T.O. Sunday Morning – Cycling The Lakeshore To Port Credit

Previous Post: Tall Ships In Toronto Harbour- July 2016

A Sunday morning training run I’ve done a hundred times is the bike ride from my Riverdale neighbourhood to Port Credit along the lakeshore.  The terrain, as the graph below shows, is about as flat as it gets. (It also shows that I lost  gps reception a couple of times!)

T.O. Lakeshore altitude chart

Taking advantage of the Lower Don Trail, the Martin Goodman Trail, and an almost-traffic-free Lakeshore Road, I get a good ninety-minute cardio workout which I monitor with my Polar M400 gps fitness tracker.  After a cup of coffee at the Starbucks on Lakeshore in Port Credit, I ride back home.

This morning I would choose to do the second half of the ride to Port Credit on Lakeshore Road instead of on the less-direct and meandering Goodman Trail.  The route on the insert map illustrates the difference!  On my way back home I would take the more leisurely route.

Rooster Coffeehouse to Starbucks along the Waterfront Trail and Lakeshore Road

Rooster Coffeehouse to Starbucks along the Waterfront Trail and Lakeshore Road

On this ride I also brought along my Sony A57 and my Zeiss 16-80 lens. However,  except for the four images which follow,  I did not stop to take many pix on my way there, intent as I was on keeping those pedals moving.

bike-depot-for-the-toronto-triathlon-festival-2016

I did stop as I cycled past Ontario Place.  It turns out that the 2016 Toronto Triathlon Festival was taking place.  From the mess of bikes and wetsuits in the pic above, it looks like the cycling and the swimming have already been done. I would see participants running in the stretch from Ontario Place to the Humber River bridge as I continued on my way.

marina and restaurant on the east side of the Credit River

marina and restaurant on the east side of the Credit River – click on to enlarge!

Before I pulled in to the Starbucks I did get some shots of Port Credit Harbour and the bridge over the river. Then it was off for my caffeine injection and a ten-minute breather at a spot popular with Sunday morning cyclists.

bridge over the Credit River

bridge over the Credit River

Port Credit harbour and lighthouse

Port Credit harbour and lighthouse

The turning point - Starbucks Port Credit

The turning point – Starbucks Port Credit

ride to Port Credit - stats

ride to Port Credit – stats

Now for the return ride!  After tucking in with a peloton for two or three kilometers as we headed east on Lakeshore Road,  I decided to slow down a bit – and escape from the traffic. It was about 11:30 and It had definitely picked up.  The Goodman Trail is much more relaxing – and all sorts of great views of the city can be had along the way.

the Waterfront Trail on the Lake Ontario lakeshore

the Waterfront Trail on the Lake Ontario lakeshore

Lake Ontario Shore - about 20 km W of downtown T.O.

Lake Ontario Shore – about 20 km W of downtown T.O.

beach, sailboat, and CN Tower

beach, sailboat, and CN Tower

A sunny Sunday morning – and everybody was out. Kayakers, canoeists, joggers, fellow cyclists, folks walking their dogs, parents with strollers, roller bladers … a veritable fitness commercial in the making!

kayakers on lake Ontario shore west of Toronto

kayakers on lake Ontario shore west of Toronto

The route includes bridges over the Don, the Humber, and the Credit Rivers. Also on the list is Mimico Creek. In the two photos below you get to see the view from the bridge towards the lake – quite idyllic – and  then the view looking up the creek.  Quite a contrast!

the mouth of Etokicoke Creek emptying into Lake Ontario

the mouth of Mimico Creek emptying into Lake Ontario

Etokicoke Creek - looking north from the bridge

Mimico Creek – looking north from the bridge

Toronto lake shore park area west of the city

view from Toronto Humber Bay Park west  of downtown T.O.

whimsical upgrade to a concrete structure

whimsical upgrade to a concrete structure on the Toronto Waterfront Trail

I stopped on the west side of the bridge over the Humber River and framed the following half-dozen views of the neighbourhood in my viewfinder. That’s my bike – a  “vintage” 2007 carbon fibre Trek Madone 5.0 which is my official Sunday bike!  For bike tours I take my 1990 steel frame Miyata 600GT and my everyday bike is another Trek, the 2005 aluminum frame 2100.

city view from the parkette on the west side of the Humber Bridge

city view from the parkette on the west side of the Humber Bridge

city-view-from-the-humber-bridge

city view from the Humber Bridge

condo developments west of the Humber Bridge

condo developments west of the Humber Bridge

The Bridge across the Humber as it empites into Lake Ontario

The Bridge across the Humber as it empties into Lake Ontario

Humber Bridge with city behind it

Humber Bridge with city behind it

the Humber Bridge - multi-use!

the Humber Bridge – multi-use!

It’s 13 kilometers from the bridge to my front door – still 45 minutes or so of work to do! I followed the Goodman Trail as it makes its way east along the lake shore – past Ontario Place where the triathletes were wrapping up their day, past the giant Inukshuk, past all sorts of great photo ops that I’ve stopped for on other occasions.

Toronto Waterfront Trail - Dufferin to Spadina

Toronto Waterfront Trail – Dufferin to Spadina

dock at Ontario Place

dock at Ontario Place

Triathlon conclusion at Ontario Place

Triathlon conclusion at Ontario Place

The Inukshuk on the Toronto waterfront

The Inukshuk on the Toronto waterfront

the boats at the harbour by Stadium Road Park

the boats at the harbour by Stadium Road Park

This time I bombed right past them all – though I should have stopped at Sugar Beach for a nice view of the umbrellas and of the downtown area from the east. I headed right for the junction of the Lower Don Trail with the one which runs on the north side of Lakeshore Blvd. all the way to the Beach(es).  The pic below shows the new art on the pillars of the expressway – still new enough for taggers not to have ruined it with their mundane scrawls.

the Waterfront Trail junction with the Lower Don Valley trail

the Waterfront Trail junction with the Lower Don Valley trail

Corktown Common

Corktown Common – see here for source

As I cycled up the Don Trail I left it for a few minutes to visit Corktown Common’s Pavilion Terrace. It is a high plateau overlooking the neighbourhood and provides a great view of downtown.

The entire neighbourhood was created to serve as the temporary housing for the Pan-American Games athletes in the summer of 2015 before being turned into mixed-income housing.  By all accounts it has been an urban planning success story – and it looks great.

Canary District play area

Canary District play area – looking west towards downtown T.O. from the Don River trail area

The Lower Don multi-use trail runs along the west side of the Don River all the way up to the Riverdale footbridge that I use to access the trail from Broadview.  In the photo below it  is hidden by the swath of tree cover on the right hand side.

The Don Valley Expressway and River - bike trail on river right

The Don Valley Expressway and River – bike trail on river right

To no surprise, my ride back from Port Credit took a bit longer and was less intense than the ride there –

ride back - stats

I would take the next day – usually a one hour workout with weights at the gym – off!

 Useful Links:

Waterfront Trail

A map of the Waterfront Trail – the Hamilton to Toronto section –  can be found at the Waterfront Trail website. (See here for the pdf file.)  In years past  I have followed the trail all the way from Niagara-On-the-Lake to the Quebec border; it provides an almost-traffic-free way of bicycling along the shore of Lake Ontario.  this website can get you started.

Biketrain

Biketrain began as an initiative to make taking bikes on trains easier.  From the original Toronto-Niagara Falls VIA route it has expanded to include routes across the province. It allows you to come up with more interesting ride possibilities by making use of train connections.  For example, instead of doing the typical “there and back” route , I took the train to Niagara Falls one Saturday morning and then spent the day cycling back to Toronto. Definitely a nice way to introduce new rides to your repertoire!

Over the years VIA (Canada’s national passenger rail service- it rents track usage from CN)  has made it easier to take your bike on the train.  It used to be that boxing your dismantled bike was part of the routine . These days they have bike racks on specified trains and you just hand up your bike to the attendant and that’s it.  When you get to your destination, he hands down the bike and off you go – no unpackaging, no putting everything back together – it’s great!  See here for the details.

Ontario By Bike cover

Another source of information and inspiration on bicycling Ontario is at the Ontario By Bike website.

Twenty years ago none of this existed. All of the above have certainly made it easier to plan and do exciting one-day and multi-day routes in a province whose quiet beauty we take for granted.

 

 

Tall Ships In Toronto Harbour – July 2016

Previous Toronto Post: Sakura Hanami: Viewing High Park’s Cherry Blossoms

CN Tower and Harbourfront area

For the three days of Canada Day weekend (July 1-3) the Toronto harbourfront hosted a number of boats associated with the Tall Ships America Challenge, an annual celebration of sailing vessels from the pre-Industrial Age. Each year the venues change from ports on the Pacific or Atlantic coasts or in the Great lakes region.  2016 was the turn of the Great Lakes to host the ships. The map below shows this year’s ports of call.

Tall Ships Map With 2016 Stops

Tall Ships Map With 2016 Stops

I cycled down to the waterfront from the east end of the Martin Goodman Trail early on a blue sky Sunday morning.  I was keen on getting some photos of three of the main ships before the crowds started arriving. It would be their last day  here before they sailed on to their next port.

The ships were on display at HTO Park, just a bit west of the Harbourfront Centre.

Toronto Harbourfront and Islands

Toronto Harbour is on the southern edge of downtown and is sheltered from Lake Ontario by the Islands and to the east by the Leslie Street Spit. At the western end of the harbour is the increasingly busy Billy Bishop Airport. In the pix below the CN Tower and the Rogers Center, the home of the Blue Jays, are visible, as are some of the many condo towers that have popped up in the past decade or two.

kayakers iat the foot of the CN Towerr

kayakers at the foot of the CN Tower

Toronto CN Tower and beach area by the ships

I got there at 8:45 and as the pix above show, there were not too many people around yet.  I figured I’d get a few side shots of the ships, pick up my entry ticket at 9:30 and get in line for the first of them – the Viking longship  Draken Harald Härfagre. 

the Canadian canoe and the stern of the Viking longship

Next to the waterfront where the Tall Ships were on display is a boat rental area, still fairly quiet when I arrived.  A couple of hours later it was a different story! In the photo above are a couple of replicas of the canot du nord, a staple of the fur trade in the 1700’s; also visible is the back end of the Viking longship I had come to see.  It had sailed from Norway in early May and, having retraced the path that the Viking explorers took 1000 years ago to reach Newfoundland,  it was sitting here!

Viking battle shields draped over the side of the Draken Harald Härfagre

Viking battle shields draped over the side of the Draken Harald Härfagre

the Draken Harald Härfagre - the back end

the Draken Harald Härfagre – the back end

detail of rear carving - Draken Harald Harfagre

detail of rear carving – Draken Harald Harfagre

the stern of the Draken Harald Harfagre

the stern of the Draken Harald Harfagre

the ravens of the Draken Harald Harfagre

the ravens of the Draken Harald Harfagre

The above photo shows two sculptures depicting  Huginn and  Muginn, two birds from Norse myth who roam the world and bring information back to the revered god  Óðinn (the Ango-Saxon Woden).

the front of the Viking longboat

the front of the Viking longship

For particulars on the 115′ long Viking longship, see here. The boat, named the Draken Harald Harfagre (Dragon Harald Fairhair) also has a Wikipedia entry (here) that provides its history  and its sailing route.

inside the Viking longship

Viking Ship dragon head on the front end

Viking Ship dragon head on the prow

Next to the longship was a full-scale reconstruction of a Spanish galleon, El Galeón. While the Viking ship had one simple square sail, the Spanish vessel was an elaborate, multi-decked ship with three masts and hectares of sail! Lineups to get on board the ships were long. I waited a half hour to be among the first group of 15 to board the Viking ship and then spent another 45 minutes in the lineup for El Galeón.

