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The Back of Beyond Eco Lodge in Sigiriya

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For our three-day road trip that would bring us to Ritigala, Sigiriya and Dambulla, we needed a lot of energy. Luckily, we couldn’t have chosen a more restful place to spend our down hours: The Back of Beyond Eco Lodge in Sigiriya.

Cabanas Sri Lanka

Located just past the temple which sits in front of Pidurangala Rock, Back of Beyond certainly lives up to its name. After arriving at the correct approximate location, we searched for the entrance but eventually had to call for help. Minutes later a kid appeared on a bike, and led us into the woods down a tiny dirt path marked only by a tall stone slab. We’d have never found it ourselves.

We checked in at around 3pm. Having spent the day at Ritigala, we were tired and the sight of the bungalows and quiet forest setting was extremely welcome. Guests get their own cabins, which are nicely decorated, comfortable and very eco-friendly. All of the buildings at the lodge were built without harming a single tree — wherever one might have stood in the way, holes were cut out of roofs, or walls erected at strange angles, to accommodate it.

The first thing I did was hop in the shower, located just outside the cabin behind a set of high walls. It’s not often I get to shower outside, but with central Sri Lanka’s consistently pleasant temperatures, it makes a lot of sense. We had a full board during our stay, and the meals were fantastic — Back of Beyond offers a wide selection of Sri Lankan food to choose from, like rice and curry, string hoppers, barbecue chicken and paratha.

But best of all was the peace and solitude, especially after tiring days of sight-seeing and hiking. Just sitting on the balcony’s porch, with a good book open on my lap (there’s a small library at the lodge), pretending to read while listening to the sounds of the forest… I couldn’t have asked for more.

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March 24, 2012 at 1:09 pm Comment (1)

The Mysterious Forest Monastery of Ritigala

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The enigmatic remains of the Ritigala Monastery are tucked away on a mountain in the middle of a strict nature reserve. Difficult to reach and largely skipped by tourists, the archaeological site is the kind of place in which it’s easy to imagine Indiana Jones hunting for a fabled, lost treasure.

Indiana Jones Temple

The long and easy path through the monastery starts at the ancient steps of an enormous bath, which was probably used by the monks to cleanse themselves before entering. At least, that’s the best guess: nothing concrete is known about the ruins of Ritigala. This was a secluded mountain sanctuary for monks who wanted to escape the everyday world, and their lives remain cloaked in mystery. There are no ruins that could have been used as shelters, for example, so did they sleep in caves? None of the usual Buddhist icons are found, no temples, Buddha images or Bodhi trees. What were these monks doing?

The ruins that we saw were fascinating, made even more intriguing by their secretness of their purpose. Our path led through three large “double-platform” pavilions. These structures were aligned exactly east-west, with one empty platform, and the other filled with columns. What might these have been used for? Meditation? Sermons? “Sacrifices“, Jürgen whispered into my ear.

Toward the top of the official route, we spotted another, smaller path cutting through the jungle. I checked my whip, adjusted my fedora, gave Jürgen the nickname “Short Round”, and we set off together on another adventure. Pushing through the woods, we passed innumerable ruins: baths, rock faces with indecipherable notches cut into them, chairs, and other remains we couldn’t identify. I sat down to rest in one of the stone chairs and, suddenly, it swiveled to the left, revealing a cache of gems hidden underneath. Fortune and glory, kid.

Dotted Stone

“Watch out, Indy!” cried Short Round. I ducked, and a lichen-covered scythe brushed over my head, perilously close. “Thanks, little buddy”. The forest darkened around us and, from it, we began to hear the low, ominous tones of a unholy chant. After stashing as many jewels as we could, me in my satchel, Shorty in his ball cap, we hurried down the path. Behind us, the mummified corpses of Buddhist monks had risen from the ground, and were in slow pursuit…

Okay, okay, sorry about that. But these were my thoughts as we explored the forest path. We continued along it for a long time, almost convinced that we should turn around, but we kept discovering more and more ruins, and it was too exciting. Soon enough, we emerged at a giant stone structure atop the hill that might have been a fort. From the top of it, we had an amazing view of the valley, and on the other side we found a flight of steps leading back to the main path.

We had an amazing time at Ritigala. If you’re in the mood for an exciting, atmospheric experience, you almost couldn’t do better. Don’t forget your whip.

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March 18, 2012 at 6:41 am Comments (2)

Leech Attack at the Knuckles Mountain Range

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About twenty kilometers east of Kandy lies the Knuckles Mountain Range, pronounced by locals as “nuck-less”. This is one of the most infrequently visited corners of Sri Lanka’s hill country, which is surprising, given its beautiful expanses of untouched forest, easy accessibility from Kandy, and softly curved mountaintops which indeed resemble knuckles. By all rights, this park should be one of the region’s touristic highlights.

Knuckles Sir Lanka

Maybe it’s the leeches. We intended to walk the Dothalugala Trail which leads past waterfalls and up to a viewpoint. Sure, we’d been warned that the path was infested with them, but whatever. We’re men, not sniveling sissy-boys who run squealing from harmless pests like leeches. Or so we thought…

Two kilometers into the hike, I noticed movement on the ground. A leech! Huh, the information was accurate after all, and I bent over to examine it. This wasn’t the black, full-bodied leech I’m used to, but a teensy worm-like thing crawling along the dusty ground. Almost cute! And, look, Jürgen, there’s another. And another! And oh my god the ground is covered with them! They are on me! Run!

And run we did. Back down the path, swatting at our legs in terror, every once in awhile pausing to bash leeches off our shoes with a rock, or flick them off our legs with a stick. During the panicked retreat, I knocked at least thirty leeches off me. Two managed to sink their hooks into my flesh, and one succeeded in latching onto Jürgen’s leg. It was like a scene out of the most horrifying terror movie you can imagine, only more horrifying. Once we reached safety back on the paved road, we immediately disrobed down to the undies and examined each other like overgrown monkeys.

Luckily, there was a second, leech-free hike out to a viewpoint known as Mini World’s End. This two-kilometer walk was a breeze, and soon enough we found ourselves at the edge of the mountain, with cliffs that dropped straight down to the plains below. The view was magnificent, stretching for miles in every direction. We sat down to drink some water, which felt blissfully cool against throats bruised raw from terror-squealing, and enjoyed the amazing scenery.

So in the end, it was worth the anguish. We were utterly alone in the Knuckles park, and didn’t see another tourist the entire day. To get there, we just hopped a bus bound for Mahiyangana, got off at Hunasgiriya, and then took a tuk-tuk for eight kilometers to the Conservation Center. Total journey time, one hour each way; round-trip cost, $3 per person. Not bad. If you go yourself, wear leech socks… or just be a little tougher than us. Shouldn’t be that hard.

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February 22, 2012 at 3:07 am Comments (12)
The Back of Beyond Eco Lodge in Sigiriya For our three-day road trip that would bring us to Ritigala, Sigiriya and Dambulla, we needed a lot of energy. Luckily, we couldn't have chosen a more restful place to spend our down hours: The Back of Beyond Eco Lodge in Sigiriya.
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