Wilpattu, Dambulla caves and Wild grass resort, part 6
When we return from our all day safari, tired but happy, we are informed that tonight we will have hoppers prepared at our table, which we will eat with a variety of traditional foods. We are given a short time to clean up, (at least our shower is luke warm tonight), and before our dinner show begins. Anura the manager will dine with us to show us how to eat the food properly.
The array of food is overwhelming but the cooking of the hoppers is fascinating. There is also a bonfire flaming in the fire pit below the kitchen, which adds to the atmosphere. Anura takes a helping from each dish of food and places it on his plate. Anura tears off a piece of a hopper and uses the thin crepe to pick up a small portion of everything on his plate. This blends the sweet, spicy and in-between foods, so a bite of one food alone doesn’t overwhelm your taste buds. I find that this is a great way to minimize the fiery spice of the curry and I like it! Paul and I opt to use utensils, though Anura eats his food with his left hand. It was a delicious, fun meal, but boy were we ready to fall into bed as soon as our guests left.
This morning begins like yesterday morning. Our alarm rings at 4:30, at five a.m. the bugler at the army base, which is on the edge of the village, plays reveille, and we drink tea while the Buddhist monks chant fills the air. We take our luggage with us this morning, as Raj will pick us up at the small village, when our safari ends.
As we drive to Wilpattu, we see school children dressed in white uniforms, lined up along the road at 6:15! Evidently, the nearest school is quite a distance away, thus the early pickup for school.
We enter the park at dawn and like yesterday, we are the only vehicle here at this hour. I have no expectations for this morning’s safari after our stellar sightings yesterday. We still see plenty of wildlife, including a jackal, spotted deer, a barking deer, more turtles, tortoise and terrapins. There are the usual bird sightings but this morning we are entertained by a female painted stork. The large stork raises her wings and does a bird’s version of a model walking the runway, stalking back and forth in front of her mate. The male stork pays absolutely no attention to his flirtatious mate. This doesn’t seem to bother the strutting female, because she continues her feather dance as we drive away.
We also see two “wild boar sows” with approximately 20 half-grown piglets accompanying them. The porkers ran for the trees as soon as we drew near, except for one youngster. I think to myself, if this pig doesn’t wise up soon, he will become a tasty meal for a leopard.
As we make our way back to the gate we meet a half dozen safari trucks filled with school boys decked out in their white uniforms. They act like typical preteen boys do; waving, chattering and some even take photos of Paul and me. We return their waves and take our own photos, which makes the boys act even sillier.
When we reach the village, we see Raj standing next to his parked car, so Lahiru parks the truck beside him. As we prepare to leave, we give Lahiru and Saran a nice tip for their terrific guiding and for taking such good care of us. They certainly earned these rupees! Saran tells Paul and me that he is so glad he met us, because the two of us really enjoy the wildlife, and we show it with our smiles. He pantomimes to us how some of his clients don’t even react when they see a leopard. Saran makes his face go blank and his lips are unsmiling, showing us a face of someone who is bored. Well, that is sad! We say goodbye to these awesome young men and turn to wave exuberantly to them as we drive away
Today, the opposition political party is demonstrating against the ruling party of Sri Lanka. Strikers have shut down the main road to Dambulla to show their disapproval with the leaders of this island. While Raj is not happy with the detour he must drive, we are delighted with this “inconvenience”. The alternate route is a lovely, tree-shaded road almost devoid of traffic. There is a variety of vegetable crops being cultivated along the road, including sweet corn, tomatoes, varieties of squash, and so on.
We do pass small trucks, packed with sacks of harvested vegetables, along with a few humans crowded in among the load. When we reach the city of Dambulla, we pass by the huge vegetable warehouse that is the farmer’s destination. The grounds are full of a variety of vehicles from tractors pulling wagons to various sizes of trucks all overloaded with bags of produce. The farmers are selling their crops here, and the goods are then loaded onto semis to be transported elsewhere.
When we arrive at Dambulla Cave Temple, the sun is beating down and it is hot. Raj hands us our tickets and we make our way to the entrance. We have been so spoiled up to this point with the absence of vendors trying to sell souvenirs to tourists, that we forgot how annoying it can be. Thankfully, the Sri Lankan people aren’t very aggressive, and when we shake our head no at maps, postcards, carvings, and other odds and ends, they leave us alone.
After an uphill walk to reach the famous caves, we must leave our shoes outside with a man who places them on a shelf, in order to enter this holy place dedicated to the Lord Buddha. This shoe check is done on the honor system, with the owners just identifying their foot wear when they leave the temple. I am so thankful I have thick hiking socks on as the pavement is hot! I can feel the heat seeping through my socks, and I don’t know how some of the tourists are managing in bare feet. There are macaque monkeys everywhere, and since they have lost their fear of humans, we keep an eye on the aggressive primates.