Viking longship dragon head and Spanish galleon's crow's nest

Viking dragon head prow meets El Galeon’s crow’s nest

 

Seeing these ships sitting at rest with their sails down is like looking at the skeletons of  beautifully-proportioned models and knowing there is way more to them!  Here are some web-sourced photos of the ships in all their glory, their sails billowing in the wind.

draken harald harfagre

ElGaleon-1-800x550

a view of the Viking longboat from the Spanish galleon

three boats on the shores of Lake Ontario

El Galeón - a full scale reprodution of a 16th C Spanish galleon

El Galeón – a full-scale reproduction of a 16th C Spanish galleon

El Galeon deck view

El Galeon deck view

El Galeon and its cannons

El Galeon and its cannons

See here for the story of El Galeón.

poop deck - rear of Spanish galleon

poop deck – rear of Spanish galleon

Pride-II-Sailing

The Pride of Baltimore II in full sail – see here for image source

2016Jul3_PrideandDrakeninToronto_creditJohnHerd-1024x683

Pride of Baltimore II & Draken Harald Hårfagre Departing Redpath Waterfront Festival 2016 -photo credit to John Herd…see here for source

The Pride of Baltimore II schooner

The Pride of Baltimore II - prow

The Pride of Baltimore II – prow

Pride of Baltimore - ropes at rest

Pride of Baltimore – ropes at rest

the deck of the Pride of Baltimore II

The story and details of the Pride of Baltimore – I and II – are provided in this Wikipedia article. (See here.)

a rear view of the Pride of Baltimore at the TallShips Toronto event 2016

a rear view of the Pride of Baltimore at the Tall Ships Toronto event 2016

a working boat - the Toronto harbour's fire resue boat

a working boat – the Toronto harbour’s fire rescue boat

The Caledonia - docked at Toronto lakefront

The Caledonia – docked at Toronto lakefront

Toronto Harbourfront view with the CN Tower

Toronto harbourfront view with the CN Tower

Toronto Harbourfront late Sunday morning - no longer quiet

Toronto harbourfront late Sunday morning – no longer quiet

Walking around with a camera in the town I live in is something I should do more often!  I spent an enjoyable morning seeing some incredible ships and taking in the lively vibe of a Toronto waterfront that has changed dramatically for the better over the past forty years that I have lived nearby and walked and cycled its paths.

I was not born in Toronto but ended up here after teacher’s college and my first teaching job.  In a country where Toronto is often the butt of jokes – and occasional target of downright contempt – by Canadians in other towns and provinces, I used to say things like – “I’m from Toronto…but I wasn’t born there” as if that would earn me a measure of acceptance!  The day  I stopped bothering to apologize was the day I knew I  really was from T.O.!  And on mornings like this sunny one on the harbourfront,  I have to think – this is one great city to be a part of! I’m lucky to have made it my home.

Tall Ships Toronto July 2016 - line up for the Viking longboat

looking back at the Tall ships - Toronto harbour 2016

rental water craft on Toronto waterfront

 

Another Toronto-related Post: Checking Out Downtown Toronto’s Street Art

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part Two

Previous Post: Paddling Around Philip Edward Island – Part One

Day Three: From Big Rock Bay to Mill Lake (26 Km.)

Day Three route - Big Rock Bay to Mill Lake (Collins Inlet)

Day Three route – Big Rock Bay to Mill Lake (Collins Inlet)

The first thing we did after our late get-up (7:45!) was climb back up to the top of Big Rock for some morning shots of Georgian Bay to the south and west and of Big Rock Bay immediately below us.  It was a beginning of a sunny day with next to no wind and the paddling would prove to be easy.

the-hawks-and-the-foxes-from-big-rock-top

Georgian Bay's Fox Archipelago

Georgian Bay’s Fox Archipelago as seen from Big Rock Bay top

While we were up there we would see the only other paddlers of our four-day trip pass by below. They were headed west towards the Fox Archipelago.

canoe heading towards the Foxes

canoe heading towards the Foxes

looking over Big Rock Bay from the view point

looking over Big Rock Bay from the summit view-point

looking towards the La Cloche Range from Big Bay Rock top

looking towards the La Cloche Range from Big Bay Rock top

In the Footsteps of the Group of 7-2

Before leaving home I had gone though my copy of  In The Footsteps of the Group of Seven by Jim and Sue Waddington to see if any of the sites they identified were in the area where we would be paddling.  While I didn’t find any mention, it was still easy to imagine a Group of Seven painter sitting with paints and board up on top of Big Rock and taking in the scene. Jim Waddington would later confirm that the group never made it up to the Philip Edward Island area  with this comment –

Although Tom Thomson and the group seem to have explored much of Georgian Bay, I haven’t found anything that they did between Killarney and the French River. (Thomson sketched at the mouth of the French and paddled up it.) They usually travelled by train and then canoe so they would not have had a convenient way to Philip Edward Island. Too bad. [See here for the source.]

 

Georgian Bay view from Big Rock Bay viewpoint

Georgian Bay view from Big Rock Bay viewpoint

Before leaving our campsite, we did get a shot of it and the Big Rock top where we had spent some quality time.  In the pic below the campsite is on the middle right and Big Rock is on top left. Then it was time to move on.

a view of Big Rock Bay campsite and the Big Rock behind it

a view of Big Rock Bay campsite and the Big Rock behind it

cottages on the way to Hincks island

cottages on the way to Hincks island

Given the tranquil water we found ourselves paddling across open stretches that we would normally have avoided in favour of a more protected route behind the scattered rocks and islands.  We were treated to more Georgian Bay eye-candy as we paddled into one great photo op after another.

heading down a protected channel near Hincks island on Georgian Bay

heading down a protected channel near Hincks island on Georgian Bay

one stern paddler at work

one stern paddler at work

Hincks Island stop

Hincks Island stop

We went for a ramble on Hincks Island, checking out potential tent spots and putting our Helinox chairs together so we could sit while we enjoyed a Gatorade and Clifbar break. It was 11 a.m. and we had reached the east end of Philip Edward Island.  We could have stopped at Hincks and chilled for the day – it certainly was scenic enough.  However, we would prove once again that at heart we are canoe trippers as opposed to canoe campers. We decided it was way too early to stop and figured that lunch at the top of Beaverstone Bay and then maybe a campsite near there would make more sense. So off we went, making easy progress.

The Coast Guard boat leaving Beaverstone Bay for Collins Inlet

The Coast Guard boat leaving Beaverstone Bay for Collins Inlet

By 12:30 we had paddled the eight-kilometers to the top of  Beaverstone Bay and stopped for lunch. We watched a Coast Guard boat chug by and enter Collins Inlet while we sat in the shade and sipped on our Thai noodle soups and munched on our Wasa bread with peanut butter.

Coast Guard boat passing by at the top of Beaverstone Bay

Coast Guard boat passing by at the top of Beaverstone Bay

Then it was time to find a campsite. There was one indicated across from the used-to-be lumber mill community of Collins Inlet. We figured it would make for a good spot. I was also expecting to see a marina there and meet boaters passing through the Inlet; I even suggested that we could have a second lunch at the restaurant!

The state of the village dock in the image below was the first clue that my expectations were pure fantasy!  The village of Collins Inlet died in 1917 when the lumber mill burned down; some of the pillars of the dock are amazingly still standing after 100 years of ice and thaw.

the remains of Collins Inlet village dock - 100 years later

the remains of Collins Inlet village dock – 100 years later

The Mill Lake Lodge sits directly cross from the remains of the dock. The Lodge consists of six cabins and the main building; it looks to be well-maintained and is definitely open for business.  While we did not see anyone as we paddled by, that could be because the fishermen it caters to were all out for the day.

Mill Lake Lodge across from the Mahzenazing Lodge

Mill Lake Lodge across from the Mahzenazing Lodge

Mill Lake Lodge dock and buildings

Mill Lake Lodge dock and buildings

Across from the Mill Lake Lodge is Mahzenazing Lodge and the remains of the once-thriving community of Collins Inlet.  When the mill burnt down the site was essentially abandoned until someone turned what was left into a fishing and hunting lodge.  The 49-acre property is surrounded by the Grondine Indian Reserve on three sides and is billed as boat-access-only.

Mahzenazing Lodge:Mill Lake Lodge area

Mahzenazing Lodge:Mill Lake Lodge area

As we paddled towards the mouth of the Mahzenazing River and the entrance to the Mahzenazing property we noticed the billboard below, complete with a realty sign affixed to it. A bit of research after I got home turned up some info on the property – it is listed for sale at $749,000. by Narozanski North Realty Inc. From the unkept look of the site it is clear that it has not functioned as a lodge for a few years. Abandoned machinery sat there and at least a half-dozen “Private Property/No Tresspassing” signs told us we were not welcome but nobody seemed to be around to reinforce the message.

Boundaries of Mahzenazing Lodge Property

Boundaries of Mahzenazing Lodge Property

And that marina and restaurant – as if!  Only in my imagination!

the rock face just to the west of the entrance to Mahzenazing Lodge

the rock face just to the west of the mouth of the Mahzenazing River and the entrance to Mahzenazing Lodge

Mahzenazing Lodge Sign with realty notice

looking back to the Mill Lake Lodge from the entrance to Mahzenazing

looking down to the mouth of the Mahzenazing R – the building on the right served as the bait house when the lodge was open

end of our paddle into Mahzenazing Lodge territory

end of our paddle up the Mahzenazing R.

Leaving the Mahzenazing Lodge property, we paddled back out to the Inlet. Not having seen the campsite supposedly just east of the Mill Lake Lodge, we paddled west and continued our search. We had as our guide Jeff’s Killarney Map which indicated a few spots along the Inlet and down into Mill Lake.  Our eventual conclusion after a few futile searches: what makes up a campsite may depend on whether you use a tent or a hammock and, if a tent, whether it is a 1, 2, or 4-person one.

campsite hunting on Collins Inlet

campsite hunting on Collins Inlet – Max waiting for the word

Over the next hour we paddled down Mill Lake as far as the south end of Green Island and checked out three different marked sites and a couple of unmarked ones that at first glance looked promising. Each time we refused to believe that was the best we could do. Finally, we admitted defeat and paddled back to the site directly across from the continuation of the Inlet on the west side of Mill Lake.  We’d rate it a notch or two above “it’ll have to do”!

Collins Inlet campsites on Jeff's Killarney map

Collins Inlet campsites on Jeff’s Killarney map

A bit of work and our four-person MEC Wanderer was up for the night. There was also  room there for another tent – a two-person.   Not shown in the pic below is the flat rock on the shore that made for a nice exposed eating area. That night – with no wind and no sound of the waves – would be the quietest of the three we spent!

Collins Inlet campsite - the best of five we looked at

Collins Inlet campsite – the best of five we looked at

Mill Lake shoreline by our campsite

Mill Lake shoreline by our campsite

Day Four: From Mill Lake to The Chikanishing River Take-Out Point

The home stretch – the 16 kilometers of Collins Inlet back to the Chikanishing parking lot. This “inside passage” from Beaverstone Bay all the way across the north side of Philip Edward Island was a favourite of the voyageurs of old, as it gave them a brief respite from the potentially turbulent waters of Georgian Bay.

We were actually a day early and  in retrospect should perhaps have spent another day on the Georgian Bay side relaxing on Hincks Island.

Collins Inlet - stretch of rock with pictographs

Collins Inlet – stretch of rock with pictographs -enlarge to see arrow indicators!

Collins Inlet Pictograph Site

Just beyond Ambush Narrows, said to be the site of an Ojibwe ambush of invading Iroquois warriors during the Algonquian/Iroquoian War of the mid-1600’s, we paddled up to the Collins Inlet pictograph site. On the rock face are five faded red ochre rock paintings left by Ojibwe shamans or vision questers sometime in the last three or four hundred years.

looking west the Collins Inlet rock face with the pictographs

looking west  at the Collins Inlet rock face with the pictographs

The pictograph site is made up of one panel with four pictographs, one on top of the other. About two feet to the left of this vertical panel is a lone thunderbird image, barely discernible.  See the image below.

Collins Inlet Pictographs

Collins Inlet Pictographs

Here is a sketch from Selwyn Dewdney’s classic Indian Rock Paintings of The Great Lakes.

Dewdney sketch of Collins Inlet

Dewdney sketch of Collins Inlet

Of the more than 260 sites he would eventually visit,  the Collins Inlet site was #39; he was there early in the summer in 1959, having been at Mazinaw Lake (#37, #38) in the days  just before. He would go from Collins Inlet up to Temagami to see the Diamond Lake site (#40) afterwards.  Of this site he writes –

The Collins Bay site is in the conventional red again, on the rock-lined inner passage that the voyageurs used when Georgian Bay got too rough for comfort. Here is an animal head as bodiless as that on the Quetico Lake site. Here again is our ubiquitous — though somewhat battered — thunderbird, and tally marks, I should judge, rather than the alternative canoe.

(Click on the blue title above to access a copy of the book. See pp. 92-93 for the Collins Inlet coverage.)

Dewdney describes the bottom pictograph as a row of tally marks; I count twelve lines in his sketch.  As he mentions, an alternative explanation is of a canoe with riders, indicated by the vertical lines.  I’d go with the canoe.  A calcite vein interrupts the canoe but you can see the continuation on the bottom right of the image below with four more riders indicated.  This canoe image is a common one in the Canadian Shield pictograph country and is often interpreted as a war canoe with a number of warriors and as a symbol of strength and power. This may be why it appears so close to Ambush Narrows.

Above the canoe is an image which most will assume is that of the Christian cross.  However, if it is indeed a cross it should also be noted that the cross was used as an Ojibwe symbol before the arrival of the Jesuits. More likely is that it is a stylized and simple representation of Animikii, the Thunderbird if that is a beak indicated at the top of the vertical line. From Dewdney’s comment about a “ubiquitous – though somewhat battered – thunderbird” it would seem he went with this interpretation. This seems to be the right way to look at it.

