Irish writer freewheels around Sri Lanka’s ‘wild interior’ on a bicycle—and loves it!
Meeting one of our thousands of wild elephants face-to-face while bicycling along a Sri Lanka back-road would have been an experience worth the telling for Irish journalist Aoife Carrigy.
Writing on the Indpendent.ie website, she describes how she and two English companions were debriefed before heading into the jungle. “Stay close,” our guide Sagara instructs us gravely. “And if you see an elephant, drop your bike and jump in the van.”
“It’s the first time I’ve really considered meeting an elephant on a bicycle. My main concern on arrival in Colombo a few days earlier was to decode the enigmatic logic that keeps everybody alive on the anarchic roads.
“It’s a cliche, I know—the kamikaze tuk-tuks, claptrap cars, demonic buses and cold-blooded trucks that you meet in every developing country. But this cast of caricatures take on a new menace when you picture yourself in the midst of them, on a mountain bike with nary a mud guard for protection.”
But as it turns out, her big tusker moment happened at Minneriya National Park, the setting for the famed ‘Gathering’, “a pachyderm pool party of impressive proportions”.
It was there that more of our abundant wildlife also caught here eye. “I’m not prepared for quite how glorious peacocks appear in their natural habitat, nor for the chill of eyeing up a pack of golden jackals, even at a safe distance.
“I fall in love with the island’s national bird, the ember-red and iridescent-blue junglefowl which we regularly send scuttling into the scrub—and with that paddle-field partnership of white buffaloes and long-legged egrets perched backside.”
‘I fall in love with the island’s national bird, the ember-red and iridescent-blue junglefowl’
Chasing the promise of leopards in Yala National Park
Aoife reports that “Sri Lanka is well set up for tourists. I could easily have opted to be driven around to the main sights—clock the Buddha’s Tooth in the mountain-top city of Kandy, chase the promise of leopards in Yala National Park—and then hit the beach. But if you’re feeling intrepid, it’s worth seeking the less travelled path.”
Which was a Spice Roads (spiceroads.com) bike tour, which included five of the country’s eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, with “the freedom of shooting ahead of the posse down a dirt track or along the raised bank of a colossal tank”.
Palaces and shrines
Some of the most noteworthy sights included “the sprawling network of royal palaces and Buddhist shrines of crumbling Anuradhapura, a one-time trading partner of ancient Greece and Rome and still one of Sri Lanka’s most revered Buddhist pilgrimages thanks to the Bodhi tree that Buddha reputedly brought here.
“There’s the magnificent collection of Sinhalese art and architecture set amongst the 12th-century ruins of Polonnaruwa’s parks, palaces and monasteries.
“And there’s the fifth-century rock fortress palace of Sigiriya Rock where, for a happy decade or so, the patricidal Kassapa frolicked in elaborate water gardens with his 500 concubines – until his brother (by another mother, and rightful heir to the throne) arrived to avenge their father’s death.”
Read more here.