Chapter VI: Kick the Bucket

A bell rang out. It echoed along corridors, upstairs and across playing fields. The building came to life but the world was grey and grainy. Young people spewed out of classrooms and meandered around the school to their next destination. The noise was almost unbearable. Bells resonated beneath the harsh sound of teenage gossip. But there was more. A loud fuzzy sound, like a detuned radio, hissed above it all. No one seemed to notice.

Students went about their own business. The normal day to day of talking to the right people, wearing the right clothes, even saying the right thing put blinkers on their lives. Nobody saw the boy at the top of the stairs in his baggy hooded jumper and low riding jeans. But he saw them. He saw them as though he watched an old black and white movie.

The corridors quietened as classes resumed. Teachers carried on teaching, students carried on leaning. Life went on as though the boy had never been a part of it. Still, the white noise persisted. The scene flickered. The boy grew angry.

Brigid held the excess reams of her long green skirt. It made it easier to walk across the precarious gallery that lined the pit in the compound. An engineer with a PhD in the history of art had joined the women as they inspected Mark 356.

“I thought that they would look endearing,” the doctor of art said. His voice with clipped with a Mediterranean twang. The words were softened by his long white beard. Even if he was slightly rattled by being called up to explain the process of his thoughts to Madam Brigid he did not show it.

Brigid looked from the man back to the tall statues that held Mark 356 in place. “I suppose I can see where you’re coming from,” she said, “I just, well, they are quite imposing. Do they have to be so tall?”

“Of course,” the man responded, “If they were any smaller then 356 would roll away. And simple scaffolding is so boring.”

Brigid looked at the small man. While she did not approve of his long hair or beard, at least he had the decency to keep it neatly tied back.

“Quite,” she said. “Remind me of what I’m looking at.”

“Here we have a vole,” the man, Frank, pointed out, “This one is a heron, over there is a human and on the opposite side we have a fish. I’m not sure what species.”

“Right,” Brigid said. She studied the long beaked bird statue from a distance. “And why are they wearing cloaks and hoods?”

“You must be familiar with Hieronymus Bosch. The great medieval artist,” Frank confirmed.

“Getting more familiar every time I hear that name,” Brigid said. She tapped her knuckles on the side of the fifteen foot stone vole.

“I’ve always admired his work,” Frank continued, “Such imagination and expression, especially when one considers the period.”

Brigid ran her palm over the smooth stone surface.

Frank laughed to himself and said, “And who knew that there was some truth behind what he painted?”

Brigid hitched up her skirt just above the ankles and walked past Frank.

“Can I see inside it,” she said, completely ignoring the man’s comments. “I want to see inside it.”

Frank exchanged a quick glance at his colleagues who had brought Madam Brigid to him.

“It’s not quite ready yet,” he answered.

Brigid stopped and turned to look at him with an eyebrow raised.

“You mean to tell me that most energies have been spent carving a zoo over building the machine?” she asked.

Frank shook his head. His beard billowed in the movement. “No Madam Brigid,” he said, “Of course the necessary work has taken place to ensure that this project will be completed in a timely manner.” Frank looked to the academics behind him for reassurance. “I felt that to create the wonder inside, the external beauty must be completed,” he said. A slight smile lifted his facial hair. “I suppose,” he continued, “it is like the chicken and the egg.”

“I care less for metaphors than I do art,” Brigid said with minimal emotion. “Science is key. Without science you would have no art, no chickens or eggs and certainly no mile high rats in human clothing.” Brigid said. She took a long look at Frank and said, “Apologies.” She smoothed the arms on her jacket and neatly clasped her hands. “Please excuse me,” she said before she walked past her chosen great minds and out of the pit. She could not vocalise her thoughts that if she wanted something done, she would have to do it herself. It would not be proper.

“Can you see them?” Papa asked.

The boy barely heard him above the noise in his head. But Papa’s voice was deep. It carried well across the planes. The boy nodded.

“Can you feel them?” Papa asked.

The boy nodded.

“Can you smell them?”

The boy nodded.

“Now,” Papa whispered in the boy’s ear, “scream.”

The boy stalled. He could not scream. He could not even talk. He had not used those skills since he arrived in Necropolis.

“You can do it boy,” Papa said, “You always could.”

The boy hesitated.

“Scream,” Papa repeated the word.

The boy felt a tight sensation deep in his stomach. Something had sprouted. It grew. He could feel the warmth rise and course its way through his body. It soon reached his throat but that was as far as it could go. The warm feeling was stuck. It needed to escape. It needed to move but there was a hard surface above it. The warm feeling grew hotter. If the boy’s throat would not give way, the sensation would have to break through.

The internal heat turned even hotter until it exploded. The hot feeling came out of the boy’s mouth and roared around the small cave and beyond. It fired up to the light that tried to illuminate the deep space. It burned down the empty school corridor.

A woman stepped out of a cupboard with a silver bucket a nearly new mop. She walked along the corridor to the place where the young man stood.

