I know it’s the wet season. I know that parts of the country are suffering from devastating floods. I know that getting a bit damp while on holiday is totally a #firstworldproblem. But still I found myself getting frustrated as I spent a week locked in battle with Sri Lanka’s rain.
Basically, it started the moment I arrived into the mountain town of Nuwara Eliya after an overcast but rain-free day in Kandy, and didn’t stop until I woke up one morning, eight days later, in the southern city of Galle. And after three months in desert Qatar, during which time it rained exactly twice (and that was above-average rainfall), it was a very strange sensation to essentially not see the sun for a week.
During the bus ride up into the mountains (two bus rides, actually – the engine in the first bus exploded) I was toying with the idea of doing some mountain trekking, but the torrential rain and freezing temperatures quickly changed my thinking on this matter. Instead, I spent my time there reading books in front of the guesthouse’s open fire and touring through a tea estate and processing factory. Whenever the rain eased off to a fine drizzle I attempted small walks around the city with an umbrella but inevitably got caught in a sudden downpour and arrived home an hour later dripping wet.
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Convincing myself that the rain was a mountain-only phenomenon, I ditched my high-country plans and optimistically descended the range, heading for the so-called “cultural triangle” of the central-Sri Lankan ancient cities. When my bus pulled into Dambulla, rain still relentlessly pissing down, I grudgingly conceded that maybe I was going to have to deal with this weather as best I could lest I spend my whole trip inside.
After trudging though a kilometre or two of mud to a guesthouse where I dropped my crap, I took advantage of a brief lull in precipitation to check out the Royal Rock Temple – Dambulla’s sole tourist attraction. Dug into the top of a small hill on the outskirts of town, this series of caves contain dozens of life-sized Buddhist sculptures and paintings on the walls. As amazing as these relics are, I was more enraptured by the view from the top of the hill: lush tropical green all the way to each horizon, thick, heavy clouds floating low above the tree-tops. Beautiful stuff.
Emboldened by an hour of only intermittent showers instead of driving rain, I decided to chance a walk into town. Of course, the heavens opened and I got drenched. Served me right.
The next day I caught a bus to the nearby village of Sigiriya to climb an awesome monolithic rock surrounded by ancient gardens and fountains, and upon which are perched the ruined foundations of buildings.
By now I’d decided that I was going to tour on my terms instead of the weather’s so I set a mid-afternoon deadline, at which time I would leave the dryness of my guesthouse rain or no rain. Amazingly, at about 2pm the clouds lifted and I actually saw the sun, plus I got about two hours of rain-free time to wander about. Sigiriya was indeed amazing, but I particularly liked the series of warning signs around the site.
One sleep and a couple of bus rides later and I was in the pre-current era capital of Anuradhapura, the ruins and relics of which are still spread around a large area west of the modern city. Waterproof jacket safely attached to torso, I hired a bicycle as ancient as the ruins and spent a soggy day trundling around checking out old Dagobas, statue Buddhas, and a 2000-year-old tree cut from the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment.
Drenched to the bone after a day cycling around in the rain and leading my bike across flooded roads with water up to my knees, and after a week of doing similar in the central region of the country, I packed my bags and headed to the beach. And as you can imagine, I felt some pretty serious joy when I woke up that first morning on the coast and saw bright blue sky out of my bedroom window. You were awesome, historic Sri Lanka, but Imma sit on the beach in the sun for a bit now.
Postscript: The towns of Dambulla and Anuradhapura, along with many others in the same region, have experienced insane rainfall and damaging floods since I visited less than a week ago. If you’re so inclined …