Breakfast was a buffet. Something that was very popular in Sri Lanka. Once we had breakfast we met our guide and drove to the cultural capital – Anapoi…. It was about a four hour drive.
When we arrived at Anuradhapura and our guide asked us what we wanted to eat for lunch. This is a hard question when you don’t really know the options. We went for what he recommended- which was a buffet. The view from the buffet was stunning- it seemed surreal, with a mountain poking out of a huge man made lake. But we were the only ones in the entire restaurant. Which was weird. Having and entire buffet and staff all to ourselves. Also the washroom in this restaurant was boy girl – something I was not prepared for. The food was fine but nothing to write home about.
The we arrived at our hotel. Once at the hotel (which was lovely. Although had signs on it which warned that monkeys would attack the rooms if left u locked) we had an hour of free time before we went out to see the ruins. This hotel had an awesome pool to swim in- although I think the pool boys were embarrassed that I was the only girl swimming in it.
Next we went to see the cultural museum. Again not a lot of tourists in the area, but lots of old artifacts to look at. And there is something nice about exploring a museum by yourself.
After the museum we were able to go explore the temple complex. This area is known for its ancient temples. And unlike the rest of the world – there are no ropes or barriers telling you not to touch or climb on the temples – so people do.
We saw a bunch the of different temples. It was very hot – our guide did not want to walk around- so he would drive us from temple to temple so that we could jump out. Walk about. Then return to the car. It was an odd experience. We saw a temple complex that once was inhabited by 1,000 monks. We saw the foundations of where they lived and we saw the old dinner hall. We could still see the containers they used to house rice and curries for the monks. The original buffet.
Our guide took us to one of the oldest still working temples in the country, Jethawanaramay. It was built of red bricks instead of the customary white temples that Sri Lanka is known for. We took our shoes off and circled around the stupa. It was really cool. We learned quickly that everyone wears white to visit the stupas – so we stood out a little bit. But the thing that stool out the most was there were not any other tourists here- the rest of the people at this stupa were practicing Buddhists.
Next we went to the biggest stupa in Sri Lanka, none of the other stupas are allowed to be taller then this one. It is plastered white to protect it from the elements. Again we checked our shoes, and headed into the stupa. When we were visiting this stupa, we were lucky to see an offering made by a rich pilgrim. He bought a long strip of orange fabric that would go around the base of the stupa. There was a parade of visitors helping to carry the fabric to the stupa. It was really cool to see and be a part of.
Next to this stupa was the Sri Maha Bodhi is a Sacred Fig tree. This tree is a direct decent of the tree under which Budda gained enlightenment in India. This tree is crazy old. It is surrounded by gold gates – so you can’t actually touch the tree, it is also supported by lots of gold crutches – so that the limbs would never touch the ground.
The next temple we went to was called the boulder temple, or officially Isurumuniya Temple. This temple was cool because it was smaller – also there were a lot of people there just praying. While we were there – 2 kids were very very curious about me and Andrew as we were the only white people there. The parents felt bad that their kids wouldn’t stop staring at us, so the mother decided that she would take us up to the temple with her, gave us lotus flowers and taught us how to give thanks.
On the way back to our hotel – our guide asked if we wanted to see one more temple. This was at Mihintale, the birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhism built 3rd century BC. We climbed a lot (maybe 1,840) stone steps up to really-old pagodas, monasteries and caves. It was really windy at that top. Once we reached the top, our guide led us to the “rock” on top to the mountain.
This was where all the pilgrims were going. It was literally rock climbing to get to the top – they had carved out steps to get up – but looking at the pictures to the right you can see they aren’t really steps. At the top of the rock was basically just a semi flat area that was fenced off to try to keep people from falling off the rock. There were a lot of people up there. And it was very windy. Because of this we did not stay at the top of the rock very long, instead we moved to the second hill, which had a large Budda statue on it to watch the sun set. This hill we had basically to ourselves, so it was very peaceful.
One thing to note in Sri Lanka the sun always sets at 6 pm. And quickly. So as the sun was getting close to setting we booted it down the hill to our car so that we would not be walking down the steps in the dark.
For dinner we decided to walk to the village down the street. The village was small with 2 identical restaurants and about 5 stores. We choose the restaurant based on how many people were inside and got our first $4 dollar meal. We were served the same curry that we would get at the hotel restaurant, but at a quarter of the price. Sure it was basically “fast food Sri Lanka style” but it was nice to not break the bank for once.