Day two: Anuradhapura Ancient City
After breakfast your tour leader will take you through the amazing countryside toward Anuradhapura Ancient City. Sri Lanka has a rich heritage and Anuradhapura is one of the greatest and oldest civilisations in the world. It was the first capital, ruled by 113 kings for over 1000 years. The jewel in its crown is the Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred tree under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment and that has stood with pride for more than 2200 years. One of the main attractions in Anuradhapura is Ruwanweliseya, a monument built in 140 BC that embodies the culture, heritage, and supremacy of the strongest kingdom in Sri Lankan history.
We start the day with a serious discussion with our tour guide. We explain to him that we were not informed that our tour was not with a group. We discuss with him that we like to interact with other people, but under the circumstances, which we cannot change, we would like him to provide us with a more grassroots experience and that we would like to talk to and to interact with the local people. He says nothing. He shrugs. We pack the car and leave the hotel.
We have 170 kilometres to travel today and Tom sits in the front seat. He asks about general stuff; basic wages, education, government, etc. The responses we receive cannot be repeated here, as it is a jumble of explanations of ethnicity, race, and goodness knows what else. I quickly zone out and view the sights outside the window of the car. How are we going to put up with this for two weeks? Tom tries again.
'How much would it cost to buy a block of land?'
'A perch is is 5 metres by 5 metres.'
' How many perches for a block of land?'
' You have to buy a few.'
Okaaay. Time to stick my nose on the window and check out the surroundings. And so the 'tour' continued, and for a while, I just watch as village after village come and go. Although many look the same, it is easy to see that the small fishing villages vary in prosperity. I guess some have better equipment and manpower than others. When I mean manpower, I do mean that, because there is a real absence of women in the workforce here. Hotels, restaurants, retail stores are generally manned. Our driver says it's because women are treated like 'queens'. I somehow doubt that.
Just before we arrive in Chilaw the driver stops to show us the Murugan (Kataragama) Hindu Shrine. It includes building-sized statues of Vishnu and Hanuman. We opt to wander around the perimeter of the building, taking photos of the statues. Behind the shrine, I catch sight of an unusual tree. Strange-shaped buds and flowers grow on the lower trunk. Whilst some flowers are interspersed through the canopy, the unique growth on branches from the otherwise bare trunk are magnificent. The security guard tells me that it is called a cannonball tree. The reason for being here is to see the shrine, so I turn my interest back to the huge, brightly-coloured statues, which represent important deities for the Hindus.
We settle back into the car and I ask some questions about the history of the shrine, but unfortunately, I'm not given a satisfactory response, and I make a note to do some research this evening. So far, I'm not impressed with the driver-cum-tour guide, and am disappointed that we are even in this situation. I hope that this guy has a licence, because he sure as hell doesn't have any accreditation as a tour guide.
Our next stop is the mysterious Vessigiri, an ancient Buddhist forest monastery. Now an archaeology site, it is part of the larger group of Anuradhapura ruins dating from the 3rd century. The Vessigiri monks lived in rock shelters, which were either existing caves or built from locally quarried materials. We walk around the perimeter of the dwellings before exploring the caves themselves. Judging from the various remains, it looks as though this had once been a well-organised and possibly quite large monastery.
It's good to get out of the car and stretch our legs and enjoy the afternoon sunshine. Despite the heat, the we are able to find a shady spot, where we can watch the butterflies flutter from flower to flower devouring whatever pollen it can find. We cannot stay here all day, so we finally rouse ourselves and return to the car.
Our last stop for the day is the Isurumuniya Vihara, a Buddhist rock temple. The two lotus ponds out the front beautifully blue and have a calming effect, despite the cautionary signs that warn of resident crocodiles. Before entering the temple, we are asked to remove our shoes, then as we stepped up to pay the admission cost, we are both asked to cover offending skin. Tom is handed a sarong, whilst I drag a large scarf out of my bag and fashion into a bolero-type shoulder covering. Once we adorn ourselves with the impromptu clothing, we enter. A museum guide quickly outlines the important features of the temple, along with some historical information before leaving us to our own devices as we wander through the temple grounds. We climb the steps to view the offerings before walking behind and climbing a rock to see the stupa and supposed footprints left by Buddha himself.
It's time to find out driver and settle into our hotel for the night. It's been a long day, with a large number of stops. We've seen much and photographed plenty, but I do need to plan for tomorrow's journey.
TOUR: Across the Best Sites of Sri Lanka - Capital Lanka Tours
DISTANCE TRAVELLED: 170 kms
ACCOMMODATION: Gamodh Citadel Resort, Thanthirimale Road, Lolugaswewa, Sri Lanka