Riding a motorbike through Sri Lanka, how to avoid the police fines, and getting into the pace of the travel (traffic) – part 1/3

A few people have asked about travelling around Sri Lanka, especially by motorbike, so here goes post 1 of 3.

I’m not completely slacking, and living back in my campervan on the south coast of the UK, spending time between writing, kitesurfing, and some yoga.

Anyway, time warp back to July in Sri Lanka. Hope you enjoy.

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I had read that a motorbike was the way to travel around Sri Lanka, mainly because its a small island (relatively speaking), the traffic can be busy and a bike suits moving fast, and the public transport doesn’t always link up that well to some of the main sights.

After nearly 3 weeks kitesurfing and staying in one area I was getting itchy feet, and as nice as the Elements resort was, and as much fun as it was learning some Acro yoga skills and having impromptu birthday celebrations, it was time to make a move. And I’m not 43!

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The guys at Elements arranged a bike for hire and I think it came in at the equivalent of £7.50 a day. It was a 180cc Honda Hero, and perfect for some of those mountain roads I had in mind.

I had met a few other kitesurfers who had travelled around by bike, and they assured me it was good and also gave a few tips on good places to check out. Thanks Zac, Steve, Ola, Kat.

If I am honest, I was nervous about this trip, not because of riding the bike, but because of the traffic. When I say it can be insane, I mean really insane, and as a bike you are classed as bottom of the pile when it comes to road rules.

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I had seen buses overtaking other buses, all vying to be the fastest and quickest, picking up as many people as possible, and they stop for no-one. I hoped my bike was nimble and quick enough to be able to survive, and I gave myself 2 rules, don’t ride at night, and don’t ride at night.

Before I left the luxury kite resorts I had to get some fuel, and found a shop / garage, and asking the guys hanging around outside if they sold petrol…..an old lady promptly came out carrying a plastic water bottle full of fuel, with a funnel and sieve, and poured me some straight into my tank!  It was cheap, and riding off I was just thinking is how this trip is going to be, and turning the next corner I came across a normal petrol station. Standard.

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From Kappaladi to Anuradhapura

Heading east to Anuradhapura was the plan and it was a long way, something like 5 hours, and arriving there I was so tired, and it seemed so busy, that I continued a little further into Mihintale, which I was told was much more relaxed and quiet.

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I did get stopped by the police on the way and had been warned this may happen. The ‘officers’ got hold of my passport, and realising I did not have an international licence, puled out the Sri Lankan book of road rules, and started to write me out a fine.

I thought the idea was to perhaps show a few notes from the corner of my wallet, but that didn’t seem to make a difference, and then, a sudden change of fate….

I happened to mention that I was riding to one of the main religious regions of Sri Lanka, and then into the mountains, and then perhaps to some other religious areas, and their whole demeanour changed!  They became happy, friendly, smiling, and told me that “you go on a religious tour, very good, here is your passport, enjoy”, and with that I rode off.

In Mihintale, I lucked into a nice homestay called the Rock Villa, run by Kapila and his family, who happened to be a tour guide and a tuc tuc driver as well as a host, and helped me out with lots of ideas for my time travelling around the area.

Mihintale is a mountain peak near Anuradhapura and believed by Sri Lankans to be the site of a meeting between the Buddhist monk Mahinda and King Devanampivatissa, which inaugurated the presence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

It is now a pilgrimage site, and a nice place to spend a few hours.

Leaving Mihintale I rode back into Anuradhapura, and went to visit the oldest dated tree in the world – the Sri Maha Bodhi – grown from a cutting bought from India by the sister of Mahinda.

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It was hot, but another nice place to sit and people watch, some taking offering of flowers carefully wrapped into the sacred area surrounding the tree, others tying ribbons onto other tree branches, and also to witness some of the monks leading prayers with others.

From Mihintale to Sigiriya

After a few days I bid farewell to my host, and decided to ride south to Sigiriya.

The ride was nice, with quiet winding roads, and a great way to keep cool in the heat.

Stopping at Piduranga, I decided to climb the massive rock for views of one of Sri Lanaks most famous sites – the rock fortress of Sigiriya. I chose this route because it was free and was supposed to offer ‘unparalleled views of the famous rock’, which it did, but perhaps next time it would be more interesting to climb the actual rock itself and just pay the money.

Deciding not to stay, I continued further south to Dambulla, finding another homestay to spend a night with a family, getting up early the next morning to keep riding.

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Further south to Kandy

The air got cooler the closer I got to Kandy as the altitude slowly rose, and I found a nice hotel / guest house called the Expeditor to stay at, just on the outskirts of the south side of town.

The hotel was quiet, and as usual for the off-season, I was able to negotiate a better rate, coming down from 4000 rupees, to 2500 a night. Something like £10.

Not feeling well I tried to catch up on sleep, and recognised I have rushed quite a lot so far. I speak with a girl who is staying here who tells me she needs to get to the capital Columbo the next day, she was bitten by a stray dog and hasn’t had her Rabies jabs…..I hope she was OK.

Feeling rested the nest day I attempt a less touristy temple viewing, and head out of the city to the ‘3 temple route’. The roads seem to be back to being busy, with smoke, dust, and traffic – a typical city, just with no organisation, but, I realise, as crazy as it is, it works, you just have to be sharp.

Parking my bike up near the first temple prompts some interest, and I am asked the same 3 questions that seem to be the norm. I like how friendly the people here are, genuinely interested in “what country is yours”, “what are you doing here in Sri Lanka”, and “where have you been”, always followed by “thanks for visiting”.

I saw the Embekke Davale (wooden Temple), and then did the long walk to the Lankatilale village to see the white temple, built on a rocky hill, celebrating both Hindu and Buddhist religions at each end), but ran out of time for the third.

It was good trip out, not only to see the temples, but also some of the more rural area out of the city, along with rice fields, and snakes!

Returning to Kandy was no quieter on the roads, and by the time I returned to my hotel I had traffic and temple overload, and was ready to leave the city, and head into the mountains.

*****

Next post, tea plantations, into the hills, and time in Ella

 

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