The Highlands and Adam's Peak
On the trip south from Jaffna, I stopped at a few of the main historical attractions: several cities filled with ruins from where kingdoms from 500BC ruled for a thousand years before being conquered by South Indian invaders, and recaptured by Sinhalese. What remains today are some sites that range in impressiveness from a kingdom placed atop an impossible mountain to piles of bricks and stone that have some archaeological importance that never found a place in my short-term memory.
One particularly nice monument was a temple complex in a town called Kandy, which is said to contain a tooth of the Buddha which was taken from his funeral pyre when he was cremated in India in 483 BC. There are many myths and legends about how the tooth made its way into Sri Lanka where it has been captured and reclaimed over the centuries as a symbol of ownership of the island. It all sounds like whimsical fairy tales, but they take this very seriously. In 1998, during the civil war, the temple was bombed and seriously damaged. It has since been repaired, and is now under very strict security. The whole area is blocked off to traffic and pedestrians are monitored by armed guards and can only enter the complex through airport-style security. But this doesn’t stop thousands of Sri Lankans from visiting the temple every evening to give offerings and prayer. Very nice to see.
I left Kandy to enter the Highland areas which, between the occasional drizzle, afforded me some of the nicest motorcycle rides I’ve ever done. Windy mountain back roads, little traffic, *sunny skies*, clean air, and unbelievable views. I drove through beautiful tea estates (founded by none other the Mr. Lipton himself) with the thick waxy tea leaves reflecting the deepest green of any landscape I’ve seen. For a short day trip I left the bike parked and hopped on one of Sri Lanka's famous and charming little trains. The old train slowly chugged though the same 360 degree gorgeous landscape, through tunnels and past waterfalls, at a speed that I doubt ever tops 30 km/hr (and with significantly more elbow room than trains servicing the capital). Perfect for sitting between cars and dangling your legs over the tracks while taking in the amazing panoramas - Sri Lanka might actually be the prettiest place on Earth.
The final must-do event before I departed Sri Lanka was a common pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak, where it is said that Adam (of Adam and Eve…) first touched the Earth. Apparently there’s a footprint somewhere that definitively proves this. The hike itself starts at 2 am so that after a 3 hour climb up you can watch the sun rise before hobbling back down. This pilgrimage is very popular with locals, and on the ascent, the only thing that kept me from gasping and stopping every 4 minutes was watching 70-year-old ladies climbing the slopes barefoot without complaint. After climbing over 5,000 large misshapen stone steps (I may have reconsidered this endeavour had I known that little factoid before I planned the climb) I reached the top and watched the sunrise, and simultaneously, the perfect shadow of the peak sink into the clouds on the other side of the valley below. Pretty. The descent left me with Jell-O legs that were sore to the touch for over a week. Thankfully, my final destination was a beach town with an ample supply of lounge chairs and cold Lion Lager. This beach visit was mostly to return my motorbike to shop where I first rented it, what seemed like ages ago. It felt quite satisfying to approach the little town from the East after departing it from the West. My lap was complete.
After another as-short-as-possible stint in Colombo, I retrieved my passport laden with fresh visas, and boarded a plane that descended into the absolute mind-blowing madness that is Bangladesh.