Sri Lanka and Sigiriya
One of our richest discoveries in the early days of diving exploration was legendary Sri Lanka. Long known as Ceylon and before that as Serendib, this large island country off the tip of the Indian subcontinent has always been renowned for spices, tea, orchids, bamboo and generations of seafaring traders.
Long before the British Raj, commercialized Sri Lanka’s astonishing botanical wealth, generations of rulers built monuments, palaces, shrines and temples on an heroic scale. Sites such as the Reclining Buddha, the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy (built to house a single relic of The Buddha) and above all the palace atop Sigiriya illustrated a rich and powerful civilization.
British space genius and science-fiction titan Arthur C. Clarke maintained a home outside Colombo, the capiol city; he is the only man I’ve ever known who had a persona hovercraft in his back yard.
In the mid’1970s, we offered divers a week touring in Sri Lanka with a week of diving in The Maldives Islands. Many clients considered it the finest diving adventure ever offered.
About Sigiriya I could go on for hours. This flat-topped mountain towers 600 sheer feet above a level plain. The royal quarters, complete with swimming pool, was built right on top with an astounding view. At each corner was a stone slab of rock, shaped for a human derriere. A guard’s feet dangled over the horrifying fall he would suffer if by chance he fell asleep…
Sigiriya means “The Lion’s Throat,” and was named for the enormous torso of a lion at the five-hundred-foot level, through which one accessed the palace level. Only the lion’s paws remain, but they are colossal. The climb from the plain below is worth every effort-filled step. At about the four-hundred-foot level there is a gallery of erotic art, painted on the walls over a thousand years ago.
On one of my trips to Sri Lanka, I went to the southern tip of the island, site of the huge Yala Game Preserve. During the tsunami that killed a quarter-0million people in Asia, the scrub brush that fills the game Preserve dissipated the waves’ power and undoubtedly saved many lives. Roaming in the preserve are elephant, Water buffalo and other large species. As you will see in one of my pictures, a young bull elephant took exception to our presence and machine-gunned our Jeep with a trunk full of small stones. An impression of the elephant’s power, but I’ll do anything for a picture…
Sadly, toward the end of our adventures there, the island descended into civil war between the native Sinhalese Buddhists and the Muslim Tamils from India. One of our last groups was pinned down in a luxury hotel in Colombo with machine-guns going off in the streets below their windows. An employee of ours who was escorting the group called me nin the middle of the battle, a call I’ll never forget.
I treasure my memories of this magical land…
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