He stared at the cleaner. He vaguely recognised her, even though the world had turned grey and flickered. His eyes did not falter from her. He felt ten feet tall. He was a lion and she was his prey. The young man felt the fire inside him and screamed.

The cleaner stood still and looked towards the boy. She had heard a faint noise, but could not quite place it. She looked along the corridor to where the sound had come from. Fear widened her eyes.

The cleaner shuddered as she felt a breeze, but the fear did not last long. It was abated by a sneeze and an extended nose wipe on her arm. Unphased, the cleaner walked towards the boy. She did not notice him. She walked through him. The boy felt the shiver that the cleaner had just experienced. He shuddered beneath his hooded jumper hidden in the cave. The young man’s anger fired up again. The cleaner had ignored him, even though he stood right in front of her. He cried out again.

The young man saw the cleaner walk up the stairs in the black and white school. She had not seen him. But it was impossible. He stood right there. He had screamed at her. She could not have not noticed him. The boy grunted and ran towards the cleaner. She would notice him, he would make sure of it.

The young man launched himself from the steps and into the woman. Somehow, he missed. She did not notice him once again. She had been distracted by the mop and cleaning a particular corner of the first floor. He must have passed right through her when he jumped. Frustrated, the young man cried out towards the cleaner. A faint whisper blew past her ear.

The cleaner looked up. She had definitely heard something that time. The boy saw her reaction. He was making progress. But it wasn’t enough. He cried out again. The woman looked at him. She looked beyond him. Despite his best efforts the boy remained invisible to the cleaner. Somehow, he needed to get her attention. If she could hear him then surely she must be able to feel him.

The young man took a few steps back. He would throw himself at her and send her down the stairs. That would definitely catch her attention. But she would not stay still. She stepped to the bucket, dipped the mop and threw the wet tassels around. The cleaner was not gentle in her work. Sporadic circles glistened under the stark light of the school, as though a giant slug had danced through the corridor. The boy assessed the best way to get her attention. It would be difficult. She moved too much, too vigorously. The bucket on the other hand would be much easier to move.

The young man studied the bucket while he decided the best course of action. The cleaner, oblivious to him, returned the mop to the bucket, rinsed and continued to half-heartedly clean the floor. He readied himself for the assault on the bright bucket. He stared at his target and charged towards it, fuelled by frustration. He screamed as he ran towards it. He knew that it could hurt. The bucket was near the stairs, and gravity would bring him down them. But at that moment that was not too much of a concern. He needed to let the cleaner know that he was there.

The bucket came near and the boy sped up. When he was close enough he kicked out his leg with all of his anger. He made contact with the bucket but it was not as dramatic as he hoped. As he passed through the dulled tin and floated above the stairs like a feather, the young man turned to look at the cleaner.

The bucket had moved no further than two inches. A small puddle had been created where water had been displaced. The cleaner had not noticed. She could have moved the bucket and spilled some water when she had dipped the mop last. The young man screamed out once again.

The cleaner noticed that time. She looked towards the stairs and leaned her head over the white frame that lined the stairwell. It was empty. The angry young man ran up the few stairs towards her. He seized the mop when he could but stumbled when he grabbed it. It was much heavier than he remembered.

He used to think a mop as being an insignificant weight, but in his new state it felt a hundred times heavier. It could have been made from lead. The young man fought with the weight for a while but it did not give easily. With one final surge of strength he tore the mop from the cleaner’s hands and threw it to the floor. The cleaner screamed out when the mop landed in an explosion of greasy water.

Caught in the moment, the boy ran towards the cleaner and vocalised his anger. He shouted at her when he ran into her and shunted her towards the bucket. The woman stumbled and tripped over the corner of it. She landed heavily on the wet floor and sent the bucket rolling towards the stairwell. Brown, soapy water cascaded down the steps as the bucket crashed down them.

An unfathomable distance away a young man screamed and thrashed about in the confined space of a cave. An older man stood near him. He laughed from his stomach and out of his wide mouth. Papa laughed to himself at a job well done.

“You a natural, boy,” he said as the young man convulsed. “I knows it in you from the moment I set my peepers on you.”

The noises echoed around the cave. The young man showed no sign of slowing down.

“Looks like you going be busy for some time,” Papa said with a smile, “I leave you to it. I gots some business to tend to anyway.”

He had to move quickly to avoid being hit by one of the young man’s flails. When he had stepped out of the small cave Papa smiled at the boy once again, like a proud father.

“Of course, you aware,” the old man said, “Papa didn’t just happen upon this place.” He laughed through his teeth as he stepped into empty subterranean space.

Chiang Mai

A taxi driver told us that the meaning of the word ‘Chang’ meant elephant. This was after we drove past a statue of an elephant in Chiang Mai. Some confusion also followed when we asked him if that ‘chang’ was the same meaning as the word ‘chiang’.

We eventually grasped that Chiang Mai translates as ‘New Town’, although I’m still not sure what the ‘chiang’ part actually means. Still it was a relevant conversation to have as we drove next to the ancient walls of this new town, which dates back to 1296. And it’s always good to glean some local trivia.

