We caught the bus from Trincomalee, taking the direct road to the city of Anuradhapura, in the north west of Sri Lanka.
Modern day Anuradhapura is a rambling and pleasantly unchaotic city, with many beautifully decorated round abouts and a very grand white train station.
Just north you find yourself in the ancient city. Founded in the 4th century BC, ancient Anuradhapura was soon the capital of Sri Lanka and a hugely important site for Buddhist pilgrims to pay homage to. The huge white domed dagobas tower over everything, peeking out between buildings and trees – signifying various sacred sites and relics, as well as of course being a display of the wealth of the kings and the skills of the workmanship.
A cutting from the sacred fig tree under which the Lord Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment was planted in the ancient city. The Bodhi tree, as it is known, still remains today, in a courtyard surrounded by temples and flags. The tree attracts masses of pilgrims, dressed all in white, and the air hums with the murmuring of meditations.
The ancient city itself was actually completely abandoned in 993 AD after an invasion, and the jungle took over. But it was then rediscovered, and can be seen today of course. Stone ruins, impressive statues, and wide pools emerge somewhat eerily through the trees, sandy pathways wiggle between forest and stone. And you are really struck by how very old it all is. We explored by bicycle, using our Rough Guide Book and a paper map to find the way.
The most impressive I feel were the dagobas, still standing strong (although bulging alarmingly in places!), but no longer white. Leafy boughs, weather and most of all time had stripped away the paint revealing sun burnt brick. The largest of these, Jetvana, apparently has enough bricks to build a three metre high wall all the way from London to Edinburgh.
12km east of Anuradhapura, or about half an hour tuk tuk ride from the city centre, is Mihintale, another ancient site that is just as – if not more – impressive as the ruins of Anuradhapura. Mihintale marks the place where Buddhism was first brought the Sri Lanka, so is a hugely important pilgrimage place, especially for Poson Poya earlier in June (see my post about travelling on a Poya day to find out more!).
Many many steps in broad and sweeping stone staircases lead you up through ruins, until you reach the main site at the top. At the heart is the very spot where it is said Mahinda addressed the king of Anuradhapura about Buddhism for the first time. A small and humble dagoba marks the place, as well as a very ancient statue of the king, unfortunately though the statue is so worn that he’s actually lost his head.
From here you can climb in three directions. One steep climb leads to a beautiful huge white Buddha statue, sat in meditation on the mountain. Another leads to a beautiful peak, with just breathtaking panoramic views. And the third leads to a monumentally big dagoba, with a platform facing back towards Anuradhapura, and also towards the setting sun.
Our tuk tuk driver also gave us one more unexpected treat. He stopped half way between Anuradhapura and Mihintale to show us a meditation site, used by the monks. Hidden away from the road, he lead us to a very ancient, and very beautiful tree, which had spread out across an entire courtyard and been guided by the monks into spirals and doorways. Such a place of peace, with not another soul in sight.
So now, we begin to head back down the country, to Kegalle, where we are visiting the Elephant Freedom Project. Looking forward to a seeing the beautiful creatures and finding out about the project. I will have to wait potentially up to a few weeks before I can blog about the experience however, as the Project are undergoing a lot of change at the moment, and I want to support them as much as I can. Suffice to say for now that it was an unforgettable experience, and I would recommend it to anyone to anyone in a heartbeat.
After that, it’s on to Adams Peak, where we hope to catch the sunrise on the mountain.
Hope you’re all well,
Stay breezey 🌿