Quick tour – Ritigala, Anuradhapura, Mahintale, Dambulla

Sri Lanka, June 2011

On Friday last week, Ven. Nyanatusita and I took a bus from Kandy to Matale and visited the Aluvihare Rock Temple. There were some interesting paintings and caves converted into small buildings. Many Sri Lankan pilgrims and a few foreign tourists were walking around.

A view looking West from the main gate up the hill toward the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011
A view looking east at a courtyard between boulders at the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Michael near a moustached lion figure at the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

After walking around, we ate lunch and then took a bus north to Dambulla where we thought we might be able to climb the hill to see the cave paintings. We arrived around 2pm in the hottest part of the day. There were many pilgrims perhaps returning from the Poson Poya (possibly the most significant uposatha day in Sri Lanka – Thursday, 16 June 2011) celebrations in Anuradhapura and Mahintale. We heard a report that there were over 5000 Sri Lankan Police Officers mobilized to monitor over 1,000,000 pilgrims. We decided to visit the Dambulla caves another day and walked across the road to drink tea at the “Tourist Welfare Center”.

We then rode a three-wheeler towards Sigiriya stopping at a national park where we walked around inspecting the remains of an ancient meditation monastery.  I was very impressed with this place. It was quite overgrown in many parts and the paths not clear. We explored many old cave sites and found evidence of kutis being built hanging between large boulders. I felt inspired and imagined the ancient Sangha living on the site possibly over many hundreds of years.  After 2-3 hours we got back in the three-wheeler and continued on to the Pidurangala Temple located at the base of a large granite hill 800m north of the more famous Sigiriya. The young pirivena monks allowed us to stay the night in the dusty local village headman’s office including an ensuite occupied by many varieties of local frogs.

On Saturday morning, we climbed the stairs to view various cave kutis (meditation huts) and ruins. Unfortunately none of the kutis were occupied. Though looking well built on the outside, the kutis stank of bat faeces and needed repairs. We doubted any meditation monks would like to live there now because of the steady traffic of curious tourists and pilgrims walking by. We climbed up the hill and through some boulder strewn areas to reach the flat peak. I didn’t see the easy way at first and took a rather dangerous and steep climb with no supports.  We passed a young English woman on the way up who also later climbed the hard way. After a false start, I expressed respect for mutual bravery. Shortly afterwards some Sri Lankan people and more foreigners arrived (the easy way). The top of the hill is spectacular. The winds were gusting strongly and could be dangerous for people near the edges. There are no railings so visitors must take care. It is best to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. The rock would become very hot.  We could see nearby Sigiriya and in the distance also see the hill with the Dambulla cave temple.

A restored reclining Buddha statue at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

A view looking south at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A view west at a modern Buddha statue at a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A view looking north at a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011. The kuti under the rock in the photo was built over 20 years ago and abandoned. It is now inhabited by bats.

A view looking northwest at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

The central buildings of a monastery near Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011.  The building on the left is used as a dining hall and is built under a large boulder.

Michael climbing the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Michael climbing between boulders on the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A makeshift ladder near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

Michael feeling rather nervous after getting off the ladder near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011

The top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Michael near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A rough path on the side of the hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011.  This section of the path is relatively easy to walk on.

Michael scrambling down the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Sunday , Amarvarti, Abhayagiri Vihara, Abhayagiri stupa, Great Stupa

Monday Anuradhapura Mahabodhi tree, 

Tuesday Mahintale many cave kutis and stupas, Kaludiya Pokuna

Wednesday Mahintale  many cave kutis and stupas

Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 
Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

The restored elephant tank at the ruins of Abhayagiri monastery, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

Restoration work at the Abhayagiri stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. There are probably 30-40 monkeys not quite visible in this photo, climbing around the framework and making a lot of noise.

Restoration work at the Abhayagiri stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

The Great Stupa at night, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. Michael sensed something very special about this stupa.

