With a milestone birthday approaching, Katy had three things she wanted to accomplish: 1) pay off the mortgage, 2) swim with whale sharks, and 3) go to the Maldives. Since she was kind enough to support me as I launched a startup this past year, objective one has been delayed so we decided to take care of the other two.
But wait, you say, the subject line here says Sri Lanka. WTF?
Well, if you look at the Maldives on a map, you might notice that it isn’t too far from Sri Lanka. So, if we were going to be flying halfway around the world to get the Maldives, we figured we’d spend a few days exploring Sri Lanka first.
Turns out Sri Lanka is far from Toronto
While we had a relatively smooth trip to Colombo from Toronto, it was by no means a quick one. It started with a nearly 13 hour flight from Toronto to Dubai. While we were on an A380, we were not upstairs in first class so it was your standard economy pain cave.
We then had a 7 hour layover in Dubai. We made the best use of this time by leaving the airport and hoping on the metro to sit by the pool at the Fairmont Dubai. Definitely a better way to pass the time than sitting at the airport.
After a nice lunch and drinks by the pool, we headed back to the airport to catch our 4.5 hour flight to Colombo. This time we flew with Dubai’s budget airline, Fly Dubai. Even a relatively short four hour flight felt like an eternity after that long without sleep.
After all that we finally landed in Colombo about 28 hours after we left Toronto. Fortunately we were met by our guide Jerry who got us to the hotel at 1:30am where we promptly passed out.
Millenium Elephant Foundation
We met Jerry the next morning and started the 2 hour drive to our first stop, the Millenium Elephant Foundation. Founded in 1999, the MEF is a family run NGO established to help orphaned and rescued elephants along with those that work at the local temples.
To be honest it’s a bit of a controversial first stop. While they are a charity set up to help elephants they do still chain up elephants and offer rides.
Their position is that a couple of people riding on a padded mat is no problem for the elephant. However, they are actively campaigning against the use of Howdahs, heavy chairs used to carry large number of tourists that “can cause deep open wounds and spinal damage”.
This seems like a reasonable argument. If a horse or camel can carry the weight of a person, it stands to reason that an elephant can. That said, my knowledge of elephant biology has a hole the size of, well, and elephant.
The chaining up I find harder to understand. I get that they might need to be restrained in certain situations. MEF talks in their signage about using straps instead of chains and and the situations in which they might be restrained but when we walked back to where the elephants slept, I was surprised by how little range of movement the elephants were given. It wasn’t just a single leg with a strap it was both rear legs with no slack given.
This was the point at which we left and the reason I’m not sure I would recommend it.
The one counter argument I can offer in their favour is the programing they run to help communities dealing with what they call human-elephant conflict. Situations where farmers have to deal with wild elephants who wander through crops and cause damage and danger. They do this through a program they call Conflict2Coexistence.
After our visit to MEF we stopped for a quick lunch of roadside corn and king coconut.
We then made our way to Sigiriya outside the town of Dambulla. Sigiriya is a rock fortress and palace built on a 180m high column of rock, called Lion’s Rock. Built in around 500 CE, Sigiriya has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list, since 1982. It was rediscovered by a British soldier in 1831 and is considered one of the most important urban planning sites of the first millenium.
From the entrance of the site we followed a long path through gardens and ponds to the staircase that leads up to the rock. The climb would probably only take about 15-20 minutes, if it weren’t for the fact that it was one long lineup… and people are very slow.
About halfway up the climb there’s a cave gallery with some beautiful paintings that have been remarkably well maintained over 1500 years. Pictures aren’t allowed to keep things that way. Interestingly after climbing all that way most people just breeze past the paintings and continue to the summit.
The other notable (sort of) item on the climb is the mirror wall. Supposedly this wall was at one point so highly polished that the king could look at himself while he walked along. Now, it just looks like a wall. So much so that we totally would have missed it it weren’t for the ropes preventing you from touching a rather mundane looking wall.
After more climbing and more lines, we passed through the lion’s claws to the final staircase and reached the top of Sigiriya.
The view from the top was beautiful and you could see why a rich king would choose the location for both the view and defensibility.
After making our way back down (slowly in the lines) Jerry drove us back to the hotel where we ate a quick dinner and crashed into bed unable to fight the jet lag any more.
It’s now day 6 of our trip and I’m only just now getting this first post up. Between the jetlag and frenetic pace of our trip, most days have have ended something like this when I tried to do any writing.