Chiang Mai is situated in the north of Thailand. It is surrounded by jungle and famous for its (sometimes) controversial animal sanctuaries. For me, this was the Thailand I had been looking forward to seeing the most.

The town outside the wall, where we stayed, was nothing spectacular. A new shopping mall had sprung up down the road. There was plenty to do nearby. But it is within the ancient walls where Chaing Mai gets really interesting.

Mai oh Mai

More than once we walked past the wall into the old town and felt a little bit out of our comfort zone. There didn’t seem to be anything going on. Just houses. Very quiet houses. At one point we passed an empty Muay Thai boxing ring and were chased off by a dog wearing some kind of hoody.

But we turned one corner or another and soon old Chiang Mai came into its own. In a town of over 300 religious sites, the old town has the most in a small density. In the heart of the 2km square area there are temples, stupas and statues on every road.

There is a vibrancy within those walls. Chiang Mai is a humble town, with a rich history and a peaceful air. It is also a very tasty town with the most exciting food market I have ever experienced. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so many different foods, or felt that full, after spending £9.


From the laid back island life of Sri Lanka we threw ourselves into Bangkok. For the first time in over a month we had a taste of modernity and certain comforts that we had almost forgotten about – the golden arches of fast food outlets; vast expanses of highly polished marble and glass where people worship designer labels and precious objects that shine in the Thai sunlight; a super fast, super sleek public transport service. In certain respects it felt as though we had stepped into the future, especially as the SkyTrain whizzed over our heads.

Bangkok is an Asian city that embraces the twenty-first century. Still, respect for the past is its backbone. Its ancient palace and historic floating markets must be on top of every tourists visit list. But nothing speaks as loud for Thailand’s inherent respect as their love for the late King Bhumibol Adukyadej.

Royal; Family

There are monuments and memorials to the monarch everywhere. I do not use that phrase as a blanket for every other corner and leaflets at tourists information centres. The late king’s face is literally everywhere. From hotel foyers to tube stops; public shrines to elaborate graffiti, I have never seen a nation mourn with such passion. Two months since his death most people are wearing black or at least a black ribbon. Children and adults alike can be seen wearing t-shirts that affectionately proclaim that they were ‘born in the reign of King Bhumibol Adukadej’ (1950 – 2016).

What is obvious is that the love is real. Thai people are freely and openly mourning their beloved king. Abby reminded me of how they stood to respect him at the start of every showing at the cinema. I witnessed it myself when we went to see a film (as odd as it may sound, I highly recommend going to the cinema in Bangkok as part of any visit to the city) and we stood out of respect to remember the king. Emotions were running high in that dark room as we stood and watched two touching memorials. Quite a surreal experience just before Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them.

Even when we paid a visit to the notorious Khao San Road I seemed to offend a young man who we found ourselves drinking beer with because I said he looked like the king. Bit of a faux pas. But being English, of a similar age to him, I can’t imagine being so attached to our monarchy. Sadly, when our Queen – who since the death of King Bhumibol Adukadei is now the world’s longest reigning monarch – dies, I can’t imagine the United Kingdom would mourn in the same way. It certainly will not resonate across generations the way the Thai feel their loss.

It is certainly an interesting time to be in Thailand. I feel privileged to have been able such a delicate and true sense of humanity. As for the future of the monarchy it will be interesting to see how it pans out. I get the general feeling that the heir to the throne will not be so popular.

Beyond the public mourning and cinema, I was overwhelmed by the Grand Palace in Bangkok. It truly is an ancient marvel in the modern world. It’s also full of monsters and myths. Naturally, I got lost in wonder. Read about what I learned at the Grand Palace here.

Golden Palace

A little walk from the Chao Phraya River, and through some pretty strong security (remember to bring some ID and dress appropriately) we came to the official Thai royal residence, Grand Palace of Bangkok. Golden stupas glistened in the glorious sun. Perfectly manicured lawns stretch from vast gates. And hundreds of tourists jostled to pay their respects to the king.

It’s hard to be critical of the masses of tourists at a place like this. While it is true that certain elements of the site might get missed because there are too many people around it, it shows the importance of the palace at the time of national mourning. Abby reminded me that when she visited five years ago, there were half the amount of people there.

Despite the crowds, the palace did not fail to astound. From the giant mythical guards (Yaksha) to the miniature replica of Angkor Wat, it was a feast for the imagination. Behind opulent buildings, almost hidden from the centre temples, there is a mural that spans 178 scenes. Giants, demons and battles shine out in gold against the soft colours. All around the site there are statues of mythological creatures.

bird is the word

After some research into the creatures at the Grand Palace, I found that they mostly stemmed from Himmapan.  Originating in Hindu mythology, this forest is home to a wealth of creatures. The half human/half bird Kinnari have become some of the most respected characters from Thai folk tales. Effectively the Kinnari are angels that live near a hidden mountain in the Himalayas. Their songs and dances have worked their way into Thai tradition.

