The Ancient City of Anuradhapura 

It was a stinking hot day for our journey to the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura and by the time we arrived the weather apps were saying that it was 39 degrees! I don’t know if that knowledge made us feel better or worse but the humidity was high and there was an ominous feeling about the weather.

Still we headed out to try and see a couple of sights as there were plenty to see but just as we were walking out of the first temple we stopped at the sky went black as black and we were stuck on a path around a lake with nowhere to hide!! As the rain started we found a water tank to shelter under but it was so high that we were soaked within minutes. 

It was about an hour before the rain eased off slightly and we were able to make a dash for a road nearby and flag down a tuk tuk. Game over for today soaked and now cold and the sun had set so we thought we would arrange a tour for early the next morning.

Sugath, our guide, turned up nice and early with a big smile on his face and we immediately felt like it was going to be a good day. He had a good grasp of English and was certainly adopting the role of guide over just driver which was brilliant. He wanted to know where we wanted to go and we just told him that he knew best so to do his stuff.

He gave us a quick background on Anuradhapura which was one of the original capitals of Sri Lanka in 380 BC and remained the capital until about 800 AD when the capital was moved to Polonnaruwa to try and stop the repeated attacks from the Indians. The place was huge and much of it has been left alone so the result today is an abundance of Dagobas, temples and ruins all spread out in a forest.

First stop was the Sri Maha Bodhi which is 2000 years old and was planted from a cutting from the original Bodhi tree underneath which Buddha gained enlightenment. This being a Saturday as well meant that there was a steady throng of people visiting all dressed in white. The tree itself looked surprisingly youthful for such an old tree and although not an especially fantastic sight it was pretty remarkable to be there amongst all the locals.

Sugath took us aside after our visit and gave us an insight into what was going on. He talked about the significance of the tree but also mentioned how many of the people there weren’t necessarily fully embracing the philosophical side of the religion and were more going through the motions. He felt that there wasn’t enough meditation and thought involved and his biggest gripe was that people would bring food to offer to Buddha and then rather than eat it or give it to those who are hungry they would throw it away. The futility of this frustrated him and he felt that throwing the food away completely missed the mark as it should have been eaten or given to the poor.

Outside the Bodhi tree there was a procession of people carrying trays of orange flowers. Sugath told us to follow them up to the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba a walk barefooted of about 500m. All the way along there was chanting which was a little eerie although the general atmosphere was definitely one of calm and happiness and people were smiling at us the whole time. There were hundreds of people and when the procession arrived at the dagoba they placed the trays of flowers around it under the direction of a monk.

Meanwhile there were musicians playing drums and people chanting!! We didn’t know where to look. I almost forgot to mention the men who where dangling on ladders attached by rope to the top of the dagoba…I have no idea what they were doing but for us it just added to the atmosphere and experience. Just as we were about to leave another procession arrived, this time they were carrying a roll of orange fabric which stretched right outside the gates and down the road. Everyone then helped wrap this around the dagoba. It was all just amazing to see and for a second time here in Sri Lanka we were able to witness quite an amazing ceremony.

Back in our tuk tuk we were then whisked away to the Vessagiriya caves which Sugath walked us around. I wouldn’t describe them as caves, more or a series of enormous boulders sitting on a much larger boulder. In the shadows of these boulders Sugath pointed out worn patches where 3000 years ago Buddhists were practicing meditation. So he settled us into a couple of groves and left us to meditate for ten minutes.

After our brief but relaxing meditation we were off to the Royal Pleasure Gardens where we were shown and impressive bathing systems which would have rivalled the efforts of the Romans and dated from about the same time. It was very well preserved and required no entrance fee it was quite incredible to see such an impressive sight in such a way and once again Sugath was there to show us how it all worked which was brilliant.

Next stop was a working Buddhist monastery which offered cheap accommodation for locals visiting the area and looking to study there. We got a brief tour of the place and got to see them waiting for lunch which was the main meal of the day and served strictly between 11:30 and 12 noon. After that they were not allowed to imbibe anything other than herbal tea until breakfast the next day.

We were learning so much with Sugath it was brilliant and our next stop was one we wouldn’t of experienced without him. We arrived at the building site of a new stupa and after removing our shoes went in. The army were there helping with the building but so were a few hundred people dressed in normal clothes. It turned out that they were volunteering for the day by helping pass the bricks up human chains to the top of the dagoba and we were able to join in!! We were very popular and got to have a good chat with the volunteers. Up until this point I had thought that the dagobas were hollow, but no, they are built from layers upon layers of bricks with compartments for the placement of precious stones and jewels.

