Day 1 – Maho to Anuradhapura
Being close to Colombo the breakfast was a Western affair, as we fought over the toaster, munched omelettes and drank tea. At 0900 the lorry arrived and thank heavens I brought the straps as with a solid interior, there was nothing to anchor them down, but they survived the journey and at Maho we re-assembled, ate rice and curry that was a little more spicier and set of North along the A28 for Anuradhapura. The wide shoulder had the usual assortment of dogs, tuk-tuks and school children and with the group together we made good time cruising at 14mph along a road that was pretty flat, in the warm but overcast ski. A lovely curry buffet finished the day with the dahl and curried beetroot being particularly tasty
Day 2 – Around Anuradhapura
The ancient city of Anuradhapura was on the doorstep, so with tickets in hand we started at the enormous Jethawanaramaya Dagoba. Built 1600 years ago, it has 93 million baked bricks, enough for a wall 3 foot high from London to Newcastle. Totally solid aside relics buried in the centre, it sported a top to protect the relics and used to support an umbrella until the wind took pay to that. Past the twin ponds where monks swam, a Buddha for reflection and the Moonstone where the King prayed; we cycled surrounded by Monkeys, the occasional dog and lots of ruins where the bases were intact/preserved and the vertical pillars supported long since gone wooden structures. Ivan our guide was in full flow as we finished at the Buddhist tree which is his favourite. Into town and a choice of Chinese, rice and curry or a bakery, the latter proved popular as we tucked into delicious cake at 70Rs (40pence) washed down with tea. The day ended with a trip to Mihintale to see the sunset. 15 in tuk-tuks, followed by Ivan and 2 others. We climbed the beautiful stone steps, were serenaded by the pipes and drums, but the sun failed to do its part, setting a few miles above the horizon in the murk.
Day 3 – Anuradhapura to Nilaveli
It seemed a long way as we set out at 0830, but with a good flat road we made great time averaging 14 mph. After 16km we headed right along a delightful road passing small shops through agricultural fields, growing mostly maize and rice which were full of egrets fishing in the sun. Somewhere to sit and eat would have been an issue if it hadn’t been for the lakeside café where all enjoyed the cold drinks and the birdlife on and around the lake. The only poor bit of the day was the road to Nilaveli that was being resurfaced, and it was a push through gravel for some before we descended to the delightful cabanas at Nilaveli.
Day 4 – Nilaveli to Passidukah
The longest day of the trip took us first to a small shop in Trincomalee to load up on lunch fixings before heading past the harbour and along the coast. We’d been warned not to photo Muslim women or mosques as 95% of the population were of this religion and had recently asked for independence. In the end, the only trouble we had was avoiding the distinct fishy smell emanating from racks of recently caught fish drying in the sun. The road turned inland as we headed south, the sea couldn’t be seen but occasionally heard. Traffic was pretty non-existent with a flat flat road. Only one ‘town’ a settlement of maybe 40 shops of all different types so the back-up van was welcome as It kept us stocked with water and bananas. At Passidukah we shortcutted through the town before a night at the Passi Hotel, where the environs were great but the food could do with a reboot.
Day 5 – Passikudah to Giritale
Breakfast, what breakfast, a small selection of bacon, sausage, baked beans and bread masquerading as toast, at least a plate of fruit arrived when I said something. It seemed a shame to miss the beach and its resident crocs, but we were too late for the crocs who came out of the lagoon at 0600 to munch on beasts. The half moon beach looked lovely and the locals were friendly. Back out of Passikudah, over the railway and along a delightful single tracked tarmac road where the paddy fields were being harvested and the views were extensive. A section of red road and we were back to the main road where Shamera our other guide, was waiting armed with bananas and oranges. Unlike previous days the road had a few gentle inclines and hills appeared to the left. The road was busier, hardly surprising as we were getting close to a tourist area. A drink break at Anandas grocery then lunch at a great truckers stop where chicken biryani for £1.25 fed two, fuelled us through Polannaruwa and into the Deer Park restaurant where the buffet was fabulous alongside lots of Chinese tourists
Day 6 – Polonnaruwa
There be dragons in the drains!! Well in this case a rather fat sedimentary monitor waiting for his breakfast whilst the paparazzi queued up to see his party trick of standing on his hind legs to munch a piece of meat from a stick. Backtracing to the canal network, we spent a delightful hour following one of the zillions of red earthed paths wriggling their way through the landscape surrounded by birds and trees. Our destination was Polonnaruwa which was the second capital of the Kings 900 years ago. Left to the jungle 800 years ago because the Indians figured out a way to attack from the East Coast, the British had cleared and fixed much of it leaving a parkland full of ruins. The best way to see it was via bike, handy that. Starting at the Royal end we admired the stone built first 2 stories of the Kings 7 story abode, (other 5 wooden stories long gone) followed by his parliament and the ladies bathing pool. Onwards along to the holy centre where 7 building of various denominations greeted us. The original Buddha’s tooth used to be here and had a temple of its own and many Buddha’s smiled at us from other temples including one with its stone roof intact. The final part were 3 enormous Buddha’s carved out of a rock face, 2 standing, the other reclining and with the latter’s right foot further forward than the left this was actually the Buddha in death. At 1615 we left and the sun looked quite high but in these parts, it sinks quick and suddenly so with lights just twinkling we made it back to base.
Day 7 – Giritale to Habarana
A relaxed start for us, not so the wedding party that arrived at 0900. 3 days of festivities started with the groom danced in by acrobats in traditional dress. After that it’s food, celebration and getting married again the next day. What surprised me was the intrusive nature of the cameras and video team, bright lights and cameramen stepping in-between the groom and the show. It was a short day of 32km but still full of interest as we were cycling through prime Elephant country and sure enough we tripped over a pack of 5 much to our guides horror as if anyone is injured they lose their licence. The afternoon was pleasantly passed either at the spa or by the pool at the Acme (where’s Wile Coyote?) hotel.
