Sri Lanka : North Central Mini Pilgrimage

2015 June.

SRI LANKA is a paradise that is often overlooked by many travelers. Once known as Ceylon during the British colonial era, this island is a place filled with wonders and ancient heritage of more than 3,000 years. Sri Lanka alone has eight World Heritage Sites. Thanks to Hybrid Travel and Sri Lankan Airlines I had the opportunity to do a quick survey on the mini pilgrimage tour. Images in this post were shot with Sony RX100M3(indicated), Nikon D750 and Nikon D4. This travel journal was published in Leisure Travel Issue 33 (Oct 2015).


When the owner of Hybrid Holidays invited me for this FAM trip to Sri Lanka, I was like “Sri Lanka?”. I never thought of myself going to Sri Lanka, well at least not so soon. I said yes of course. I never turn down any sponsored travel invitation. We flew Sri Lankan Airlines from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo. And the airlines was so kind to upgrade us to business class. Business class flight attendant serving breakfast after we took off.

FAM trip is the short name for “familiarization trip”.


Flight attendant serving Sri Lankan honey. Best thing about the Sony RX100M3 is it’s size. So small that it fits in my pant’s pocket so I can just take it out and shoot without having to drag my DSLR out of my camera bag that was stored in the overhead compartment. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


The in flight meal is pretty good. Everything looks fresh while the Sri Lankan milk tea is strong. I give the meals 7/10.


With Miss Juliana the owner of Hybrid Holidays. Flight duration from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo took 3 hours and 10 minutes with a time difference of 3 hours behind Malaysian time. Here’s are little facts about Hybrid Holidays.

Hybrid Holidays was founded back in 1989 specializing in custom made inbound, outbound, corporate incentive tours, visa, ticketing, travel insurance and hotels to list a few. So if you are too busy to handle your own travel getaway, give Hybrid Holidays a shot. And don’t forget to tell them Andy Kho recommended you. LOL.


Upon our arrival at Colombo International airport, we were picked up by our driver from Aitken Spense Travel and we headed north-east towards Dambulla. A 143km journey through small roads that are often traveled by bullock carts and farm trucks. The ride was pretty crazy as the road were so bumpy and our driver had to do a lot of overtaking while simultaneously avoiding head on collision with in coming vehicles from the opposite side of the road. After 2 hours on the road we stopped by the road side for some Sri Lankan coconut.


The weather in Sri Lanka is really hot so fresh coconut would be nice. A local farmer serving me a freshly cut coconut.


After 3 and a half hour of driving we finally arrived at the Dambulla Rock Temple. A giant golden statue of Buddha overlooking the valley at the entrance of the retreat. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


The face of the Dambulla Golden Temple. The city of Dambulla is a city frequented by many kings as far back as 1 BC and it’s temple houses 5 rock cave temples.


To get to the rock cave temples you have to climb up steep walkway. Along the way you’ll come across vendors waiting to harass you to buy their “magic box”. While some are trying to make you buy something the others were just begging for money.


Local women walking down the steps bare footed after visiting the cave temple.

While still trying to adjust to the weather and humidity, I was feeling tired from the journey and still had to climb 160 meters to the top of this magma rock hill. I had an uncomfortable and bloated tummy due to a minor food poisoning couple of days before my departure. And it didn’t help that our drive here was so bumpy!


Finally I made it to the top. The white buildings are the face of the temple built in front of the cave housing the Buddha statues. This is the largest and best preserved caves in Sri Lanka. Housing about 153 status of Buddhas, 3 kings statues and 4 statues of god and goddesses.


Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.



Inside the cave temple statues of Buddhas were carved from stone walls and ceilings are covered with ancient paintings from corner to corner.


Even after centuries, the painting remain vivid. Artisans used mineral such as malachites for green and iron oxide for red.


The front of the cave temples was built under the overhanging rock. Drip line (the line between the dark and lighter shade rock above the white structure) were carved along the edge of the rock so raining water would not flow into the cave but fall like a water curtain.


View of the surrounding hills to the west.


The giant golden Buddha statue overlooking the vast surroundings of Dambulla. You can actually see the heritage site Sigiriya in the middle of this pix (the orange rock). I will be climbing that rock the following day!


Good morning Sri Lanka. The view from my room’s window. Today we will head north to another heritage site called Sigiriya. An hour and a half drive from here, Sigiriya is a site everyone must visit when in Sri Lanka.


On our way to Sigiriya, we made a stop and visit another ancient cave where monks frequently come for meditation. The pix above shows a 2,000 year old cave wall carving and drip line.


A Buddhist monk in the cave.


School children visiting Anuradhapura.


School children visit this ancient site of Sri Lankan civilization on educational trip hoping to gain understanding of it’s significance in history.


The bell shape dagoba which enshrines the ancient relics of Buddha.


Lighting up a prayer candle outside the temple in Anuradhapura.


Enjoying the peaceful surroundings of Anuradhapura.


The long walk way leading to the temples.


Pilgrims bringing offerings to the temples. No foot wear are allowed into temples.