Looking north towards the Great Stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A water catchment “tank” near the Great Stupa at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Kaludiya Pokuna, Mahintale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

I got safely back to Kandy last night (Wednesday) around 9pm. The 100km ride from Dambulla at night was thrilling. The fare was about 60 cents each with front seats to a rally car race in which out bus was participating. I’ve done it before in Thailand but this was perhaps more intense. I just let it happen and enjoyed the ride and the psychedelic light show above the dashboard glorifying various Buddhist and Hindu deities. Many cyclists with no lights and chaotic traffic weaving in and out, sudden stops and turns. Bald tires, soft suspension and bouncy seats set to a sound track of falsetto vocals and deep bass drums etc. At the second last town the bus filled beyond capacity and I had to keep my arms out to stop people sitting or falling on me.  All a memory now.

I’m flying to London on Monday 27 June. Not long now. I’ve been sort of preparing by downloading travel guides for England and Scotland and even reading the text of Macbeth which I hope to see performed at Stratford Upon Avon sometime in July or August.

Maybe England first in early to mid July and then Scotland in late July-August.

Note: I didn’t get around to writing this posting in as much detail as I’d planned.


Forest Hermitage, Kandy

I feel privileged to visit  the Forest Hermitage. This is an historical place for Western Buddhists and where Ven. Nyanaponika and Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi both lived and worked for many years. Ven. Nyanatusita is very kind and patient with me. He showed me around and answered all my Dhamma questions and questions about daily life. Bhante is a very intelligent and practical man who works very hard for the Buddhist Publication Society. I encourage all readers to visit the BPS website and download the collections that are free or at low cost.

Forest Hermitage, Udawattekelle, Kandy Sri Lanka, 7 June 2011

MK relflected in the window of the FH, 7 June 2011

There are two cats also living at the FH and I have a mild allergic reaction to them manifested by sneezing and itchy skin.

Bhante allowed me to read an early proof copy of the forthcoming complete translation of the Anguttara Nikaya by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi. I didn’t read it cover to cover and there were bits missing even as it was. I was able to read many sutta that had puzzled me while reading Woodward 100 plus year old English translation published by the Pali Text Society.  Excellent work Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi!

I met a young German and a young Austrian monk staying in the monastic compound next to the FH. There is also a kind Sri Lankan lay man working as caretaker at FH. Ven. Nyanatusita, the Austrian monk and I rode in a three-wheeler driven by Nihal (excellent driver and enthusiastic monastery sponsor) from FH to one of 3 (or more) monasteries at Hantana (a hilly district adjoining Kandy) to visit Ven.Subhuti, a US monk. This monastery is about 800m above sea level and located on the site of an old tea estate. It feels remote, despite being only 20 minutes from downtown Kandy. There are many poor Tamil tea workers/families living on the slopes around the monastery. Ven. Subhuti usually stays at Na Uyana Aranya. Nihal had to return to Kandy by 4:30pm.  I plan to visit Ven. Subhuti again this afternoon.

Bhikkhu Subhuti (left) and Bhikkhu Nyanatusita (right) standing on the precarious balcony of the kuti at Hantana where Ven. Subhuti is staying, 7 June 2011

Three Bhikkhus approaching the kuti at Hantana where Ven. Subhuti is staying, 7 June 2011

My lower back has been painful for the past few days. I think it is due to the travel. I won’t let it stop me though.  As with all physical pain, if we focus our attention on the painful spot(s), we can notice how it constantly changes. What changes is suffering, whatever is suffering is not me, not I, not mine. We let go of whatever is not ours. Then there is release, freedom and liberation.

Perth to Kandy

I left Perth on Tiger Airline on Friday night arriving in Singapore at about 3am Saturday, 4 June 2011. I then flew Tiger to KL arriving about 7:30am. I then learned that Tiger lands at the Budget terminal which is 20-30 minutes drive from the KL International terminal.  My Sri Lankan Airline flight from KL to Colombo was due to leave at 9:20 am, so I missed it. They close the check in counters one hour before the flight because the check-in counter is about 20 minutes away from the boarding gate – even including the free light rail that transports passengers around the vast KL International Airport.  The KLIA is impressive for its size and high-tech facilities, however, the signage and lack of information about these logistical matters is a negative.  Sri Lankan Airlines should have some note on their e-ticket about the counters closing 1 hour before flight and maybe something about warning passengers who may be connecting from the KL budget airport.

