Sri Lanka Map
Site Index
Contact
Random
Our Travel Books
Advertising / Press

The Martin Wickramasinghe Museum

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Sri Lanka History Books

One of our first mornings in Galle, we took a bus to Alanthgama with the intention of seeing stilt fisherman — one of Sri Lanka’s most iconic images. But whether it was due to the stormy seas, the time of day, or the recently completed New Year’s festivities, the stilts were unoccupied. Foiled! Now what would we do?

“It says here that the Martin Wickramasinghe Museum is nearby.”
“Martin Wickra-what?!”
“No clue. Some author.”

Martin-Wickramasinghe-House

We were only going because there was nothing else to do, and were in solid agreement that house-museum of an author we’d never heard of couldn’t possibly be the slightest bit interesting. But how wrong we were!

The museum is split into a couple sections. The cabin where Mr. Wickramasinghe grew up has been preserved and contains original furniture, pictures of the author receiving awards and a thorough chronicle of his life. Wickramasinghe (May 1890 – July 1976) was one of the cultural lights of colonial Ceylon, and one of the few writers of any prominence who chose Sinhalese as his primary language. He was fascinated by the culture of his island and worked tirelessly to both nurture and promote it.

One of his projects was a Sri Lankan Folk Museum, which we visited after touring the cabin. The museum is deceptively large, with a fascinating collection of the tools, masks, fashions and utensils of Sri Lanka’s past. Nearly every item was described in both English and Sinhalese. My favorites were a set of antiquated board games, and the recreation of an amazing 7th century Monsoon Furnace uncovered near Ratnapura.

I already knew that the early Sinhalese were considered ancient masters of engineering for their irrigation projects, but this really blew my mind. They had set up west-facing iron-smelting furnaces to capture the winds of the yearly monsoons. Modern engineers scoffed at the idea, until recreating it themselves. The monsoon winds are steady and strong enough to produce high-quality iron, and the furnaces generated up to ten tons annually.

The Martin Wickramasinghe Museum was an unexpected highlight. It was crowded with Sri Lankan families, but we were the only foreigners present. That’s a shame — tickets are only 200 rupees per person, and the exhibits provide an unforgettable glimpse into the island’s culture.

Location on our Sri Lanka Map
Galle Hotels

Martin-Wickramasinghe-Desk
Temple-Triacle
Wagon-Sri-Lanka
Very-Old-Sri-Lankan-Kitchen
Cocunut-Sekkuwa
, , , , , , , ,
April 26, 2012 at 3:19 am Comments (3)

The Damsels of Sigiriya

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Hotels in Sigiriya

Sri Lanka’s most iconic paintings are the Sigiriya Damsels, found halfway up the Lion Rock. When they were originally painted in the 5th century, around 500 naked ladies adorned the wall in a massive mural which spanned 450 feet in length and 130 in height. Only twenty-one damsels have survived into the modern day, though the passage of over 1500 years makes the survival of anything a minor miracle.

Clouds-Sri-Lanka-Woman-Cave-Painting

It’s funny to think about tourism in ancient days, but Sigiriya Rock has been a big draw for travelers since at least the 8th century. Although we couldn’t make anything out, the Mirror Wall is apparently full of timeworn poems lauding the damsels’ beauty, etched into the stone by early admirers. Others would visit, though, with less noble intentions. Conservative monks outraged by the nudity removed everything they could reach, and vandals destroyed a big section of the mural in 1967.

That these maidens might inspire poems to their beauty comes as no surprise. With lithe bodies, warm, smiling faces and large, supple breasts, the damsels represent idealized versions of a variety of ethnicities. The guy working was more than happy to point out “China Lady”, “Africa Lady” and “Sri Lanka Lady”. And one of the nymphs should be well-known to anyone who’s visited Sri Lanka, whether or not they’ve toured Sigiriya. She appears on the country’s 2000 rupee banknote.

The damsels were initially thought to depict King Kassapa’s consorts, there to accompany him during the long ascent to his castle. However, historians now agree that they are more likely celestial nymphs. The women are only painted from the waist up, torsos emerging god-like from clouds. Some of them sport three arms or three breasts (though, these might have simply been mistakes during the painting).

Goddesses, consorts, or whatever the women in the paintings are meant to represent, they’re among the most amazing works of ancient art we’ve seen, and almost by themselves worth the trip to Sigiriya.

Location on our Sri Lanka Map
Search For Savannah on Amazon!