Tuk tuk, the common methods of public transport usually found in the 3rd world nations are the main form of convenient and cheap transportation to getting around in Sri Lanka. In big cities, they often charge based on meter while in most smaller cities or town if you are tourist, they will haggle over the price.


Of of the many ancient bell shape dagaba.

Due to our time constraint, most of our stops were very short. While we didn’t get to make any stops at the city, I had to do mostly drive by shooting. So after our lunch break at one of the hotel’s restaurant, the journey to climb one of the most significant heritage site, Sigiriya. Along the way, I shoot through the moving van’s window trying my best not to miss anything interesting to show the what the outskirts of Colombo is like.


A local man using a locally manufactured bike.


Resting by the walkway.




Everywhere we go there are school children doing their educational visits.


We finally got to Sigiriya around 1430pm. It was scorching hot and humid! And it’s gonna be a climb of about 200 meters. The rock itself is about 200 meters while it’s estimated to be about 370 meters above sea level if you reached the top. Sigiriya is the most visited site in the whole of Sri Lanka. Formed by magma from an extinct volcano, it was once a palace and fortress complex. Sigiriya was once a monastery back in 3rd century BC but during the 2nd half of the 5th century BC, a king named Kasyapa decided to built himself a palace here. The Sigiriya is now the most visited place in Sri Lanka. Entrance fee is US$30 which allows you access to this huge rock as well as it’s museum located at the entrance.


Everything is strapped up and ready for the climb. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


The base of this huge rock is surrounded by a huge garden, bath pools and the king’s court where he held his meetings. Walking through the garden I reached the steps leading up to Sigigiya. The steps are steep and angled at approximately 60 degree. Most of the steps are still in it’s original form while some were restored.


Some restoration work in progress. You can see the spiral staircase(detailed picture below) leading up to the western wall where the wall paintings are located while the man-made orange wall known as the “mirror wall”. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


Spiral staircase leading up to the wall paintings. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


Top-down view of the mirror wall from the spiral staircase. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


At the top of the spiral staircase. Taking a short break to catch my breath after the steep climb up the stone steps and this narrow spiral stair which can barely fit one person, I put my lens through a small opening on the safety net to get a clear unobstructed shot of a bird’s eye view of the north western side of the rock. The ancient frescoes are covered by a layer of safety net (right).


Some of the frescoes/wall paintings depicting the king’s wives and concubines performing religious rituals. Serving as historic monument and a celebration of female beauty, these frescoes has been around since the 5th centuries BC. These frescoes resembles the Gupta style frescoes found in Ajanta caves in India. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


This is the mirror wall, one of the most striking feature of Sigiriya. Constructed along the side of the rock, this wall is polished so thoroughly to the extent the King could see his own reflection on it. Historical fact states that one of the purposed the wall was polished to have such reflective effect is so the king’s guard could see approaching army around the corner as this corridor bends around the edge of the huge stone. Another interesting feature of the wall is the poem inscriptions painted by visitors to the King’s palace. The oldest poem dated as far back as the 8th century.


After walking along the mirror wall, I reached the mid point of Sigiriya. This is the Lion’s Rock, originally called Sihagri meaning Lion’s Rock where it is now known as Sigiriya. Facing north, it was originally a huge lion but the upper body was destroyed and all that’s left is the feet(above pix). In the original design the steps lead into the lion’s mouth and it served as a warning to the enemy that this is a point of no return.


The climb was worth every breath. Reaching the top this is the first view you’ll see. I was about to take a short break and hydrate myself when I noticed the white silhouettes of 5 ladies walking up the steps against the vast green background – a shot not to be missed. Shot this with the Sony RX100 Mark 3.


The garden and the lake on the south side. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


I decided to take a moment to enjoy the astonishing view after the climb.


Capturing the southern view on top of Sigiriya while enjoying the breeze. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


Testing how well the Carl Zeiss lens on the Sony RX100 Mark 3 handle this lighting condition. A selfie against a harsh late afternoon back light piercing nearly directly into the lens. I was amazed it managed to capture it well. Shot this with the multi frame exposure with a bit of +EV to compensate the shadow on my face.


Moments after my selfie these high school kids came over and sat next to me.


While the king’s palace structures are no longer there, much of the base and part of the walls are still there. The pix above and below.


While most of the stone steps remains, some were restored.


A dog wondering around near the water reserve pond on top of Sigiriya. For a moment I was worried how this doggie is gonna find her way down. During the days when the king were still living on this submit, the water were pumped from the ponds below with an ingenious hydraulic system up to the submit. Imagine such engineering that is so way ahead of it’s time.


Time for a few more shots before I head back down. Kinda wished I had more time to chill up here. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


While walking down I noticed this water drip line along the side of the rock. From my research I learned that this drip line are man made to manage and channel the rain water flow. It’s to prevent the heavy down flow from damaging the stone steps in the long run.


Going down was a lot scarier than climbing up as you can see how far down it is and if you slip and roll down hundreds of feet like a helpless fat marshmallow I wonder where I’ll end up. LOL. I took every steps with caution while stopping for picture. Shot on aperture priority mode at f/8 against the direct late afternoon sun, the renown Carl Zeiss glass produced a nice star flare in this shot. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


Upon reaching the base of the rock I have to walk through the garden to get the the parking. I came across this interesting rock structure. The sign said this rock used to be a place where the king held his meetings.


