Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle includes the three main historic capitals — Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Kandy — plus a bunch of cave temples with paintings, ruins of old cities and monasteries, and as I’ve mentioned before good scenery and great food.
The points of the triangle are Kandy in the south, Anuradhapura in the north, and Polonnaruwa in the east. Within the triangle I wrote about Dambulla and Sigiriya in the last post. This time I have photos from three more sites — Ritigala, Mihintale, and Anuradhapura (like it says in the title :)).
As tempting as it is, I think I’ll manage to start this entry without talking about the food. Be warned, though, that you’re going to see way too many photos of stupas (aka dagoba). It’s my understanding that each of these stupa contains sacred remains of Buddha — ashes, hair, fingernails, whatever.
Here’s one I stumbled upon one morning on a small hill next to the road.
I left Sigiriya in the morning, and it felt like a bit of a remote area getting to Ritigala. I couldn’t find a proper restaurant for breakfast, but basics like these:
are available at many small shops. The woman served me tea as well.
Ritigala is really just ruins of a monastery, in use from about the 3rd century BCE to the 9th century CE — in other words, contemporary with Anuradhapura. That’s why the ruins we see at Ritigala are similar to some of what is found at Anuradhapura. That might explain why most tourists skip Ritigala. For me, well, it was on the way.
The most spectacular remains at Ritigala is what they think is the library:
Did I mention you kind of have to be into old rocks to appreciate Ritigala?
In addition to all the cultural stuff in the triangle there are a number of Forest Reserves and National Parks, home to many herds of elephants. I went through some nice forested sections hoping to spot an elephant (none yet!). When we were at McNeil River looking for bears, well, every rock looked like a bear. Of course, elephants aren’t in the paddy fields (hopefully), but it sure looks like there’s one here.
Unable to find a hotel early that afternoon, I pushed on all the way to Mihintale. Like Ritigala I think a lot of tourists skip Mihintale as well, but I really liked it. The main site is an active temple with a large stupa:
and a large sitting Buddha:
or, if you prefer, both in one photo:
There’s the requisite Bodhi tree:
and another small stupa:
Lower down the hill are the ruins, of some stupa, of course:
and also, what may be the highlight for many people, one of the oldest hospitals in the world:
I found another old-looking nearby stupa:
with this beautiful carving:
However, a monk told me that the carving was from India and only 30 years old. Did I really understand that correctly?
It was more wonderful riding to reach Anuradhapura.
Before arriving in the city, I looped around a bit to visit Nellikulama Temple. This place seemed bizarre to me with 500 monk statues walking down from the main temple along a path meandering through the forest. I kind of wanted to push them over like a line of giant dominoes.
I guess I’d probably understand this stuff more if I had a guide. I try to do a little reading both before and after visiting, and I visited the National Museum in Colombo where I learned a little about Sri Lankan history. They also had some examples of ancient urinals at that museum — kind of surprising, I thought. But, look! Here’s one still in situ:
Anuradhapura (UNESCO-listed, btw) is not a cheap place to visit. Like many sites in Sri Lanka, foreigners pay a special rate. I was aware of this before I came to the country and decided I was fine with it. When I get to the sites, I just pay whatever they ask and don’t think about it. My biggest complaint about this for Anuradhapura is that it’s just a one day ticket.
I started early that day and was still at it nine hours later. Not that you’ll want to read this, but in my notes for that day I made a list what I had visited, in order:
Ruwanwelisaya Dagoda, Thuparmaya Dagoba, Palace of Vijayaba, Citadel (?), Kuttam Pokuna (twin ponds), Samadhi Buddha Statue, Abhayagiriya Dagoba, Second Samadhi Buddha Statue, Main Refectory, Moonstone, Rathna Prasada, Moonstone II, Prasada Stupa, Third Samadhi Buddha Statue, breakfast, Jethavana Dagoda, Patimaghara, Jethavana Museum, Vessagiriya, Isurumuni Viharaya, Ranmasu Uyana (Royal Park baths), Sandahiru Dagoba, lunch, Mirisavatiya Dagoba, Archaeological Museum, Dakkina Thupa.
Now, let’s see if I can show you photos of each one! Just kidding (I hope).
Anuradhapura attracts lots of pilgrims. They seem to like the big modern white stupa and leave beautiful offerings.
Compare that to some of the old (ruined, I guess we could say) stupa which I had all to myself.
But no pretty flowers. 🙁
This one, Jethavana Dagoda,
was the third highest building in the world when it was built in the 3rd century CE. The first and second tallest buildings in the world at that time were in Giza.
There were some smaller stupa around as well. Both new (it’s an ancient site, but what we’re seeing here is 19th century):
The Samadhi Buddha Statue is known as one of the most beautiful in Sri Lanka. As I was admiring it, a monk showed up with two policemen. He gave each of them flowers and then gave some to me as well so the three of us could leave the offerings here:
I guess the monk then said a prayer before asking the usual questions (where I’m from, how long I’m staying, do I like Sri Lanka, etc.).
I learned a little about moonstone at the National Museum in Colombo. They are semi circular carvings often at the entrance to a sacred area. Each band of carving (often animals or plants) has its own significance. This Moonstone (so important it’s gets a capital M!):
is noted to be one of the most beautiful in Sri Lanka. I found these two nearby carvings more interesting:
If you’re into ruins like we saw in Ritigala and Mihintale, well, they are scattered all over the place in Anuradhapura. You could spend days exploring. Here’s an example near the Moonstone.
The area around Isurumuni Viharaya (a temple) is quite pretty.
Near that temple was one of my favorite sites, the Royal Baths in the Royal Gardens (aka Ranmasu Uyana). I had a nice conversation with a Sri Lankan family there. The girls wanted to practice their English. Their father was an engineering mathematics university lecturer. He came to study the ancient hydrology technology and wanted to have his students explain how some of the projects were done.
I thought the gardens and baths were quite beautiful but found it a little difficult to get photos here.
Check out the elephants.
Wow, that was quite a day, wasn’t it?
I’ll end with a couple photos of the lake near my hotel in Anurahapura. There’s a wonderful path all the way around the lake. I walked it the morning of my rest day.
Great photos, descriptions, and stories. I get a sense of Sri Lanka from your journey.
Another wonderful set of pictures and descriptions. Thanks!
Thanks for continuing to take us on your journeys! We loved our time living there in 2004 and your blog brings back so many great memories….