Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle con’t: Ritigala, Mihintale, Anuradhapura

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.

IMG_20211208_064402 by bryandkeith on flickr
Sri Magallena Rajamaha Viharaya
IMG_20211208_071237 by bryandkeith on flickr

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:

I couldn't find a proper restaurant, but it's easy to find stuff like this at most shops. by bryandkeith on flickr

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:

IMG_20211208_101120 by bryandkeith on flickr

Did I mention you kind of have to be into old rocks to appreciate Ritigala?

IMG_20211208_094718 by bryandkeith on flickr
Banda Pond
IMG_20211208_102652 by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211208_111834 by bryandkeith on flickr

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:

IMG_20211209_062405 by bryandkeith on flickr

and a large sitting Buddha:

IMG_20211209_064530 by bryandkeith on flickr

or, if you prefer, both in one photo:

IMG_20211209_064650 by bryandkeith on flickr

There’s the requisite Bodhi tree:

IMG_20211209_070854 by bryandkeith on flickr

and another small stupa:

IMG_20211209_071011 by bryandkeith on flickr

Lower down the hill are the ruins, of some stupa, of course:

IMG_20211209_075451 by bryandkeith on flickr
Katu Seya

and also, what may be the highlight for many people, one of the oldest hospitals in the world:

IMG_20211209_082058 by bryandkeith on flickr

I found another old-looking nearby stupa:

IMG_20211209_090235 by bryandkeith on flickr

with this beautiful carving:

IMG_20211209_090145 by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211209_095540 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211209_095610 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211209_133315 by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211209_115601 by bryandkeith on flickr

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:

an ancient urinal by bryandkeith on flickr

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 of 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.

IMG_20211210_061204 by bryandkeith on flickr
Ruwanwelisaya Dagoda
IMG_20211210_061958 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211210_124626 by bryandkeith on flickr
Sandahiru Dagoba
IMG_20211210_124824 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211210_134156 by bryandkeith on flickr
Mirisavatiya Dagoba
IMG_20211210_134408 by bryandkeith on flickr

Compare that to some of the old (ruined, I guess we could say) stupa which I had all to myself.

IMG_20211210_074452 by bryandkeith on flickr
Abhayagiriya Dagoba
IMG_20211210_093036 by bryandkeith on flickr

But no pretty flowers. 🙁

This one, Jethavana Dagoda,

IMG_20211210_092828 by bryandkeith on flickr

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):

IMG_20211210_064041 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211210_062248 by bryandkeith on flickr

and old:

IMG_20211210_151054 by bryandkeith on flickr
Dakkina Thupa

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:

A monk came by while I was here.  He gave me and two policemen some flowers to place in front of this Buddha statue. by bryandkeith on flickr

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!):

IMG_20211210_080000 by bryandkeith on flickr

is noted to be one of the most beautiful in Sri Lanka. I found these two nearby carvings more interesting:

IMG_20211210_080455 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211210_080538 by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211210_075840 by bryandkeith on flickr

The area around Isurumuni Viharaya (a temple) is quite pretty.

IMG_20211210_113555_8 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211210_114626 by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

IMG_20211210_121250 by bryandkeith on flickr

Check out the elephants.

IMG_20211210_121139 by bryandkeith on flickr

Wow, that was quite a day, wasn’t it?

IMG_20211210_062033 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211210_061712 by bryandkeith on flickr

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.

There was a nice path all this lake near where I stayed in Anuradhapura.  I walked around it one morning. by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20211209_181902 by bryandkeith on flickr
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3 Responses to Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle con’t: Ritigala, Mihintale, Anuradhapura

  1. Jeffrey A Anderson says:


    Great photos, descriptions, and stories. I get a sense of Sri Lanka from your journey.



  2. Mike Painter says:

    Another wonderful set of pictures and descriptions. Thanks!

  3. Jennifer Werner says:

    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….

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