The more I read into Himmapan, the more I see how crucial it is to Thai life. Other creatures from the forest that have worked their way into daily Thai life is the mighty Singha. This guardian lion can been seen across the country on beer labels, amulets and even water.

Between a mythical mountain, half human/half animal creatures, demons, monsters and a wealth of legend, Thailand will certainly have an influence in Nechronicles somewhere along the line.

Chapter V: Be Not Afraid

Brigid followed two women who had recently decided against wearing a hood over their head. They stood either side of their young leader as they crossed the compound behind the false houses. Red sand covered the vast area. Lights reflected from the red and yellow rectangles that appeared periodically on the tall stone perimeter. Well used metal poles protruded out of the walls to add extra enforcement. Rings of sharpened wire and flames lined the top of the walls, just in case anyone found themselves in that impossible place and felt obliged to take a look into the compound. The whole area had been designed to be the most secure facility in Hades. There was one way in, which was the same way out, though the façade of a derelict house. It was so simple it was brilliant. It had been designed by the greatest minds in Necropolis after all. A slight breeze whipped up a few grains of sand. Despite this, Brigid’s guides still did not lift their hoods over their heads.

“Progress has been made,” one of the women advised her. It was the same woman with the tight hair bun who had spoken in the assembly. Brigid had personally asked her to show her into the crevice. “I’m sure that you will be pleased,” the old woman said with a smile.

“Let’s hope so,” Brigid said. She turned her face away from a heavy gust of wind. It died down as quickly as it rose. “Is there a name?”

The two guides exchanged wide eyed looks. Enthusiasm beamed from their wise, old faces.

“Yes,” the same woman said.

A few steps across the dusty space and Brigid asked, “Am I allowed to know what it is?”

“Oh,” the woman with the tight bun collected herself, “yes. Of course. Mark 536.”

Brigid processed the name in her mind. “Mark 356?” repeated. Is there a logic behind that?”

“Of course,” the woman said.

“One simply cannot put the greatest minds in Necropolis together without creating some kind of logic,” the quieter woman said.

“Genius, if you will.”

“Right,” Brigid said sceptically, “Would you care to explain it to me?”

“Mark,” the woman with the hair bun explained, “Three, fifty six.”

“Yes…” Brigid encouraged.

The quieter woman smiled until she nearly exploded. “Be not afraid, only believe,” she said.

“I’m sorry?” Brigid asked the woman. “I’m a mathematician. I’ve never enjoyed riddles.”

“It’s the gospel,” the quiet woman squealed.

“The gospel?” Brigid said.

“Matthew, Mark, Luke and –”

“I know all about the gospels,” Brigid interrupted, “I just don’t understand how a group of esteemed academics, mostly scientists, settled on a biblical reference for the name of their afterlife’s work.”

“Precisely,” the woman with the bun said with a smile, “That’s the genius of it.”


The boy floated through shadows. Papa had told him to follow, and the boy had obliged. He copied Papa when he stepped out of the window and dropped into a shadow between the building they were in and the next one. Papa, in his white jacket, walked at a pace in the darkness and the boy followed. It was all he could do. The young man, this confused boy who had left the overworld too soon, still was not sure of his current circumstances. He had no choice but to follow the man who had plucked him from the crowd.

Shrouded in darkness the two travelled in the shadows between buildings. They floated in silence and passed through Necropolis unseen by any other soul. Papa and his new protégé were the real ghosts in a ghost city.

After a rapid journey Papa slowed his pace. The boy stood next to him and together they walked around a corner. The stark white scene in front of him stung the young man’s new eyes.

“Quiet today,” Papa muttered, mostly for his own benefit. With his arms outstretched, he turned to the young man. “This is the place boy,” Papa announced, “This is the place where you become the man you meant to be. You can vent your anger. Release that hatred. Get your vengeance.”

The pain relented as the boy’s eyes adjusted to this new scene. Darker shadows started to show themselves and defined the scene in front of him. A wall ran around and almost over the space which gave the feeling that they stood in a cavern, despite the fact that they were exposed. It was like nowhere else the young man had seen before.

“See here,” Papa continued, “is usually the place where folk come to speak to the living, half living and other such mumbo jumbo.” He winked at the young man and flashed his golden teeth. “Except this place looks like someone got a bit, shall we say, overexcited?”

Hollowed spaces, like white termite mounds, filled up an area that was hidden from the hazy iridescence of the Necropolitan daylight. Except it was bright, as though snow had fallen on it, or the whole place was covered in ash. It looked to the boy as though a forest had been destroyed. All the trees had been severed during a bleak winter. All of the inhabitants had run away. The obscure glade was silent. No other soul was around. This did not feel like a happy place.

“Looks like it would’ve been quite the spectacle,” Papa said as he stepped into the space, towards a far wall. His feet left imprints in the chalky white surface. “I wouldn’t have minded bearing witness to that.”

Papa dragged his cane across the surface of an empty hollow. It left a dark trench where the grey matter flaked to the ground. He came close to the edge of the space.

“Now usually,” Papa said as he tapped on the solid rock in front with his cane, “folk need to be in some kind of slumber when they make contact with the overworld.”

