Sri Lanka Diaries – Dagoba Hopping in Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura, as the history books tell us, was the first capital of the Sinhala kingdom and the main Buddhist centre on the island. Today, there are two towns, like any historic city. There is the sacred city which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and there is the new town where local industry and the population live.

Typically, all the hotels, guest houses, home stays, etc are in the new town. The buses and trains also bring you here. On the first day I was here, I decided to venture out walking to the sacred city area.  The three wheeler autorickshaws were offering a full tour of the area for 3500 LKR (all tickets included). The general information I had was that one needed to buy tickets to access the area. The ticket value was LKR 3500 (but for Indians and other SAARC countries, there was a 50% discount). Later I found out, after buying a ticked for LKR 1750, that the tickets were only for the museums. In general all the other places were freely accessible. Most of them were holy sites which were still in use. So there were restrictions like leaving your slippers, dress code and body searches. But no monetary restrictions.

I thought the distance of 4 kms was easily manageable. I miscalculated the heat of the sun. But I did not want to take an autorickshaw and commit to a full tour. I wanted the flexibility to walk up, see the area and if I liked it then enter and engage with it. So I kept it simple. I found an auto driver who wasn’t very pushy. He dropped me at the entrance of the Maha Bodhi Tree.

Entrance path to the Maha Bodhi Tree From Sri Lanka Holiday

The Bodhi tree was planted when a cutting from the original tree in Gaya was brought here by Sanghamitta, daughter of Asoka in the 3rd century BCE. Her brother Mahinda had come earlier and had already converted Tissa, the third of the Sinhala kings. This was the birth of Buddhism in the country.

The tree stands till today but is heavily fenced.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

But the area around the tree is a throbbing place. This was the week leading to the Sinhala New Year and there were people thronging the area dressed in all whites.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

The place was decorated by multi-coloured patakas, the ubiquitous Buddhist pennants that are hung all over the place. It gave the whole area the feel of a fair without making it trivial or frivolous.

After spending about half an hour here, I started walking around the area.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

The entire place is littered with artefacts, structures (some in excellent condition, some merely blocks of stone). The first thing that strikes you is the sense of calmness – in all aspects. There is cleanliness on the roads and most importantly on the sides of the roads. There was order amongst the Lankans as they lined up peacefully to enter or exit the respective areas. There was no loud music playing on country made loud speakers. Traffic was sparse but orderly.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

Even taking photographs of water lilies could be done without worrying about any plastic shit floating on the waters.

A smallish dagoba on the side of the road    From Sri Lanka Holiday

The stupas of India and the pagodas of Burma are called dagobas in Sri Lanka. They are numerous. Spotless white, I had to really adjust my camera settings to distinguish the domes from the white clouds in the background.
As I said earlier, I did pay LKR 1750 at the Archaeological Museum. The ticket mentioned that I could enter three museums. I went into the first. There were two things that I found really interesting. The building itself and this giant lizard that kept running around.

A giant lizard scampering around the museum grounds   From Sri Lanka Holiday
The Verandah of the museum       From Sri Lanka Holiday

The entire sacred city area is spread over some stunning greenery.

The green areas around the different structures    From Sri Lanka Holiday

Everywhere there were odd stones, dolmens, monoliths, etc sprayed around. Some were randomly scattered, others were arranged in some geometric structure suggesting that there was some human activity here.
The Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba is the biggest of them all in Anuradhapura. It is also in active service. There was a fair crowd making its way in and out of the complex. Once again the cleanliness of the area was the first thing that caught the eye. Anyone who has seen any temple site in India will immediately wonder at the difference in attitude in an island which is just across a few kilometres away (the distance between the Indian coast and the Mannar jetty)

The Ruwanawelisaya     From Sri Lanka Holiday

I completed the walk about with a visit to Abhaygiri. This site is a ruin in the truest sense. But well kept of course. A bit far away from the Ruwanwelisaya, one had to take an autorickshaw to it. But it was worth the visit.

The Abhayagiri From Sri Lanka Holiday

The Abhayagiri vihara was a full fledged Buddhist monastery. The entire area shows evidence of living quarters, dining halls, pools for taking bath and latrines. One key element of Sri Lankan Buddhist architecture is the moonstone (not to be confused with the gemstone) – a crescent shaped stone platform on which are built the steps leading to any structure. From plain simple stone platforms to intricately carved ones (from what is possible to see today after all the erosion caused by weather and billions of human and canine feet). Later when I was seeing other places in Sri Lanka, this moonstone element seemed ubiquitous – from doormats to the leading step of a house to small souvenirs.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

I spent maybe 4 hours tramping around with an occasional ride in an autorickshaw when the heat became unbearable. Drinking lots of water along with puffing of the odd cigarette, I had a quiet but extremely filling day. I closed it with the physical filling of fried rice and chicken curry.

From Sri Lanka Holiday

That’s it for now.

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