Adventure Travel Experiences

Adventure Travel Experiences
King Ravana Statue at Swami Rock - Trincomalee

                 Following a dream, Harsha set out on a 3000 Km journey retracing Lord Hanuman's epic quest from the Ramayana. He walked 1200 kilometres across South India from Anegundi in Hampi to Kanyakumari, followed by a 2000 Km bike ride around Sri Lanka. Here are a few stories from his journey. 

                “ Faith is not merely a journey for the feet , but it is a journey for the heart “  

                                                        - A . W . Tozer -

                 What do you dream of? Love? Happiness? Money? Or maybe Wisdom? In my case it was none of those. I dreamt of faith; something I had lost and was desperate to regain. For this purpose, I set out on a 3000 kilometer journey retracing Lord Hanuman's epic quest from the Ramayana. I walked around 1200 kilometers across South India, starting from Anegundi ( Birth place of Hanuman ) in Hampi all the way to Kanyakumari. After finishing the hike, I motorbiked 2000 kilometers around Sri Lanka, exploring various sites related to the Ramayana. Given below are maps of the Indian leg and of some of the most important sites related to the Ramayana in Sri Lanka. 

           Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic attributed to the poet Sage Valmiki and an important part of Hindu Mythology. One of the most important literary works of ancient India, the Ramayana consists of 7 chapters (Kandas), and narrates the story of Rama’s wife Sita being abducted by the Demon King Ravana of Lanka. The Ramayana begins in Ayodhya, India and culminates at Lankapura, Sri Lanka.

             The Ramayana has fascinated many generations, and has had a profound impact on art and culture in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Sri Lanka shares a special bond with India geographically, historically, culturally and spiritually!

              Sri Lanka has more than 50 Ramayana sites including temples, caves, gardens, mountains and heritage sites associated with the Ramayana, from the place of Sita Devi’s captivity, battlefields where vast armies clashed, groves of exotic herbs dropped by the monkey god Hanuman, and the ultimate theatre of war where Lord Rama slew Ravana, spread across Sri Lanka. Most of these are easily accessible but there are a few that are ridiculously hard to locate even with maps and detailed directions. There are several tour agencies in Sri Lanka that offer package tours to visit the major sites. If you want to visit all the sites though, major and minor, you’re on your own.

                              Statue of Ravana at Koneshwaram Kovil - Trincomalee

Cobra Hood Cave at Sigiriya, another World Heritage site, located 15 kilometers from Dambulla town. According to legend, Ravana was afraid that Sita Devi would be found by Lord Rama’s allies and hence he kept shifting her across multiple locations like Ishtripura, Sita Pokuna, Ussangoda, Sita Kotuwa, and Ashoka Vatika. The Cobra Hood Cave in Sigirya is said to be one of these places where she was held prisoner.

                        Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock) is an ancient capital of Sri Lanka and is one of its kind thanks to its location - built around and on a huge rock, 180 meters high. It was established as a capital during the reign of King Kashyapa (477 to 495 AD) after he murdered his father and seized the kingdom from its rightful heir, his brother Moggallana. Kashyapa built it to serve as a defensive fortress and pleasure palace. Ironically, he lost a battle against his brother at the fortress itself after which it was handed over to the monks thus ensuring that both the purposes were not satisfied.

                                                 Sigiriya Rock fort

Since Sigiriya was a fortress, it had the mandatory defensive structures - walls, towers, gates and moats which at one point of time had crocodiles. I guess it would have been fun to throw those pesky ninjas, spies, and dissenters to the crocs. Within the walls, there were several ‘Water’, ‘Boulder’ and ‘Terraced’ gardens all along the path that led towards Sigiriya rock.

Halfway up the hill, there was a ‘Mirror Wall’ – a plastered wall which in its prime had been polished to such a high degree that it functioned as a mirror for Kashyapa. The mirror had been well visited in the past and hence there was a lot of ancient graffiti - frescos on the walls. The desecration had somehow merged itself with the art and was now considered a part of it! I wondered if the “Raju loves Rani”, “Mera baap chor hai” and “Idhar pishaff mana hai” scribbled on our tourist sites would be considered a part of our heritage in the future as well.