A hollow sound came from behind the wall.

“But if you ask me, and I know you would if you could, they doing it all wrong.”

Papa held his cane against the rock wall and tapped lightly three times. On the fourth tap he forced his cane through the surface. The rock face cracked. Its noise should have echoed around the glade but it was absorbed instantly. Papa repeated the movement until the rock started to crumble.

“I mean,” Papa rolled up the sleeves on his white jacket and pressed his knuckles against each other to produce a series of cracks and pops, “what’s the point of having access to another plane if you just snoozing, you hear what I say?”

Papa plunged one hand into the freshly made hole in the wall. He inserted his entire arm, up to the shoulder, and tore the rock away. Light seeped out of the rock.

“And it’s distracting and all sorts up there. People just get so desperate. They sees an opportunity to talk to their living loved ones, they momma, the kids or cat or whatever and it turns into a struggle.

“Like I say kid, they doing it all wrong. But not you. You the lucky one, you better than all that. That’s why I found you.” Papa shook red dust from his arms and returned the sleeves to his wrists. “I saw that passion burn inside you the second I clapped eyes on you soul. You got it right boy, you got a talent for it. And I’m here to show you how to use it.”

The young man stepped towards the small cave that Papa had just created. He creased his confused brow at Papa.

“Show me how to use what?” Papa said in a comically high pitched tone to mimic the question that went through the young man’s mind. “Show you how to get your revenge on them folk who are still up there.” Papa pointed to the eternal grey light above them. He then wrapped his arm around the boy and ushered him into the space behind the rock.

It was small. The young man had to follow Papa along a short, darkened path. Ahead of them the boy saw the darkness start to break.

“I feels we nearly here,” Papa said. His voice echoed around the empty cave.

The young man felt cool air rush past him. The path opened. It was wide enough for the young man and Papa to walk side by side. The cool air rushed over their heads. There seemed to be no ceiling. Above them, the cave ran on into infinity. It was darkness, crowned by a perfect white circle that was an immeasurable distance away. This was where the light came from. By the time it reached the bottom of the cave it had been diluted to nothing more than the suggestion of a glow.

“You see boy,” Papa said, “in this space I will teach you a great many thing. I will show you how to get to the overworld without been seen. I will show you how to go to the places you used to know. I will show you how to torment the ones you left behind. I will show you how to make fun of them, aggravate them, scare them. You, my boy, are special. People will fear you. They will talk about you. You be famous boy, you be remembered forever. All you got to do is listen to my say.”

The young man turned to look at Papa with his usual face of confusion.

“Just close your eyes,” Papa said, “and think of where you’d like to go back to first.”

The boy did as he was told.

“Now,” Papa said, “I need you to really see this place. Feel the air on your skin, the ground under your feet, that roof over your head – if that’s the kind of place this is. See the people. Feel they warmth. Feel they humanity. Smell it. Taste it. Taste that whole putrid place. Live it boy, live it.” Papa’s voice had shrunk to a whisper, “You just nod when you ready.”


One of the must-see-attractions of Sri Lanka is a huge rock. Sigiriya is situated north, about 90km from Kandy and is worth the two hour to three in a bus. What makes this rock special is its history. King Kasyapa founded a royal residency at the top around 1,500 years ago, although it had been a monastery since the 3rd Century AD (more information can be found here). There are lions feet carved into the surface and some 1,200 steps to reach the top.

In a way, it’s a shame to travel so far and not see Sigiriya, even if you have made the journey and scaled it with the hundreds of other tourists. And when you’re up there, it’s hard to actually see the rock, if you know what I mean. We learned of another rock, Pidurangala, which is locally known as Sigiryia’s little brother. It is in the same park as the main attraction but doesn’t come with the $30 ticket price.

Of course, it’s not just me being cheap. Pidurangala has a rich history of its own. A buddhist monastery has grown at its base. In fact monks have been living in the caves around this rock for around 2,500 years. Half way up the rock lies what was once the largest brick Buddha in the world.

The statue looks fairly new thanks to restoration in the 1960s. This had to happen after some opportunists came searching for treasure. Around it are ruins of small rooms and dwellings, remnants of a smaller settlement. But as I said, this is only some way up the rock. Our inner Indiana Jones/Lara Croft had only just surfaced.


I had noticed that the ground near the reclining Buddha looked a little less paved than the way we had just come. There was no evidence of helpful steps or paths. And forget about a handrail. Instead, a handy arrow had been drawn on the floor in faded red paint.

Following the arrows was the easy part. Climbing boulders, not so much. As we scrambled over the rocks, ignoring the slopes that dropped into oblivion, we were reminded by the brave few who had already made the ascent that the view was worth it. And it did not disappoint.

As we fell over one boulder and landed on a bit of a plateau we were rewarded with an exclusive view of Sigiriya. The magnificent rock rose out of the forest, proud, like the lions it depicted. And we could enjoy it as we allowed the cold sweat on our clothes to soak into our skin.

