Most homestays here in Sri Lanka come with breakfast. So really, they are the epitome of Bed & Breakfast unlike AirBnB which usually doesn’t come with breakfast. Suranji prepared a big breakfast for us the three mornings we were there, making sure our stomachs were nice and full before we ventured out.
Every morning, we were served a plate of fruit, fresh home-squeezed juice, hot water for tea or coffee, an open omelette with two sausages, and two slices of toast, and on top of all that, another 4 slices of toast to have with butter and/or jam.
Our second day in Kandy, Flo and I decided to book the villa’s car and driver to take us out for the day. We were on a mission – to find Kumari, and to climb Pidurangala Rock.
Kumari was working for my family and I was particularly attached to her in the first few years of my life. I believe she left to return to Sri lanka to get married when I was just shy of turning 5 years old. Kumari was like a big sister to me. She would rub coconut oil into my hair every day so that my hair grew thick and dark; she would buy bindis for me to stick on my forehead when she went out on Sundays; she would braid my hair carefully before church. I remember her crying for me when my arm got stuck in the elevator door; how she used to run after me during dinner while I played with the neighbours downstairs; how she would make my favourite afternoon snack of white Gardenia bread, spread with butter and sprinkled with sugar.
When Kumari left, we had a couple other helpers but none I really bonded with. Then, we moved to Hong Kong, then Bangkok, and we never had any more helpers after since Mum decided to stay home with us. We lost touch with Kumari even though Mum shared that Kumari tried to get in touch with us again, asking if she could come back and work for us. We were in Hong Kong then, so it couldn’t work out. Mum said she’d written Kumari before but never received anything back.
Armed with a simple address and a really old photo of me holding Kumari’s hand – it was the only one I could find and it wasn’t great because you can only see her side profile on it, Flo and I went to Godahena Dolapihilla. Throughout the car ride, I imagined the various scenarios – will Kumari still be living in her family home? Is this the right address? I wonder what she looks like now, whether she’ll remember me. Maybe they’ve moved and we’ll have to go somewhere else to look for her.
We were really blessed too that Surath, our driver, helped us out big time. We first reached Dolapihilla only to find that Godahena wasn’t IN Dolapihilla, but was instead, a small town in between Godahena and Dolapihilla. So we were directed to continue further North. We did and Surath stopped a few times to make sure we were headed in the right direction. We finally stopped in front of the village convenience store where the owner called the village postman, who managed to verify that the address and family name that we had corresponded with each other. My heart leapt but at the same time, I tried to manage my expectations.
Another 3 minutes on and we stopped just at the foot of a slope. At the top was a small open-air stall selling knick-knacks, and an older man stood in front. While Flo and I sat in, Surath asked the man some questions to which he nodded and shook his head depending. Then he turned and waved towards someone within the stall. At this point, I was really excited, and even more so when Surath told us this was the right place and we could come out.
But. The older lady standing before me wasn’t Kumari. This I knew immediately. And I was right. It turned out to be her older sister. For a while, I stood confused. Where’s Kumari? I asked. She replied that Kumari had passed away. I refused to believe it, thinking something may have got lost in translation. Perhaps it was a different Kumari. Maybe this wasn’t the right address after all.
Then, her son went away and returned with a family photo album. He showed me the two photos below, and Kumari’s familiar face looked back at me. This was her family home. These people are, were, her family.
Surath couldn’t quite translate what exactly happened to her. I roughly got the gist that she had something stomach related and passed away not more than 10 years ago.
Kumari’s sister was extremely welcoming towards us though, inviting us to sit down, asking if we wanted something to eat or drink, inviting us to lunch with them.
We didn’t. We did have a nice chat, communicating in simple English. She shared that she also worked in Singapore for a family. The two boys she looked after are now grown up, one just had a baby. They fly her back to Singapore every Christmas to spend two weeks with them. So I left her our address and my number, for when she next visits.
Flo asked, after we’d left, how I felt. Sad, to say the least. At the same time, I have closure. I don’t regret anything because I know that visiting Sri Lanka was never something that crossed my mind prior to this visit. As much as I wish Kumari was still around, that I could have seen her, shared with her about the years that have passed, introduced her to Florian, showed her pictures of Mum and Dad now, let her know how Kor is… that isn’t how it is now. At least I know, and I can no longer wonder.
Moving on, Surath brought us to a Spice Garden on the way to Sigiriya.
We were introduced to various herbs and spices…
As well as shown how they can be used aside from in cooking.
A lot of the herbs are used to make creams and oils for healing and cosmetic purposes. It was interesting, and especially funny when a special cream was used on Flo’s leg to demonstrate its ability to remove hair simply by applying and removing after 10min. It reminded me a lot of Veet’s hair removal cream.
After the visit, we continued on our way towards Sigiriya, stopping once for Flo to buy some corn from a roadside stall.
Here, they boil the corn and then before serving, liberally squirt a salt solution on top. We found out later from Roy that you can request for a pat of butter and pepper to be added as well. This cost 40 rupees (SGD0.30) which was undoubtedly ‘foreigner’s’ price since Surath admitted he usually pays 20 rupees.
It was about 3.30pm when we finally stopped for a late lunch. We were initially brought to some touristy restaurant with exorbitant prices we were having none of. So we asked Surath to take us closer to Sigiriya where we chose to dine at Ahinsa Restaurant.
This turned out to be our cheapest meal during our holiday. At 250 rupees (about SGD2), we shared a vegetable rotti set.
Since we didn’t want to fill up too much, we had a piece of rotti each, with sides of pol sambol, green beans, and dhal. The latter two were divine and we asked for a top-up. Here, and all around the eateries in Sri Lanka, the curries are always topped up for free. I enjoyed the warm, chewy rotti with the curries. So good!
Most people who visit Sigiriya choose to climb up the Sigiriya rock which is actually an ancient religious and archaeological site. Flo and I were keen to as well, until we found out that it cost USD30 per person to enter the site.
Instead, we could climb the slightly more challenging Pidurangala Rock for USD3 each. So that’s what we did.
The first 3/4 of the climb was pretty straightforward, consisting mainly of stone steps. Do be careful when it’s wet because they can be slippery and some of the steps are quite high.
I thought this was the top already and was happily thinking, ‘Challenging? What challenging?! This climb was a breeze!”.
But keep going past this sleeping Buddha and it’s a proper rock-climbing experience. I wouldn’t recommend wearing heels or flip-flops to climb up. Also, definitely not for older people unless they’re super fit.
All that being said, the view from the top was mesmerising and well worth the tricky climb.
Even better, it was an awesome lookout point towards Sigiriya.
Big rock; Small rock; My rock.
Flo and I spent quite a bit of time wandering about the peak of Pidurangala Rock.
I was in awe at the beauty that spread far and wide before us. We would have stayed longer if not for Surath asking us to be down before 6pm – before the wild elephants came out to play.
And just as well we did because as we made our way down, so did the light, and I don’t think I’d have liked descending the rock in darkness.
Nope, we didn’t see any wild elephants. The only one we saw was this one along the road after we’d had lunch.
From Sigiriya, it was about 2 hours until we reached Kandy again. Surath wanted to take us to yet another touristy place but we asked for him to drop us off at Balaji Dosai for dinner.
We obviously had to order a dosai to share. This plain dosa came with chana masala, sambar and coconut chutney. All delicious!
We also shared an Ulundu Vada (deep fried fritter made of urud dal) which was freshly fried – crisp on the outside and spongey and fluffy on the inside. Not usually a fan of deep fried stuff but this was just flavour popping and the perfect vessel to mop up all that coconut chutney.
Perfect grub after our long adventure-filled day!