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Sigiriya

Although we enjoyed the statues and paintings of Dambulla, it was Sigiyira that impressed us far more. Sticking out of the jungle by some 200 meters, the lions rock, as it is known, has been an ancient city and fortress for thousands of years.

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Sigiriya is a unique witness to the civilization of Ceylon during the years of the reign of Kassapa I. The site of the 'Lion Mountain' was visited from the 6th century AD, by passionate admirers. The frescoes of Sigiriya inaugurated a pictorial style which endured over many centuries. The poems inscribed on the rock by certain of these admirers, and known as the 'Sigiri graffiti,' are among the most ancient texts in the Sinhalese language, and thus show the considerable influence exerted by the abandoned city of Kassapa I on both literature and thought.
In the heart of Ceylon, the extraordinary site of Sigiriya, a lofty rock of reddish gneiss dominating, from a height of some 180m, the neighbouring plateau, has been inhabited since the 3rd century BC, as attested by the graffiti which proliferate in the grottoes and the shelters of the Buddhist monks. The fame of the 'Lion Mountain' is, however, due to one single factor: during a short period in the 5th century AD, a sovereign established his capital there. King Kassapa I (477-95), son of Dhatusena, only came to power after he had engineered the assassination of his father and had, briefly, dispossessed his brother.
Justly fearing the vengeance of the latter, Kassapa had a fortified palace built on the rock of Sigiriya which was reputed to be impregnable. However, it was there that he was defeated after a short but cruel battle in 495, following which he cut his throat. After the death of Kassapa, Moggallana returned the site of Sigiriya to the monks, thus condemning it to progressive abandonment. During the eleven years that Kassapa resided in Sigiriya, he created a residence of exceptional splendour and founded his capital there, impressive vestiges of which are still extant.
At the summit of the rock is the fortified palace with its ruined buildings, its cisterns and its rock sculptures.Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Lions feet at beginning of stairs
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Nuns ascending the rock
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Cistern at the top
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Crumbling building walls
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Shots from the summit looking out
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Looking down toward the bottom of the city
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A few of the nuns finally made it.

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And so did the monks.

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Halfway up the rock, within an inaccessible rocky shelter in the vertical wall of the western face are rock paintings which have brought universal acclaim to the site of Sigiriya - 'The Maidens of the Clouds', 21 non-identified female figures, comparable to the most beautiful creations of Ajanta.
Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

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At the foot of the rock are the two quarters of the lower city which are defended by a massive wall: the eastern quarter (perhaps postdating the 5th century), which has not been sufficiently excavated, and the aristocratic quarter of the capital of Kassapa I, noteworthy for its terraced gardens embellished by canals and fountains, as well as for numerous monumental remains which have been disengaged from the forest which had invaded the ruins.Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Nanette at the base
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Sweaty joint selfie at Sigiriya
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Nearby was this girl
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NB: Much of the history of Sigiriya was initially supplied by our trusted guide and driver, Lalinda, although, full disclosure, he did not climb to the top with us. However it is stated more completely and succinctly on the Unesco web site, so I have simply quoted that here.

Posted by jonshapiro 15:07 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged landscapes photography tourist_sites Comments (6)

Dambulla

The next morning we went to the Dambulla Caves with Lalinda, an hour or two drive from Kandy. By the time we got there it was already quite hot, which continued for our entire visit to the cultural triangle. Dambulla has been a Buddhist pilgrimage site for over 22 centuries, but most of the paintings and statues inside the caves were done much later, during the 18th century.

Outside the caves
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Inside
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No, I wasn't smoking anything when I took this shot
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While we enjoyed the caves, sitting on the grounds of our guesthouse, MPS, was certainly more relaxing, and oh so much cooler. The rooms were nothing special, but the landscape. Well, you can see for yourselves.

In front of us was the lake, cattails swaying in the breeze as they caught the late afternoon sun.

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The air is a bit fresher now, and the wind is drying the feathers of a dozen cormorants sitting on a dead branch, sticking straight out of the water.

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A small mountain sits gently beyond the trees lining the lake. Catbirds cry out and swallows flit by trying to catch mosquitos. I wish them luck in their hunt. Immediately behind us is the pool, nobody using it but us.

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Behind that, another mountain, low, but with a rocky incisor jutting up on one side, catching the softening light.

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Enjoying a cold one
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Dinner about to be served. Overpriced and not that good, but what a spot
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Posted by jonshapiro 08:21 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged postcards photography tourist_sites Comments (3)

Munnar

We are in another isolated place high in the Western Ghats, much greener, cooler, and more rugged than Wayanad. It is surrounded by tea plantations, cardamom fields and rocky peaks.

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The place we are staying in is a two story house, and we have the upstairs honeymoon suite, my nomenclature, with two rooms and a balcony, overlooking a spectacular mountain valley. Unfortunately, Regi, who I have been communicating with for several months, does not actually stay here, and the only folks that do, the caretaker and a Tamil woman with a baby, have very little English. So when I wanted stronger coffee this morning, I made a muscle with my right arm. Hard to tell whether that made any difference.

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Food has been a problem, as they ordered veggies and rice for us from a restaurant several klicks up the road, and it was greasy and gave us both indigestion. Breakfast of idly was marginally better, as it was homemade, but they are clearly not set up to serve meals, despite what I had been told earlier.

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We feel a bit marooned, and I suspect that there have been few, if any, Westerners staying here, especially without a car, as we are about 12K from Munnar, on a narrow, winding road.

Earlier today, we went on a hike with a guide. We thought we would be climbing one of the nearby mountains, but got a late start,and he seemed reluctant to take us up the highest peak because there are "wild elephants up there." It seems that if the Naxalites are not hiding out on the peaks, then the elephants will get you. We spent most of the time in a nearby forest, and in and out of tea plantations.