But we did not stop there. Up a couple more impossible ascents we came to the top of Pidurangala. As with our trek up Little Adam’s Peak, the country was ours to observe. Forests stretched on for miles. Statues and stupas popped up over the tree tops. Somewhere in there were the famous elephants, leopards and centuries of hidden history. It was a humbling feeling, and our last opportunity to appreciate the wild Sri Lanka.

It was an island of diversity and friendly faces, with a different flavour to India. But our journey into South East Asia had only just begun.

Little Adam’s Peak

One of the main attractions for us visiting Ella was the high hill called Little Adam’s Peak. We had initially wanted to visit (the actual) Adam’s Peak but the logistics of getting there and seeing pictures of it on Google made us opt for its smaller cousin. I must stress that it has nothing to do with it being a strenuous trek up 7,300 feet.

We planned our circular route around Ella with the help of our host who had taken us to Dowa Cave the day before. We would take in the trek first, gently descending into tea plantations where we could stop for a quick cup of Sri Lanka’s finest before paying a visit to the famous Nine Arch Bridge that leads back to the town. While walking along the tracks is the only way back to town, there are only a few trains a day – we just had to time it right.

The 3743 foot climb was a great way to start the day. Through tea plantations and along a well trodden path we found our way. There were plenty of locals nearby who would freely point us in the right direction when we came to a fork in the road or looked the slightest bit lost.

The walk took us less than an hour and we were rewarded with the best views Sri Lanka has to offer. We could see for miles. Further hills and forest sprawled before us, pocked with waterfalls and lined with winding roads. With our taste for adventure not quite quenched, we scrambled over, down and along less obvious paths to reach the farthest tip where it felt like we had the whole country to ourselves.

We could easily have spent hours up in that space, breathing in nature and wondering how a couple of puppies came to find themselves rolling in the dust at the peak. But there was more to see, and I really fancied a cup of tea.

The descent was simple enough and we soon found the path that we had started out on that morning. Our host had told us that there was a tea factory that was open to tourists along this road. Confident in his recommendation, we passed one that was nearer to Little Adam’s Peak and went on our way.

About an hour passed and rain started to fall before we came to a large white building nestled in tea plantations. A long road ran from where we stood up to its door, and instantly we were transported back to the height of the Victorian tea trade.

Tea Total

We entered the wooden building and marvelled at the huge machines that were sorting the thousands of leaves that would pass through them every day. Although we couldn’t see any Oompah Loompahs, we were excited for the tour. We found a sink and promptly de-sweated before we made our way up the modest staircase and into some kind of tasting room.

A man greeted us, invited us to sit down and said that he would be back in a couple of minutes for our tour. In the meantime a woman came along with a steaming white teapot, two empty cups and served us some fresh leaves. The taste was crisp. The golden liquid was rejuvenating. We refilled our cups and waited to start the tour. We repeated this until the pot was empty and half an hour had passed. By this point, our intrigue of the magic of a tea factory had evaporated and our wet clothes sent chills down our spine. And we had to make it back to Ella before the train came.

We decided to cut our losses and carry on our exploration of Ella. But there was no one around to pay for the tea. We looked around the large room but we were alone. Short of walking down some steps that took us to the large driveway, our only option was to walk down the wooden stairs we had come up. The machines had stopped in the factory. In this small space we saw a single employee who we asked how much do we owe for the tea. ‘No charge’ came her sweet reply. After we made sure that this was the case, and she insisted that it was, we walked out of the building, down the road and towards the Nine Arch Bridge with a surreal feeling that we had stepped away from somewhere that should not exist in 2016.

The rain promptly resumed when we found the road and made our way back towards town. We very nearly missed the path to the train track, but fortunately and as ever, there were some friendly local faces who pointed us in the right direction. This happened more than once until we found ourselves taking a ‘short cut’ which was little more than a dirt track behind a restaurant and down through some trees.

Tracks of our Tears

Half walking, half sliding, we found the tracks. The bridge was worth the trek. It was a classic Victorian viaduct, much like the ones we’re used to in England, especially Brighton, except it was surrounding by lush Sri Lankan forest. Palm trees and banana plants swallowed the brickwork as it was lost to the jungle floor. We stepped onto the tracks safe in the knowledge that there was about an hour to the next train, and we only had about 1.5km to walk. It could be done. As soon as we stepped onto the bridge an old man who was sitting on the wall for some reason cheerfully reminded us that there was around at half past three and that we ought to be careful. We smiled, thanked him, and went on our merry way.

The walk was interesting and certainly not the kind of thing we were used to. We found that each track was about a stride apart, which sped up our pace especially through the bat infested tunnels. There was a life around the tracks. More than once we saw farmers leading their cows next to it to feed on the grass. People sat next to the tracks, there buildings. We took in this new environment, all the while keeping an ear out behind us for the rumble of an incoming train.

Minor panic hit when we heard it from a distance. We sped up our pace to a safe area before the next bend. There was a stretch of green with a tea factory below it. It wasn’t until we got to this area when we realised that the rumble that had panicked us was actually the sound of the machines in the factory doing their thing. We did find it a bit odd that a train would be running twenty five minutes early. Relieved but not complacent, we decided to get back to Ella as quickly as possible.

