Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Sri Lanka photos 3: miscellany

Rushing through some of the other pics. One of the highlights of our stay was the climb up the 600-foot Sigiriya rock fortress, at the summit of which was the palace of King Kasyapa in the 5th century AD. There's a long-shot view of the Sigiriya rock in the last post; this is a close-up of part of the rock, with a spiral staircase for tourists (click to enlarge).

It used to be known as the “simha-giri” or “lion mountain” – it's believed that to climb the final stretch of the rock, you had to enter a stairway through the mouth of a giant stone lion. The head of the lion was subsequently destroyed by invaders but the paws on either side remain.

More than 100 metres above ground level, in a depression on the rock face, are the 1,500-year-old “Apsara paintings”. The painted band used to cover an area of 140 metres around the rock surface but sadly only a few of the figures survive today.

Buddha statues are to Lankan tourism what castles are to northern England and Scotland – you can never have enough of them. These are from the Dambulla cave temples, which can be accessed after another good climb (not as steep as Sigiriya though). The cave interiors were dark and the camera wasn’t too effective, plus photography is frowned upon here so these had to be taken surreptitiously. Did what I could.

Giant reclining feet.

[For much better Sigiriya and Dambulla photos, check the Wikipedia entries here and here]

At the temple of the tooth relic in Kandy: one of the Buddha’s canine teeth has its resting place here, apparently, though all you’ll ever get to see of it is a golden casket that contains around 9 other golden caskets, in the smallest of which is kept the tooth. Here’s a collection of statues from around the world, depicting the Buddha according to the distinct styles of different countries.

Strong element of commercialisation here – the caretaker of the tooth is a rich man, the Nilame, elected by the monks not only on the basis of his standing as a good Buddhist but also his wealth. Incidentally, the series of paintings depicting the Buddha’s life and the posthumous history of his tooth is “sponsored by the Bank of Ceylon”.

Waterfall on the way to Nuwara Eliya.

We visited a tea estate near here. More than the thousands of tons of tea leaves, all going through various stages of processing, I was interested in this ancient machine, used as a calculator during the early days of this tea plantation.

On our way down the mountain from Nuwara Eliya, we passed the river Kelani, near the banks of which several scenes in The Bridge on the River Kwai were shot. The place is also a base for white-water rafting.

There was a charming café in a little clearing near the river, where the tables and chairs were made out of raw, untreated wood. Very quaint to look at, and extremely heavy.

A collection of Lanka’s famous masks in a showroom.

This was in the basement of a gem factory-cum-showroom: part of a lifesize representation of the arduous gem-mining process. Just before this, we saw a short documentary on how precious and semi-precious stones are extracted from the earth’s surface.

It’s startling to see how primitive and unglamorous the early stages of the procedure are: grime-covered workers crawling about in deep, watery pits, communicating through makeshift talking devices that resemble children’s walkie-talkies, trawling through dozens of stones for that one potentially valuable piece – which they will never be able to reap the benefits of themselves, despite being the first to get their hands on it. Of course, there’s nothing new in the idea of the poor man’s labour being used to benefit the shrewd businessman and the already-rich, but in this case the nature of the finished product makes the contrast much starker. What the documentary showed was worlds removed from the associations we commonly have with jewellery: the glitz of a Swarovski showroom, celebrities flaunting their rocks on society pages.

Which also means that though this post wasn't meant to be thematic, it begins and ends on the rock motif.

[Related posts: pics 1, pics 2, tourism overkill]


  1. bhupendra.kahar9:29 PM, June 03, 2008

    Hi arjun
    you have posted really fantastic fotos of srilanka tourism.I am very happy to read your blog

  2. Hi,
    I am new at your blog. I really like this post. Very interesting photos and explanations. I fell like it is me who make the journey to that place. Really very interesting....:)

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