We were then back into the past and walked through some ruins where we got to see moonstones (decorated stones placed at the entrances to buildings) and the remains of a hospital for the monks before we got to the Thuparama Dagoba which is meant to house the right collar bone of Buddha and is probably the oldest visible dagoba in the world. It dates from about 300 BC and in surrounded by 41 tall stone pillars. Originally there were 176 and the point of them is not known for definite although Sugath told it it was for a cover for the dagoba.

By this point we had had a great time and Sugath grinned and asked us how the day had been. We told him we were having a great time but we were a little concerned that we hadn’t paid our entrance fee yet and so therefore thought that we hadn’t seen it all. He grinned and told us that he had managed to get us passed all of the checkpoints so we had got away without paying!! I am not sure how this fits in with the Buddhist teachings but I will have to defer to his expertise!!! Well done him!

He was obviously pretty proud and we said that we honestly didn’t mind paying so that gave him the confidence to try and go further. He managed to get us to see the remains of the royal palace and then we were dropped off on the side of the road to walk through some ruins to see the huge Abhayagiri Dagoba. It has been rebuilt but was originally one of the greatest structures of the ancient world dating back to 100 BC when it was 100m high!! It was an impressive height and a fitting way to end our tour.
It was a stinking hot day for our journey to the ancient capital city of Anuradhapura and by the time we arrived the weather apps were saying that it was 39 degrees! I don’t know if that knowledge made us feel better or worse but the humidity was high and there was an ominous feeling about the weather.
Still we headed out to try and see a couple of sights as there were plenty to see but just as we were walking out of the first temple we stopped at the sky went black as black and we were stuck on a path around a lake with nowhere to hide!! As the rain started we found a water tank to shelter under but it was so high that we were soaked within minutes. 
It was about an hour before the rain eased off slightly and we were able to make a dash for a road nearby and flag down a tuk tuk. Game over for today soaked and now cold and the sun had set so we thought we would arrange a tour for early the next morning.
Sugath, our guide, turned up nice and early with a big smile on his face and we immediately felt like it was going to be a good day. He had a good grasp of English and was certainly adopting the role of guide over just driver which was brilliant. He wanted to know where we wanted to go and we just told him that he knew best so to do his stuff.
He gave us a quick background on Anuradhapura which was one of the original capitals of Sri Lanka in 380 BC and remained the capital until about 800 AD when the capital was moved to Polonnaruwa to try and stop the repeated attacks from the Indians. The place was huge and much of it has been left alone so the result today is an abundance of Dagobas, temples and ruins all spread out in a forest.
First stop was the Sri Maha Bodhi which is 2000 years old and was planted from a cutting from the original Bodhi tree underneath which Buddha gained enlightenment. This being a Saturday as well meant that there was a steady throng of people visiting all dressed in white. The tree itself looked surprisingly youthful for such an old tree and although not an especially fantastic sight it was pretty remarkable to be there amongst all the locals.
Sugath took us aside after our visit and gave us an insight into what was going on. He talked about the significance of the tree but also mentioned how many of the people there weren’t necessarily fully embracing the philosophical side of the religion and were more going through the motions. He felt that there wasn’t enough meditation and thought involved and his biggest gripe was that people would bring food to offer to Buddha and then rather than eat it or give it to those who are hungry they would throw it away. The futility of this frustrated him and he felt that throwing the food away completely missed the mark as it should have been eaten or given to the poor.
Outside the Bodhi tree there was a procession of people carrying trays of orange flowers. Sugath told us to follow them up to the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba a walk barefooted of about 500m. All the way along there was chanting which was a little eerie although the general atmosphere was definitely one of calm and happiness and people were smiling at us the whole time. There were hundreds of people and when the procession arrived at the dagoba they placed the trays of flowers around it under the direction of a monk.
Meanwhile there were musicians playing drums and people chanting!! We didn’t know where to look. I almost forgot to mention the men who where dangling on ladders attached by rope to the top of the dagoba…I have no idea what they were doing but for us it just added to the atmosphere and experience. Just as we were about to leave another procession arrived, this time they were carrying a roll of orange fabric which stretched right outside the gates and down the road. Everyone then helped wrap this around the dagoba. It was all just amazing to see and for a second time here in Sri Lanka we were able to witness quite an amazing ceremony.
