Arriving in Sri Lanka

On 21st June 2018 we started our long journey to Colombo, Sri Lanka. It started with a flight from Kuching to Kuala Lumpur (KL). This was at 12pm and got us into KL a couple of hours later. We had booked two separate flights as it was much cheaper than booking a flight from Kuching to Colombo in a single package. This did mean we had to collect our bags and go check back into the airport but this wasn’t an issue as our flight from KL to Colombo wasn’t until 9pm that night. Thankfully, KL has lots of places to eat and good, unlimited WiFi so we passed the time easily until our flight. It was around 10pm local time when we arrived in Colombo and nearly midnight by the time we had bought a SIM card (1,300LKR/£6.15) and exchanged all of the remaining currency we had into Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR). Sri Lanka have a closed currency so you can only get money exchanged once you arrive. We had Singapore Dollars, US Dollars, Malaysian Ringgit, Japanese Yen and Hong Kong Dollars to get exchanged which came to around £340!

As it was so late we opted for a taxi which was around £8 although there is a free shuttle bus that also runs into the city but we had no clue if it was 24 hours. We were staying at Backpackers Paradise Colombo which was a nice enough hostel, especially for just one night, and it was the cheapest hostel at around £4 each for the night. It also had the World Cup on so Niall was sorted for the rest of the evening!

We were up reasonably early the next day to eat breakfast and then catch a bus to Anuradhapura which was north of Colombo, around a five hour bus ride away. We got a tuk tuk which ran on a meter and ended up costing us 126LKR (60p) to Colombo Fort Bus Station. This was the main bus station in Colombo and we were looking for the number 4 bus as our hostel in Anuradhapura had told us this was the bus that would get us there. We asked people at the bus station and they helped us to get on the right bus as there must have been at least five #4 buses lined up at the stop, only one of which going where we wanted to go! At 8:50am the bus left Colombo and started the journey to Anuradhapura. It wasn’t air conditioned but we managed fine as the windows let in a breeze, plus we’d ridden non-air conditioned buses before and at least here, unlike on our bus from Jaisalmer in India, the breeze was actually cool! There was a Bollywood film called Baskar the Rascal which was played on repeat for the journey so we watched that three times during the trip which helped pass the time. The bus got very busy and had a lot of people standing in the corridor for most of the journey but because we had got on at the first stop we had managed to get seats. The bus cost us 440LKR (£1.90) each and arrived into Anuradhapura at 3pm.

We had booked to stay at a hostel called the Fig and Gecko after being recommended it by our friend Drago who we had met on our trip to meet the Sultan in Brunei. The owner, Paul, is from Britain and set up the hostel with his wife as part of a larger NGO programme, which involves teaching the locals English, education on nutrition, promoting and protecting their culture or just doing anything that might benefit the people or the culture there. Paul picked us up from the bus station and we had already been able to see the kindness of the people of Sri Lanka as while we waited for the tuk tuk, a rain shower passed through and we had people offering to let us sit in their tuk tuk or shelter in their shops and restaurants near by so that we didn’t get wet.

We were the only guests at the hostel which was unexpected. We were in a nice double room with an ensuite and the building that the hostel was in was a large stone building so kept nice and cool which was great. The only issue we had was the WiFi as it was either very weak or being pretty much non-existent but there was a TV for Niall to watch the football so that was a bonus. Paul was really nice, as were his staff, and we were well looked after. We had food at the hostel that day, a meal called Uttapam which is roti and cooked lentils (it reminded me of dal in India a bit) which was tasty and then a dessert of Watalappan which was a sort of jelly like, coconut and sugar dish. We spent the rest of our day relaxing and working out our plan for the rest of our stay in Sri Lanka and had booked onto a tuk tuk tour and a safari through the hostel for the upcoming days we were in Anuradhapura.The next morning we were up for a great breakfast of French toast with syrup and fruit and then were met by our guide who worked at the hostel, Ruwin, for the Ancient Cities tour we’d be going on that day. Ruwin was really nice and made sure we saw everything we wanted to and always had a smile or an answer to any question we had. The tuk tuk for the day cost 2,500LKR (£11.80) and then the entry fee into the historical zone was 3975LKR (£19) each.

Our first stop of the day was to Jetavanarama Stupa which was originally around 120m in height when it was built and would have been the largest monument in the world (the first two being Egyptian pyramids). The stupa is now around 70m tall and is estimated to be made up of around 90 million bricks which is just a staggering amount!

