped. This time we were told it was very dangerous to climb up because “killer wasps” were out (note the black nests). We waited for awhile with a family from Germany who had spent over $200 to enter the park. Finally, one of the park workers told us we could don full body suits and climb to the top but it was at our own risk. Chloe and I were very frustrated, we had paid $30 each (a lot when traveling in Asia) and since we had plans to hike Adam’s Peak, we decided we didn’t want to risk a sting or an attack from a swarm of an unknown species of tropical wasps. So, in a very American fashion we headed back down to the ticket booth and asked for a refund. We were told to go to the museum and ask for a director. The director met us, and we explained we couldn’t see the frescoes or really anything you pay to see because of the bees and wasps. We told him that there should be signs noting the danger at the ticket booth so people can decide whether or not they want to buy tickets, especially since all the rangers had cellphones and were calling each other. We were clearly making him uncomfortable, so he took us to a back room where all the directors were having a meeting.

The head director of Sigiriya, started off by asking us if we’d had lunch. Ah, the please go away bribe. We said “yes” and then he said there was nothing he could do because the tickets were issued by a computer system in the capital, Colombo. He asked if we wanted to come back the next day. But this wasn’t possible. We told him we were really worried that there are no signs, especially since some people are so allergic to bees that a single sting could be deadly. At this, another director laughed and told us this wasn’t possible, that a bee sting couldn’t kill anyone… So we left, aggravated and disappointed we weren’t able to see the frescoes. Bureaucracy is the same everywhere. We did get the final laugh, because just as we left, the German family approached us and said they were going to complain also. So at least those bureaucrats had a busy afternoon.

So, I’m sure Sigiriya is stunning as every guidebook says. It’s just a shame we never got to see most of it. I read a blog recently from another traveller who said he saw signs warning of the bees, so maybe things did change. Such is life, before Chloe and I knew it, it was 2 a.m. and we were beginning our hike of Adam’s Peak. If only we had known what we were getting into…

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a bitter disappointment for you both, and all the other people that have trekked to see it and paid a small fortune – Your photos are wonderful though and I particularly love the one of the monkey with the funky hair style.

    What an incredible place Lydia, and a great post. Hopefully you will get to see it all one day :)

    October 17, 2012
    • Thanks, Lottie. I’m optimistic I’ll return some day. And doesn’t it look like that monkey has a bowl cut? Maybe some tourist did get a hold of him :)

      October 17, 2012

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