Above the Animikii or cross image is what appears to be the body of an animal, probably a moose. It may also be a crude representation of Mishipeshu, the underwater lynx.  Missing is a head!

horned snake pictograph at Diamond Lake

horned snake picto at Diamond Lake

The zig zag lines at the very top of this small panel – well, who can say.  In Dewdney’s sketch they are not even indicated.  Perhaps the pictograph depicts the two-horned snake (Mishiginebig  in Ojibweoften depicted along with Mishipeshu.  Its head and horns would be at the right side – i.e. the part of the rock painting that Dewdney did capture. It is the horned snake image at Diamond Lake in Temagami that I thought of as I tried to make sense of the zig zag lines here.

These pictographs face south and are quite exposed. Given all the human activity in the Inlet since they were painted here with the mixture of ground hematite and fish oil some three hundred years ago or so, it is nice to see that their presence has been respected by non-Indian passerby going all the way back to Samuel de Champlain in 1615 (unless his trip down the Inlet pre-dated their painting).

the main panel of pictographs at Collins Inlet

the main panel of pictographs at Collins Inlet

N.B.  Some of the above analysis I provided may be totally off the mark!  While Animikii, Mishipeshu, and Mishiginebig are indeed figures from Ojibwe myth and were common subjects to be painted, the human mind has a knack for finding – imposing – meaning and connection on random events and markings.

In the end we just appreciate the fact that we can sit in our canoe in the same spot that an Ojibwe shaman sat or stood in as he dipped his fingers in the ochre liquid and reached out for the rock face intent on drawing specific images taken from his culture’s mythological image bank.

To the left of the vertical panel is a lone painting seen in the image below.  Without a doubt it is of Animikii and is done in classic style. Looking at Dewdney’s sketch of the image, he did not capture much of it the day he was there. The angle of the sun, the possible lichen covering part of the image…who can say why!

Collins Inlet - lone Thunderbird pictograph

Collins Inlet – lone Thunderbird pictograph

There is some minor evidence of graffiti a few feet west of the pictographs. In the image below you can see the initials J.P. in the middle. Just above them is the year number 1939 and more initials.

grafitti on the rock face to the west of the pictographs

graffiti on the rock face to the west of the pictographs

As we paddled down the Inlet away from the pictographs our thoughts turned to something more mundane – fish and chips at the “World Famous” stand/restaurant in Killarney!   Now we were motivated to finish off our canoe trip and drive into town, a few kilometers from the Chikanishing Road parking lot.

Blue skies and almost-ripple free water provided ideal paddling conditions. We did note a good campsite or two on our left (the P.E.I. side)  as we got closer to the mouth of the Chikanishing River.

looking east down Collins Inlet

looking east down Collins Inlet

As we approached, a party of five or six canoes were heading out in the Bay; we caught the first two as they waited for the others.  It was a Thursday; they would have more fabulous weather right through the weekend as they did their island hopping among the Foxes and the Hawks.

kayakers coming out of the mouth of the Chikanishing River

kayakers coming out of the mouth of the Chikanishing River

It was my first visit to the fish and chips place.  My brother’s memory of the place went back to the 1980’s when it was simply a stand and not the elaborate building you see below.

Fish and Chips Place in Killarney

Fish and Chips Place in Killarney

Immediately across the street from the restaurant is an empty corner lot.  Just as we pulled into the parking lot the drums of the powwow starting beating; members of the Wikwemikong First Nation of Manitoulin Island and their guests were just beginning a celebration.  (The Grondine Reserve north of Philip Edward Island is part of the greater Wikwemikong community.)

Speeches by Members of Parliament and elders were followed by a circle dance,  some of which I captured on video below.

Killarney Powow participants

Killarney Powwow participants

Taking in the speeches and watching the dancing provided a great ending to our fantastic four-day paddle.  The wind and waves we had spent the  days leading up to the trip worrying about proved to be fairly benign and we got to experience a beautiful little slice of our province.

Six hours after leaving Killarney we were on the shores of Lake Ontario – beautiful in itself and in its own way – but also a world away from the beauty of Killarney and the isolated north shore of Georgian Bay.

If You Want To Do this Canoe or Kayak Trip:

Trip Reports:

Kas StoneThe most useful bit of writing on Philip Edward Island and the loop around the island is Chapter 4 in Kas Stone’s Paddling and Hiking The Georgian Bay Coast.  An excellent overview map and a list of some twenty major sites to visit as well as a detailed natural and cultural history which puts everything into context makes it an essential read before you go.  I have a copy on my bookshelf. We brought a photocopy along for the ride.

Kevin Callan has a chapter on Philip Edward island loop in a couple of his books. I found it in his Top Fifty Canoe Routes of Ontario. It is also in  A Paddler’s Guide to Killarney and the French River.  It has less detailed info than the Stone chapter but does provide the usual Callan drama and humour to entertain the reader.  It’s worth checking out to see what he emphasizes in his account.

Callan cover Dazed But Not Confused

If you want a bit more history then a recent Callan book – Dazed But Not Confused: Tales of a Wilderness Wanderer has brief chapter on P.E.I. and Collins Inlet. You can read it (pages 99-102) on-line here at the Google Books website.

Killarney Outfitters has a useful webpage that will probably answer any question you might have about the logistics of a canoe or kayak trip in the waters of northern Georgian Bay.  See here for their trip planning advice.

Maps:

jeffs killarney map

Your best single map for this trip is Jeff’s Killarney & The Georgian Bay Coast map. A waterproof plastic version of the map can be found at a MEC outlet or at the George Lake Park Shop where you also pay for your parking permit.  Or – you can download a copy and print out the bit that you need yourself.  See here for the for various file download options – jpg, kmz (Google Earth),  Garmin GPS, and iPhone and Android options.

Another good map is the ChrisMar map Philip Edward Island & Area, also waterproof. However, it does not give any campsite info or pictograph locations.

We also brought along our Garmin GPS devices. Given the maze of islands that you’re paddling through a gps device with the Topo Canada maps (version 4.0) is definitely useful.  If you don’t have a dedicated gps device, your iPhone will probably do just fine.

They were not really necessary but we also printed off the bits of a couple of topo 1:50,000 Federal Government topographic maps.  You can access them at jeffstopos.com  Look for Collins Inlet– 041H14 – and Lake Panache – 041I03.

If you have Google Earth installed on your computer here is the 2.8 mb kml file of our trip.

Additional Inspiration: 

Mad About the Bay

Mad About The Bay, a book of perhaps thirty photographs by William Harris and text by Elizabeth MacCallum and John Fraser, was published in 2004.  I found it in the public library two years later and it prompted a one-week canoe trip in Massassagua Provincial Park that very summer.   Using the latest technology, Harris provided a modern take on the Group of Seven’s vision from the 1920’s and 30’s.  I wanted to capture some of the feel of Harris’ digitally-enhanced Georgian Bay images.  While I wasn’t successful, on the plus side I was now aware of the Georgian Bay coast as a fantastic paddling destination and as a great place to frame beguiling images in my viewfinder!

Our Massassagua Park visit was done in August with way too many people around.  Also, we got to paddle in a thick ugly smog that had blown all the way up from the Ohio Valley via southern Ontario.  No escape that summer!  I will admit that the greater isolation of the Killarney area, the better weather we had this year, and the fact that we were there just before the summer holiday season during the week made for a much better trip.

Mad About The Bay  shows up on the Amazon site –  see here for its current status.  If you are a Toronto Public Library card holder, the system has ten copies available.  You can reserve your copy here.

The Future Status of Philip Edward Island:

Currently P.E.I. and the other small island archipelagos south of Collins Inlet and Beaverstone Bay  are Crown Land and open to all.  The map below shows the southern boundary of Killarney Park and of the Point Grondine Reserve (since 1968 a part of the Wikwemikong First Nation which is located on the east side of Manitoulin Island). Free camping is not allowed on Point Grondine land; however, in August of 2015 Point Grondine Park opened with day and overnight hiking trails developed with the help of Killarney staff.  There are two designated campsites in the Killarney P. P. stretch of Collins Inlet. You can camp for free on the other side of the inlet on P.E.I.!

Wiikwemikoong Boundary Claim & Proposed Alternative Selections

source of map: Georgian Bay Association website

A Toronto Star article from September 10, 2015 provides some basic information about the planned change in land ownership: Access To Pristine Land At Stake In First Nations Deal.

A post last August in the Canadian Canoe Routes forum alerted readers to the potential change in the status of Philip Edward Island.  Depending how things unfold, it may become a part of the Wikwemikong First Nation and what that would mean to its accessibility to the paddling community is unclear.  Click on the blue link below to read some informed  and passionate responses from fellow paddlers to the land claims  issue – Important Message about Philip Edward Island & area

 

 

Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward Island – Part One

We were looking for another great paddle destination that was a short drive from southern Ontario.  We also wanted a fairly isolated route that had the feel of wilderness and was not in a park that required campsites to be booked and paid for before we set off. That eliminated Algonquin and Killarney Provincial Parks, among others,  from the list.

Well, we found it at the north end of Georgian Bay after a five-hour drive from downtown Toronto – and as a bonus, there would be no portages to deal with!  And since the various islands are still Crown Land there would be no camp fees to pay either.

Our only real concern was the weather – in particular, the NW or SW winds that can make bobbing in an open canoe on Georgian Bay a real challenge. Rain and 35 km/hour winds were forecast for the afternoon of our put-in.

Georgian Bay

Where: The Georgian Bay coast SE of Killarney – see the red circle on the map above

To Do What: Paddle around Philip Edward Island at the north end of Georgian Bay, which is sometimes referred to as the sixth Great Lake.

How Long: Three to four days or even longer depending on side trips taken and pace

How Far: between 55 and 70 kilometers depending on those side trips

Why Go: Scenic paddling through the maze of islands on the Georgian Bay side of the island and then a return via Collins Inlet, a protected “inside passage” that includes an Anishinaabe (i.e. Ojibwe)  pictograph site.

The map below shows the route.  Most paddlers choose to do it in a counter-clockwise direction, given the prevailing winds.  So did we.

Philip Edward Island canoe trip route

Philip Edward Island canoe trip route

Day One: From The Chikanishing River Put-In to Martin’s Island

We drove up Highway 400 from downtown T.O. on a Monday morning.  Our 7:00 a.m. departure meant that by noon we were at the Killarney Provincial Park’s George Lake information desk. While the camping would be free, unfortunately the car would be sitting in Park property at the Chikanishing River put-in just 1.5 kilometers away.  $14.50 a night for four nights is what it would cost.

Perhaps we could have parked our car at the Killarney Outfitters down the road a bit – or even somewhere in Killarney – but those options come with costs of their own and are much less convenient. It is, for example,  almost a ten-kilometer paddle over some pretty open water from the village of Killarney to the western tip of Philip Edward Island, oddly named South Point. From the mouth of the Chikanishing (apparently pronounced Chick a nish ing) it is 700 meters!  Much better – and safer – to spend the $60. and reduce potential troubles.

Georgian Bay - Day One

As we were getting ready to head out, another party of two canoes was just returning from a great four-day adventure of their own.  They had paddled out to the Foxes, a small collection of islands off the west end of Philip Edward Island (P.E.I. from now on!) and camped on a couple of them. We were reassured when they said that  the wind and waves they met on their return were manageable.

at the Chikaniushing River put-in

at the Chikanishing River put-in

A short paddle down a very tranquil and sheltered stretch of the Chikanishing River to its mouth  – less than a kilometer – and we were looking at the Bay.  So far, so good!

From Chikanishing Put-in to P.E.I.'s South Point

Next on tap – dealing with the crossing.  The conditions were nowhere as bad as we had expected, given the weather reports for the day.  Had it been really bad, short of turning back, the plan had been to paddle east towards the Western Entrance and then come back along the shore to round South Point. On this day – no need for Plan B.  A 700-meter paddle across the open stretch and we were rounding South Point.

the first of many channels in the Bay

the first of many protected  channels in the Bay we paddled through

All along the Georgian Bay side of P.E.I.  rocks and islands – some treed and some not – provide protection from the wind and the waves. We made use of them as we paddled towards the day’s destination.  The map above shows the path we took. Another day and different wind conditions and the path would probably have been a bit different. What it still would have been, however, is incredibly scenic.   Our goal was Martin’s Island, the largest of the Fox Island group.  It was about a ten-kilometer paddle from the put-in and by 4:30 our tent was up on the island.

the La Cloche Range in the distance

the La Cloche Range of hills  in the distance

From the Bay side the La Cloche Range was often visible in the distance, the white quartzite hazy in the afternoons, as in the pic above,  and clear in the mornings. In the foreground would be wave-smoothed rock surfaces and, at least up close, the crystal clear water of Georgian Bay.  Missing were fellow paddlers!  During the four days we spent out there, we saw one solo kayaker and two in a canoe.

sheltered tent spot on Martin's island

sheltered tent spot on Martin’s island

We were amazed to find a thunderbox  just behind our campsite on Martin’s Island. “Props” to the folks  who took the time to make and haul the box and toilet seat out there and set it up.  Maybe it was members of the Friends of Killarney Park  although P.E.I. and the other offshore islands are not actually a part of the Park.  We saw no examples of littering and garbage dumping and toilet paper strewn about on any of the islands we visited and walked and camped on.

