Anuradhapura : the most alive of the ancient cities !
I know what you are thinking: historical and archaeological places with temples are everywhere in Sri Lanka…so why see this one? With these few lines I will try to convince you that this site is worth the detour !
First of all, it is accessible as soon as you arrive in Colombo since it is located in the North of the island, at about 3h30 by car… I know what you will say to me “I don’t score points” but tell yourself that you will be tired of your flight and of the time difference and that consequently you will be able to take a little nap to reach this 3rd city of the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Whether you take the bus, the train or the car believe me you will sleep.
What you need to know about Anuradhapura is that it is the first capital of Sri Lanka and the oldest city of the island to have been built in the 4th century BC. It has known a strong development during more than 1000 years and was often coveted because of its proximity with India.
Oh reassure you I know that it is not with this argument that I will convince you! It is especially that this city was built around the Sri Maha Bodhi tree. It alone represents the birth of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
Discover the Sri Maha Bodhi tree
A little less than 2400 years old, this ficus tree of more than 30 meters high, is the oldest tree in the world ! It was brought to Sri Lanka as a branch taken by Princess Sangamitta from the Tree of Awakening in India, under which Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became the “Buddha” (“the one who knows”) that we know. It was the brother of the princess, Mahinda, who introduced the Buddha’s teachings to Sri Lanka.
The Bodhi tree (or simply “Bo“, it has the right to its nickname) is therefore venerated by all Sinhalese, and more generally Buddhists.
It is a place of pilgrimage for many of them and every evening around 6pm you can attend the ceremony of the tree which will make you live this veneration from the inside. Everyone can attend (proper attire: bare feet, shoulders and legs covered below the knee) just respect the gestures and rituals of Sri Lankans. To see all these offerings, to hear these prayers, to be rocked by the noise of the drums, intoxicated by the smell of the incense and soothed by this white symbol of purity that the Sinhalese women wear…tell me that it made you want to go !
What you should also see…
But wait I haven’t played all my cards 😉 in Anuradhapura you will also see one of the biggest “dagoba” (funeral monument) of the island ! After visiting the Bodhi tree, head north past the citadel to the Abhayagiri Monastery. Anyway you can’t miss it, its dagoba is more than 75 meters high.
It is also an essential place of pilgrimage. In its heyday this monastery was the place of teaching and living for more than 5000 monks until the 12th century, it is now one of the oldest historical places in the world. It’s worth going there, isn’t it?
You can also continue your walk a few meters to access the remains of a school of monks which houses the oldest moonstone (sandakada pahana in Sinhalese) of Sri Lanka. This wooded area invites you to a well-deserved break during which you can enjoy the twirling dance of butterflies.
A few more steps to the east of the dagoba and you can take a last shot of one of the most beautiful Buddhas of Sri Lanka in a sitting pose “Buddha Samadhi“.
By the way, you can visit the city of Anuradhapura on foot or by bike (as in Polonnaruwa), as usual if you can avoid the hottest periods during the day it’s always better and if you are fond of beautiful pictures prefer the sunrise for the cold and bright colors or its sunset for the warm and golden tones it will provide on the buildings. Anyway, the best thing is to stay there for one night and then continue your journey to other places.
Once the discovery of this city is finished, you can continue your road towards the National Park of Minneryia (elephant park), visit Polonnaruwa, then Sigiryia, Dambulla and finally Kandy. And you will have thus traversed the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. A short week will have passed and you will have deserved a short break of a few days in the south of the island to indulge in the pleasure of the beach while sipping some coconut juice or for the more experienced a good Arrack Attack.
I have not given you all the secrets of the city of Anuradhapura, other surprises await you, so the best is to go there, right ?