Tea pickers
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Wild Morning Glory
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On another day, he agreed to take us up on the ridge line of a lower mountain, and I hope to be over my nasty head cold by then.

We also took a tuk-tuk into Munnar, and ate lunch at a thali place that received good reviews. Unfortunately, neither the town, nor the restaurant are worth writing about.

Despite the isolation at Regi's place, and the rock hard bed, which reminds us of China, the sunsets are as brilliant as I have seen anywhere, as is the view from our balcony. We have enjoyed sitting out there, drinking a beer, listening to world music on my travel speaker, and just gazing out at the last light of day. The sun goes below the clouds as the sky turns pink, and then the mist descends, so that it is hard to tell mountain from sky. Subtle shades of grey and orange dominate, as the outline of the ridge line above merges with the darkening sky as dusk turns to night.

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Posted by jonshapiro 11:03 Archived in India Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains photography Comments (4)

Tanah Rata, Malaysia

Making our way to the Cameron Highlands took the better part of the day, with a long hot layover in the scuzzy bus station of Ipoh.The town of Tanah Rata is not particularly picturesque, despite it lovely surroundings. They are building like crazy, and putting up huge high rise hotels and apartment buildings in between several obviously abandoned and half built edifices. There doesn't seem to be any restraint on where, how much, and how high, they can build. The streets are packed with vacationing Malays, as well as a fair number of western tourists. Despite this, it is still small enough to have a relatively relaxed atmosphere, and is full of good restaurants.



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We were fortunate to be in town to witness a Hindu celebration, with dancers decked out in full regalia, drummers, musicians, floats, and fruit and sweets given out to all.




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Photo by Bill Wertz
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This Caliban like figure was riding high in a float and blessing babies
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And the moon made it pure magic.

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For the past couple of days we have been happily encamped at Father's Guest House, which is a low key place largely for western backpacking types. Father, aka Gerard, picked us up from the nearby bus station. The staff here is the opposite of the Anjungan, friendly, and helpful.

As it was for the Brits ,who established this town as a tea growing hill station, the climate is positively bracing compared to the rest of lowland Malaysia. A very nice change for us northerners. Every day so far we have had some sun, mist, and late afternoon thunderstorms. We have gone on some enjoyable hikes on the extensive network of trails. In between, we have had some memorable meals, especially the Malaysian version of hot pot.

Yesterday was by far the most challenging walk, with a gain of at least 2000 steep and muddy vertical feet to the top.




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A little disappointing and anti-climatic, the summit had several building and an assortment of cell towers.



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We walked back down on a narrow road on the other side, past verdant tea fields and strawberry farms.




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The views across the steep fields were stunning, especially the sunlit rows of tea bushes against the black sky of an approaching thunderstorm.




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And the tea workers kept picking and planting until the last moments before the storm.

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We took shelter in a small Hindu temple not far from these houses, just as the rains hit.




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After a half hour or so we continued on through the mist, and ended up in the dead end of the Boh Tea Plantation, after having been directed down the wrong road. It was getting late, and we were a long way from town. Luckily, a Straits Chinese man offered to take one of us back to his hotel. The car was too full for him to take all of us , but 20 minutes later he returned for Bill, Nanette and I. We were then able to call a cab to take us back to Fathers. An altogether enjoyable day, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

The Malays have been a mixed bunch in terms of friendliness. Some, like the previous gentlemen, have gone out of their way for us, but others do not want to be bothered even to make contact. We have heard it has something to do with their work ethic, which seems to be lacking.


Another day, another hike, and we ended up in Tan's Camellia garden quite by accident.



Photo by Nanette
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I, of course, took this one.

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Yes, this is a pina, also in Camellia's garden
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Tomorrow we return to KL once again, where we will fly to Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo, for the final leg of our journey.

Posted by jonshapiro 07:13 Archived in Malaysia Tagged landscapes mountains people photography Comments (3)

Palau Pangkor, Malaysia

Following Malacca we took a bus back to KL and then on to Lumut, where we caught the ferry to Palau Pangkor, a small island on the Straights of Malacca.

We stayed at the Anjungan Resort, the most expensive hotel, outside of Hong Kong, on our entire trip, at $60 a night. And the place was misnamed. It should have been Faulty Towers. Right off the bat we had to switch rooms because the ceiling was covered with mold. The managing staff was surly,and refused to give us beach towels, and this, at a beach resort. The next day our AC blew a fuse three times before they allowed us to switch rooms, and then didn't offer to help us move our things, and I had to walk back and forth several times in the hot sun to switch keys at reception. Not that big a deal, but service was not their middle name, or their last name for that matter. Some of these issues could have happened anywhere, though in the most upscale place in Pangkor, you don't expect it. Mostly, it was their attitude that was the problem. Not exactly hostile, but Indifferent with a capital I. In short it was pretty much of a disaster, and affected our experience on the island somewhat, despite the nice beach.

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The water was just short of bathtub temperature, but relaxing nonetheless, and Daddy's Restaurant, right on the beach, served up some tasty morsels and cold beer.





Dinner at Daddy's with the Gang
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Fisherman at Sunset
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This place is somewhat off the main tourist circuit, though as we found out, popular with locals from KL on weekends. On our last night, Saturday, it was quite the party scene, with an influx of food stalls and music on the "main drag." Though we were happy to leave after three nights, we felt fortunate to be on the island for this.





The Main Street Scene on Weekends
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Nanette Chatting it up with Street Musicians
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Crepe Maker
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Muslim Female Bathers
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Muslim Sand Burial
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Posted by jonshapiro 09:51 Archived in Malaysia Tagged beaches people photography Comments (2)

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