We were also surprised to find that we had cell phone coverage! We always take a Spot Connect along so that the folks at home can see where we are and how it’s going. Well, on this trip we could phone home at the end of each day.  We’re betting that within our lifetimes – that would be maybe another twenty years! –  we’ll be able to phone home no matter where we go canoeing!

Thunderebox behind our Martin's i. Campsite

Thunderbox behind our Martin’s i. Campsite

From our campsite we rambled around some of the island, taking in the views and enjoying the weather. By late afternoon the winds had indeed picked up significantly and we were glad to have done our paddling when we did. A few days later back at the parking lot we talked to a couple of other paddlers who had arrived at the put-in three hours after we did and who had decided to turn back up the Chikanishing when they saw how rough the water of the Bay was.

a view of the bay on the east side of Martin's Island

a view of the bay on the east side of Martin’s Island

a bay on Martin's Island just below our campsite

along the shore of the bay on Martin’s Island just below our campsite

From a viewpoint on the south side of Martin’s Island we checked out two other islands of the Fox group – Center Fox and West Fox. The plan for early the next morning was to pay them a visit before continuing east towards Big Rock Bay.

a view of Centre Fox and West Fox islands from Martin's Island

a view of Centre Fox and West Fox islands from Martin’s Island

a view of Sly Fox Island from Martin's Island

a late afternoon view of Sly Fox Island from Martin’s Island

Our Martin’s Island camp coincided with the full moon. The shots below were taken from the east end of the island after dusk. My 2.4 kilogram tripod was up the hill at the campsite so we had to improvise in order to use a slower shutter speed.  The iso was still upped to 6400. So much for dynamic range!

full moon east of Martin's Island Georgian Bay

full moon east of Martin’s Island Georgian Bay

Max contemplating the moon to the east of Martin's island

Max contemplating the moon to the east of Martin’s island

full moon looking east from Martin's island Georgian Bay

full moon looking east from Martin’s island Georgian Bay

Day Two: From Martin’s Island To Big Rock Bay Via West Fox Island

Day 2 - Georgian Bay

Day 2 – Georgian Bay

A 9:00 a.m. start – a bit later than we had planned – turned out to be fine since the waves posed no problems as we headed west along the shore of Martin’s Island from our hilltop campsite. The site had been nicely sheltered from the winds the previous afternoon and evening and had provided great views to the north as we relaxed in our Helinox chairs and sipped on our Sortilege.

our Martin's I. tent spot the next morning - sans tent!

our Martin’s I. tent spot the next morning – sans tent!

The pic below – shooting into the morning sun always makes for special effects! – shows the rock we camped on the top of.

Martin's I Campsite on leaving

looking up the rock face at our Martin’s I Campsite on leaving

On our way to West Fox Island we did take a look at Centre Fox.  the evening before I had taken a shot of the west end of the island and its gravel beach.  Now we paddled all around the island and found out that the beach was really the only good landing spot!

gravel beach on Centre Fox and landing spots on West Fox

a view from Martin’s Island of the gravel beach on Centre Fox and landing spots on West Fox

a view from the gravel beach on Center Fox I.

a morning view from the gravel beach on Center Fox I.

We decided to push on the West Fox and, as a map below shows, beached on the east side of the island and spent about 40 minutes on a 1.2 kilometer walk around the perimeter of the island.  What we found were a number of excellent campsite possibilities and a variety of eye-catching views to frame in our view finders.  The pix below show a little of what caught our attention, beginning with the wave-like shapes of the water-smoothed rocks at the island’s east end.

our beached canoe on West Fox I

our beached canoe on the shore of West Fox I

West Fox Island - east side

West Fox Island – east side

rock erosion on West Fox i.

rock erosion on West Fox Island

West Fox I. pool in rock

West Fox I. pool in rock

The Foxes - Georgian Bay

looking NE at the bay on the east side of West Fox I

looking NE at the bay on the east side of West Fox I

West Fox's gravel beach on the W side of the island

West Fox’s gravel beach on the W side of the island

As we came back to our canoe we met a fellow paddler, a kayaker who had spent the night on the island.  He was off towards the east end of P.E.I just like we were – and later that day we would see him again.

back to our beached canoe on West Fox

back to our beached canoe on West Fox

Our weather luck held out and we had fine wind and wave conditions as we headed north past Martin’s Island and East Fox Island before stopping for lunch in a shady cove on the east side of Used-To-Be Island.

our shady lunch spot on Used To Be island

our shady lunch spot on Used To Be island

Lunch done we went for a walk north of where we were sitting in the shade and came to what was obviously a popular large campsite as indicated by a couple of fire circles. Behind us was also a possible path to a hilltop viewpoint from which we could scan eastward towards the Desjardin Bays and beyond.  I’ll admit that given the heat my first impulse was to say “Forget it, it’s too hot to be scrambling up there” but Max persisted so I figured “Okay, let’s git ‘er dun then” and up we went, rock climbing in our L.L. Bean boots!

our shady lunch spot on Used To Be island

our shady lunch spot on Used To Be island

Five or ten minutes later – “See, that wasn’t so bad!” – we had our reward – a fantastic view of the neighbourhood we’d be paddling through over the next couple of hours.

Used To Be I. viewpoint - looking east

Used To Be I. viewpoint – looking east

Used To Be I. viewpoint - looking north

Used To Be I. viewpoint – looking north

Back to the canoe and it was time to move on, still having no more than moderate winds to deal with on a sunny afternoon in paddlers’ paradise.

back to the canoe on Used To Be I.

back to the canoe on Used To Be Island

Looking Back At Used To Be Island from the east

Looking Back At Used To Be Island from the east

We’d see our kayaker again mid-afternoon, some distance from us as we passed a cottage on P.E.I. During the trip we did see  a few cottages and camps scattered about the big island and some of the smaller ones but our trip dates – Monday, June 20 to Thursday, June 23 – meant that the prime summer season had not yet started and we also avoided the weekend crowd.

kayaker in one of the Dejardin Bays

kayaker in one of the Desjardin Bays

We found a terrific campsite just south of Big Rock Bay and below the Big Rock itself.  Our front yard was the gently sloping and smooth rock you see in the pic below.  It leads up to a nice flat area tucked on the edge of some tall evergreens that provide wind protection.  As we would find out they also provided the pine tar which dripped onto our tent fly! Cooler evening temperatures did slow down the drips.

afternoon view of Big Rock Bay from our campsite

afternoon view of Big Rock Bay from our campsite

Big Rock Bay Area

Big Rock Bay Area

For the second night in a row, our site would include a thunderbox, this one just a bit north and in the woods from the tent site.  Also behind the tent was the three-minute  path to the top of Big Rock.  We went up in the early evening for a look and decided to return in the morning to take some pictures when the sun would be in the east behind our backs as we shot west and north.

the Bros stare into the evening sun at Big Rock Bay campsite

the Bros stare into the evening sun at Big Rock Bay campsite

sunset from our Big Rock Bay campsite

sunset from our Big Rock Bay campsite

The next post covers the second half of the trip with some pix of the fabulous view from the top of Big Rock. It also includes some shots of the lodges of Collins Inlet and of the Ojibwe pictograph site just west of Ambush Narrows. As well, we’ve included some suggestions on what maps to use and what to read in planning your own trip around Killarney’s Philip Edward Island. Just click on the link below.

Next Post –  Paddling Around Georgian Bay’s Philip Edward island – Part Two

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Myanmar Travels: The Road From Pindaya to Nyaung Shwe In Shan State

Previous Post: Pindaya’s Shwe Oo Min – The Shan Cave of The 10,000 Buddhas!

Our visit to the limestone cave at Pindaya over, we bussed down to the Green Tea Restaurant on the banks of Pone Taloke Lake.  Our lunch requests had been taken before we went up to the limestone cave so everything appeared in short order on our return. However, before we returned to the restaurant we first stopped for about thirty minutes at a roadside cottage where various crafts people were busy producing a range of items – with colourfully-painted parasols or sun umbrellas being the main one.

another parasol being decorated

another parasol being decorated

All images enlarge with a click and all blue text leads to more info.

Pindaya parasols

Pindaya parasols

the parasol artist and her brush

the parasol artist and her brush

Not far away another worker was making the handles for the parasols out of bamboo.

Pindaya craftsperson making parasol handles

Pindaya craftsman making parasol handles

We were certainly not the first visitors to the crafts cottage as the graffiti and name tags in the following images show!

Pindaya puppets for sale

visitors' name tags at the Pindaya crafts cottage

visitors’ graffiti and name tags at the Pindaya crafts cottage

string puppets and grafitti at Pindaya crafts cottage

string puppets and graffiti at Pindaya crafts cottage

bamboo pulp paper with jasmine leaves

bamboo pulp paper with jasmine leaves ready to be dried

I spent some time watching another worker producing a paper sheet from bamboo pulp.  Around her were examples of the paper in different stages of completion.   For some reason I decided that three sheets of this craft paper would make a wonderful souvenir of my visit to Myanmar and so I boarded our bus with a roll of fragile paper. In retrospect – a truly dumb idea!  I would spend the next ten days worrying about crushing it every time I packed and unpacked my bags.  The puppets may have been a better choice!

graffiti on the entrance of the Pindaya crafts cottage shop

graffiti on the entrance of the Pindaya crafts cottage shop

Lunch was followed by a brief stroll along the lakefront before hopping back into our air-conditioned bus for the seventy-kilometer ride down the western edge of Myanmar’s Shan State  to Nyaung Shwe.  We would use the town as the base for our visit to Inle Lake.

the north shore of Pindaya's Pone Taloke Lake from the Green Tea Restaurant

the north shore of Pindaya’s Pone Taloke Lake from the Green Tea Restaurant

One of the first photos I remember taking after my arrival in Myanmar was of a tree shrine on a street in Yangon not far from my hotel. As in Sri Lanka, the concept of the tree as a spiritual focal point – often as a Bodhi Tree associated with the Buddha’s Awakening – is a common one.  The overlay of nat spirit worship in Myanmar adds another element to the Buddhist mix. We walked past the humble shrine below on our walk along the riverbank. No Buddha figure inside – and no nat figure either.

a tree shrine on the banks of Pone Taloke Lake in Pindaya

a tree shrine on the banks of Pone Taloke Lake in Pindaya

Our route from Pindaya to Nyaung Shwe would take us south on a secondary road that ends up at He Hoe. From there we would head east towards Shwenyaung before turning south to Inle Lake.

From Pindaya to Nyaung Shwe and Inle Lake

From Pindaya to Nyaung Shwe and Inle Lake

As you can see from the Google map above, the ride was not a long one. While we did not stop along the way I did try to frame a few photos through the bus window.  The results – not great! For the first one I set the iso at 1600 and the speed was still not fast enough to compensate for the bus in motion.  Interesting sky though!  For the other pix, I upped the iso to 3200 – the limit for my Sony A77’s 2011 sensor.  Somewhat better.  What I was really struck by was the red earth of the overwhelmingly agricultural region, no doubt a sign of the high iron oxide content of the soil – just like on Prince Edward Island here in Canada.

Shan farmhouse south of Pindaya

Shan farmhouse south of Pindaya

Shan farmhouse on the road to He Hoe from Pindaya

Shan farmhouse on the road to He Hoe from Pindaya

Shan State - the main area visited by tourists

Shan State – the main area visited by tourists

Given the ongoing insurgency in northern and eastern Shan State, parts of the district are off-limits to tourists or require special permits to enter.  While Shan State makes up about a quarter of the land area of the country, the part we were visiting – from Pindaya to Kalaw down to Nyaung Shwe and Inle Lake – was fairly small and close to the border of central Myanmar’s Mandalay district with its Bamar-majority population.  As an outsider I will admit to not even knowing enough to be able to tell the cultural differences!

the red earth of western Shan State

the red earth of western Shan State

farmhouse north of Nyaung Shwe

farmhouse north of Nyaung Shwe

About two kilometers north of Nyaung Shwe we stopped at a Buddhist monastery complex composed of a number of buildings including a newly built dormitory,  a school building, a structure containing hundreds of niches with seated Buddha figures in each,  as well as the oldest building pictured below – the teak ordination hall.

teak monastery just north of Nyaung Shwe

teak monastic ordination hall –  thein in Bamar –  just north of Nyaung Shwe

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung sitting area - newer buildings

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung sitting area – newer buildings

a side view of the Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung's teak ordination hall

a side view of the Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung’s teak ordination hall

monks' robes drying in the sun

monks’ robes drying in the sun

We would visit the ordination hall first, entering through the doorway you see below. It was late afternoon and we did not initially see anyone. As we moved into the room directly overlooking the main street which passes by the monastery we would see a young novice – perhaps ten years old – sitting on the wood floor by the window.

