As I got out of customs, I had a list to things to do before leaving the airport. First was to get currency in Lankan Rupees followed by obtaining a SIM card.
There were many counters to exchange currency and almost all offered the same rate (as displayed on the charts without any service charges or taxes). If you have to make high value transaction they negotiate on the price. Since I was traveling on budget, with the money I had it wasn’t worth negotiating. (Initially I exchanged 100USD for 14915 LKR).
For the SIM card, all the major ones were selling SIM cards for 1300 LKR for some international minutes and couple of 3G data. I was going to buy Airtel as they were offering more data pack but the speed was 2G so I finally landed up with Mobitel which gave 50 international minutes and 3GB of 3G data. Sweet deal.
I called home and gave them updates on the situation. The sound of bollywood song in the background made them feel more comfortable me traveling in a different country. Little did I know that Milo wasn’t banned in Sri Lanka so I grabbed it from the only eatery in the arrival area.
Soon it was 4:30 am of 4th March 2017. I was waiting for the bus service to start to reach Colombo Fort Station from the airport cheaply. Meanwhile, many taxi/cab drivers came to negotiate for around 2000-3000LKR but I couldn’t afford for such a small distance.
I walked out of the airport and found an AC bus heading towards Fort (bus no 187). I occupied the seat and kept staring the wall in the bus as I wanted to catch the train to Habarana at around 6:15 am. The bus took 1 hour and 120LKR (or LKR 200 if you look alien) to reach Fort. Apparently, the bus stop and train station are around 700m apart. Google suggested it as a walking distance of 10 minutes which I believed to be fair. Obtained tickets from counter number 4 for Rs 300 to Habarana in Second class. The platform indicator was showing the train to arrive on Platform number 2. (Note: Platform nomenclature doesn’t work the same as in India).
The train was already there at 5:45am which after inquiry I boarded. Throughout the journey many vendors will come and go trying to sell different local food. I was sleeping the entire way till Habarana where I reached at around 12 noon. I had already booked a hostel and the tuktuk driver took me there. It was a 4km ride for Rs 250. The hostel, Backapacker.lk Habarana, was located on the main highway from where I could board buses to Dambulla and Sigriya.
After the shower, I took the first bus to Dambulla. It was approx 20km ride and the bus charges Rs 40 for it. That’s cheaper than in India also. The bus dropped just outside the Dambulla caves.
Once you reach there, you will find a big golden Buddha statue.
Go, visit and get blessing from the Buddha at this holy site.
From there you will find another set of stairs going to Dambulla caves. The walk is not much, 15 mins max. However keep a sharp eye at a point where two roads separate. One is stairs and other a slope. Go through the slope as you will find ticket counter on that road. Once you reach top there is no way to get ticket except tipping the “boy” to buy tickets for you (or else, you go down and buy tickets)
With my level of fitness it was best for me to tip the boy and get the ticket. The set of 5 caves were unique on its own and each has its own significance. If you like to know the history, guides were available.
The caves were mesmerizing and such photos you will find plenty on web. This photos are taken from Redmi Note 3 and so the quality.
On the return journey the view was something like this and it was for sure that it would rain.
I ran to the best of my ability but couldn’t find a bus before it started pouring. So I grabbed an auto (or tuktuk) to reach my hostel. I negotiated a bit and the price came down from Rs 1000 to Rs 600. The tuktuk driver was an ex-navy official and shared his stories in exchange of mine.
I reached hostel with my passport and wallet all safe. I refreshed myself and made calls home to tell them about the day. Later for the dinner, the highway roads were too dark at night with no lights but rain. I couldn’t muster enough guts to walk a mile in that darkness. Thus, Day 1 ended with empty stomach.
That’s all for Day 1. See you at Day 2.