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Wandering Ivy

by

Justin Ouyang

Documenting my adventures in travel, style, and food.

Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle

Sri Lanka's Cultural Triangle

Elephant carvings at Polonnaruwa.

Elephant carvings at Polonnaruwa.

February 2016

North past Kandy, we found ourselves in Habarana, a small town in the midst of Sri Lanka's fabled Cultural Triangle. With four UNESCO World Heritage sites, these dry central plains house the remnants and reminders of the golden age of Sinhalese civilization. Our hired car was ill-equipped for the dirt road that leads you from a main roadway to Galkadawala Forest Lodge, the rustic vegetarian eco-retreat that would serve as our base of operations.

Bookending our days of cultural excursions, Weerasinghe, our short and ever smiling caretaker at Galkadawala, beckoned us to delicious communal breakfasts and dinners of Sri Lankan curries, hoppers, and fresh fruit. Sid and I still dream of the natural, delicious, and simple food served here—especially the buffalo curd and honey! The lodge can hire prearranged cars for each of your daily tourist excursions, and the property is incredibly serene and a welcome respite. Make sure you linger around their open kitchen to watch them cook.

One of the many archaeological sites within Polonnaruwa.

One of the many archaeological sites within Polonnaruwa.

One night while laying underneath the mosquito net draping over our bed and getting accustomed to the sounds of the surrounding forest, we received multiple alarmed texts from our friends and colleagues. The founder and CEO of our company had just been pushed out and forced to resign. While both shocking and concerning, as we realized this would be a time of change and transition for a company that we both proudly more than worked for, there really wasn't much we could do or control from the opposite side of the world. The ensuing chaos to our company, its culture, and our colleagues would unravel without us. We just jokingly hoped that if we were included in some upcoming rumored layoffs, that they could do the deed over video conference so that we could at least just continue on with our worldly wanderings. 

Attractions

  • Sigiriya: An ancient rock fortress that rises dramatically from the surrounding plains and likely Sri Lanka's most recognizable sight. Best to start your trip here early to avoid the mid-day heat.
  • Polonnaruwa: Rent a bike and explore this vast and well-preserved archaeological site that served as the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura. 
  • Danbulla: A set of five cave temples that contain numerous Buddha statues and paintings, as each successive king typically added to this place of worship.
  • Ritigale: A grouping of stone bridges, platforms, and courtyards set deep in jungle. This ancient Buddhist monastery is less impressive and more tranquil given it's partially excavated natured and isolated location.
  • Anuradhapura: Choose between Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa as they are both similar archaeological attractions. We opted for Polonnaruwa over its larger and more ancient counterpart, as it was much closer to our lodge and due to its smaller size, easier to navigate and explore in a half day.
  • Minneriya National Park: The park was flooded during our visit, but it's known for being one of the best places in the country to see wild elephants, especially during "The Gathering"—the peak of the dry season from August to September where more than 200 elephants can be found feeding and bathing in Minneriya Tank.
  • Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: We regretted missing out on this opportunity to see and interact with some baby jumbos. 
Children sitting outside the Dambulla cave temples.

Children sitting outside the Dambulla cave temples.

After 3 nights, 2 full days, and countless incredible meals in the Cultural Triangle, we headed south toward the alluring hills of Sri Lanka's tea country.

Railways and Tea Country

Railways and Tea Country

Arriving in Colombo

Arriving in Colombo