Day 8 – Sigiriya
Away early in an attempt to miss the crowds and beat the sun on a hot rock. 10km later we were in the shadow of Sigiriya thought by many to be the 8th wonder of the ancient world. The 200metre high rock was lived on for 14 years in the 5th century by a King scared of his brother. The result was an enormous fortified rock with gardens at the bottom. Restored by the British, maintained by the Sri Lankans and visited by thousands it is a sight to behold. Up 1200 steps, past the fabulous frescos, past the lions feet and up the metalled steps drilled into the side to reach the top where the selfie stick ruled and I’m sure no-one was actually looking at the incredible place that this is. Millions of bricks formed the remnants of buildings and 3 pools were still there. The waterworks were so precise that when the British dug out the moat again, the water just appeared to refill it. A lunch of sweetcorn from roadside vendors led to a splitting of the group as some went Elephant spotting, others visited Dambulla Cave Temple with the rest taking in the pool.
Day 9 – Habarana to Riverstun
Past Sigiriya and onto the red road parallel to the Elahara Canal, one of the major waterways in Sri Lanka. Hard packed and very scenic, it overlooked paddy fields with high hills in the distance. A tea stop where some poor unsuspecting shop owner had 17 descend on them before continuing through the fields to arrive at the frantically busy A9 funnelling all the tourist traffic from Sigiriya to their next stop at Kandy. Lunch at Naula preceded the descent to Kongahawela, where a local desperately tried to tell us there was no way we would get to Riverstun that way. What followed was a voyage through fields, unmade roads, along narrow tarmac strips of road with the occasional dip in the rivers to cool off. Finding ourselves on the B274 meant a pretty steep final 7.5km to Riverstun where we watched the sun set over the Knuckles range
Day 10 – Riverston to Wasgomuwa
9km left of the climb through the tea plantations and it was pretty steep. Over the top and a bumpy descent through the forest. A swim in the river, through a small town and there we were at the Safari Village in time for a trip around Wasgamuwa National Park. Famed for its elephants, we were jeeped in observe not only these but a myriad of birds, wild pigs and crocodiles.
Day 11 - Wasgomuwa to Mahiyangana
The day didn’t look promising, but it turned into one of the loveliest as we followed the waterways through rural Sri Lanka with distant views of mountains to our right and ahead. Punctuated by a tea stop where the owners turned on the music we arrived at a guest house, where we took tea on the lawn and imagined we were the Raj. A swim on the cards, we were going to try the lake, but the crocodiles got there first, so made do with the river.
Day 12 - Veddah Village
Sounds great on paper. Lost tribe of Sri Lanka, trying to maintain their forest ways, even through in a dance with a donation of 5000Rupees to the chief. The outwards run was a delight, red road then a tarmacked path next to a 30 year old canal. The Veddah Village looked hopeful as we were led in. A cringing meet with the chief’s son, handed over the cash. Led through a paddy field where a few huts thrown together showed what they lived in, a quick song a quick dance and a scowl as we turned down the souvenirs, all this for the price of a West End show. More money making opportunities, fire eaters and museum were refused and we hightailed out of there, for me never to return
Day 13 – Mahiyangana to Monaragala
Over the bridge where we had swum 2 days ago to head South East. The roads were a little busier now and started to undulate. Gone were the canals to be replaced by a more jungley feel. Through the larger town of Biblia and lunch at a bakery and café where the owner brought tea from the kitchen and we enjoyed the sweeter offerings, no rice and curry today. A delightful road awaited as we turned left, climbed a bit, climbed again and then a bit more. The reward was a lovely descent that undulated through trees and fields. A final stop for biscuits and Papaya after which we navigated the busy town of Monoragala to finish the day
Day 14 - Moneragala to Tissamaharama
A climb, just what you need as we left the bustling town of Moneragala. The sun had returned and so had the monkeys and lizards and snakes as we descended to Buttala. Through arches reminiscent of McDonalds to head south towards Yala. The road was quieter now but the area seemed more affluent and busier with small cars, and we stopped for a break just before the park. Into formation because of the “Elephant Bandits’ Apparently and I had sold this strongly, semi tame elephants held up the traffic demanding food. So, armed with bananas and melons we formed a peloton and headed into the park. Keeping a steady 21km we stuck close, all secretly hoping to be held up. Well no elephants so we made do with lunch and a temple complex at Katagama. The day finished at the delightful Moonbean Wild Haven where we supped tea and swam in the central pool.
Day 15 – Tissamaharama to Udawalawa
Rain? In Sri Lanka, the blue moon had a lot to answer for as we paddled out to the road. A fast flat day took us north to Thanamalwila after which we headed west. A delightful refuelling stop at the roadside coconut, sweetcorn and pineapple stop before rolling into Ulawalawe and its swimming pool
Day 16 – Udawalawe to Ratnapura
As 44 baby elephants drank from the milk bar and then playfully ate branches in front of us, I could see why for Jo this was the highlight of the trip. Rescued from the jungle they varied from a few months to one that has a false leg due to an argument with a train. North-westwards now we headed towards Ratnapaura with one final delightful piece of road to head along. It stared innocuously enough as a narrow tarmacked road full of school children before turning into a ‘shelf road’ with fabulous views of the jungle below. It was flat and lovely riding but why was it there with the main road the other side of the valley. The answer was half way along as a building resembling an old station came to view. Built by the British this branch line was now a cycle/tuk-tuk/coach path. We finished the trip at a former plantation residence, 17 had started and all had enjoyed the wildlife and views of this wonderful island.