Twenty kilometers north of Tangalla lies the large rock of Mulkirigala, reminiscent in shape to Sigiriya. The rock houses an impressive series of cave temples dating from the third century, similar to those of Dambulla. A mix between Sri Lanka’s two most famous sites, Mulkirigala sounded like a winner.
A hike up the conical Adam’s Peak is one of the top things to do in Sri Lanka. Legions of people complete the hike daily, both pilgrims and travelers. Jürgen and I are always primed for an adventure… as long as it’s convenient. After learning that you must embark for the the summit at 2am, we immediately, instantly scratched Adam’s Peak from our list. Call us lame if you want, I won’t protest. But no way. Besides, we had just read about another hike called Little Adam’s Peak, near Ella. “Close enough!”
On the second of our three days in Ella, we hopped onto the morning train, having decided that we couldn’t pass up a visit to nearby Haputale (ha-POOT-a-lay): a town on the southern extreme of Sri Lanka’s hill country celebrated for its beautiful surroundings and tea plantations.
With an unbeatable setting high in the hills, tiny Ella has earned a reputation as one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful villages. With its views over the Ella Gap and some incredible nature walks, the town has become one of the most popular destinations in the southern hill country. We spent a few days here, and had a wonderful time.
The large, windswept island of Delft sits twenty miles off the mainland; about as far away from a city as you can get in densely-packed Sri Lanka. After an 80-minute bus ride to Kurikadduwan, we took a ferry to the island, and almost immediately upon disembarking from the ship, Jürgen realized with a cry that his camera battery was out of juice. I instinctively started backing away from him. A Jürgen who can’t take pictures at a wild, remote island is a dangerous, unpredictable Jürgen.
The twenty-kilometer ride took over an hour to complete, and we were dropped off in a dusty town with one store and three people. Now, just an easy mile-long hike separated us from the crystal blue water and white sand of Casuarina Beach. On arriving, we were overjoyed — exactly as we had hoped for! A gorgeous stretch of sand extending for kilometers along the northern coast of the island, bordered by the shrubby Casuarina trees which lend the beach its name. We decided to escape local bathers, and walk towards the lighthouse on the northwestern tip of the island before sitting down: a plan that would be our undoing.
After our tiring ascent to the summit of Sigiriya Rock, we deserved to spend the rest of the day lounging around the hotel. But too many people had recommended a climb up Pidurangala Rock. “Sigh, I don’t know. Well, it’s right next to our hotel. But I’m so tired.” We debated, deciding to skip it, then deciding to go, and then giving up on the idea again. Eventually, our better natures won out and, grumbling, we set off on our second uphill trek of the day. And we’re happy we did.
We had reached the large terrace which marks the half-way point on the ascent to the summit of Sigiriya Rock. Before continuing, we took a break and surveyed the remaining path in dread and awe. The next flight of stairs was framed by an enormous pair of stone paws. Because of its profile, Sigiriya had long been referred to as the “Lion Rock”, but King Kassapa decided to make the nickname somewhat more literal.
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.
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.