One last view from the southern face of the Sigiriya from across the water reservoir. It was worth the tiring steep climb up 200 meters. Approximately 1,200 steps.


Finally we checked into Elephas Resort. Couldn’t wait to jump into the pool after a whole afternoon climbing Sigiriya in the hot sun. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


Here’s the view of the spacious room.


Off to work. Tuk tuk heading to town for the day’s work.

I had a great night sleep the night before. While waiting for breakfast to be ready, I heard engine noise that sounded like motorbike race so I went over to the edge of the restaurant at the resort to have a look. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


Wood carving in progress. On our way to Polonnawura, we stopped by this wood carving shop for a restroom break. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


Polonnaruwa is the 2nd largest kingdom city on the island. Another World Heritage Site, Polonnaruwa is located on the northern central part and is the host of the best remain of ancient relic. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


If you like ancient architecture and monuments, this is the place to visit. The ancient kingdom city has one of the most amazing city planning that is way ahead of it’s time. From large man-made lake used as water reservoir to dagobas to status of Buddha to bath house, this place is so well preserved. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


Ancient bath house Kumara Pokuna. Water is channeled from the water reservoir into the bath house through an underground network. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


The Council Chamber. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


This is the main structure of this site, the Polonaruwa Vatadage is believed to be built during the 8th century and is holding the tooth relic of Buddha. This structure has 4 door ways. This is the main doorway. Visitor are to take off their foot wear before entering this structure and are not allowed to have picture of themselves taken with their back facing the Buddha statue. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


There are 4 Buddha statues seated at doorways, each facing the the entrance and are located at 4 cardinal points. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


This is the ancient shrine of Hatadage where they used to keep the relic tooth of Buddha. Built using stone, bricks and wood, it was once a 2 storey structure but the only part that remain is the ground level that is made of stone. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


Statue at Gal Vihara. This is a statue of a seated Buddha carved onto the face of a huge granite rock.
Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


The Vidyhadhara Guha, located next to the seated Buddha statue and is only 4 feet 7 inches tall and is located inside an artificial cave that is carved into the huge granite. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.


The reclining statue. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.

From here we started our drive south east to the city of Colombo. An estimated journey of 5 hours on the road. Below are a collection of images shot from the moving van’s window. LOL.



Shot with Nikon D750 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 IF ED AFS












Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.




Spotted this cool Suzuki bike at a road side convenient market. Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.



Shot with #SonyRX100M3

We started our journey right after lunch about 2pm. An estimated drive of 5 hours ended up to be 6 hours due to slow traffic caused by road renovation. But finally I made it to the city of Colombo. Shot this with Sony RX100 Mark 3 from the ON14 Rooftop lounge of Ozo Hotel in Colombo 4.


The view here is magnificient as you can feel the fresh sea breeze blowing from the Laccadive Sea on the west. So I decided to wake up really early the next morning to capture the early light.


South side view.


North view.



Shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.

180 degree panaromic view shot with Sony RX100 Mark 3.




I only had about an hour to capture the essence of Colombo as I’m heading off to the office of our travel agent Aitken Spence right after breakfast before heading to the airport. With so little time what can I possible get? What can I show my readers about Colombo with such a short time? I decided to capture how the Sri Lankan starts their day.


Early morning catch to start the day and train rides to work.

With no time to wait or walk around chasing after the image, I shoot what comes around me! An early morning commuter train transporting the public to work. Much like the LRT (Light Rail Transit) it stops at all the designated stations for embarkation and disembarkation. The only different thing is you see passengers standing by the door or sitting on the steps of the train.


As I stood close right next to the train track a tuk tuk came towards me carrying 3 passengers. The youngest passenger looked puzzled at me while I panned my Nikon D4 as they zoom passed me. I love this shots as the colors are so matching! 2 passengers wearing white while the other in a pink sari on a tuk tuk painted in blue, pink and white.


A tuk tuk driver waving at me as he zoomed passed me. The Bajaj RE 4 strokes tuk tuk is the most popular and widely used tuk tuk in Sri Lanka.


“What are you doing?”


Another common and cheaper mode of transportation in Sri Lanka is motorbike.


Tuk tuk can be used in many ways. This is a pastry tuk tuk.



Off to work on the commuter train.


A typical train ride cost about US$ 0.50


Downtown Colombo.


A handicapped man peddling his three wheel bicycle.


Public bus.


A wedding photo shoot taking place at a man made water reservoir cum lake in the middle of Colombo city.


Since the ancient days the kings ordered many water reservoir to be built around the whole island so that the kingdom will never run short of water.


A morning inspection at the military building.






So this is the end of my super short journey in the lovely city of Colombo. Colombo is a great place for street photography and known for it’s early morning fog. But on the morning I was there, there wasn’t much fog. Just my luck. Well looking forward to going back there in the future. Gotta continue my journey to Maldives! Article on Maldives coming next.

Special thanks to :

Aitken Spence Travel

Hybrid Holidays

Sri Lankan Airlines

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