The rest of the journey passed quite quickly. Another track appeared next to us and merged with the one we were on. We turned one corner and saw Ella train station. There was a train at its platform. The engine was running. As a salute to our safety, the driver sounded its almighty horn which tore through us and echoed along the path we had just come from. He laughed at us and waved moments before the train slowly pulled away and we had reached a safe distance from the tracks.

Safe and exhausted we saw the train pass us, grateful that we had not delayed any further getting to the bridge. We went for a well earned beer and planned our route to Kandy.


Beyond the tropical beaches and warm waters of Sri Lanka there is a cooler climate to be found in its central hills. As the bus journeys form the coast, across the flat plains, the ascent towards Ella brings lush forests and a refreshing breeze.

Around hairpin bends and past waterfalls this is an area ripe for adventure. It came as no surprise that when we were dropped off in the middle of town almost everyone we saw wore hiking boots and anoraks. A look of exhausted exhilaration was spread across each face. We hotfoot it to our homestay to find out what the hidden attraction was. It turned out to be quite a few.

Wings of Dowa

Our first point of interest came in the form of a 39ft statue of Buddha. While that in itself might be worth a visit, what made this statue was that it was carved into a wall of rock. By a king who had to flee his kingdom. 2000 years ago. The more we heard about Dowa Cave, the more intrigued we were.

Our homestay host was keen to take the role of a guide and took us straight to the cave. He shared its history and lead us into the cavernous temple. Similar to sights at Dikwella, this buddhist place of worship was brightly decorated and depicted scenes of holy tales.

We saw the now familiar depiction of a devil, standing tall and naked next to humans, with bulbous eyes shaggy hair. Sharp lower teeth protruded over his lip towards the top of his head. Claws grew from his toes and fingers. But he did not seem menacing. Perhaps it was the constant flow of a mountain stream that ran nearby that helped mute anything sinister.

As we stooped under the low ceiling and through the ornate door, or host advised us on the best way to spend the following day. Read how we climbed hills, turned invisible in a tea factory and found ourselves walking on a train track here.


Along the south coast of Sri Lanka, hidden amongst the surf towns and swish resorts is the town of Dikwella. It’s certainly not the kind of place one would choose to stay in during a visit to Sri Lanka. It does have a beach, but the town has more of a local appeal. Shops, supermarkets and a number of temples for all religions are on offer. We paid a visit to this town to see one of these temples.

The temple of Wewurukannala Viharaya (still not sure how to pronounce that) is a popular site for the buddhist community. It is home to a 160ft buddha, the tallest in Sri Lanka and some even say the whole of Asia (I think this website says otherwise). Nonetheless, the statue is a work of art.

The unassuming face of buddha looms over the palm trees and other greenery that line the dusty road to Wewurukannala Viharaya. Up close the detail is made up of thousands of tiny tiles, like a mosaic. Lotus flowers, robes and facial features glisten as each tile does their part to bring this statue to life.

Behind the statue is a tall grey building, reminiscent of a shopping precinct built around the 1980s that has now fallen into disrepair. Inside this concrete block the artwork continues. The stories of buddha are painted on to the walls. They are vibrant and simple, almost like a massive comic book. Each panel details an aspect of a story, which leads to the next, and continues for about seven storeys. Up at the top, we were rewarded with a great view of Dikwella from behind the buddha’s earlobe.

Road to Hell

But the main reason we came to this temple was because of its depiction of Buddhist Hell. To reach the buddha one must pass through a separate building that reminds worshipers of the torment that awaits them if they sin.

Life-size statues of demons are in the throes of torture. Two are sawing someone in half lengthways. Another is boiling bits of sinners, with a couple of legs sticks out the pot to drive the point home. Just behind that demon is another one with a sinner bent over in an uncomfortable manner, force feeding him some brown stuff. It’s all pretty horrific, and that’s not to mention the humans who are impaled on the thorns of a tree.

Opposite this exhibition are more detailed humans who are being consumed by the fires of Hell. Behind them are big pictures of their sins. Everything from murder to robbery is mentioned. There’s even a depiction of a demon being punished. It’s nice to know we’re all on the same level.

Dikwella may not be the first place you think of when one mentions Sri Lanka, but it certainly is worth a visit.

Chapter IV – Follow The Leader

“Exercise caution. Always be aware of who is around you,” Brigid called out to the group of hooded figures who had assembled around her. She stood above them on a walkway that supported the back of the fake houses.

Each robe was black, all faces were hidden. Every set of eyes, hidden by the shadow that the hood created, were set firmly on Brigid as she spoke. She stood on the metal walkway that was built into the back of the fake houses. The old man had done well to round up everyone so quickly.

“I advised you to do this long before we started work,” she continued.

Two stragglers joined the back of the group raising the number above thirty.