Sigiriya-Cave-Maides
Sri-Lanka-2000-Rupess-Bill
Sri Lanka Art
Ancient Art Sri Lanka
Cave-Painting-Sigiriya
Cloud Girls Sigiriya
Sigiriya-Fresco
Wolken-Maedchen
Unesco-Cave-Paintings

, , , , , , , , ,
March 22, 2012 at 8:20 am Comment (1)

Sigiriya Rock – The Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Nature’s awesome beauty and the ingenuity of mankind come together majestically at Sigiriya Rock. A massive 320-meter granite stone set incomprehensibly in the jungle, the “Lion Rock” was attracting admiration long before King Kassapa built his castle on top of it, and continues dropping jaws today.

Sigiriya

Sigiriya is probably the top touristic sight in all Sri Lanka, and for good reason. There is an incredible amount to see here, the history is fascinating, the ascent to the summit is an attraction in itself, and from the top, among the ruins of an ancient palace, the view over the surrounding jungle is unimpeded and breathtaking. A visit to Sigiriya is truly unforgettable.

Entrance-Sigiriya

And Sri Lanka knows it. The government charges $30 a head to enter the site. Unless, of course you’re Sri Lankan, in which case you’ll pay $0.40. We almost balked at the price. I understand charging locals less than tourists, but the scale of the difference is outrageous. Yes, foreigners might have more disposable income than Sri Lankans, but 75 times the price? The biggest slap in the face comes when you learn that Sigiriya is mostly funded by UNESCO and other foreign entities. So guess what? Foreigners are already paying for the maintenance and running of the site, and then they’re charged 75 times the normal entry fee. It’s insulting.

But Sri Lanka has a monopoly on the world’s supply of “Sigiriya Rocks”, so we swallowed our pride and bought tickets. I’m glad we did. Once we got done grumbling about the unfairness of it all, we had an incredible day.

Garden of Sigiriya

After crossing the moat to enter the grounds, you’re greeted by the marvelously restored 5th century pleasure gardens of King Kassapa. First, a Water Garden with an expansive and complicated set of pools and ponds, and further ahead the King’s Boulder Garden. Here, we saw the Cobra-Hooded Cave and talked with an archaeologist at work on a dig. His team was unearthing a cave temple, and he was more than happy to take a break to chat. Long before Kassapa’s arrival, Buddhist monks had considered Sigiriya a sacred place, and built temples around the base of the rock. Kassapa relocated the monks to nearby Pidurungala Rock, where they remain to this day.

We started our ascent up the Lion Rock at 7am in the morning, well before the sun was at full strength. This was a wise decision; we avoided both heat stroke and the eventual onslaught of tourists. We were able to climb unhurried and took our time admiring the scenery. By noon, bus after bus had pulled up to the gate. Already on our way back down, we watched a never-ending single-file line of sweaty, sun-beaten tourists with amazement and despondency. To be caught in the middle of that would have been a nightmare! I estimated about 200 people ascending the stairs at one time. I have no idea how many people visit Sigiriya daily but the government must be raking it in. So a word to the wise: go as early as you can. The gates open at 7, and you’ll have the rock largely to yourself.

Swalps-Sigiriya

Midway up, we encountered the Mirror Wall and the Hall of Maidens. The rock at the Mirror Wall had been polished smooth and flat and coated with a shiny plaster, so that the King could admire his reflection during his ascent. Facing the west, the wall must have shone brilliantly during sunset, and was perhaps meant as a sort of beacon, announcing the palace and the eminence of its king. Today, though, the luster is gone and it looks basically like a stone wall. Maybe a little flatter than normal. Much more impressive is the fresco gallery, found just above the Mirror Wall. The Damsels of Sigiriya are some of the most famous ancient paintings in the world, in a miraculous state of conservation.

After the Mirror Wall and damsel gallery, we emerged at a large terrace. We were exhausted and stunned to see that we had only completed about half our journey. Before us, two immense lion paws carved out of the rock indicated the beginning of the ascent’s second half. Under the pretense of admiring the lion, we took take a break before climbing up to the summit.

The Sigiriya Rock on our Sri Lanka Map
Sri Lanka Cook Books

Visit Sri Lanka
Water Garden Sigiriya
Sigiriya Garten
Bolder Garden
Sigiriya Entrance Tip
Going Uphill Sigiriya
Sigiriya Blog
Sigiriya-2012
Caves Sigiriya
Cobra Cave Sigiriya
, , , , , , , , ,
March 21, 2012 at 5:06 am Comments (7)

The Archaeological, National, and Elephant Museums of Kandy

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Buy Curries Online

Just behind the Temple of the Tooth are a couple museums which might be worth a visit, depending on the degree to which looking at piles of old stuff turns your crank. The Archaeological Museum, hosted in the former King’s Palace, and the adjacent National Museum are stuffed to the gills with artifacts and treasures from days long gone by.

