Clancy – “Sigiri or Bust!”

Geoff Hill’s latest update on – THE CS CLANCY CENTENARY RIDE – as they have moved across the world!

Supported by Adelaide Insurance Services and BMW Motorrad.

Recreating the first around the world ride 100 years on.

Golden-Temple-at-Dambulla-smallThe rain poured down in sheets as the road climbed out of the suburbs of Colombo and wound up into dank, dripping jungle interspersed with paddy fields.

Mind you, the road was so flooded in places that it was impossible to tell where it ended and the fields began.

On the sodden verges, women like birds of paradise sheltered under umbrellas, waiting for the ancient rattling bus which plied this route.

Above their heads at one stop, a row of fruit bats hung from the telephone wire, waiting for an urgent call from Colombo on when the mangos were due to ripen.

As the road twisted and turned up the Kadugannawa Pass towards Kandy, I was yet again filled with admiration for how Clancy had ridden these roads when they were rutted dirt and mud on a heavy, underpowered machine with one gear, no front brake and only a handful of horses to fling at these hills.

When Clancy finally reached Kandy, he found a picturesque lake bordered by restful hotels and luxuriant foliage, and checked into a small native hotel called the Kings, where a travelling English circus troupe tried to steal his US flag for a laugh.

Today, there is no indication of where the hotel was, so we motored on and rounded a corner to be greeted by the lake, cradled by terraces of graceful white buildings rising into the forested hills all around.

A Stunning Setting

Clancys-boots-postbox-at-Sigiri-Rest-House-smallIt was a stunning setting, blessed even more by the sight of families strolling or boating, chaps playing tennis on the lakeside courts, or couples courting on park benches under giant umbrellas bought specifically for that purpose.

In the cool of the afternoon Clancy headed for the Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya, where he was most impressed by the giant fruit bats, either flapping languidly overhead in scores, or hanging like shrouds from the trees, filling the air with the deep hum of their constant cries.

Mind you, those could have just been the moans of hangovers, since as he noted in his diary, they were partial to a diet of palm wine from the vessels set to catch the flowing sap, as a result of which they were almost permanently batarsed.

The next morning, he arrived in Matale just in time for elevenses at one of the many government rest houses set up around the country and in India for unpretentious but affordable accommodation.

The Number One Boy brought him a huge glass of lime and soda, and as he was sipping it gratefully, an American globetrotter Clancy had met in Colombo waltzed in with a native in European dress.

In a flash the Englishman was on his feet and out of the room, and when a baffled Clancy followed him out to see what on earth was wrong, the reply, “Isn’t your friend a bit weird to hang around with natives like that, and especially to bring them into a room with gentlemen?” instantly summed up for Clancy the English attitude to colonials.

“Sigiri or Bust”

In Matale today, we found the rest house, a handsome white three-storey building in which, Clancy would be pleased to hear, several locals were tucking into Sunday lunch washed down by pitchers of beer without a snooty Englishman in sight.

By now, Clancy had tarried so long that by the time he got back to the Henderson it was 6.30pm, and darkness was only minutes away as he prepared to ride through the jungle to the rest house at Sigiri; only for the locals to tell him that the rogue elephants, cheetahs, bears and wild buffalo that came out at night made the road so dangerous that they wouldn’t dream of doing it in a group, never mind alone.

Sigirya-Rock-and-a-badly-parked-elephant-small“I’ll chance it. I hate to give up what I’ve started,” said the indefatigable Clancy, hauling out his Savage automatic and setting off into the jungle night with a cry of “Sigiri or bust!”

As did we, with a cry of “Sigiri or drown!” after yet another monsoon downpour, which stopped as quickly as it had started, leaving us proceeding onwards steaming gently.

He had bought his fifth headlight of the trip in Colombo, but dared not light it for fear of attracting wild animals, and within seconds he was plunged into darkness, riding as fast as he dared along a sandy track until he dimly saw a huge shape appear in the road ahead.

Blowing his horn like mad and opening wide the throttle, he charged the monster with wild yells, and as it snorted and crashed off into the jungle, he saw that it was a wild buffalo.

When he finally rolled up at the rest house, startling the two lady guests, they told him he was lucky to be alive.

Sigiriya Damsels

The next day, although many of the hundreds of rest houses in Sri Lanka have been abandoned, we found the one in Sigiri still spick and span, with its shady verandah, easy chairs, ceiling fans slowly stirring the warm, aromatic air and monastic rooms exactly the same as when he stayed there.

King-Street-in-Kandy-where-Clancy-stayed-small

Standing beside the old red post box by the gatepost, you have a clear view past the elephant carelessly parked on the other side of the road to the 1,000ft rock with the remains of Sigirya, built in the fifth century as a combination of pleasure palace and impregnable fortress by King Kassapa, on top.

Claiming he hadn’t seen a pretty girl for two months, Clancy was feeling frisky enough to climb a precarious wire and bamboo ladder to see the so-called Sigiriya Damsels, frescoes of 500 girls who were either Kassapa’s consorts or celestial nymphs.

Staggering into the cave and dusting himself off, he was delighted to find that the gals not only had fresh teenage complexions in spite of being almost 15 centuries old, but were, to a woman, topless.

Keep up to date and up to speed with the CS Clancy Centenary Ride – the first biker to ride around the world left Dublin 100 years aqo – at www.adelaideadventures.com

Background information:

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This annual poll had responses from 29 000 readers.

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