06.11.2013 - 07.11.2013 35 °C
Yesterday we left Colombo to make our way north. Our first stop is Anuradhapura, part of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, it is the location of an ancient city littered with stupas and temples. Our bus journey from Colombo took 6 hours, it was hard going. The bus was hot and we were cramped up in two seats over the rear wheel arch of the bus, offering no leg room. On top of this we had the constant stream of Sri Lankan music blaring out of the speakers. After 6 hours we were more than a little agitated. When we finally arrived we managed to find a nice cheap guesthouse called the Lake View, we were exhausted after the days travel so had a quick dinner in the guesthouse before retiring for the day.
We woke up this morning fresh and planned what we were going to see over breakfast. You have to buy a ticket to enter the heritage site area of Anuradhapura and it is only good for one day, we did not want to have to pay twice so a little bit of good planning and cramming was necessary. Our route would take us on a huge circle past the main sights. We rented bikes from our guesthouse for 250Rs and stole a map out of a guidebook in the dining room and set off.
It is fairly straightforward to get to the old town and only took around ten minutes. Once we got nearer the sites though our map seemed to make no sense. We asked two people to tell us where we were, but each answer was no help. In the end we went into a museum and there found a security guard who was more helpful. The museum was part of Jethavanaramaya Monestary, one of the main sights, he explained the heritage area is kind of fenced off, hence the confusion with our map as it does not show this. He told us where to buy tickets and then once we had looked around the museum, which way to go. The museum was ok, quite small, and full of mainly restored statues and over stone work as well as jewellery. The ticket cost us Rs3250 about £16 which is very expensive.
After the museum we followed the directions of the security guard and it took us on a dirt path past lots of excavated ruins. We cycled through stopping every so often to take photos until we came across Jethavanaramaya Stupa. The route is lovely, through grassy areas and trees, it is very peaceful. The stupa is a colossal dome structure, made of bricks. It is very impressive. We parked up our bikes keen for a closer look. Outside the stupa itself contained just one small building with Buddha images for people to worship. We walked the entire circumference of it, and saw very little else. Still the size and architecture was staggering, we were glad to see some Buddhist ruins different from what we had already seen in South East Asia.
By this point the midday sun was appearing and it was seriously hot. We jumped back on our bikes and carried on through the maze of ruins. We came to several junctions where our map continued to be of absolutely no use, until by look we found where we needed to be. We bought some much needed water and cycled 2km or so to the next site. On route we called off at the twin ponds, a bathing spot which was quite picturesque.
Abhayagiriya is very similar to the previous stupa, only it appears to have survived in better condition. There was still very little outside the stupa. We stopped walking around them at this point as the sun had heated the stone floor and as we had to take our shoes off it was impossible to walk without burning our feet. Instead we just admired them from just inside the entrance.
We had to go back on ourselves next as we missed a Buddha statue that is supposed to be ‘one of the finest examples in Sri Lanka’. We have seen LOTS of Buddha statues by now so thought we would have a pretty good indication to how good it was. After a pit stop for an ice cream (which Chelsea shared with two street dogs) we found the statue. It lived up to its reputation, it is a well carved statue sat in very peaceful grounds, we were the only people there when we arrived so had a few minutes to look at it before more people turned up and we carried on.
Our next stop was slightly different. Rather than being a building or statue it was a stone. Called the Moonstone it is a large semi-circle of rock that is intricately carved with four animals. It sits at the bottom of the entrance steps to what used to be a temple but now has been reduced to its foundations. The Moonstone however is in great condition and is probably the best thing we saw today, partly because it was a bit different.
It must be popular though as just outside the complex there were far more touts. They came at us immediately offering us things were not interested, normally we say no thank you and then walk off, but when the touts shouted out the prices of their souvenirs we stopped. It was so cheap, especially compared to where we have been so far. They were selling 10 postcards for 25p, and other trinkets for 50p. Intrigued we went to look at the stalls and ended up coming away with a small stone carved Ganesh and a tiny bronze elephant. All for £2.50, and for no other real reason than the price.
We left quickly before we were convinced to buy more stuff and carried on our way to see the close-by Guard Stone. This is another stone that is in excellent condition, like the moonstone at the foot of a now ruined archaeological site.
Having no idea where we were going because our map was useless we set off to our next destination. We stumbled into the next temple by retracing our steps as Chelsea remembered seeing a sign for it. Lankaramaya Stupa. This was nowhere near the size of the previous two we had seen but it was dazzlingly white. It shone in the sun that continued to bake the stone floor in which we had to walk to get closer. Up some steps through the entrance we took advantage of the shade and sat down for a rest. With us was a small group of Sri Lankan girls that seemed fascinated in us more than the temple. One girl even tried to get a secret photo of Liam sat down, we saw here and she turned around guiltily. We think in the end she managed to get one though.
We had a long ride to the next sights and we abandoned the map all together. We made educated guesses using the one or two signs we saw. We cycled past large herds of cows that took up most of the road and dozens of stray dogs and large grey langur monkeys that seemed to be everywhere. The heritage site could be really nice if it was easier to get around, and taken care of a better. It is very green and has plenty of wildlife throughout the ruins.
We somehow missed the next temple we were heading for even though according to our map we should have cycled straight passed it. Instead we came across Ruwanweli Dagoda. This stupa was the most impressive, it was easily the largest we had seen and like the previous was painted white. It was surrounded by a wall decorated by dozens of elephant heads. Outside worshippers and the odd monk were sat in the shade reading and chanting from sheets of paper and in prayer. We felt a bit intrusive so did not stay long.
Our final stop and we had supposedly saved the best until last Sri Maha Bodihya. Central to Anarudhapura it is the oldest, historically authenticated, tree in the world according to Lonely Planet, over 2000 years old. We had high expectations. In reality it is just a tree. We do not know what we expected but we were disappointed. The tree is surrounded by a wall and temple so you cannot even see much of it. We were in and out it less than two minutes, and on top of that we had to pay extra to see the tree. Outside a man gave us a candle each and told us to light in for luck and health. The guy then asked us for money.
Despite this, it has been a great day. It has been too long since we went properly sightseeing, and although it was hot and we are worn out we are glad to have seen it. We do not want to pay the fee again so tomorrow we are going to explore the actual town of Anuradhapura. We do not know where or when we are moving on as of yet. We can’t take another bus ride quite yet.