Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
Ayubowan! (that’s a commonly used Sri Lankan greeting meaning, “may you live long”). At the breakfast buffett and discovered coconut pancakes, filled with dedicated coconut, coconut treacle and sugar – amazing… and dangerous for waist lines everywhere. To the tour bus, for a day of historical sight seeing in Anuradhapura, the first ancient capital in the Northern Central province of Sri Lanka. There were many places I visited in Anuradhapura, so I had to make a list and notes: 1. Isurumniya Temple – It looks like an extension of the large boulder/cave it has been built into, with a square pool at the front (where monkeys hang out) it holds a treasure trove of stone carvings inside and around the site, including the celebrated granite sculpture called, “Isurumuniya lovers”. The most impressive sculpture at Isurumniya Temple, is of a large colourful Dead Buddha (Buddha lying on its side with left foot slightly back from the right foot). Even the ceilings of the building that house this statue are adorned with beautifully vibrant paintings and designs. To the bat cave! Outside, in a narrow and not very deep space between boulders, is a cave housing hundreds of bats… And a stupa accessible from the rear of the temple/boulder. 2. Sri Maha Bodhi Tree is the oldest, historically authenticated tree in the world (2,250 years) and it’s on crutches! Although the tree isn’t that big, the branches are so slender, they must be supported with iron crutches. A temple has been built around the tree. Thousands of locals and tourists come here daily to worship, meditate and to give offerings to Buddha and the Bodhi Tree. If you woke up here – you’d think you were at a water lily, floristry and incense burning convention. The volume of flowers offered at these sites is incomprehensible, and a pleasant sensory experience… Minus the sweaty people. 3. Ruwanweliseya – Standing at a height of 180 feet and having a circumference of 370 feet (not sure of the conversion in meters), Ruwanweliseya stupa is the second tallest stupa in Sri Lanka. Another feature worth noting, is the 344 stone elephants heads imbedded into the walls that surround the stupa. I’d say it’s the palace of stupas… Actually, I also saw the Brazen Palace which is now 1600 stone pillars… Onto the next few sites – more stupas! The tour should have been called, “Stupendous Stupa Stalking in Sri Lanka”. If you’ve read my previous blog posts, you’ll be aware of the removal of shoes before going to temples etc… The temples and stupas visited today also required the removal of hats… In colder temperatures, removing shoes and hats is no biggy… With temperatures in the mid 30’s and humidity 85%…Kind of a big deal after the 4th temple/ stupa visit. Around 5 hours of treading over scorching, sun exposed surfaces with no shade or reprieve, had my feet (and the rest of the groups feet) in a world of searing pain. Is this how one trains for walking on hot coals? I needed a pair of shorts and a Pepsi Max, STAT! The group was well and truly… stupafied.. So from a distance, in the air conditioned comfort of the bus we viewed: 4. Thumparmaya Stupa; 5. Jetavanaramaya Stupa (biggest stupa in Sri Lanka); and 6. Lankaramaya Stupa. A short drive away… 7. Samadhi Buddha Statue – Sitting stone Buddha. 8. Kuttam Pokuna (Twin Ponds) – originally built for Buddhist monks to take their daily baths in… The water quality might not be suitable for bathing today.. 9. At the Abayagiriya stupa, my feet had decided they’d prefer to keep their Havaianas (thongs/ flip flops) on, thus staying outside of the temple/ stupa area. It was here I saw a non profit cockfight…. Organised by the participants of the fight… The roosters. 10. The final stop, Mihintale. Mihintale is a mountain peak near Anuradhapurna that is said to be the birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhism… but you have to work for it (1840 stairs worth of work to be exact). The journey of 1840 stairs, starts with one step. I run the first part of the stairs – walk the rest and I’m at the top, in record time… Or before the rest of the group… Shoes are off (again) as there’s more than a stupa to be seen and found up here. It’s the buffett version of Buddhist worship… Standing in a courtyard of sand, palms and monkeys sits a small white stupa in the middle… then there are 3 options to chose from.. all involving additional climbing 🙂 on the left of the summit courtyard, perched high on a rock, a giant, white statue of sitting Buddha. On the right side of the summit courtyard, a large Stupa and the third option, Aradhana Gala. Aradhana Gala is a steep rock with steel railings and small footsteps to help pilgrims (who aren’t seasoned climbers) climb to the top. The views up here are rewarding and well worth the work. Now, back down the stairs, and to the hotel… And it has a pool. Cool water. Thank you! And then……. The time I thought it was safe to open my eyes underwater in the hotel pool and I was blinded for 5 minutes after. Not sure what kind of chemicals they put in the water here… Too cool to pool, I headed for a shower… So, my physical state… I had burnt my eyes in the chlorinated pool water, my feet on a third of Sri Lankas holy land and my scalp where my hair was parted due to high temps and the hat restrictions at the places of worship… Oh, and my burnt bottom from beaching yesterday. It was a big day! A very big, stupa filled, day!