Many people ask which one they should visit — Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa. Well, you’re coming all the way to Sri Lanka so you should go to both, of course. On the other hand there’s certainly not time to see everything. As I was going from site to site in Polonnaruwa, I felt like I was just going through the motions, not getting much out of it. Anuradhapura is much more interesting, I thought. However, I had been attacked by an elephant only two days earlier so, well, I wasn’t in the best of spirits. Then after a few hours at the site I came to Gal Viharaya. Wow, of everything I’ve seen in Sri Lanka these three Buddhas probably impressed me the most.
I should also add that visiting Polonnaruwa made me feel like a foreigner more than anywhere else in Sri Lanka. There are multiple entrances to the historic area. Locals (i.e. Sri Lankans) come and go as they please, but foreigners can only use one entrance (and must purchase an expensive ticket like at many sites in the country). More annoying than that was having to wait until quite late for the ticket office to open. Locals can enjoy the early morning cool weather but not foreigners. There are even separate toilets for foreigners and different fees for littering (5000 lkr vs. US$33)! Weird and overall not a happy feeling.
Ok, now for some positive aspects, I hope. Let’s start with some photos.
is most famous for the Maha Parakramabahu Statue:
If there’s one name to associate with Polonnaruwa, it’s King Parakramabahu. Most of what we see today was built during his three decade reign from 1161 to his death in 1186.
Parakramabahu was succeeded by his son-in-law, Nissankamalla. One of the sites you can visit early while waiting for the main site to open is Nissankamalla’s Council Chamber:
You can see primates sitting on the top of Nissankamalla’s Royal Palace:
Those are gray langur, different from the typical monkey that we see all over Sri Lanka. Here are the gray langur up close:
and the commonly seen monkeys:
Parakramabahu’s Council Chamber had these drawf carvings all the way around:
There were lions and elephants too (no photos).
Here is Parakramabahu’s Royal Bath, Kumara Pokuna:
I was pretty excited to see the Polonnaruwa Quadrangle, but, well, like I said maybe it was my mood. Also the overcast but very bright sky made photography tricky this morning.
Here’s the Vatadage with more dwarves and lions:
and a moonstone, with elephants, of course.
There was a lot restoration work going on at Polonnaruwa.
Sorry for the bad photo, but in one corner of the quadrangle was this unusual stepped pyramid, called Sat Mahal Prasadaya:
It reminded me of the five story building at Edzná. Later I read the description at the museum. It noted the unusual architecture and compared this building to a “Mexican ziggurat”. 🙂 Go figure.
Polonnaruwa, like Anuradhapura, was consolidated around Buddhism. However, Sri Lanka can never be far from the influence of its giant neighbor. Here’s a Hindu temple, Hindu Temple God Shiva Devalaya (No. 2):
I enjoyed the sites more as I continued north.
There really is a lot to see, isn’t there?
If you’re being complete about it, you’ll head farther north to see the Lotus Pond:
and the Thivanka Image House:
However, here’s the star. If you’re only going to see one monument in Polonnaruwa and indeed one in all of Sri Lanka, make it the carved stone Buddhas at Gal Viharaya (deserving UNESCO’s listing in and of itself).
Perhaps it was my recent brush with death, but I found the energy here incredibly calming. It was a truly magical place, among the most amazing places I’ve experienced. I contemplated life — regretted that I hadn’t been to Bamyan before the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas there, thankful that I was able to visit Aleppo and Damascus before Assad destroyed Syria. It was that kind of day for me after seeing my mortality face to face with an angry elephant.
The next day I was still feeling a bit hesitant to hit the road for real. I opted for a day trip to the historic site of Medirigiriya. It was a nice excuse for a test run with the new bike even though I had already ridden it 90km at this point.
At the museum in Polonnaruwa I had seen a photo of these three Buddhas at Medirigiriya:
but the star attraction of the site is really the Vatadage:
A couple families were there praying and chanting. It was that and the sound of birds at this very peaceful site.
With advertising like this:
how could I not stop for a coconut on the way back?
Next on my list was another historic temple, Dimbulagala. I pedaled my loaded bicycle out of Polonnaruwa in the morning only to find elephant tracks on the road.
Not a happy camper. 🙁
Monkeys are a problem at the temple, but the monks kindly showed me a place to securely leave my bicycle. As I made my way back to the main temple grounds, I met Sirikashapalankarathero. I ended up spending my Dimbulagala visit with him. He joined the temple 25 years ago when he was only 12 years old. However, at some point he did take a nine year break. His English was good, and he gave me the full temple tour.
As is typical, there were lots of statues telling stories. I think this is Buddha repelling many devil incarnations:
Here we have a complicated story of the woman on the left giving her babies to the woman on the right who’s actually the devil and eats the babies. After a few times, if I understood correctly, the normal woman starts eating the devil’s babies. Really? Anyone familiar with Buddhist mythology?
The temple houses some fairly large carved wooden Buddhas:
After giving me breakfast (ginger tea, starfruit, biscuits, and some sweets I’m still trying to identify) in his spartan cave room, Sirikashapatankarathero gave me his bank account number. If you want to contribute to his fund to finish the stupa in this photo:
well, let me know. I’ll send you the account number.
It was all good at the temple until Sirikashapatankarathero started showing me the damage that an elephant had recently done around the place. There were fresh tracks as well. Not a happy camper. 🙁
Why are there so many shrines to Ganesha?
I started heading south for real.
In case you’re wondering, the food is still good. Can you believe I ate all the different veggies shown in these three photos in one dinner?
thalana batu, plantain, sweet potato, ambarella:
banana flower, eggplant, patola (snake gourd), karavila (bitter gourd):
I’m not going hungry.