Posted in Travel

Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, and Anuradhapura (Rain, rocks, and ruins)

Within 10 minutes of arriving to my guesthouse in Sigiriya, a monkey broke into house and it was a hilarious scramble with broomsticks, screaming and laughing to get him out. I immediately knew I would love it here. From my patio I could see Sigiriya Rock, which is why you come to Sigiriya, to climb the rock. Unfortunately the rain was still coming down hard so with time to spare, I waited it out. Unlike Kandy where it felt lonely sitting in my hotel while it rained, my place in Sigiriya was different. First off, Sigiriya is a tiny town that you can walk through in about 30 mins. Secondly, sitting on my private patio doing nothing but reading, listening to and looking at nature is like heaven to me. And thirdly, the hosts treated me like a family member. I hung out with the kids, developing a special bond with their 13 year old daughter, and I got to help cook our Sri Lankan dinners. And as an added bonus, two elephants wandered onto the property one night! We watched them with flashlights until the neighbour scared them off with firecrackers. 

The sweetest family (Shady Mango Villa)

On the 3rd day, I figured I should probably do something. I chose to go to Polonnaruwa instead of climbing the rock because it’s much better to see ruins with an umbrella than to miss a view due to rain and clouds. Polonnaruwa was an easy 2 bus excursion from Sigirya, despite having to deflect the standard line of questioning that includes being asked if I want a Sri Lankan boyfriend. I’ve followed all of my Buddhist vows except for the no lying one – telling these men I have a husband or boyfriend at home usually stops the annoying advances, but sometimes it doesn’t at all. 

Reclining Buddha at Gal Vihara, Polonnaruwa

After 8 straight days of rain, I was surprised to finally see the sun. Once I got off the bus, there were bikes right there to rent for the day. It was perfect toodling around on a one-speed cruiser looking at old broken stone and brick buildings and statues. Polonnaruwa was formed in the 11th-13th centuries A.D. as the second Sri Lankan capital after Anuradhapura. I find it fascinating to think of the history of these places and to try and imagine what it might have looked like back in the days when it was full of royal palaces and monasteries. The museum showcased carvings, jewelry, statues, hospital instruments, coins, and a host of other things that give you a glimpse of how this ancient civilization lived. I could do proper research and give you more information about the place but I’m a bit lazy and I figure if you really want to know, you can Google it for yourselves. 

Vatadage at Polonnaruwa.

At a cost of $25 USD, I’d say it was worth it. I mean obviously I’d prefer it to be cheaper, or free like in Hampi, but for a days worth of exploring, it was okay. And the best part? I saw a herd of about 25 elephants from the bus on my way back to Sigiriya. 

Image hall – Polonnaruwa

Due to a booking mix up at my guesthouse, the following day was my last, so I had to climb the Sigiriya Rock Fortress. I was up and out the door by 7am to beat the crowds and was on top of Sigiriya by 7:40. The good thing was there were hardly any people, the bad thing was there also wasn’t a view due to fog and I paid $30USD to be up there. I waited over an hour and still no view. I was going to keep waiting, but then it started to rain. Feeling very sad that I’d wasted the one sunny day touring Polonnaruwa, which would have been fine in inclement weather, I made my descent. I’m still happy I went early because as I was leaving, there were bus loads of tourists going up. I spent some time touring the grounds and the museum and then headed over to the next, smaller mountain, Pidurangala.
Sigiriya grounds, all surrounded by a moat
Pidurangala Rajamaha Viharaya is a cave and rock temple which came into prominence when the king who built Sigiriya (477-495 A.D), moved monks living around Sigiriya Rock over to the new Pidurangala temple and monastery. Thankfully the clouds had cleared by the time I summited and I had a great view of Sigiriya. I would recommend this climb over Sigiriya at only 500 rupees instead of 4500. From the distance I could see the long queue of people waiting for their turn to reach the summit. No thank you! 
View from Pidurangala (zoom in to see the queue)

I said goodbye to my sweet family and then headed to another UNESCO heritage site, Anuradhapura. Right away it was weird to be back in the city and I didn’t like it that much. That evening I visited the famous Bodhi tree, which was grown from a clipping of the original Bodhi tree around 2000 years ago. There was a massive puja that night so I couldn’t get anywhere near the big stupa (Ruwanweliseya 161-137BC). 

Ruwanweliseya at night
 The next day I rented a bike and with map in hand, I went to explore the ancient ruins of the first kingdom, capital, and center of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (from the 4th century B.C. to 11th century A.D.). The ruins here are much older and more ruined than in Polonnaruwa and are quite spread apart. There seemed to be a lot more Buddhist history and lots of stupas; I took the time to circumambulate each one, but overall I wasn’t that impressed with many of the sites. Maybe it was the constant harassing to buy trinkets, the wannabe guide who followed me along on his bicycle, or the massive suffering of the dogs that I just have such a hard time turning away from. Or perhaps I was just done with ruins. 
Abayagiriya Buddhist Temple – Anuradhapura
Whatever it was, I decided to give the small ruin site and town of Mihintale a miss and get myself back to the beach for my last few days in Sri Lanka. 

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Author:

I'm off on my first travel adventure since my 20's. This blog is intended to keep my friends and family up-to-date while I'm away.

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