The Dambulla Cave Temple consists of five caves dedicated to Lord Buddha, created over a timeline starting in the first century B.C., by a King with a really long name! Over the centuries there have been additions to and restoration done in the caves. Paul and I wander through the caves and see reclining Buddha’s, the longest one is 43 feet, seated Buddhas, standing Buddhas, along with murals that completely cover the walls and roofs of the caves. It really is mind-boggling esp. when you realize all but the Buddhas in cave five, are carved out of granite rock! The Dambulla Cave Temple is a world heritage site, and also a part of what is referred to as the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka.
Many people buy lotus flowers to place next to which ever Buddhist statue strikes their fancy, though most folks seem to offer them to the 43 foot reclining Buddha. Often, the flowers have hardly been laid down, when the Macaque monkeys, nicknamed temple monkeys, rush in and begin to devour the flowers on the spot. Sometimes we must wait until a group of monkeys vacate the entrances into the caves before we can enter. The pesky beggars were always snarling at one another and at one time a fight broke out as two monkeys grabbed the same flower. I wouldn’t have wanted to be near that melee, as the monkeys have some nasty canines.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cheer as a caretaker tried to evict a monkey from one of the caves. The man is chasing the thieving monkey, holding a stick with both hands. He has his crude weapon raised over his head, and there is an angry expression on his face. The staff member doesn’t have a chance at catching the monkey, but I give him credit for trying. There is some irony in this scenario happening in a place dedicated to Buddha, who believed in not harming any life.
Hot footing it out of the temple area, we retrieve our shoes; make our way back through the vendors. and out the gate. Three beggars follow us to the car which is parked just yards away from the entrance gate. We ignore them, which is hard to do, (though we do give to some beggars throughout the trip), but you can’t give to every beggar you encounter. Raj tells us at one point that some of the beggars are fakes, but it is obvious, most are either physically impaired and/or destitute.
Raj points the car in the direction of Wild Grass Resort which is on the outskirts of the city. We turn onto a rough, narrow, dirt road, and arrive a few minutes later at our destination. There are three staff members waiting on the steps of the headquarters, as Raj brings the car to a stop. A young man loads our luggage into a wheelbarrow for transport to our room. We are handed hot towels, which we gladly use, after our sweaty visit to Dambulla caves. Paul and I are given a drink that I think is coffee mixed into cold milk. It tastes great but I don’t drink much of it, as I know it will keep me from sleeping tonight. The manager than asks us if it is o.k. if he upgrades us from our reservation, which was the modest chalet with twin beds, to a chalet that normally houses a family. Sure, we say, that sounds great.
Paul and I traipse after Anil, who is pushing the wheelbarrow of luggage. We pass by a beautiful pool, and the cut off paths that lead to other chalets. When we walk down the lane that leads to our chalet, I blurt out, “my gosh, it’s a house”!
What a gorgeous place this is, surrounded by trees, tall decorative grass, and a view of a lake that is only a short walk away. Anil tells us we can choose to stay on the ground floor or on the second floor.
We walk through the door and the living room walls are glass from floor to ceiling. We take a tour of the downstairs bedroom and bathroom with its outside shower. I say this will do. Paul thinks we should look at the upstairs first.
We walk up the stairs and enter the bedroom which is the same floor to ceiling glass walls, there is a nice balcony adjoining the bedroom. The dressing room is huge, with a sink and vanity, wardrobe and plenty of benches to set your luggage on. The shower is roofless which seems to be the in thing at these resorts. This is great! We tell Anil, we will stay up here, which means he has to carry that heavy duffel up the steps, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
Later, on that evening, I begin to worry that maybe this isn’t a free upgrade. I mull over the way the manager worded the question about changing rooms, basically getting us to agree to the upgrade. I tell Paul I hope we aren’t paying for the difference in the price of the rooms. Paul isn’t worried but I insist that we find out tomorrow. Paul goes on the internet to see what the price difference in the rooms is and the cost is nearly double. Yikes! In the end my worries were unwarranted as it was indeed a perk in our favor.
We end this day doing laundry by hand, and hanging it out to dry on a back balcony, that is connected to the dressing room. After finishing this chore, we enjoy a beer, bread, cheese, and Pringle’s that we bought at a small super market in Dambulla. We eat our supper on the balcony enjoying the sound of the chanting of Buddhist monks.
They have laid out Wild Grass Resort so you have the sense that you are the only people on the property. Our neighbors that we have seen so far are myna birds, egrets and herons flying over the lake, and a gecko that is residing in the rafters of our ceiling. I think we are going to like it here!
Next episode, Minneriya safari and ruins. Nancy