   Frescos on Mirror wall 477 - 495 AD                      Ladies from King Kashyapa Harem

         Located around 50 kilometers from Kandy, near Ramboda on the route to Nuwara Eliya is the Sri Baktha Hanuman Temple. According to legend, this is one of the locations where Lord Hanuman searched for Sita Devi. The ‘Sita Tear Pond' is located nearby, which is said to be formed from Sita Devi's tears. This was also the place where the two armies faced each other for the first time, Lord Rama’s army on the Ramboda hillside and Ravana’s on the other side, separated by the Ramboda Lake.

The Ramboda Sri Baktha Hanuman temple was established here by the Chinmaya mission and is perched high on top of a hill that overlooks the lake.

                                                        Bhakta Hanuman Temple - Ramboda Hills

It was near the temple that I had one of the most exasperating experiences of the trip. As I was driving, I saw a puppy sitting and wailing in the middle of the highway. I parked to the side, picked him up, and carried him to the side of the road. I bought him something to eat from a nearby shop and turned around, only to find the little bugger standing in the middle of the road again. Once again, I approached him, but this time he ran away. I tried to chase after him, but in my haste, I was almost run over by a truck. In the few seconds it took for the truck to pass, the bugger had disappeared. ‘Had he been run over?’ I wondered, until a passerby pointed out that he had run into a nearby house. I swear that if he hadn’t run off, I would have killed him myself!

        This was when I noticed a bunch of people standing on the other side of the road, laughing their asses off. I tried to salvage my pride (whatever was left of it) by stepping into a restaurant. It hurt to have people laughing at me when I was trying to do the right thing. I only realized that people were laughing at the hilarity of the situation rather than at me when the owner of the restaurant, a portly fellow, pointed it out to me, all the while guffawing loudly. He had seen what had happened and offered to reopen the kitchen for me. He even declined my offer to pay for my meal. Kindness indeed.

                                                           View from Bhakta Hanuman Temple Ramboda Hills 

Over the next few days, we visited Kandy, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Adam’s peak (which is supposed to have a footprint of Lord Siva) and several other sites.  We eventually ended up at Horton’s Plains National Park, around 30 kilometers from Nuwara Eliya which was the location of Patal Lok aka World’s End. This was the place where Ahiravana held Rama and Lakshmana prisoner after capturing them. They were later rescued by Lord Hanuman in his Panchmukha form.

Located close to Horton’s Plains is the Hakgala Gardens or Ashoka Vatika, the place where Ravana kept Sita Devi prisoner, as Queen Mandodari would not allow her to be brought into the royal palace. This was also the place where Lord Hanuman first met Sita Devi and passed to her Lord Ram’s ring.

An incredibly beautiful garden with thousands of species of plants and hundreds of butterflies flying around. In the spring season, the gardens were supposed to look their best with all the flowers in full bloom; unfortunately for me that was a long way off. 

                                                                   Inside Hakgala Gardens or Ashoka Vatika 

After visiting the Hakgala gardens, I walked over to the Sita Amman temple, which was located right across the road. According to legend, Sita Devi bathed in the stream near the temple. There are also several footprints in the stones near the stream which are said to be Lord Hanuman's. 

                                                                                              Sita Eliya 

                  The next day, I visited the Divurumpola temple which is located 20 kilometers from Nuwara Eliya on the road to Welimada. Legend has it that Sita Devi performed the Agni Pariksha at this place and there is a temple there to mark the spot. The word ‘Divurumpola’, itself meant ‘place of oath’ in Sinhala. The temple is very famous for Sita Devi’s oath and the locals accept oaths made at this temple as a means to settle disputes! The Bodhi tree present in the complex is a descendant of the sapling of the Sri Maha Bodhi (the tree under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment).

         The Sacred site where Sita Devi took her oath and performed Agni Pariksha

         Located around 2 kilometers from Ella are the Ravana temple and caves. The Ravana temple is quite small and surprisingly does not have an idol of Ravana despite its name. The Ravana caves are very close to the temple, about five hundred meters uphill from the entrance of the temple. Legend has it that Ravana built this cave network, which extended across Sri Lanka. The purpose behind these tunnels was to connect various locations of his empire and serve as a secret means for espionage, reconnaissance, and escape.