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung (teak monastery) entrance

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung (teak monastery) entrance

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung sitting area

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung sitting area

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung - sleeping area behind the front hall

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung – sleeping area behind the front hall

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung - novice monk in ordination hall

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung – novice monk in ordination hall

two meditating figures at Shwe Yaungwe Kyaung

two meditating figures at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

I had to laugh a few weeks later when I picked up my Lonely Planet guide-book – I had left it behind in Toronto to cut down on travel weight – and read the following:

Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung is probably the most photographed monastery in Nyaungshwe: the unique oval windows in the ancient teak thein (ordination hall) create a perfect frame for pictures of the novices.

           (Lonely Planet. Myanmar. 2014. p.188)

What I would still like to think was a lucky photographic moment may have been set in motion by our tour guide’s phone call from the bus to the monastery letting the head monk know that we would soon be there!

kitten snuggled in lap of novice monk at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

Another structure we visited is the one shown in the photos below – a maze of corridors and arches with niches set into the walls and containing seated and robed Buddha figures. Affixed to each niche was the name of the donor whose contribution was rewarded with a place in the wall.

image collection house Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

image collection house Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

image collection house Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung - a corner

image collection house Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung – a corner

image collection house Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung - arches

image collection house Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung – arches

shrine inside the image collection house at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

shrine inside the image collection house at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung

The day’s journey  ended with a short ride to our three-star hotel and base for the next two nights. Called the Hu Pin Nyaung Shwe, It is located in the heart of the town and a short walk from a number of decent restaurants. Click on the hotel name to access the trip advisor rating.  The Lonely Planet guide-book writer put it this way –

The epitome of the bland Chinese-style hotel, the rooms here won’t win any prizes for interior design,  but are spotlessly clean and comfortable, if rather overpriced.

canal and buildings on outskirts of Nyaung Shwe

canal and buildings on outskirts of Nyaung Shwe

our hotel poster of Inle Lake and its attractions

our hotel poster of Inle Lake and its attractions

the rooftops of downtown Nyaung Shwe from the hotel's 4th floor

the rooftops of downtown Nyaung Shwe from the hotel’s 4th floor

The next day was a long one as we boated up and down the lake and went ashore to visit villages, markets and pagodas. We’d spend another half-day bicycling along its shore and ended the visit at the Red Mountain Estate winery overlooking the lake. It was a  fantastic way to spend two days!

Coming Soon! : What To See and Do At Inle Lake

 

 

 

 

Hiking Sri Lanka’s Knuckles – To Meemure and Corbett’s Gap

Previous Post: The Manigala Hike In Sri Lanka’s Dumbara Hills (The Knuckles Range) 

The next morning our campsite on the banks of the Thelgamu Oya near Illukumbura provided those keen on photography with some beautiful river views.  My roommate and I got up just after dawn – we were sure we were the first up –  and we carried our duffel bags up to the parking area. The kitchen staff was already at work and the breakfast table was set!

breakfast setting in the Knuckles Range

breakfast setting in the Knuckles Range

Knuckles Range sleeping tents and toiet:shower area

Knuckles Range sleeping tents and toilet/shower area

We headed back down past the toilet tent and the sleeping tents to the river and framed different views of the water and the shoreline and especially the small waterfall.  A slight mist hung over the river and made things even more atmospheric.

Knuckles Range - The Thelgamu Oya at dawn

Knuckles Range – The Thelgamu Oya at dawn

Knuckles Range - The Thelgamu Oya at dawn - take two

Knuckles Range – The Thelgamu Oya at dawn – take two

a dawn view looking upstream in the Knuckles Range

By the time we got back up to the breakfast underneath the covered porch some of our fellow travellers were already seated and looking at plates very much like the one in the photo below.  They were also being treated to a display of the morning’s photo shoot from down by the river.

breakfast fruit and juice at ourThelgamu Oya camp

breakfast fruit and juice at our Thelgamu Oya camp

sharing dawn pics of the Thelgamu Oya

sharing dawn pics of the Thelgamu Oya

We set off shortly after 8.  Up on the road was the  Mahoora Safari truck that had brought all the tenting and other gear as well as the staff to the camping site.  The Mahoora crew had done a fine job of creating a very livable temporary space for us on the banks of the Thelgamu Oya.

Day Two morning - ready for a walk in the Knuckles Range

Day Two morning – ready for a walk in the Knuckles Range

Now it was time to bus over to the day’s trailhead at Ranamuregama. (The village is the site of a temple called Narangamuwa.)  From there we would spend the morning and early afternoon walking to Meemure.

As we stood there the conversation turned to leeches.  A number of the walkers had pulled leeches from their legs during the previous day’s walk up to the Manigala ridge.  Now they were staring at the first of a new day’s batch.  I went the entire hike without seeing a bloodsucker on me until the last hour as we approached Meemure.  I had treated my long pants with permethrin and also sprayed a 30% deet insect repellent on my boots and lower pant legs before we set off.  It seems to have done the job.

leech alert before our Knuckles Range hike continues

leech alert before our Knuckles Range hike continues

Knuckles Range Hiking Map

Knuckles Range Hiking Map

After a short drive from Illukumbura to the Narangamuwa Temple at Ranamuregama it was time to pull out the trekking poles and start our walk.  The trip notes describe the walk this way:

We pass rice paddies and coconut groves and enter a heavily forested area. The trail climbs gently for an hour and then levels out and undulates though this wonderful forest. The only sounds we can hear is the birdsong all around us. We emerge from the forest at Meemure village and looking back we get great views of the pointed peak of Lakegala.

(See here for the Exodus itinerary – this was Day Four.)

And here is a Google Earth view of the 12-kilomter walk – or, at least, my best guess as to the path we took to get to Meemure.

The hills north of Meemure-2

 

Knuckles education and Training Center Illukkumbura sign

Knuckles education and Training Center Illukkumbura sign

Knuckles Range hikers - setting off on Day Two

Knuckles Range hikers – the group  setting off on Day Two

rice field in the Knuckles Range

rice field in the Knuckles Range

After a very flat beginning, the path, parts of which had concrete or stone steps,  would take a decided uphill slant.  The series of photos below captures some of the beautiful lush cloud forest terrain we scrambled through.

stone path leading up in the Knuckles Range

stone path leading up in the Knuckles Range

stone path in Knuckles Range lush cloud forest

concrete steps on the way to Meemure

Knuckles Range cloud forest tree bark

Knuckles Range cloud forest tree bark

Knuckles Range stream trickling down

We had started our walk about 9 a.m.  By 12:30 we were scampering up the trail in the photo below.  We stopped more than once for a water break and munched on the day’s snacks.

scrambling up a rough path in the Knuckles Range

scrambling up a rough path in the Knuckles Range

Lunch would have to wait until we got to Meemure, where our guide had arranged for a box lunch for us. By 1:45 pm we were approaching Meemure, the end point of a little hike.  It is a fairly isolated village set in the Knuckles Range with the eye-catching mountain called Lakegala as a backdrop.  The Google Earth satellite view does not really capture the pointy nature of the peak. (i am assuming that it is the one on the left.)  Compare it to the photo immediately below to see what I mean.

mountain-scape-north-of-meemure-village-in-the-knuckles-range-2

a Google Earth view of the hills to the NW of Meemure and the road to Corbett’s Gap

a view of the pyramid-like Lakegala Mtn.

a view of the pyramid-like Lakegala Mtn.

the terraced fields of Meemure village

the terraced fields of Meemure village

Our great little hike for the day was almost done.  Just beyond the fields was the village of Meemure (also written Mimure),  a small fairly isolated community of 400 or so. Only a rough dirt track connects it to the road some ten kilometers to the south.

local farmers and hikers near Lakegala Mountain in the Knuckles Range

local farmers and hikers near Lakegala Mountain in the Knuckles Range

a farmer tends his fields under Lakegala

a farmer tends his fields under Lakegala

farm dog poses with Lakegala Mountain in the background

farm dog poses with Lakegala Mountain in the background

After our lunch in front of the tea shop in Meemure,  a couple of local jeeps took us to Corbett’s Gap (also spelled Corbet’s and Corbert’s) for some great views of the main peaks of the Knuckles Range.

Given the nature of the road up to Corbett’s Gap, our bus driver had not driven the bus up to the meeting point. While our jeeps returned to Meemure, there was another vehicle waiting to take us down the series of severe switchbacks where we met up with him. This was just one of the many instances on our two-week tour when the excellence of our guide’s and his team’s work shone through. He was often on his cellphone making arrangements and ensuring that people were where they were supposed to be.  Everything worked seamlessly and little time was wasted standing around waiting.  Very impressive.  Perhaps I could have done all of this on my own but it would have taken an extra week and involved much more stress!   In the end, you do get what you pay for!

Corbett’s Gap at 1127 meters (3698 feet) provides a fantastic vantage point from which to take in some of the peaks of Knuckles Range.  In the two photos below I am looking south at some peaks framed by a bit of cloud.

a view of the peaks from Corbet's Gap

a view of the peaks from Corbet’s Gap

Corbet Gap View - with road

Corbet Gap View – with road

The jeeps gone, now our red truck sat there while we turned in various directions and gobbled up the scene. Up there with us was a tub-tuk who had brought up a visitor to check out the views.

Corbet Gap- photo time

Corbett’s Gap – photo time

I looked back to the north and spotted a bump on the horizon known as The Spinx.  Also visible on the hillside was the ruins of what once may have been a lodge and just a bit down below was a small farm.

delapidated sign and building at Corbet Gap

dilapidated sign and building at Corbett’s Gap

local farm dog watches the proceedings at Corbet Gap

local farm dog watches the proceedings at Corbet Gap

tuk tuk driver waits for his client at Corbet's Gap

tuk tuk driver waits for his client at Corbett’s Gap

looking back towards Meemure from Corbet's Gap

looking back towards Meemure from Corbett’s Gap

Eventually everyone had the photos they wanted and we hopped into the truck for our brief ride down to the waiting tour bus.  By 5:30 or so – the end of a busy day – we were approaching Orutota and our hotel for the night on a very scenic spot overlooking the Victoria Reservoir.

Corbett's Gap To Oruthota Chalets

Oruthota Chalets-2

We got to our rooms for the night just as the sun was disappearing for another day.  After unpacking and showering and all of that, we spent the evening at the outdoor covered restaurant, sampling some Sri Lankan beer and – for me as a vegetarian at least – more great rice and veg curry dishes.  My fellow travellers did ask if I didn’t get tired of rice and veg curry every day. My response – most of the dishes were excellent and, given the different cooks, were often quite different from each other.  So no – not boring at all.  Certainly no more boring than meat and potatoes!

Oruthota Chalet room near the Victoria Resevoir

our room at the Oruthota Chalets at the north end of the Victoria reservoir

I did get up early the next morning and, after checking the restaurant area to see if there was any coffee available,  wandered down to the banks of the reservoir.

Oruthota Chalets swimming pool with Victoria Resevoir in the distance

Oruthota Chalets swimming pool with Victoria reservoir in the distance

a view from the Oruthota Chalet dining area just after dawn

a view from the Oruthota Chalet dining area just after dawn

dawn view from the corner of the Oruthota Chalets dining area

dawn view from the corner of the Oruthota Chalets dining area

boatman at dawn on the Victoria Resevoir

boatman at dawn on the Victoria reservoir

dawn on Victoria Resevoir

dawn on Victoria reservoir

The Victoria Reservoir is the result of the Dam which was completed in 1984.  From our spot at Orutota to the dam itself at the other end of the reservoir is a straight line distance of ten kilometers.

Its dual purpose was to enhance irrigation and provided hydro-electric power but as a result of the project some 30,000 villagers and farmers had to be relocated. (See here for a Wikipedia article which provides the basic history.  You will also see where I found the image below – a photo by Rehman Abubakr shot in 2011.

Rehman Abubakr 2011 April ...from Wikipedia article on Victoria Dam

Later that morning we made the short ride into Kandy for a quick visit to the Temple of the Tooth and walk around the surrounding area.

Soon to come – Kandy and the Temple of the Tooth

Finding A Good Place To Pitch A Tent

When you’re on the move – hiking, mountaineering, canoeing – circumstances often dictate what small patch of the great outdoors you’ll be calling  home for the night. Sometimes the sheer beauty of the spot convinces you to stop moving for the day – even if it is a bit early. Sometimes you’re with an organized group and the decision is not yours to make.  Sometimes you have to stop because the weather is promising to turn nasty and going on would be foolish. And sometimes you stop because of what is on tap for the next day.

