Monday 22 September 2014

Day 147: Anuradhapura - Ancient capital of Sri Lanka

Monks circling one of the many
dagobas at Anuradhapura
Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka for over a thousand years, from 250 BC, around the time when Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka.  Today, most of the honeypot sites in the ruined capital are Buddhist stupas (dagobas), with their white or brick domes rising from the jungle.

 Beautiful as they were, it was hard to get a true sense of their age from any but the brick varieties and some old statues that had not been restored.  (Information about what is original and what is reconstructed was generally lacking.)  This Buddha, who wears both age and a contemplative expression, was a favourite of both of ours.

Just as impressive, to me, as the religious sites was the way the jungle teems with bricks and thickets of stone pillars, liberally scattered over a wide area.  Many of them, taken individually, may seem unremarkable; they are half-hidden and little-photographed, while our cameras pointed at tall stupas and frolicking monkeys.  But these ruins sprout from the ground almost as relentlessly as the vegetation, making up a site that we spent half the day driving around.  I wonder how much more lies under the tree roots and the greenery?

When we had circled enough dagobas to form a dome-shaped mental blur, we left Anuradhapura to drive to Mihintale, where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka.  Climbing to the hill-top site, we found a suite of stupas and a Buddha statue.  We spent a long time up here, enjoying the loftiness - the lush jungle fringing the white Buddha with wooded ridges rising behind.

Macaque monkeys deep water soloing
But it wasn't all about stillness and beauty.  A group of cheeky monkeys played beside a pool, playing tug-of-war with a string of prayer flags and knocking each other into the water.  Guy almost fell in after them with laughter.

Not to be outdone for 'lesser' buildings, there were also the ruins of a monastery, hospital and some older dagobas at Mihintale.  I particularly loved the stone inscription of payments to be made for working at the monastery.  The 'merry dancers', for example, earned a daily rice ration and a portion of land.  Merry dancers?  At a monastery?

By 5pm we were templed-out ('I'm ruined', Guy kept insisting!) and ready to make a bee-line for our fish curry, but our driver had one more site in store for us.  He took us to an ayurvedic massage centre where our hair was duly oiled, our backs rubbed and our skin steamed.  We emerged glowing and even more ready for that fish curry.  It did not disappoint.  The only thing disrupting the meal was a sound like gun shots (fire-crackers, we were told) with which the villagers were trying to scare a wild elephant.  They told us that water is scarce at the tail-end of the dry season and so elephants sometimes stray near to the village.  Unlike the custom for other guests, nobody was offering to cook him a curry.

More fire-crackers sounded as we walked back from the pub.  'Oh well, at least there are ten of us together,' Guy said.  Hmm, I suspect an elephant probably weighs more than ten humans.  We can find out for certain tomorrow when we go for an elephant ride!

Dagoba at Anuradhapura 
Elephants seem to be a recurring power-theme 
Fancy steps
Beauty is not all man-made in Anuradhapura...
Another dagoba
Ascending the rock outcrop at Mihintale

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