The entrance to the cave was huge and so was the main chamber of the cave. There were three tunnels from the main chamber, tunnel one, which was the largest, ended after twenty feet, tunnel two, ended after ten feet, and tunnel three, which was the smallest didn’t seem to have an ending.

                                                                     Ravana Cave - Ella

It was near the end of my trip that I reached Ussanagoda. According to legend, Ussanagoda is one of the cities of Ravana’s kingdom that Lord Hanuman burnt down. After he found Sita Devi, Lord Hanuman decided to meet Ravana, so he allowed himself to be captured by Indrajit, the most valiant of Ravana’s sons. Ravana wanted to teach Lord Hanuman a lesson so he instructed his demons to set Hanuman’s tail on fire. Things got heated and Lord Hanuman burnt down the city of Lanka. Following the destruction of Lanka, he leapt to Ussanagoda, an airport with Vimanas and razed it to the ground as well.

                 As was the case with a lot of the sites related to the Ramayana, Ussanagoda was tricky to locate. It was clearly marked on the map (30 kilometers from Hambantota on the Hambantota – Tangalle highway), but once we got to the location, we couldn’t see any signboards nor find people who knew the place. Eventually, a kind soul took pity on me and gave me specific directions, “Take a left off the highway near the factory, follow the road, and take a walk when it ends near the cliffs.” I followed his directions to the T and managed to get lost again. My internal compass was broken beyond repair and was probably less functional than a suicidal lemming; at least they could find the edge of the cliffs!

                After an hour of searching, I ran into a little boy who led me to Ussanagoda. Thick shrubbery surrounded the three kilometer circular plain and the soil was bright red in color. No shrubbery grew in the plain itself though, supposedly due to the fire that burnt down the place.

The Open Plain at Ussangoda .The Scrubland ends in a circle around this Plain

  The final location I planned to visit was Rumassala, a small hill located around near Unawatuna. During the Ramayana war, Indrajit wounded Lord Lakshmana. Noticing how critical the wounds were, Jambavanta, the king of bears, asked Lord Hanuman to fetch four medicinal herbs (Mrita Sanjeevani, Vishalyakarani, Suvarnakarani, and Sandhani) from the Rishabha Mountain in the Himalayas. Hanuman flew all the way to the Himalayas, but could not identify the herbs, so he decided to pick up the entire mountain and fly back with it to Lanka. Along the way, several pieces of the mountain are said to have fallen off at places like Sirumalai (India), Rumassala, Ritigala, Doulkanda and Talladi (Sri Lanka). To this day, medicinal herbs are extracted by traditional healers from each of these locations.

Rumassala - A piece of the Rishabha Mountain known as Sanjeevini drop from the Himalayas

        There are several other places related to the Ramayana in Sri Lanka to visit like Nagadeepa (the location where Lord Hanuman was tested by Surasa Devi, the mother of the Nagas), Kataragama (Lord Karthikeya temple), Sita Kotuwa (where Sita Devi was held prisoner), Laggala (hill from which Lord Rama’s army was seen), Yehangala (where Ravana’s body was displayed), Kelaniya temple (Vibhishana temple), Kanniya (underground springs created by Ravana) which I haven’t detailed out in this article due to how long it was getting.

         So at the end of it, if you ask me if undertaking a journey of this nature and scale was worth it, my answer would be, “Yes, absolutely”. All through the journey, I experienced ‘signs’ that gave me an insight into the nature of faith and a reason to believe. My journey across Sri Lanka restored my faith in humanity and made me a better person. At the end of the day isn’t that all that matters?

 

                “Make the most of yourself....for that is all there is of you.” 

                                        Ralph Waldo Emerson

                                                     

                                                  

In addition to the blog - Visit 50 Sites in Sri Lanka .Harsha is also Author of     Monkeys Motorcycles and  Misadventures.For Maps , Photographs of Places and  Experiences about Journey,Kindly visit

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