Back in our tuk tuk we were then whisked away to the Vessagiriya caves which Sugath walked us around. I wouldn’t describe them as caves, more or a series of enormous boulders sitting on a much larger boulder. In the shadows of these boulders Sugath pointed out worn patches where 3000 years ago Buddhists were practicing meditation. So he settled us into a couple of groves and left us to meditate for ten minutes.
After our brief but relaxing meditation we were off to the Royal Pleasure Gardens where we were shown and impressive bathing systems which would have rivalled the efforts of the Romans and dated from about the same time. It was very well preserved and required no entrance fee it was quite incredible to see such an impressive sight in such a way and once again Sugath was there to show us how it all worked which was brilliant.
Next stop was a working Buddhist monastery which offered cheap accommodation for locals visiting the area and looking to study there. We got a brief tour of the place and got to see them waiting for lunch which was the main meal of the day and served strictly between 11:30 and 12 noon. After that they were not allowed to imbibe anything other than herbal tea until breakfast the next day.
We were learning so much with Sugath it was brilliant and our next stop was one we wouldn’t of experienced without him. We arrived at the building site of a new stupa and after removing our shoes went in. The army were there helping with the building but so were a few hundred people dressed in normal clothes. It turned out that they were volunteering for the day by helping pass the bricks up human chains to the top of the dagoba and we were able to join in!! We were very popular and got to have a good chat with the volunteers. Up until this point I had thought that the dagobas were hollow, but no, they are built from layers upon layers of bricks with compartments for the placement of precious stones and jewels.
We were then back into the past and walked through some ruins where we got to see moonstones (decorated stones placed at the entrances to buildings) and the remains of a hospital for the monks before we got to the Thuparama Dagoba which is meant to house the right collar bone of Buddha and is probably the oldest visible dagoba in the world. It dates from about 300 BC and in surrounded by 41 tall stone pillars. Originally there were 176 and the point of them is not known for definite although Sugath told it it was for a cover for the dagoba.
By this point we had had a great time and Sugath grinned and asked us how the day had been. We told him we were having a great time but we were a little concerned that we hadn’t paid our entrance fee yet and so therefore thought that we hadn’t seen it all. He grinned and told us that he had managed to get us passed all of the checkpoints so we had got away without paying!! I am not sure how this fits in with the Buddhist teachings but I will have to defer to his expertise!!! Well done him!
He was obviously pretty proud and we said that we honestly didn’t mind paying so that gave him the confidence to try and go further. He managed to get us to see the remains of the royal palace and then we were dropped off on the side of the road to walk through some ruins to see the huge Abhayagiri Dagoba. It has been rebuilt but was originally one of the greatest structures of the ancient world dating back to 100 BC when it was 100m high!! It was an impressive height and a fitting way to end our tour.
Sugath had passed on so much information which had made a good day into a great day and I think he had enjoyed getting one over on the authorities too!!! It was back home for a late lunch at our local for us and then took cover at the guest house for the afternoon thunderstorm!! T

So this is the 2000 year old bodhi tree with its branches held up by golden supports.

The procession of flowers which we followed to the dagoba.  Even though there were so many people it was all very calm with a background sound of religious chanting.

The entrance to the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba.

I have no idea what these guys were trying to do but I really hope that the rope was strong enough and that the knots were tied well!

A typical procession around the dagoba.  In this one they walked on a carpet which was hastily carried from the back of the group to the front as they walked around.

The result of the flower procession.

The fabric arriving at the temple to begin being wrapped around it.  You can see the previous wrap at the base of the dagoba.

The procession carrying the fabric stretching right out down the promenade.

Meditating on some grooves which have been used for meditation for over 2000 years. Surprisingly comfortable and perfectly positioned to be in the shade and to take advantage of the cool breeze.

Relaxing beside some of the baths which date back to about 100 BC.

The human chain passing the bricks up to build the new dagoba.

None of these people were getting paid they were doing it as part of their faith.

This model out of the front of the “building site” shows the final plan and a progress report. Brilliant.

The Thuparama Dagoba with the right collar bone of Buddha inside.


The Abhayagiri Dagoba, still a huge structure but must have been incredible back in 100 BC

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