From what I saw, the KL budget  airport might just as well have been called Air Aisa Airport since Air Asia dominates  so much. The access to taxis was difficult. There seems to be no consideration for passengers such as myself who might be going to the KLIA. Buses between terminals depart about every 20 minutes and I just missed one so I was obliged to take a taxi. However, you need to go to a special counter, through a police checkpoint just to get a taxi voucher. The taxi voucher counter didn’t accept any currency except Malaysian Ringits. I didn’t have enough MR so I had to go back out through the police checkpoint and find a currency exchange service, wait in the queue and accept an exorbitant exchange rate, go back through the police checkpoint to the taxi counter, back out through the police check point and cross a busy road to find the taxi rank. The taxi had a very small boot so no-one’s normal size luggage would fit in it. The driver then puts on an act about my luggage and then puts it on the back seat.  To his credit, he did driver rather quickly to try and get me to the KLIA on time for my Sri Lankan Airline check-in. He dropped me at the wrong end of the terminal (he wasn’t to know – not his fault) so I ran pushing my trolley loaded with luggage from one end of the terminal to the other, only to find the area completely unstaffed – too late!

I then found where the Sri Lankan Airline office is located and pushed my trolley up there. I waited for about 30-40 minutes in the empty corridor outside the office and then wrote a note to stick on their door while I wandered off to find a toilet and some refreshments. I enjoyed some noodles and sambal washed down with coffee. I went back and waited in the corridor doing pacing up and down for exercise – no where to sit except the floor. Then about 10:30 the Sri Lankan Airline officers arrived at their office. The lady was very helpful and arranged for me to go on the next flight leaving at 2pm, but going via Singapore.  I was relieved.

So I passed time and ate a delicious murtabak ayam (pancake stuffed with curried chicken) and drank tea and juice for lunch.  My seat on the SLA flight was 67G which is right next to the toilet on the last row. The leg room was relatively cramped due to some device on the floor. Many passengers were Indians returning from holidays in Malaysia – some kind of package tour that included a one night stay over in Colombo. Many were rude to the crew and made many demands. Unfortunately there did not seem to be enough vegetarian meals provided by the catering company so some Indian men became very upset. I felt sorry for the SLA crew. Then the captain announced that for some  unknown reason, Changi Airport (Singapore) was only using one runway and our flight was obliged to fly in circles around Singapore in a queue waiting to land. We all had to get off the plane in Singapore and wait for 30-40 minutes to board again. After boarding we waited another 30-40 minutes in our seats to get permission to take off. I suppose all these delays might have aggravated passenger moods. So finally we arrived in Colombo at 7pm – two hours after the scheduled time for that flight and 9 hours after my planned time of arrival (10am).

I got a taxi to my hotel in Negombo and after checking in, went out to buy a Sri Lankan SIM card for my mobile – success. However, when I tried it out, I found my phone is locked to Telstra and the Norton security software also prevented me from changing the SIM. I forgot to disable that before I left Australia. Now I need a new phone.