We continued on to the museum where we saw loads of langurs in ruins around the garden which we both loved as they’re great monkeys to watch. The museum building was a very pretty building which looked like it would fit in well in a country estate in the UK which I guess makes sense as it’s a 1937 British colonial building. Inside there were a few different rooms which showed statues and jewellery made from stones and ivory all found from the area of Jetavanarama. It was interesting and didn’t take us too long to look around it all.Ruwin then took us to Kuttam Pokuna (theTwin Ponds) which I really liked. As the name suggested there were two of them and they were more like swimming pools with stone steps surrounding them on all angles. One of the ponds was considerably bigger than the other and the water flowed from this pond into the smaller pond by a small, underground pipe. It is thought that monks used these from a nearby residence hall called Kaparamula.We were then taken to what Ruwin called Stone Bridge which, you guessed it, is the remnants of a stone bridge that went out onto a pretty lake. You can’t go out over the water anymore and the bridge pillars are mainly what remains of the bridge now.Wijayarama Archeological Site was our next stop for the day. This was a forested, off the beaten track, set of ruins that formed part of the Abhayagiri Monastery. No one else was at this site which was pretty cool and the ruins looked extra mysterious amongst so many trees.Wandering this monastery led us nicely onto our next stop, the Abhayagiri Stupa. This stupa dates back to the 1st Century and was the ceremonial focus of the forested monastery we had just visited. The name of this stupa means ‘Hill of Protection’ or ‘Fearless Hill’ and the stupa used to be 100m high but, after several reconstructions over the years it’s now at a height of 75m so still pretty tall! What I found crazy was that around 2,833,431 bricks have been used during reconstructions and restorations of this stupa, I can’t even imagine that number of bricks! Due to the Buddhist festival, Poson, there were a number of people here in White leaving offerings and prayers at this stupa which was nice to be a part of.We stopped off at the Samadhi Buddha which was very busy with people visiting as part of Buddhist pilgrimages. This is a 4th Century statue of the Buddha seated in a meditation pose. This is regarded in Sri Lanka as being of the finest Buddha statues in the country.Moonstone is a famous monument which we have seen examples of in other ancient cities as we continued our travels of Sri Lanka. This particular moonstone is part of the ruins of a 9th Century residential complex for monks. This is the most famous of the moonstone’s as it’s seen to be the best preserved and the finest carved moonstone in all of Sri Lanka!Along the way we stopped at Eth Pokuna (also known as Elephant Pond). It is enormous and is thought to have been used as a water storage tank for the Abhayagiri monastery which is a monastery deep in the forest. The pond is so big that six Olympic sized swimming pools could fit inside of it!We kept a good pace all day and were next taken to Lankaramaya Stupa which was built in the 1st century but appears to be very well maintained as it looked really new! This was extremely busy with worshippers so we didn’t spent too long here so as not to disturb everyone. This was also one of the few stupas that was painted white.We were next taken to Anuradhapura’s new stupa which is still in construction and was commissioned by the Sri Lankan President, Rajapaksa in 2010. Sandahiru Seya is designed to reach a height of 85m and will be the tallest of Bethesda stupas once completed (as they stand now, not there original heights). Ruwin told us we were allowed to climb it using the builders stairs and we were able to get some great views of the area from the top which was pretty cool. It would be quite cool to see it once it’s completed as it’s being constructed with over 30 million bricks and will then be plastered white when it’s finished.Isurumuniya Vihara is a cool little temple that’s built completely into the rock. You can climb to the top of this through stairs that go through gaps in the rock. From the top you get views of rice paddies and here there was also an elephant chained up which made us sad, ready for the parade that would happen as part of Poson in a couple of days time.We were able to walk into the Royal Pleasure Gardens from here as well which had a lot of gray langurs and lush green foliage. It also had the occasional ruin and some boulders which made it that little bit more interesting.We were nearing the end of our five hour tour and only had a few places left to visit. Or next stop was to Sri Maha Bodhi which is a very sacred bodhi tree which holds great significance to Buddhists in Anuradhapura. It is said to be the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world and has had an uninterrupted succession of guardians to maintain the tree for over 2000 years! This places was the busiest place we visited during the day and we were even given some flowers ourselves by a local to place in the temple that surrounds the tree.Our penultimate stop was along the road form Sri Maha Bodhi and was also very busy. Ruvanvelisaya Stupa is a 55m high stupa, painted white and lined with 344 statues of elephants all shoulder to shoulder around the outside. There are only a few originals from 140BC with the rest being reconstructions but this didn’t bother us as it still looked good.We only had one more site to go and Ruwin had parked next to an ice cream van so we were able to get an ice lolly for 35LKR (17p) each to keep us going after all the walking around. What was also nice about walking around the ruins was the number of Langurs that lived in the area that were happy enough relaxing in shady spots despite people walking by. The Royal Palace was our final stop of the day and was built in 1070. There isn’t too much left but there are a few other ruins in the Royal Palace area such as Dalada Maligawa which may have been the original temple of the tooth that’s now in Kandy. Even though it didn’t take long it was nice for a quick walk around to end out day.It was a really great day seeing all that Anuradhapura had to offer. This was one of four ancient cities that we would be visiting during our time in Sri Lanka with the others being Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa and Dambulla. It was a great introduction to some of the things we were going to see although it would have been nice to have heard a bit more about the history behind some of the sites although this wouldn’t have been possible with Ruwin as his English wasn’t strong enough. Despite this, we enjoyed what we saw and got to see some very impressive structures. The Buddhist festival, Poson, which celebrates the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka was starting whilst we were there and so many of the sites we visited were a lot busier than usual with people coming to celebrate and go on a pilgrimage to important sites as Anuradhapura is one one of the main places that the festival is celebrated in. This allowed us to see the significance of some of the sights which we wouldn’t always have seen had the place been empty which was nice.

We relaxed the rest of the day and went out to a restaurant called Greenway for tea which was a local place that served a few different curries with rice for 300 rupees. We planned an early night as we had to be up very early the next day for our safari in Wilpattu National Park to look for some leopards which we couldn’t wait for. So far, Sri Lanka was going pretty well!

Sending love x

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