The last reason was certainly true of the spot below.  We had climbed up to a plateau about 800 meters below the peak of Nevado Tocllaraju in the Peruvian Andes, our objective for the next morning. It was late afternoon and we enjoyed the views and had supper at our high camp before crawling into our tents for some rest.  We would get up at 1:00 a.m. for our summit attempt.

Cordillera Blanca's Tocllaraju high camp

Cordillera Blanca’s Tocllaraju high camp

The tarps are up in the photo below because a storm had just come in, cutting short our progress in Ontario’s Temagami canoe country.  The next morning we would paddle the last 12 kilometers to our vehicle but for now the objective was to stay dry and warm!

both tarps up at the Sharp Rock Island campsite

both tarps up at the Sharp Rock Island campsite

Nothing like finding a sheltered spot, tucked away from the wind! We were half way across a glacier in British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains.  It was  near the end of the afternoon when we found this spot, complete with a puddle of water at the bottom for our cooking needs. The next night – quite the contrast – we’d sleep in the cosy Olive Hut complete with a gas stove and dishes.

35-camp-site-day-2

Sometimes you have to accept the fact that your tent will not be the only one around, that you’ll be sharing your space with other hikers who are attracted to the same thing that brought you there. This was certainly true of the three days I spent in a tent on the Inca Trail as it makes its way to Machu Picchu.  Every day another 1200 or so hikers set off at the start of the trail and given the numbers it works remarkably well.  As in the Himalayas, I had to remind myself that I was on a pilgrimage and not a wilderness trek.

Machu Picchu Camp Spot!-2

Day Two campsite on the Inca Trail in southern Peru

Chee-Skon Lake is an out-of-the-way lake in the middle of a Temagami old-growth forest that you need to do some portaging to get to. It is also the site of the Conjuring Rock, a massive granite pillar that figures in the traditional mythology of the local Ojibwe. We considered ourselves lucky to have the lake to ourselves for one day in October.  We pitched our tent on the choice spot directly across from the Conjuring Rock.  It is on the spit you see on the far side of the lake with our green tarp barely visible.

view of east end of Chee-skon from the rock face

tent spot on Chee-skon – look for the green tarp!

In the case of our Namche Bazaar tent site in Nepal’s Khumbu valley – it sits at the end of the long diagonal road going up from the center to the top left of the image – our trekking company had arranged a stay in front of the lodge on whose property the tents were set up. In the photo, the tents are the small blue dots.  We camped there for two nights, allowing our bodies to acclimatize before continuing our walk up to Everest Base Camp.

Namche Bazaar overview

Namche Bazaar overview

Sometimes, as I said above, you come to a spot and you just have to stop because it is so beautiful.  That was certainly true of this tiny slice of the Canadian Shield on the Kopka River north of Thunder Bay in Ontario.  A windless sunny day that became a clear evening with a star-filled sky and we had front row seats.

class Canadian Shield scene -exposed bedrock and black spruce

class Canadian Shield scene – exposed bedrock and black spruce

A walk down Bolivia’s Cordillera Real is certainly not lacking in dramatic campsites. The one below was just one of the many we walked into.  Thanks to an incredible trekking crew our tents were usually up when we arrived in camp, as was the mess tent with the waiting tea and cookies!  Here I’ve fallen behind the rest of the group a bit, having stopped to take yet another photo or two.

our campsite between Lagunas Khotia and Khara

our campsite (4472 m a.s.l.) between Lagunas Khotia and Khara

The Ishinca valley in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca has dozens of climbing objectives. My partner and I were biding our time at high camp in the tent below waiting for the early morning wake-up call for our own version of Maslow’s “peak experience”.

dsc03262-3

our Tocllaraju High Camp tent at 5300 m with a bit of snow

 

Tucked into the edge of a stand of trees, flat grassy terrain to push the pegs into, the River flowing by to a set of rapids just below the bottom right of the photo below – it was a perfect way to end another day on Manitoba’s Bloodvein River as it makes its way to Lake Winnipeg.

Day 12 Bloodvein Campsite just before W56 - gorge with swifts and CII

Day 12 Bloodvein Campsite just before W56 – gorge with swifts and CII

The Refugio Grey is a stop on the Torres del Paine circuit and has a camping area not far from the refuge, the restaurant, and the shower facilities. Having had a big day of walking the day before, I would make this day a short one.  I arrived at the beach below before noon and, after putting up my tent and showering, treated myself to lunch in the restaurant.

camp area at Refugio Grey in Chilean Patagonia

camp area at Refugio Grey in Chilean Patagonia

Sometimes a particular spot is so memorable that you talk about going back. My brother and I did just that when we canoed to Hobart Lake and one of our favourite campsites. A massive chunk of sloped granite leads up from the water to a flat area with twenty-meter high pine and spruce trees to tent under.   To the west is a great sunset view of Maple Mountain and the fire tower.  And the tent? It is barely visible – but is underneath the pine tree branches in the area behind the tripod! The site is large enough to host four or five tents but we had it to ourselves.

Hobarth Lake campsite overview

Hobart Lake campsite overview

We walked by the Applebee camp on our return from Bugaboo Spire and marvelled at the dramatic location of the camp, facing as it does some of the incredible granite spires that provide climbers with a range of challenging routes. However, we would not be staying!  We were on our way to the Conrad Kain Hut, a couple of hundred meters further down, where our food supplies and sleeping bags were waiting.  The views from the hut were not quite as dramatic as the one you see here!

B.C.'s Bugaboos Applebee Campsite

B.C.’s Bugaboos Applebee Campsite

I could only look on with envy from the ruins of the Chincana on Isla del Sol in Lago Titicaca as I saw the tent down below on the beach.  While I did have nice accommodation at the Ecolodge La Estancia in Yumani for the night, there is something about a tent and the freedom and flexibility it allows.  Those backpackers had the best room on the island!

Lake titicaca - Isla del Sol beach and campers

Lake Titicaca – Bolivia’s Isla del Sol beach and campers

Every once in a while, as I look at maps and surf the net for another place or two to pitch my tent, I think of Lao Tzu, the legendary writer of the Tao Te Ching. One poem in particular, # 47, comes to mind.  It reads like this –

Without opening your door,
you can know the whole world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the way of heaven.

The further you go,
the less you know.
The more knowledge you seek,
the less you understand.

The Sage understands without leaving,
sees clearly without looking,
accomplishes much without doing anything.

“Hey, True North, where do you think you’re going?” he says to me. “Don’t you know that you’re already there?  All your travels are only taking you further away from this obvious truth.”

the legendary Lao Tzu on his water buffalo heading into the Himalayas

And then I think back to his own legendary life and the fact that the collection of poems only came to be because a border guard insisted that he write down the essence of  his wisdom before he left the Middle Kingdom and continued towards the Himalayas on his water buffalo.

I want to shout out to him – “Hey, Lao Tzu,  where do you think you’re going?”

After crossing the border he was never heard of again.  We can only imagine the stupendous camp sites he came upon in his travels!

 

The Manigala Hike In Sri Lanka’s Knuckles Range (Dumbara Hills)

To the south of Dambulla – and to the north-east of Kandy – is one of Sri Lanka’s least-visited areas, the highlands area called the Dumbara Hills or, more exactly in Sinhala, Dumbara Kanduvetiya which translates as  “The Misty Mountains”.   The name is appropriate given the cloud cover often found at the 1000 meter plus sections of the range. The British would give it yet another name, referring to it as the Knuckles Range because from the Kandy area the appearance of the dominant peaks brought to mind the knuckles of a clenched fist!

Knuckles Forest Reserve

Our visit to the  Knuckles Range had  three main objectives:

  • a hike up to the Manigala ridge above Pitawala and Etanwala
  •  a walk from Ranamuregama to Meemure
  • a jeep ride from Meemure to Corbett’s Gap

Day One: The Manigala Hike

We left Dambulla before 8:00 a.m. stopping on the way to pick up fresh fruit and some nibbles and juices for the morning ride.  There were ten of us and our guide, as well as the bus driver and his helper on the journey.  We were on the first leg of  a tour put together by the U.K. adventure travel company Exodus (see here for the brochure.)   It would be about 11:30 by the time we got out of our tour bus. Lunch was waiting for us at a Pitawala home and we would spend an hour there before setting out.

approaching the start of our Knuckles Range hike

approaching the start of our Knuckles Range hike

sign for nearby Wasgamuwa National Park

sign for nearby Wasgamuwa National Park

Here is a satellite overview of the  area with the lush fields of the Pitawala valley framed by low hills on either side.  The ten-kilometer hike would take us from the valley (about 600 meters a.s.l.)  up the slopes of Manigala Hill (1100 m) and back down to  Illikumbura on the right hand side.  The sketch is a very rough approximation of our walk!

manigala-hike-satellite-overview

 

Note: The above image was generated by a free satellite service available from Google. You do need to install the Google Earth app to access it.  You will find it worth the effort!

In the photo below – taken from Manigala later on that afternoon – our starting point would almost in the dead center of the image.  We would walk to the left side of the photo following a rough village trail before gaining some 500 meters in altitude.

the starting point of our walk - a house at the very center of the image

the starting point of our walk – a house at the very center of the image

Guiding us for the day was a villager who, in contrast to the visiting hikers with their hiking boots and trekking poles, did the walk in flip-flops! Luckily for all of us the ground was dry and that the forest cover meant we were rarely without shade in the afternoon sun.  There our guide sits in the photo below!

hiking group ready to set off

hiking group ready to set off

lush fields near Illukkumbura hike start

lush rice fields near Pitawala  hike start

village road alongisde the valley

village road in the valley

As we made our way up the valley there was lots of evidence of irrigation works to harness the water of the Thelgamu Oya (River).

simple irrigation works on the edge of the valley as we walk up

In the photo below the Thelgamu Oya tumbles down through rocks while a local woman does some washing.

small waterfalls in the valley

small waterfalls in the valley

Eventually we came to point where we crossed the river and started our gradual ascent on age-old village paths. Some stretches of the path were made with concrete or stone blocks as in the image below.  On a couple of occasions the path would come to a fork and we would take one and wonder where the other led. The most likely answer – to another village! These are clearly paths with a purpose and not wilderness trails.

our villager guide in motion up a stone path

our villager guide in motion up a stone path

Here is a Google Earth view of the bump that is Manigala Hill or Mountain.  We came up to it from the right hand side and would spend an hour walking the length of the ridge to the left.

another view of Manigala hill and the valley below

another view of Manigala hill and the valley below

Thanks to the five hundred meter height gain we had views  like the one you see in the photo below.  At the start of the plateau  I put the camera into panorama mode so that I could capture more of the scene before us.  Down below is the valley which we had walked; on the far side is another mountain spine. Visible on the ridge is the Riverstone SLT telecommunications tower!

panorama - looking back from the other side of the valley

panorama – looking back down the valley from a ridge on the other side

Not a lot of shade up on top of the ridge so the breeze was appreciated!  We walked along the ridge, took lots of breaks to sip on water and enjoy the views – it was about 3:30 and we had spent about two and a half not too strenuous hours getting up there.

looking further up the Knuckles Range

looking further up the Knuckles Range

50 shades of green - looking at the Knuckles Range forest cover

50 shades of green – looking at the Knuckles Range forest cover

rock face overlooking Knuckles Range valley

rock face overlooking Knuckles Range valley

Trip reports on the Manigala hike sometimes have images of tents inserted right about here.  It seems that some groups spend the night up there before heading back down on the other side the next morning.  I did see some evidence of tent spots not far from where our villager/guide is standing in the photo below.

our guide watches as his guests look for a private spot

our guide watches as his guests look for a private spot

We would stay well hydrated and make our way down to the Illikumbura side later that afternoon. On our way back down we would pass through areas that had been cultivated and/or turned into grazing grounds.

break time on a ridge in the Knuckles Range

break time on a ridge in the Knuckles Range

one of the Knuckles Range's many valleys

one of the Knuckles Range’s many valleys

a view of the valley floor we had walked up two hours previously

a view of the valley floor we had walked up two hours before from right to left

terraced rice fields down below in a Knuckles Range valley

terraced rice fields down below in a Knuckles Range valley

water buffalo chillin' in a plateau top stream

water buffalo chillin’ in a Knuckles Range plateau top stream

water buffalo chillin' in a plateau top stream

For some reason I did not take any photos of our descent to the Illikumbura Forest Office.  I do recall that the trail back down was much rougher than the path up to the ridge from the other side. Parts were quite steep with occasionally challenging footing.  I made major use of my trekking poles – now a dozen centimetres longer – for the descent. Some without poles had trouble negotiating the path and every once in a while those in front would wait until the rest caught up.  Making things easier was a dry as opposed to wet and muddy path.

