Travels with V
A temple where the Buddha rests
The early morning train takes us to the city of Polonnaruwa, in the center of the island. It’s a long and bumpy ride on tracks in poor condition, sometimes we actually fear that the train will jump right off the tracks. But after twelve shaky hours we finally arrive in the town most famous for its temple ruins.
When we arrive at our small hotel our legs shake and our bellies are in uproar. We have probably been infected when a fruit vendor on the train sold us some juicy mango when we were extremely thirsty. But he cut the fruits with a disgustingly dirty knife. For me its just one visit to the toilet and then I’m quite ok.
The hotel manager lends us bikes and we wheel off to the ruins, which are scattered around a huge temple area. Here we find a famous reclining buddha, some stupas and “book-stones”. And lots of the endemic Ceylon makaks, monkeys with 60’s style moptop hairdos. Most often they’re found where there are food stalls, often by the spots where trash is burned. They rummage through the ashes and surprisingly often find something to chew on.
But in Polonnaruwa we’re also in for a big and pleasant surprise. Our hotel manager asks us if we’d like to go on a safari the next day, to the nearby Mineriya national park.
– I’m sure you will see some elephants, the tour has an elephant guarantee, he says with a giggle. We say yes immediately and the next day we’re seated in a Land Rover driving around in the park.
And boy do we see elephants! They are seen in so many places searching for some fresh leaves of grass in the dry vegetation. But the largest number has gathered around a pool where they take baths and socialize. One big male sets after a female and mates with her right in front of us.
– I have worked in this park for thirty years, and I have never seen anything like that, our startled guide says.
Suddenly there is some panic among the safari cars, revving fast, and guides are shouting. An old elephant matriarch has decided that the humans are too many and too close, and she comes marching towards us with angry strides. But after all the commotion she thinks it’s ok and goes for a dip in the pool instead.
Our next destination is high up on the flat top of an incredibly steep hill. Built by the man who murdered the king?