After a cold shower (no hot water at the A$78 per night hotel – don’t go there – Rani Beach Resort) and lots of water, I spent some time horizontal for the first time in over 24 hours. I woke refreshed, packed my stuff and ate some included breakfast within sight of the Indian Ocean. It was lovely.  I then got in a three wheeler to the Negombo bus station and found that there are no air conditioned buses to Kandy. In retrospect, I could have gone to Colombo to take the train or an AC bus to Kandy, or I might have found an AC bus to Kurunegala, get off and get a different AC bus on to Kandy. I just wanted to keep moving so I got on the non-AC bus. I managed to buy three front seats (111 SL rupees each = about A$1 or about 65 British pence) just behind the driver that are normally reserved for clergy. I took a risk that if a monk boarded, I’d have to relinquish my seat (even though paid for). I pushed my luggage onto the window seat and sat comfortably on the other two seats for about 1 hour while the bus was not full. Later when many passengers boarded and I felt guilty for having pregnant women, old men and children standing in the narrow aisle, I invited a woman to sit down next to me while I squashed in next to my luggage. The woman spoke English and we had a brief conversation. She actually worked at the airport. She was fascinated by my Kindle e-book reader and I showed it off to her. She showed me a book by Ajahn Sumedho “Now is the Knowing”.  I told her how I’d met Ajahn Sumedho in Bangkok and in Perth many years ago. She seemed pleased to meet a non-Sri Lankan Buddhist.  As soon as she got off, another lady sat down for the remainder of the trip to Kandy.

Kandy was warm and humid but not excessively so. I found a three wheeler to take me to the Buddhist Publication Society BPS bookshop but found it closed on Sunday, so I went straight on to Mrs Clement Disanayake’s guest house where I had stayed several times when I was in SL last year. Without a booking, she welcomed me. She had no other guests. She is a lovely 72 yo widow. We chatted about our lives in during the past year I’d been in Australia. I noted that I left Sri Lanka around 19 May 2010 and now returned 4 June 2011, just over one year away. With Mrs Disanayake’s recommendation, I found Mr Nimal Pieris at Tele-pix on Perideniaya Road, a much awarded SL businessman who promptly sold me a Samsung touch phone which may have been once destined for the Polish market judging by the language of the instruction booklet). Anyhow, the phone works fine. I finally phoned Mum to reassure her that I arrived safe and well.

[Mrs Clement Disanayake’s guest house is listed in the Lonely Planet and possibly Rough Guide books for Sri Lanka – recommended]

I ate a good Sri Lankan curry meal as lunch at one of the Devon restaurants for less than A$5.  I didn’t need dinner after that. I chatted more with Mrs Disanayake, showered and slept early. There is a 2.5 hour time difference with Perth. (6pm Sri Lanka is 8:30pm Perth).

This morning after a pile of toast, eggs, jam, bananas, herb rice porridge and 3 cups of tea for breakfast 🙂 I went down to the BPS book shop which opens at 9am. There I spoke with Berty who remembers me. He is very charming and operates the till in the shop.

I am donating some items to the Sangha of the Forest Hermitage lead by Ven. Nyanatusita Bhikkhu. The box is a little bulky but not heavy – about 10 kg or less.  Berty and his colleagues at the BPS shop phoned Ven. Nyanatusita and we have agreed that the BPS van will transport the fridge and me to the Forest Hermitage which is in the middle of the Udawattekelle bird sanctuary. Usually entry fee is 600 rupees but if visiting the Hermitage, this can be waived if you are carrying an official letter provided by the BPS. On the other hand, providing money for the maintenance of the bird sanctuary is a good thing.

I will stay overnight at the Forest Hermitage for a while. I am looking forward to some Dhamma talks with Ven. Nyanatusita.

Going to Sri Lanka and United Kingdom

My last job finished on Friday, 27 May 2011 and with no other employment in the near future, I decided to fly to Sri Lanka to visit sacred places I haven’t been before and then visit relatives in the United Kingdom.  I might stop in Bangkok to see friends while returning to Perth. This trip is a tour and not for meditation.

I depart this Friday, 3 June, arriving in Sri Lanka on Saturday 4 June. I may stay overnight at Negombo before taking a bus to Kandy. I plan to visit Ven. Nyanatusita at the Forest Hermitage for a few days and then visit Na Uyana Aranya to pay respects to monastics.  I may not stay overnight there though.  Then I might go on to  Matale to see the Aluvihara and to Anuradhapura to pay respects to the ancient Bodhi tree, stupas and various ruins.

I shall continue to blog my travels and post photos.