Sacred trees and really big stupas

Saturday 16 March 2013 – Anuradhapura

I read and listened to music well into the night last night, but even after a reasonable days exercise I still had a lot of trouble getting to sleep and didn’t drop off until well into the wee hours. Subsequently I did not wake up till 8:40 which is a lot later than I planned. I wanted to get back out on the bike today and see the bits of Anuradhapura that I could not find the other day.

After visiting Benne’s guest house for dinner last night I discovered that I had mis-placed my guest house on the Lonely Planet map and I was not quite where I thought I was – with this new knowledge my day of exploration was so much easier !!!

The other gift from Benne’s guesthouse, probably more from being outside in the evening after rain maybe, I shouldn’t blame Benne’s GH – was mosquito bites. I have been woefully lax in using mozzie repellent since I have been here as I just haven’t seen any. Mistake, I found two when I got up but noticed a whole load later in the day, damnit !

I was on the road for a reasonable 9:30 and with my new found confidence in actually knowing my start point I found my way to my first destination, the Bodhi Tree fairly swiftly. I do actually have to point out that I was ninety percent sure I was as at one of the other entrances to the Bodhi Tree site when I got ‘mis-placed’ on Thursday – and this turned out to be correct. Anuradhapura has a reasonably large military presence with a number of armed forces bases around the town, including one very close to the side entrance to the Bodhi Tree. There are a lot of military type signs about the place and I am always wary of straying into places I do not belong, especially where people with guns are concerned. But I feel better that I was not that lost on Thursday, and even better that no-one shot me.

The Bodhi Tree is central to Sri Lankan Buddhism and therefore to Sri Lanka. It is the oldest documented in the world and is from a cutting from India by Princess Sangamitta, the sister of Mahinda, who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka. The tree has been tended on this site for over 2000 years. Visually it is not that impressive, but once inside the grounds and milling with the many hundreds of devotees that are here at any time you get a feel for how sacred a place this is. It ‘feels’ different. I spent a bit of time sitting in the shade just enjoying the atmosphere before moving on.

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On a more earthy note, I also spent some time watching these monkeys eating the flowers left at the Buddha image outside : )

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I cycled around for a bit longer, this time with a plan – and an idea of where I was going ! Stopping to enjoy the view every now and then, it was incredibly hot even at 10:00.

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A the lakeside I was approached by a guy on a motorbike who was selling souvenirs, I negotiated on a small granite Ganesh statue and bought one. He then wanted to sell me his tour services which I declined – about twenty five times before finally just riding off to the ancient cities ticket office. I was after a ticket that would allow me access over three months to all the key ancient cities, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Dambulla. Sadly they do not do those anymore and each site is now 25USD each, except Sigiriya which is 30USD and Dambulla which is only a fiver. There is no way I was able to afford or willing to spend 100NZD on day passes to sites so had to choose which one to do and decided to ditch Anuradhapura as Polonnaruwa is supposedly ‘better’. A tough choice, sorry Anuradhapura – too much money means you loose out… Luckily there was still free stuff to do.

My next stop then was the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba, one of the larger white dagobas in town. I had to put some socks on my bare feet to be able to walk around the outside as the ground was so hot – I was not the only one, but I did notice that the Sri Lankans were all bare foot !

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The dagoba, and in fact the entire area around here and the next two (free) places I visited are surrounded by a vast tree shrouded park land that is full of the ruins of old monasteries, houses and the various other undefined buildings from the era when Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka. There was a lot of effort put into its archaeology back in the colonial days, but less so since, admittedly it is a huge task and probably not helped by people like me not willing to cough the 25USD. If I knew with all my heart the money was going into research and archaeology then I perhaps would have spent it, but I know it doesn’t.

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I also discovered my Ganesh selling friend seemed to be stalking me, he stopped me again to ask if I want a tour “inside the city, no ticket needed”. I ended up having to turn my back on him. This was the third time he had stopped me and it was enough.

My next stop was the much photographed Thuparamaya Dagoba, built between 250 and 210 BC it is supposed to be first stupa built on the Island. It was the place I wanted to see the most, mainly because I had seen some cool photos of it with the pillars from long ago collapsed buildings sticking out all different angles. Unfortunately progress means that light pylons and power lines are all over the place and the photo is no longer available. I will admit it is not the best reason for wanting to visit an ancient and important religious site, but there you go – it was mine.

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Inside the ground was the smaller Padhalanchana Chethiya, which apparently covers a footprint left by Buddha as he went up into the air on his third visit to Sri Lanka.

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My last visit was to this wonderful old dagoba and the largest in the area, Jetavanarama Dagoba was built in the 9th century and at over 100metre high was likely to be the 3rd tallest building in the world at the time, it is now just over 70 metres high and is incredibly impressive.

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By the time I left here it was past mind-day, I was a wee bit dehydrated (again) and definitely feeling sun burnt. I had nothing left I wanted to do in Anuradhapura so I rode back to the GH, had a cooling shower and slobbed for the rest of the day. I have started watching The Beiderbecke Affair, a mid-eighties English comedy/drama and I am loving it.

The focus is a bit off on some of these shots, sadly. The new camera has a touch screen display which allows me to select the focal point, but it is not 100% reliable, also with the bright light it is quite hard to see exactly what is going on on the screen. I really wish I had bought the viewfinder as well…

About wheresphil

Originally from Auckland, New Zealand, now living in London.
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