“We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. We don’t want to be seen. If other citizens – normal citizens – find out what we are working on then we will be exposed. There will be no project. No hope. I implore you, lose these robes. It’s making us all look bad.”

A person at the centre of the group raised their hand.

“Yes,” Brigid invited the person to ask their question.

The figure removed their hood. Long silver hair was tied up into a tight bun at the top of her head.

“If I may,” the woman spoke, “we are following your advice. That’s why we invested in these robes.”

“To remain inconspicuous is the key to freedom,” a second figure, who remained hidden beneath their black hood, chipped in, “I believe those were you very words Madam Brigid.”

“Yes,” Brigid agreed, “but to remain inconspicuous one needs to fit in to their environment.”

“What are you trying to say Madam?”

“How many people out there are running around the city in black hooded robes?” Brigid asked. She pointed a finger towards the facade of the house.

Murmurs rippled through the group of mysterious figures.

“I thought I had assembled the greatest minds in Necropolis,” Brigid continued.

“We are the greatest minds in Necropolis,” a man’s voice croaked loudly, “We should really be praised for our intelligence, not chided for it.”

“Who is chiding you?” Brigid asked, “I am concerned for our wellbeing. If word gets out of what we do here on a daily basis, the whole of the underworld would go into a state of panic. None of us want that. We need remain inconspicuous, yes, but in the right way.”

The old man with a croaky voice whipped his hood back and revealed his wrinkled face.

“Madam Brigid,” he said, “by remaining inconspicuous, as you put it, do you really mean you want to keep us all hidden? You want to push us all aside while you take the glory for all of our hard work?”

Brigid stared at the man in silence before she turned and walked down the steps. Tension gripped the group while she found the hooded man who had granted her entry earlier that day. Without a word, Brigid held out a hand. The man nodded with the same school-boy fear that he had felt not long ago. He reached into his sleeve and produced the daily newspaper. He handed it to Brigid. With silent thanks Brigid marched towards the wrinkly old man with a croaky voice.

“It’s glory you want?” she said. Her voice echoed around the group. Air was sucked out of the compound as they all breathed deeply. “Well congratulations,” Brigid continued, not shy from the spectacle. She thrust the paper into the old man’s hands. “You made the front page.”

“You angry,” Papa reminded the boy.

He was alone, the young man knew that no one else was with him amongst that wreckage of a room. Still, Papa’s voice was near. The young man roused himself from the debris that he had created.

“You angry at what you’ve become, who you are, why you here,” Papa’s voice continued, “You angry with them. All of them. All of them peoples who drove you down here. Them same peoples who took away your opportunities, your ideas, your future. But there is a way.”

The young man no longer felt alone. A figure stepped towards him from a far flung shadow. He blinked hard, like he needed further confirmation that he could now function properly. His sight had returned. He was sure of it. Shapes formed in front of him but they weren’t obscure shapes like before. Reality had returned. Light broke the darkness, and across the room a man in a white jacket came near.

He walked to the place where the young man sat crumpled on the floor. Fear overcame the boy. He was stuck to the place where he had landed in the table, but still this ghostly figure came near. The young man blinked. He looked at Papa.

His fear gave way to a hotter emotion. Anger consumed him. The boy needed to know where he was and why he was there. He needed to know who this Papa character was. He went to ask his questions but stumbled over the silence that he produced. He remembered that it was impossible. Papa had told him so.

“Remember,” the figure said in Papa’s deep voice, “don’t talk. Don’t even try to talk. You new to this city. Your voice ain’t ready yet. But it will be heard, believe me. Even if you don’t use it.”

The young man frowned. All he wanted were answers, but Papa spoke in riddles. Riddles were not helpful. The young man’s world had disappeared. His sense of reality was different now. Papa had alluded to him that he had died, but he had only known Papa in this existence. Papa had helped him, or so he believed. Other than the shadows that he had ran across the wastelands with, the young man had seen no other soul. Papa was his only human contact. If, indeed, Papa was human.

There was a timeless quality to the man. His white suit and gold accessories placed him anywhere from an illusion of olden gentry to a seedy back-alley jazz club in New Orleans. His skin was dark, but not like any other human the young man had seen. Perhaps Papa darkened his African tones to make more of an impact of the white skull that was faintly drawn on his face. This was the young man’s reality, but he could be living in nothing more than a dream.

“I can see you confused,” Papa said. “How you feeling? Tired?”

The boy shook his head.

“You will,” Papa smiled and winked. “Perhaps we should burn some energy.” Papa ran on the spot and laughed loudly. “Come,” he said, “I shows you something.”

Papa stepped to the curtain in the room and pulled it from the rail. Heavy cotton dropped and rings rattled as they hit the cold hard floor of the only place in Necropolis the boy had known. Light filled the space. It stung the young man’s eyes. Greys reflected from the sparse wall in front of the hole. It was just enough to illuminate the empty room where the young man and Papa had spent the last few hours, days, moments – there was no way to tell. Papa stepped to the hole in the wall. He kicked the curtain aside as he passed it.

He turned to the young man, with a smile on his face.

“Suivi moi,” he said.