After an hour of down the other side of the hill we finished the day with a  short walk to  our home for the night – a safari-style camp set up on the banks of the Thelgamu Oya  with a bungalow above serving as the kitchen and accommodation for the staff.  In front of the bungalow was  a covered porch which would become the dining area the next morning.

In the photo below you can see a couple of the tents as well as a shower and a toilet tent that have been set up. The river is to the left; the bungalow is on a flat area above.

our campsite on the banks of the Thelgamu Oya

When we got to the camp it was already getting late – about 6 p.m. Some of us went down to the river to wash away the day’s sweat.  It looked quite idyllic in the setting sun and I told myself that I’d have to get up early the next morning to get some dawn shots of the Thelgamu.

river running past our Knuckles Range camp spot

river running past our Knuckles Range camp spot

The tent itself – with room for two on separate camp beds  – was a few notches above the kind of camping I am used to – it was definitely quite plush! It would definitely qualify as a level of camping referred to as glamping!

I will admit to not being a big fan of bugs and insects, especially ones I have never seen before.  Black flies and mosquitos I know and can deal with.  I picked up the insect below from my roommate’s bed cover and put him outside the tent.  I also made sure that the bug net hanging over the bed was all tucked in before I fell asleep.

crawler in our Knuckles Range Tent!

crawler in our Knuckles Range Tent!

Without a doubt the Knuckles Range provides those who take the time to visit with many unforgettable walks through verdant forests with scenic hilltop views.  Unlike other places (like Nepal, let’s say) where a generation or two of hikers has helped the locals develop a trekking infrastructure, things in Sri Lanka are in their very infancy. A visit to the Range is best done through a hiking/trekking agency which knows the terrain and has the know-how and the contacts to make it all happen – from transportation to routes to accommodation to food to guides.

See the next post for some pix of the Thelgamu Oya at dawn, as well as other highlights like the pyramid-shaped Lakegala peak above the fields of Meemure and the view from Corbett’s Gap.

Soon to be posted: A Short Hike In Sri Lanka’s Knuckles Range – Day Two


A  2012 trip report from a local group from Colombo describes a hike which started with a walk to the top of the hill on one side of the valley – the one with the communications tower.  Then they walked back down and followed the village trail  up to the Manigala ridge  where they camped for the night before walking back down on the Illukkumbura side –  see here for the write-up and pix.  ____________________________________________________________________________

The Aukana Buddha: Sri Lanka’s Colossal Standing Rock Statue

Previous Post: A Visit To The Ruins Of Polonnaruwa – Part Two

The previous day I had visited the ruins of Polonnaruwa, the capital of a short-lived Sinhalese kingdom which flourished for less than two hundred years until an invading army from India led to its abandonment as its inhabitants fled to the still-Sinhalese south.  While there I had marvelled at a number of the structures and monuments but one site stood out. The artistry, the technical skill,  and the sheer scale of the Buddha figures carved out of the granite rock at Gal Vihara were all impressive, as was the remarkable shape that they were still in 800 years later.

Gal Vihara's standing and reclining Buddha sculptures

Gal Vihara’s standing and reclining Buddha sculptures

While the reclining Buddha’s body stretches  14 meters (46′), the standing Buddha figure with its unusual crossed-arms mudra is almost 7 meters (23′) high. Impressive indeed!

That afternoon I returned from Polonnaruwa to my base camp in Dambulla, itself the location of an incredible collection of more recent (250 years ago) Buddhist devotional painting and sculpture inside a large cave in which five separate “rooms” had been created. And now, the next morning, my hired driver and I were off for a half-day visit with the famed Aukana Buddha.

Sri Lanka's central plains area - the cultural triangle

Sri Lanka’s central plains area – a part of the famed Cultural Triangle

The road to Aukana is a well-travelled one over which the taxi driver had taken many visitors staying in Dambulla.  We were there in less than an hour.  I bought an entry/photo permit and made the short walk up to the site, taking my shoes off at the entrance.

Aukana entrance ticket:photo permit

note the spelling of Aukana on the ticket – a common alternative spelling is Avukana…Google maps prefers Avukana!

At over 14 meters (40′) high, this Aukana Buddha figure, also  carved from a granite rock face,  is Sri Lanka’s tallest. Its Pali name translates as “eating the sun” , a suitable one given that it faces east towards the great Kala Wewa reservoir. The artificial lake was constructed during the time of Dhatusena in the 470’s C.E. (that is, about 1550 years ago).

Missing from the photo below is a human figure to give some sort of scale to the colossal statue. The two-level pedestal on which the figure is standing is about 1.5 meters (5′) high!

the Aukana Buddha - full view

the Aukana Buddha – full view

Still a mystery is exactly when this work was commissioned and done.  Scanning the literature, two dates seemed to be mentioned most often. The reign of Dhatusena (455-473 C.E.), the builder of the nearby reservoir in the 470’s C.E., is the earliest time period to which the work is credited. Douglas Bullis, in his commentary on the Mahavamsa, has a brief passage where he comments on the date issue.  He writes:

The statue seems to have been carved at the same time the great Kalawewa Reservoir was being built by King Dhatusena, perhaps as a permanent protective image for his great reservoir.  (Mahavamsa, 280)

Wikipedia entries and a number of guide books place the statue’s creation at this time. The writer of this buddhanet.net article on the statue provides some circumstantial evidence which may support such a date. We read –

Avukana’s ancient name is unknown and so is the king who made its fine statue. In the 18th century the place was called Kalagal which in Pali would be Kalasela. A place called Kalasela is mentioned in the Culavamsa as containing an image for which King Dhatusena (455-73) had a diadem made. As Aukuana’s statue dates from around the 5th century BCE it may well be the place mentioned in the chronicle.

Note the alternative spelling of Aukana in the quote above. Also note the writer’s error in using B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) instead of C.E.(Common Era) , acronyms used these days instead of B.C. and A.D. While the intent was to move away from the overtly Christian focus of the old way of organizing the past, the birth of Jesus is still the dividing line!

Aukana Buddha - side view

Aukana Buddha – side view

The Aukana Buddah receiving worshippers

The Aukana Buddha receiving worshippers

Shwegugale seated Buddha in the Have No Fear mudra

Shwegugale Buddha Have No Fear mudra

Only a narrow section of rock face connects the Buddha statue to the rest of the rock. The pedestal on which the statue stands is carved of a separate piece of rock which was later slid under the feet of the statue! In Buddhist iconography hand positions are used to convey different meanings and moments in the Buddha’s life story.  The one exhibited here is a version of one called the Abhaya mudra, the “Have No Fear” everything-is-cool position. However, it does not have the usual palm facing forward as in the image of the seated Buddha to the left.  The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka has this observation –

The statue is in the unusual (for Sri Lanka) asisa mudra, the blessing position, with the right hand turned sideways to the viewer, as though on the point of delivering a swift karate chop. (See here for source)

There are two other standing Buddha statues in Sri Lanka roughly contemporary with the Aukana one which also depict the Buddha in a similar mudra.  See the end of this post for more.

the Aukana Buddha minus his ushnisha!

the Aukana Buddha minus his ushnisha!

Visible on the sides of the rock face are the foundation walls of what would have been an image house.  Twenty-three meters long and nineteen meters wide  and high enough  to contain the entire figure, it would have been the focal point of the monastic community which had already existed around the rock before the carving had begun.

the head and ushisha of the Aukana Buddha

the head and flame-like ushnisha of the Aukana Buddha

The second date given by some scholars is one some three or four hundred years after Dhatasena – i.e. after Dhatasena but before the collapse of Anuradhapura to the invading Chola army in 992.   In Shifting Stones, Shaping the Past: Sculpture from the Buddhist Stupas of Andhra Pradesh (Oxford University Press.2014), the author Catherine Becker states that –

Dated roughly from the sixth through the ninth centuries, this rock-cut Buddha stands fourteen meters in height. The rendering of its robe, the slim. columnar representation of the body, and the general position of the hands all recall the Buddhas of ancient Andhra and attest to centuries of cross-cultural exchange between Andhra and Sri Lanka. (Becker 161-162)

The rock statue is located in forested area but is not the only Buddhist monument in the immediate area.  Facing it perhaps thirty meters away is a round rock face upon which I sat for some time and took in the tranquil scene.  Other than a few Sinhalese visitors there was only one other tourist – a hardcore German traveller – perhaps sixty years old – who had gotten there by local bus and foot over the past day from Anuradhapura.  At the end of my visit he would accept my offer of a ride to Dambulla.

aukana-google-earth-satellite-view

To the north-east of the statue on a plateau I found a couple of other essential ingredients of a Sinhalese Buddhist religious site – a Maha Bodhi Tree shrine and a small hollow shell of a  dagoba (i.e. stupa).  Draped all around the tree – often connected in some way with the original Bodhi Tree under which Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha – were strings of a Buddhist flag different from the one seen in the Himalayas. This one has six vertical bands of different colours symbolizing the aura which Siddhartha Gautama’s body is said to have emitted at the moment he became the Buddha, the Awakened One. Its creation goes back to the late nineteenth century at a time of Buddhist revival in Sri Lanka.

Bodhi Tree Shrine and stupa with inner shrine

Bodhi Tree Shrine and stupa with inner shrine

the base of Aukana's Bodhi Tree shrine

the base of Aukana’s Bodhi Tree

The hollow bell-shaped stupa is located at the northern edge of the site, looking like its annual paint job was late in coming.

stupa-shaped shrine at Aukana

stupa-shaped shrine at Aukana

A peek inside the stupa revealed a mishmash of cultic objects around a large seated Buddha figure.  It was in the Touching The Earth pose taken by Siddhartha Gautama at the moment of his Enlightenment.  Coins lay strewn on the mat in front of the statue.

somewhat tacky interior of the stupa

the somewhat tacky interior of the stupa

As I walked away from the stupa and back to the Aukana Buddha statue, I remember thinking that while the level of contemporary devotion and sincerity may not have changed from the past, artistic sensibilities certainly had.  On the plus side, at least  this Buddha was spared the indignity of a flashing multi-coloured neon halo surrounding his head like the one that I would see in Pagan, Myanmar a few months later.

Aukana Buddha head

Aukana Buddha head – a last look

offerings left at the feet of the Aukana Buddha

offerings left at the feet of the Aukana Buddha

Other Standing Buddha Figures In Sri Lanka: 

In preparing this post I ended up scouring the internet for information and  images of other colossal standing Buddha figures found in Sri Lanka.  Here is some of what I found:

1. The Sasseruwa Buddha at Raswehera

Aukana to Raswehera (Sassevera)

Aukana to Raswehera (Sassevera)

Sasseruwa - standing Buddha statueNot far from Aukana – about 11 kilometers as the crow flies but somewhat farther by road! – is the Raswehera Buddha.  It is a real challenge to get to given the secondary or worse roads that you need to take. To complicate matters even the taxi drivers are often not sure about the exact route given the infrequency of requests to go there!  The reward is a statue of almost identical height that looks much the Aukana but is in an unfinished state. It has a somewhat different mudra than the Aukana statue and is lacking the flame ushnisha (the bump on top of the head).

One story goes like this – a master carver and one of his students engaged in a competition to see  who could finish the task of carving a colossal Buddha the fastest – and most artistically.  It would seem the master won – and the student just put down his tools.  Given the positive karma involved in carving a Buddha figure and the disrespect in not finishing the job, you’d think the student would have kept on chiseling and sanding away!  The site of the Raswehera Buddha was also the location of a monastic community and given the caves and Kandyan-influenced wall paintings à la Dambulla as well as other monuments, it sounds like it would make a great day trip – led by someone who knew how to get there!

2.The Maligawila Free-Standing Buddha

Buddha colossus

Believed to have been sculpted in the 600’s C.E., the above Maligawila Buddha figure stands 11.5 meters (38′)  tall.  Unlike the Aukana Buddha it is free-standing and not attached to a rear rock face.  Apparently when it was found in 1951 it was broken in pieces and subsequently glued back together again.  It is difficult to see any evidence of the breaks from the image above.

While it exhibits the same unusual hand mudra as the Aukana Buddha , it does not have the Aukana Buddha’s flame ushnisha.  Instead, it has the more classic round bump on top of the head. It would be interesting to further research the development of the ushnisha in Buddhist art – it might help to date the various statues.

3. The Buduruwagala Buddha

overview of the Buduruwagala Site

overview of the Buduruwagala Site

buduruwagala buddha - head and handsThe Buduruwagala Buddha is one of seven Buddhist figures carved in the rock face – the others are bodhisattvas important in the Mahayana strain of Buddhism like Avalokiteshvara and his female consort Tara.

Of all the Buddhas mentioned here, this one is the tallest at 16 meters (51′); it is also the most crudely realized and is still a part of the rock face to such an extent that the word “statue” is not the right word to describe it. The hand position is clearly in the Abhaya mudra, unlike those shown in the other Buddhas mentioned.  The pronounced ushnisha on top of the head does not seem to be of the flame sort.

rough-guide-sri-lanka-cover-222x341I would highly recommend  The Rough Guide To Sri Lanka both as a general guide for your visit to Sri Lanka as well as for its coverage of the Cultural Triangle.  It provides maps and insightful commentary on all the major sites and includes information about many of the minor ones like Aukana and Raswehera.

