Have I got a treat for you? Not just one more temple but two. Yes, two temples in one day. When we visited Cambodia we saw eight temples in one day so Sri Lanka is a bit of a lightweight on the temple stakes. Suffice to say that I was not expecting this to be my favourite day.
First up was a short drive to Mihintale and a climb to Mihintale Peak. For those who fancy it, the route up from the bottom involves 1840 shallow stone steps [it says here]. Our coach tipped us out near the bottom of the first flight of stone steps so we could get a look. At the base was a collection of stalls selling who knows what memorabilia. A group of school children swarmed past and began ascending the steps. One of our number joined in to climb all 1840 steps but most of us climbed back on the bus to be driven up near the summit.
We did then climb the remaining couple of short flights of steps from where our coach was parked. Once at the entrance, we were again faced with, where Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka are concerned, the inevitable shoe rack not before the temple door but before the entire temple grounds. With the combined requirements of exposing my bare feet to the ground and my bared head to the unrelenting rays of the tropical sun, I already determined to remain outside and wait. My wait was made all the easier by the discovery of a modest rockpool at the entrance complete with dragonflies. A Sociable Glider (Tramea limbata) was cruising above it. Having amused myself trying to snag it in flight, my day was made by the appearance of an Indian Rockdweller (Bradinopyga geminata), an uncommon species which I was pleased to see for the first time.
Hats with a brim are necessary for those of us with a bald scalp when in hot, sunny climates. The brim, however, can be a hindrance to wildlife observation. Unseen by me, this site was seething above my head with swarms of Variegated Flutterers (Rhyothemis variegata). This was another lifer for me which I’d seen at the big lake but missed getting a shot of. Now I had plenty of chance to try again. Francine managed to capture a group while I was trying for an individual. Some of our number thought they were looking at butterflies which is understandable because the flight is quite similar.
While I was standing guard over my rockpool, Francine had been off in a nearby part of the temple [yes, barefoot – brava!] when she had seen the swarm of Flutterers over her head and returned to inform me. There was also an almost constant swarm of people descending part of the temple.
So, for the afternoon’s entertainment, we headed for our second temple. Actually, I thought it was another two temples but it seems that it’s one confusing visitors with two names: the Golden Temple or Rock/Cave Temple of Dambulla. I imagine the Golden Temple tag comes from an enormous golden effigy of Buddha sitting at the base of the hill at the top of which is the Rock temple, which I think is the actual temple itself. Frankly, this golden monstrosity is complete kitch, the poor old golden Buddha’s chin being defaced with large, dark encrustations that looked like some critters’ nests.
At the top of the hill, the Rock temple is a series of caves so I could perhaps get away without my beloved SPF50 Tilley hat. I made the modest climb with my companions. However, once again the shoe and hat depository was some way from the shelter of the caves and once again I declined any religion-imposed risk. Francine is made of sterner stuff, though, and got some pictures, sunset being the main event. She got a Buddha, too, and we really should publish one.
I descended seeking entertainment elsewhere. I wasn’t so lucky this time. I “enjoyed” an indifferent iced coffee before wandering back to the giant golden Buddha where our coach was waiting. There was what would have been an interesting monk chanting session going on through a microphone to an audience holding candles but it was protected by “no photography” signs. Marvellous. A group of bus drivers was talking beside one of the very colourful buses that abound in Sri Lanka. Four young men asked me to take their photograph, which I did. I have a Farcebook name if I can find the right one.
Eventually, I found a cold bottle of water and a table to sit at while I drank it watching Sri Lankan life go on about me. A dog insisted on lying in the middle of the track. It reluctantly made way for a large truck, then returned to its favourite spot. Next a red tuk-tuk began heading for it but this time the animal held doggedly onto its position and it was the tuk-tuk that had to give way. I’ve fallen in love with red tuk-tuks.