Exploring Sri Lanka’s archaeological sites
11.07.2011 - 12.07.2011 30 °C
Trains in Sri Lanka run infrequently and at unusual times. As such, 5.45am saw us pulling away from Colombo Fort station on a train bound for Anuradhapura. We loved the journey: comfortably seated in second class, we watched the countryside pass by at an unhurried pace. Inside the carriage, a large group of men shared bread and curry, even inviting the conductor to join. We arrived ahead of schedule before midday, and were met by a tuk tuk from our hotel.
The ancient city is a large site, so we hired bicycles to get around. Once out of the traffic mayhem in the centre of town, cycling about was really enjoyable. The bikes were a bit old and creaky, and had no gears, but the few hills were gentle.
Anuradhapura is the oldest site we visited: an ancient capital of Sri Lanka. Most of the sights take the form of dagobas, giant domes with tall spires surrounded by a boundary wall. On our first day we visited Ruvanelisaya Dagoba, which is one of the oldest (120BC) but has been heavily restored so it doesn't particularly show. Its main feature is the wall of elephants around the outside.
Arguably more interesting, although less dramatic, was the Sri Maha Bodhi, or sacred Bodhi tree. This tree supposedly grew from a cutting taken from the original Bodhi tree under which the Buddha obtained enlightenment, and is over 2,000 years old. The walls around the compound were clearly ancient, and it was great to see the colourful prayer flags draped over the walls, smell the incense and oil lamps, and hear the chanting .
The following day we bought our Cultural Triangle tickets. These would give us entry to most of the cultural sites we wanted to see around the country, but the price for foreign tourists is rather steep. With lighter wallets, we spent the rest of the day visiting more dagobas, Buddhas and ruins.
Halfway round we were joined by a teenage Sri Lankan guy called Sampath. He was nice enough, and asked some amusing questions including “Does your brother speak English?” to Clare, and “Are there monkeys in England?”. However, after an hour it got a little wearing and we explained tactfully that we wanted to carry on our tour on our own. We didn’t get away without giving over our Sri Lankan mobile number though, so we’re still getting occasional calls from him.