Another satisfied customer at Mary's
Another satisfied customer at Mary's
...and coffee, with more chocolate.
...and coffee, with more chocolate.
Zensai Sanshu: Caviar with all the fixings and a starter of seared tuna with grilled watermelon
Zensai Sanshu: Caviar with all the fixings and a starter of seared tuna with grilled watermelon

Anuradhapura was our last stop in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle and by that time we were both approaching a state of temple overload. Like Polonnaruwa, the city is spread out across many kilometers of lightly forested land which is best explored by tuktuk or bicycle.

Sri Maha Bodhi (the sacred bodhi tree)
Sri Maha Bodhi (the sacred bodhi tree)

One of the most popular sights in Anuradhapura is the Sri Maha Bodhi or Sacred Bodhi Tree. This is the oldest historically verified tree on the planet and is one of the most sacred Buddhist places in Sri Lanka.

Mirisavatiya Dagoba
Mirisavatiya Dagoba

Anuradhapura also has lots of dagoba waiting to be discovered. The ones we visited had all been restored in modern times so they were much different than the ruinous ones we saw down in Polonnaruwa.

An evening bike ride along the shores of Nuwara Wewa
An evening bike ride along the shores of Nuwara Wewa

Like any good ancient city in Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura has some nice tanks that are worth exploring. One evening we took our bikes for spin around one of them and saw some water birds and a few aggressive stray dogs.

These guys are clearly bored by the temples
These guys are clearly bored by the temples

In the end, Anuradhapura wasn’t our favorite of the ancient cities but perhaps that is because it was the last one we visited. Visiting temples and ruins is great and all but eventually you’ve seen enough. I think we reached that point in Anuradhapura!

Anuradhapura
Mirisavatiya Dagoba
Mirisavatiya Dagoba
A door handle at Isurumuniya Vihara
A door handle at Isurumuniya Vihara
Isurumuniya Vihara
Isurumuniya Vihara
Sri Maha Bodhi (the sacred bodhi tree)
Sri Maha Bodhi (the sacred bodhi tree)
These guys are clearly bored by the temples
These guys are clearly bored by the temples
Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba
Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba
An evening bike ride along the shores of Nuwara Wewa
An evening bike ride along the shores of Nuwara Wewa

 

Sep 062011

The next stop for us in Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle was the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. We burned most of a morning on the journey from Sigiriya which involved two of those lovely red public buses. By the time we arrived we were only in the mood to relax in our splurge for the week: a room with AC!

Some buses have meal service.
Some buses have meal service.

Being the ruins of an ancient city, the sites within Polonnaruwa are quite spread out. We rented bikes from our guesthouse the next morning and got off to an early start. The goal was the see most of the major sites before the sweltering heat took hold of the situation.

Riding a bike in Sri Lanka is a bit scary at first. Actually, being in any vehicle in Sri Lanka is a bit scary. The roads are quite narrow and everyone is trying to overtake each other in seemingly impossible situations. Oh, and throw in the odd elephant or tractor for time to time just for good measure. Riding on the bus I couldn’t help but admire how calm the drivers are through all of this. Nerves of steel.

Rankot Vihara - Polonnaruwa's largest dagoba at 54m
Rankot Vihara – Polonnaruwa’s largest dagoba at 54m

We made a bee line for the remote northern group of ruins when we first entered the park area. When we made it to the first large dagoba, Rankot Vihara, around 7:30AM and we largely had the place to ourselves if you don’t count the monkeys. (Another golden rule of Sri Lanka: all temples have monkeys. Lots and lots of monkeys.) Rankot Vihara is Polonnaruwa’s largest dagoba and, in case you were wondering, the center is filled with dirt and bricks. All in all, quite spectacular considering it is almost 1000 years old!

Lankatilaka
Lankatilaka

The nearby Lankatilaka gedige (a type of temple) was also quite a sight. The ceiling had collapsed but the massive walls (17 meters, the book tells me) still stand in a mostly vertical way. The standing Buddha inside was appropriately massive.

Even further north we came to Gal Vihara, a nice collection of rock carvings that are widely regarded to be some of the finest in all of Sri Lanka. There is a large 14m reclining Buddha and a smaller standing Buddha. Both are covered in an unsightly metal roof (infested with monkeys, I might add) that makes photography a bit difficult.

Lotus pond
Lotus pond

By the time we arrived at the relatively minor attractions (Lotus Pond and Tivanka Image House) in the far north corner of the park we were drenched in sweat. The final stretch of road to these sights was uphill and the sun was getting to be quite high in the sky. We rode back south to an area where there were some drink stalls and I promptly downed a liter and a half of water.

The southern end of the park, including the ‘quadrangle’ were our final stop before lunch. These are the most compact area of ruins in the park and are including on just about any tour of Polonnaruwa. If we were to go back and do Polonnaruwa again, we probably would have come here first thing in the morning as it was very crowded when we visited. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed seeing some very impressive stone carvings (including a 9m long ola book made of stone) and buildings.

After a quick bite to eat at our favorite eatery in town (Darshana Hotel on the main drag) we visited the Archaeological Museum (air conditioned! mostly) to some very interesting models of what many of the ruined buildings used to look like. The museum also had some good narrative in English but photos weren’t allowed.

From the museum we rode along Topa Wewa, the large tank (recall: tank is the Sri Lankan term for artificial lake) that sits west of Polonnaruwa. There is a nice road along the levy and the views of the surrounding countryside are quite picturesque, even in the blaring midday heat. A few kilometers down the lake we arrived at Polonnaruwa’s southern group of ruins. These are much smaller than the ones we saw further to the north and the highlight for us was a 4m-high stone carving of a person. Some believe it is one of the ancient kings.

By the time we finished with the southern group it must have been three or four in the afternoon and we were wiped out. The bikes were definitely a good choice but the heat made it very tiring despite the modest distances covered. The ruins of Polonnaruwa were definitely one of the stand-out attractions of Sri Lanka as were the country’s wild elephants. More on them in the next post.

Polonnaruwa
Some buses have meal service.
Some buses have meal service.
A refreshing Kik Cola en route to Polonaruwa
A refreshing Kik Cola en route to Polonaruwa
Rankot Vihara - Polonnaruwa's largest dagoba at 54m
Rankot Vihara – Polonnaruwa’s largest dagoba at 54m
We took our shoes on and off many times when visiting Polonaruwa.
We took our shoes on and off many times when visiting Polonaruwa.
Kiri Vihara
Kiri Vihara
Lankatilaka
Lankatilaka
Monkeys at the temple
Monkeys at the temple
Lotus pond
Lotus pond
The oldest Hindu structure at Polonaruwa
The oldest Hindu structure at Polonaruwa
Giant stone replica of an ola book.
Giant stone replica of an ola book.
Thuparama Gedige
Thuparama Gedige
Decorative moonstone
Decorative moonstone
The baths
The baths
The tank near Polonaruwa - Topa Wewa
The tank near Polonaruwa – Topa Wewa
Lots of storks keeping an eye on us.
Lots of storks keeping an eye on us.

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