Given that I knew pretty much zero about the ancient history of Sri Lanka before I arrived in Dambulla on Day One of my Sri Lanka visit, the hard copy book was often open – both during the day as I wandered through the various sites and at night while I prepared for another day’s site-seeing.

 

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A Visit To The Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Ancient Polonnaruwa – Part Two

Previous Post: A Visit To The Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Ancient Polonnaruwa – Part 1

I had spent the first two hours visiting The Citadel area and the Quadrangle. It was a bit past 11 and, given the relative lack of shade, I was noticing the heat as I wandered the sites and bicycled the roads between them.  Yet to come were  some impressive  dagobas, image houses, and 3-D Buddhas carved out of the granite rock face.   I left the main road and headed down the path to Shiva Devale no. 2 – Here is a Youtube clip which nicely illustrates the ride!

Chola Empire around 1100 C.E.

Chola Empire around 1100 C.E.

It is not the only Hindu temple in the ancient city – Shiva Devale No. 1 is just in between the Citadel and the Quadrangle but I hadn’t visited.  And later I would cycle by small temple ruins dedicated to the Hindu gods Vishnu and Ganesha.  They had been constructed during the three-quarters of a century that the Cholas (a south Indian Hindu Tamil dynasty) had ruled much of the northern and central part of Sri Lanka.

Shiva Devale no. 2 is said to be ancient Polonnaruwa’s oldest surviving building, and dates to the early 1000’s C.E. It was apparently meant as a memorial to one of the queens of the Chola king Rajaraja, under whom the Indian invaders destroyed Anuradhapura in 993 and established their power base in Polonnaruwa. Unlike the bricks and mortar construction of a Sinhala temple, this one features Indian-style solid stone work.

Visible behind the temple are two of the Nandis associated with the temple.

Polonnaruwa's oldest building - Siva Devale #2

Polonnaruwa’s oldest building – Siva Devale #2

Looking at the Joseph Lawton photo from 1870, it is clear that some restoration work has been done over the past 150 years, especially on the dome. My photo is of the front of the temple; Lawton’s shows the back and one side of the structure.

Shiva Devale No. 2 ©Victoria and Albert Collection. London.

Shiva Devale No. 2 ©Victoria and Albert Collection. London.

Lawton mislabelled the temple as a Vishnu temple. The Nandi figures and the lingam are associated with Shiva, the aspect of the Hindu Godhead (the Trimurti) associated with death and destruction.

The Pabalu Vihara Area:

Not far from the Shiva temple are the remains of a monastic community with an impressive – the third largest in Polonnaruwa – brick dagoba. Modern renovations have turned it into a two-levelled strcture with a rather flat top. It would be interesting to see a photo of the dagoba from 1870 in order to see what it looked like before it was reconstructed.

Pabalu Vihara = a dagoba to the north of the Quadrangle at Polonnaruwa

Pabalu Vihara = a dagoba to the north of the Quadrangle at Polonnaruwa

Pabalu Vihara Buddha with headless attendants

Pabalu Vihara –  Buddha with headless attendants

Pabalu Vihara - a side view of the stupa

Pabalu Vihara – a side view of the stupa

the back side of the Pabulu Vihara

the back side of the Pabalu Vihara

Going further north we now leave the confines of the walled ancient city and come to one of the many monastic communities which were established around image houses and dagobas.  I passed by the ruins of the Menik Vihara and headed for Rankot Vihara

north of the Gates of Ancient Polonnaruwa

The glory days of Polonnaruwa revolve around three rulers.

  • The first was Vijayabahu I (circa 1070-1110), who defeated the Chola (i.e. Indian Tamil) invaders who had built up the city as their capital and had ruled for a half-century.
  • After a period of civil war he was followed by Parakramabahu I (1153-1186), the most successful and ambitious of the three.  During his reign, sometimes labelled as the city’s Golden Age,  much of what is visible in the ruins of the ancient city was built.
  • He was followed by Nissanka Malla I (1187-1196). His nickname The Vainglorious sums up his reign.

After these three rulers a series of weak and ineffective rulers eventually ended with the invasion of yet another Indian kingdom (the Kalinga) which put an end to Polonnaruwa as the Sinhalese fled the city for points further south.

a first view of the Rankot Vihara - the largest of Polonnaruwa's dagobas

a first view of the Rankot Vihara – the largest of Polonnaruwa’s dagobas

The construction of the dagoba at the Rankot Vihara is attributed to Nissanka Malla I. It follows the classic design of the Anuradhapura dagobas of a thousand years before and, next to that ancient city’s massive stupas, is the fourth largest in Sri Lanka. Its base diameter is 170 meters (550 feet) and as it stands now it is 33 meters (108 feet) high. On top of the anda, the dome-shaped bottom, sits the square harmika and on top of that the spire.

The image below shows the extent to which the structure was overgrown in 1870’s when the British photographer Joseph Lawton visited the area and made his remarkable images.

The Rankot Dágoba

The Rankot Dagoba – a photograph by Lawton 1870-71.©Victoria and Albert Collection. London.

Surrounding the base of the stupa  are small shrines, some still the object of worship by visiting Buddhists. The photo below is of the main shrine on the north side of the dagoba. To its left one of the secondary shrines is visible.

The Rankot Vihara - Sri Lanka's 4th largest

The Rankot Vihara – Sri Lanka’s 4th largest

The dagoba is essentially a mound of earth and dirt covered with a skin of brick and mortar. Somewhat squat in appearance, it lacks the more semi- spherical look of Anarahapura’s stupas.

the top of the Rankot Vihara dagoba

the top of the Rankot Vihara dagoba

The name Rajkot is apparently derived from two Sinhala words – ran meaning “gold” and kotha meaning “pinnacle”.  These days there is no gold leaf covering the brick and mortar spire.

offerings and incense at the base of the dagoba

offerings and incense at the base of the dagoba

internal shrine on the side of Polonnaruwa's Rankot dagoba

internal shrine on the side of Polonnaruwa’s Rankot dagoba

From the Rajkot Dagoba it was a short ride to the monastery area named Alahana Pirivena.  The image below shows some of the mini-stupas on terraces not far from the Lankatilaka. The monastery was associated with cremation rituals and the stupas may be those of those of the city’s upper class. Also visible on the middle left of th image are standing columns of one of the monastic residences that would have existed.

mini-dagobas on a terrace near the Lankatilaka

mini-dagobas on a terrace near the Lankatilaka

As I approached the Lankatilaka, Sri Lanka’s most impressive gedige or image house, I thought of similar temples built to house statues of Zeus and Athena in ancient Greece.  There too the statues were so tall that their heads just fit under the roofs of the structures built to house them.

Much of Athena’s temple – the Parthenon in Athens – still stands but the  statue is no longer there. And nothing remains of Zeus’ temple in Olympia or of the statue of Zeus, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient Greek world. Here we have the brick walls and back of the temple still standing.  The wooden roof is no more and most of the standing Buddha figure – built of brick and then more finely sculpted with stucco – has not survived.

approaching the Lankatilaka

approaching the Lankatilaka

Lankatilaka - Joseph Lawton photo from 1870-71

Lankatilaka – Joseph Lawton photo from 1870-71. ©Victoria and Albert Collection. London.

The Lankatilaka, one of the main structures built during the reign of Parakramabahu I, had as its focal point the 15 meter high standing Buddha, standing on a lotus pedestal.  He was probably  shown in the common  “Have No fear” mudra (pose)  with his right hand raised and open.

The Lankatilaka's standing Buddha - bottom part

The Lankatilaka’s standing Buddha –

the Lankatilaka's standing Buddha - top

the Lankatilaka's standing Buddha - bottom

the Lankatilaka’s standing Buddha – bottom

Just to the north of the Lankatilaka is the next of Polonnaruwa’s sites, the Kiri Vihara. The days it is a gleaming white stupa, thanks to a recent paint job.  It was somewhat  overgrown when photographed by Joseph Lawton in 1870,but the shrubs and trees that had somehow rooted themselves in the cracks between the bricks have been cleared.

Kiri Vihara - Polonnaruwa dagoba next to Lankatilaka

Kiri Vihara – Polonnaruwa dagoba next to Lankatilaka

Do note that visitors are required to remove their footwear when entering any grounds considered sacred,  It was now about 1 in the afternoon and I still remember the heat of the bricks on the terrace burning the bottoms of my feet as I walked around the stupa. To deal with the heat, those not accustomed to walking barefoot – i.e. most westerners – sometimes bring socks to wear.  It would be interesting to know if this “solution” is acceptable – or if it still considered disrespectful in the eyes of the locals. On another note, I did walk around the stupa clockwise  as seems to be the custom in Sri Lanka (but not, I might add, at Buddhist sites  in Myanmar, where other taboos seem to be more important).

Rankot dagoba -_

Kiri Vihara Dagoba. Joseph Lawton photo. ©Victoria and Albert Collection. London.

Back on the bike again, I headed over to what would be my last site visit of the day.  Somewhat dehydrated, needing some lunch, and feeling the heat of the day, i had hit my limit.  I am glad, however, that I did not turn back right then and there but headed over to the Gal Vihara Buddhas. What I would see is the most impressive of Polonnaruwa’s various sites – superbly executed rock carvings on a large scale which are still in remarkable shape given their age.

Gal Vihara's seated Buddha

Gal Vihara’s seated Buddha

Carved into a south-facing granite rock face are a series of Buddha figures in various poses. The images above and below show the first of the four – a seated Buddha shown in  the mediation pose (Dhyana mudra)  and in the state known as samadhi. The 4.6 meter high (15′) figure was originally contained within an image house built around it. Parts of the brick wall foundation and a few sockets where wooden beams would have been inserted into the rock face are still evident.

Gal Vihara seated Buddha figure - circa 1870 photo by Joseph Lawton - Victoria and Albert Collection

Gal Vihara seated Buddha figure  –  ©Victoria and Albert Collection. London.

Next to the seated Buddha – and inside an artificial cave cut into the rock – is another seated Buddha in the same pose. It is apprently 1.4 meters high (4’7”).  The area was not open to the public when I was there. The image below shows the entire Gal Vihara site with  the seated outdoor Buddha on the extreme left and then the scaffolding in front of the Samadhi Buddha in the cave. Also visible are a standing Buddha figure and a reclining Buddha.

Gal Vihara site - the standing and reclining Buddhas

Gal Vihara site – the standing and reclining Buddhas

The standing Buddha, once thought to be a representation of Ananda, the faithful disciple of the Buddha, is now held by most to be a standing Buddha figure.  Evidence of a separate image house enclosing the figure and separating it from the reclining Buddha break the apparent connection between the two.  Somewhat puzzling is the unusual crossed-arms mudra that the figure is depicted in – it is not one I have ever seen.

standing Buddha or Ananda at Gal Vihara - Joseph Lawton.©Victoria and Albert Collection. London.

standing Buddha or Ananda at Gal Vihara – ©Victoria and Albert Collection. London.

An interesting point mentioned in a Wikipedia article on the site (click here to read) is that the carvings may originally have been covered with gold leaf. This would definitely have given them a glow within the confines of the candle-lit image houses that would have been the worship focal point of the monks whose residences surrounded the carvings.

close up of the standing and reclining Buddhas

close up of the standing and reclining Buddhas

reclining Buddha figure at Gal Vihara in Polonnaruwa - photo by Joseph Lawton circa 1870

reclining Buddha figure at Gal Vihara in Polonnaruwa – ©Victoria and Albert Collection. London.

close up of the reclining Buddha - Gal Vihara at Polonnaruwa

close up of the reclining Buddha – Gal Vihara at Polonnaruwa

I had been on the move for over five hours by this point.  I looked at the map and checked my Rough Guide to Sri Lanka guidebook to see what else I should get to – the Lotus Pond and the Tivanka Image House.

Given how I was feeling – and given the heat of the afternoon – I decided to turn back to the entrance and my waiting taxi driver. As I mentioned at the start of the first Polonnaruwa post, I regretted not just using my taxi driver for the day – or even better, having come to Polonnaruwa the night before to allow for an earlier morning start with a tuk-tuk driver as my guide and transportation.

My day with the ruins of ancient Polonnaruwa had been absolutely worth it.  Along with another day spent in Anuradhapura and most of a day at Sigiriya, my visit provided me with a better idea of the impressive accomplishments of the Sinhalese people of a thousand and two thousand years ago. The builders of stupas which rivalled the pyramids of Egypt in size and the guardians and transmitters of the Buddha’s teachings to other parts of Asia from their vibrant viharas – certainly a legacy to be proud of.

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