Kandy Royal Palace

We had just left the Vishnu Devale, which sits across the Temple of the Tooth’s moat. A hundred yards away, an old man was frantically waving at us. Curious and a little apprehensive, we approached him. With every step closer, the guy’s excitement level increased … at 50 yards, he started hopping up and down. At 25, he grinned and began directing us as though he were on a runway, holding glowing sticks. And when we were 10 yards away, I swear he started convulsing. As soon as we were within striking distance, he grabbed our hands and dragged us into the Archaeological Museum.

This museum is hosted in the former palace of the Kandyan Kings. Most of the palace has been destroyed, though the front door and some supporting structures remain intact. The museum displays artifacts found in and around the city, in a dusty and poorly-presented collection. If not for our guide, we wouldn’t have understood anything we were looking at — and even with him, it wasn’t all that interesting. Pots. Moonstones. Other, larger pots. Most of a statue. But, the museum was free (apart from a small tip) and we enjoyed the opportunity to step inside the former royal palace.

Sri Lanka Antigues

The nearby National Museum is far more compelling, though it costs 500 rupees to enter. Here, we found Kandyan-era weapons, like spears and bows, masks and ceremonial costumes, and a lot of information about the lives of the native people. There were ancient, but still legible, ola leaf manuscripts, as well as a copy of the 1858 Kandyan Treaty which ceded power to the Brits.

We should also mention the nearby Raja Tusker Museum, found inside the Temple of the Tooth complex. This is almost certainly the only museum I’ll ever visit which is dedicated to a single elephant. Raja Tusker was beloved by Sri Lankans and his death in 1988 sparked a period of national mourning. This bizarre museum is nothing more than a room decorated with photographs and, in the center, Raja Tusker’s enormous, taxidermied corpse.

None of these museums is essential during a trip to Kandy, but all are worth a peek if you have a few extra hours, or a deep interest in the history of the city.

Location of the Archaeological Museum
Location of the National Museum
Location of the Raja Tusker Museum
Travel Insurance For Sri Lanka

Photos from the Royal Palace
Kandy Dragon
Moon Stone
Old Writing Sri Lanka
Royal Palace Kandy
Sand Monster
Sri Lankan Pots
Sri Lankan Paintings
Photos from the National Museum
Kandyan Crown
Kandy Fashion
Kandy Jewelry
Ivery Comb
Beattle Boxes
Spears
Culture in Sri Lanka
Rotten Spider
Small Cobra
Calf Foetus
Water Monitor
The Raja Tusker Museum
Raja Tusker Museum
, , , , , , ,
February 29, 2012 at 6:29 am Comments (0)

Kandy’s International Museum of World Buddhism

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Nearby the Temple of the Tooth is the International Museum of World Buddhism. Hosted in the former High Court building, this comprehensive study of Buddhism throughout Asia only opened in May, 2011, and has rooms dedicated to sixteen nations, from China to the Maldives.

International Buddhism Museum

As soon as we entered the museum, a helpful guide attached himself to us. Our intention had been to quickly skip through the rooms and be on our way — cameras were forbidden, and Jürgen has no interest in sights he can’t photograph. Besides, we had just finished a couple hours walking around the Temple of the Tooth, and were fairly exhausted. But our guide was having none of it, and led us on a long tour through the subtle variances in Buddhism throughout the world.

What were were supposed to say? “Sorry, bud, but we’re not interested in your enthusiastic, free tour of the fascinating new museum celebrating your religion. We’d rather go sit down and drink a cold beer.” No, we affixed smiles onto our faces, put phrases like “Ah” and “Interesting” on an endless playback loop, and followed him for nearly an hour.

Regardless of our poor attitudes, the museum is really fantastic. Recreations of famous temples, from Angkor Wat to Java’s amazing Borobudur, joined gifts of relics, paintings and Buddha statues from nations like Laos and Japan. It was funny how Buddha’s facial features change to match the various ethnicities of the countries who worship him. The objects on display where almost uniformly interesting, from ancient scrolls to strange musical instruments, and despite ourselves, we really enjoyed the tour.

If you have any interest at all in Buddhism, this museum provides one highlight after another. And the guys working there are great; helpful and eager to answer any questions. Just make sure you’re fully rested and ready to learn, before stepping inside!

Location on our Sri Lanka Map

, , , , , ,
February 15, 2012 at 2:59 pm Comment (1)
The Martin Wickramasinghe Museum One of our first mornings in Galle, we took a bus to Alanthgama with the intention of seeing stilt fisherman -- one of Sri Lanka's most iconic images. But whether it was due to the stormy seas, the time of day, or the recently completed New Year's festivities, the stilts were unoccupied. Foiled! Now what would we do?
For 91 Days