For my fourth and final week of volunteering, a group of us opted to leave the Kandy house and head to Sigiriya. Situated about 80km north of Kandy, Sigiriya falls right in the middle Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle, whose point lies at Kandy while ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polannaruwa make up the top two corners.
After three weeks in the noisy, sweaty, bed-bug ridden Kandy accommodation, I was looking forward to getting some peace and quiet. The Sigiriya accommodation lies about 6km north of the town itself and is best described as a kind of laid back farm. The building itself only really consisted of a communal dorm, a bathroom and a separate bedroom, and it didn’t really have proper walls! The interior walls were painted with colourful designs while the outside was covered by pretty blinds.
There was an outdoor eating area with a gorgeous hand-carved table and a few benches, a second ‘outdoor’ shower which was remarkably warm and fun to use and an outdoor kitchen area with a coal fire and a basic stove top.
It was all pretty basic but that made it all the more special.
Outside, there were three tree houses of varying sizes from which you can scour the land for elephants. There was a cute little wooden swing. There was also a small bonfire area, and a larger one was made on our final day and put to good use for smore consumption!
My favourite spot was definitely the roof of the owner’s little bungalow, where I practised yoga early each morning and occasionally watched the sunset.
It was such a peaceful place and I was very happy to be there.
The whole week was made even more special by the lovely old man nicknamed ‘Ben’ who takes care of the property and cooks for greedy volunteers. He is one of the most hardworking people I have ever met and always seemed to have a smile on his face.
We were supposed to be doing temple renovation for the project, so we cycled over to the pretty temple on Monday. (I fell off my bike into a ditch on the way home, but that’s a separate story.) However, after a day of sifting sand and feeling fairly useless, a couple of us opted to do gardening on the second day and the others followed suit for the rest of the week.
For the next four days, we basically did a lot of hoeing and raking in the garden. It doesn’t look like much in the photos, but we basically cleared a whole field so that the little aubergine plants can grow in peace!
We also watered hundreds of aubergines, planted pineapple and cinnamon, helped collect branches for bean planting and picked leaves for lunch. I really enjoyed the gardening although it was quite physically demanding hoeing for five hours in thirty degree heat!
The gardening project finished at lunchtime so we were free in the afternoons. We weren’t really allowed to go off exploring by ourselves, although I did go for some beautiful runs around the house.
We spent a couple of afternoons at the luxury hotel across the road, using the pool and enjoying papaya juices and even a cocktail or two.
On the Wednesday, we headed to Sigiriya to climb the famous Lion’s Rock. This is a must-do in Sri Lanka and the main reason most tourists even bother to go north of Kandy. The rock contains the ruins of an ancient civilisation, thought to be once the epicentre of the short-lived kingdom of Kassapa, from 477-495AD. According to the theory, King Kassapa sought out an unassailable new resistance after overthrowing and mirdering his own father, King Dharusena of Anuradhapura. However, archaeologists have recently challenged this theory, suggesting instead that Sigiriya was not a fortress place but a monastery and religious site. The complex was abandoned after the 14th century and rediscovered in 1898 by a British archaeologist. Sigiriya has been a Unesco Word Heritage site since 1982.*
Anyway, most tourists visit for the gorgeous views, rather than the interesting history. You pay an extortionate amount, join the line of tourists and climb up some metal stairs for about half an hour. The views from the top were pretty stunning and the rock itself is extremely impressive.
Our Friday afternoon activity was even more successful, though. After reading about it in the Lonely Planet and seeing photos on Instagram, we decided to climb up the nearby Pidurangala rock. Unlike Sigiriya rock, this one was free to go up and you have the added bonus of being able to see the Lion’s Rock from the top. The climb was less man-made (as in, you had to scramble up boulders and through openings between big rocks) and the views were really spectacular. It was a really great way to end the week.
Finally, on Saturday morning we rose at 5am and set off to do a safari in Minneriya National Park. I wasn’t sure whether or not to do this as you have to pay quite a lot for entry to all the national parks and I was already planning on going to the more famous Uda Wallawe or Yala National Parks on my way to the coast. However, I am very glad I did decide to join my friends. We’d read that although you might be lucky enough to see a herd of 50 elephants, there are always about 50 jeeps as well. However, when it came down to it we were about the only jeep in the park. Maybe all the others found the elephant herd and that’s why we missed it, but it made the whole experience much more enjoyable.
The elephants we did see were as gorgeous as always, and I was very happy to get so close to them.
It was a perfect way to conclude my time volunteering with Green Lion and made me even more excited for my solo travels. Although I said a first goodbye to all my friends, I knew I’d be seeing them in Kandy the following week. I was also thrilled that my friend, Rita decided to join me for the next stop on my route: the ancient city of Anuradhapura.
*Facts taken from Lonely Planet.