The cool hills are over, and now to a burning sun! Well, it didn't sound that much fun, but after all it felt like the four days were way shorter than the previous three! Obviously because, as much as it was hard work, the reward was exceptional.
Recommencing our journeys on 15th April, the Ceylon Safari team had high hopes of exploring the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka and digging into the deep roots of it. The privileges of travelling with a local crew felt the most in this phase, as the foreign participants got the opportunity to hear a lot of stories, that came down through generations of people, which surely would have been a missed opportunity if they had to travel alone. I still remember how the rich stories of Sigiriya were unfolded in a late night on a luxurious rooftop overlooking Sigiriya itself!
It all started with the early morning visit to the Munneswaram Kovil. With white lotuses in our hands, we entered the kovil and participated in pooja. The blessings of the array of gods and goddesses, the soothing feel of ethnic music, and the 'thilaka' drawn on our foreheads by our very own Rtr. Nethma set the perfect calming atmosphere amongst the participants that hanged around with us for the next few days.
After Munneswaram, adventure was calling us. The Wilpattu Safari was one of the most memorable chapters of Ceylon Safari, featuring exquisite creatures like elephant, deer, star tortoise and many more. The tracking of leopard was the winning adventure of the day, where we had to follow its growl and carefully observe the movements of a herd of deer which were the potential preys of the leopard.
That's not all about Wilpattu. The best ever sunset most of us had ever witnessed was waiting for us near the lake. We felt very fortunate for staying behind just to hang out at the lake, when everyone else had already left as dusk was growing.
After a late-night dinner, we arrived at our accommodation at Anuradhapura. And I believe most of you know what was coming early next morning. Yes, the sacred city of Anuradhapura!
It was Bak full moon poya day and the premises was overflowing with devotees wearing crisp white clothes. We explained our guests each ritual, and their meanings as much as we could to our knowledge, also with the help of a super talkative local tour guide. At the end of the first half of the day, from the reason for predominance of white in temples, to the meaning behind the Buddhist chanting, they experienced a philosophy that rarely a Westerner gets the chance to explore.
Then, the time was up for another safari, this time, exclusively to watch elephants! Though at first it was very hard to track any elephant, the miracle happened when we had our hopes sunk to the bottom. We started coming across herds and herds, and the cheery - eyed elephant babies being the most adorable sight of the day.
And that was the day we arrived at the best lodging we stayed at, throughout the trip. Featuring a sumptuous rooftop built just for relaxation, we were presented with the most amazing view of Sigiriya. And the best sun - rise we witnessed throughout the journey was framed with the rich view of Sigiriya itself.
I'm sorry for not giving you a spoiler alert, but I think you know what our next destination was. Yes, majestic, regal, and enormous, the 8th wonder of the world, according to most who have visited it, the Sigiriya Rock Fortress itself!
Sigiriya has been hiding a vast array of secrets that could arouse one's curiosity in the most exceptional way. I believe that was what our guest Rtr. Sebestian was led by when he started passionately going through the vast amount of information on Sigiriya even before we started climbing it. I remember him questioning how water had been pumped to the up top the rock. And still I remember our answer as well.
"Well, that's the secret of Sigiriya."
Presently started the first adventure of the day. The exhausting, yet rewarding climb of Sigiriya Rock Fortress. On that day, the scorching sun was not pitying us, so we were all sweaty when we reached the top of the rock. Yet, the view was breathtaking that all of our fatigue vanquished into thin air (which was not still, because of the high wind) while we stared awe - struck at it. Once we had satisfied ourselves enough of the view to remind ourselves that this was a perfect photo opportunity, started the photography session. I can still remember the struggle to capture Michelle and Laure jumping in unision with the scenic view stretching behind them.
Then we started climbing down with the idea of meeting the beauties of Sigiriya, the Sigiriya frescoes, on the way. We climbed a spiral staircase to reach up to the frescoes. We felt humbled at the sight of the intricately drawn ladies thousands of years ago with the aid of paint singularly made of plant materials.
The next destination of our journey also requested us a long climb. The only thing was that, for us, it was hardly tiring. Now that the noon was past, the sun was not that much of a hindrance, we had all the freedom to climb leisurely cracking jokes and conducting Sinhala lessons to our ever enthusiastic student, Michelle. And once we reached the top of the rock, was the Dambulla Cave Temple.
Needless to say, the scenic view was the first thing that took our breath away. Secondly, it was the magnificent architecture and the astounding drawings of the cave temple. Whitewashed and cooling, the temple evoked feelings of calmness and serenity. After carefully listening to all our lectures on Buddhist ways of life conducted sitting at the doorway of the cave temple, I remember something Michelle told.
"Well, I don't think it's a religion. It's a philosophy."
That night our lodging was in Kandy. Guess what was coming up? Yes, indeed, it was a visit to the sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic.
Early morning next day, we enthusiastically got ready to worship the Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. Our next chapter of the discussion on the heritage of Sri Lanka evoked due to the colorful line of paintings of the incidents from early days associated with the Tooth Relic. The fact that ancient Sri Lanka had a norm of accepting the person who possessed and duely venerated the Tooth Relic as the reigning King, was a very interesting point that came up during the discussion.
The last destination of the second phase of Ceylon Safari was the Pinnawala Elephant orphanage. We had the opportunity to witness the elephants taking a bath, buy paper made of elephant poo, and above all touch elephants.
And so the second phase ended with a massive collection of precious and funny memories including dancing with Rtr. Nethma, soothsaying of Rtr. Michelle, covering myself with mud from head to toe, and many more.