Hopping around the Ancient Cities

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Tuesday, January 9, 2007

He Said:

Besides the stunning beaches, discount shopping in Colombo, and the atmospheric town of Kandy, the other big draw for tourists in Sri Lanka is the "Ancient Cities" which is a concentration of sites on the central plains of the island. Ancient kingdoms centered in the cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa dominated the island from around 200 BC to 1000 AD, and left a large number of temples, monuments, fortresses and palaces to see. We saw a few of the bigger sites as well as the ancient capital cities.

One of the biggest workouts was our ascent to the hilltop citadel (or monastery...or palace...depending on which archeologist you ask) of Sigiriya. For those who grew up in the 1980's, if you ever saw the music video for the slow-dance classic "Save a Prayer" by Duran Duran, Sigiriya is featured prominently! In case you haven't viewed VH-1 lately, Sigiriya is a huge rock formation improbably sticking about 1000' straight up from the otherwise gently rolling central plains. There are a significant number of ruins around the site and on top of the rock but there seems to be no real agreement on exactly when it was built or what it was used for. At any rate, the place was full of Sri Lankan tourists huffing and puffing up the steep staircases to reach the top. So of course we joined in. All in all, it made for a great experience with some wonderful views.

Also featured in that same 80's music video were some scenes filmed in the ruins of Polonnaruwa, which we visited as well. What is left of the ancient city today is hundreds of stone ruins from palaces, monasteries, shrines, and homes scattered throughout a couple mile long strip bordering a large lake. The most impressive part of the ancient city was the rock carved statues at Gal Vihara. This is one of the most astonishing and ethereal works of art I have ever seen...absolutely spine tingling! Basically it is a series of four figures of Buddha expertly carved out of (and into) the solid rock of a low hillside. The carvings are quite big, a reclining Buddha over 45' in length, and a standing figure 23' feet tall being the largest. The beautiful swirling grain and striations of the stone flows throughout the figures. The amount of time and craftsmanship required to execute a work like this using only rudimentary tool is mind-boggling. Discovering amazing things like this (that I previously had never even heard of) is one of my favorite things about travel. Seeing those statues alone would make the long flight to Sri Lanka more than worthwhile!

We saw a lot more great stuff as well. Having a car at this point finally became a total benefit rather than a headache! The ruins and restored Buddhist temples and shrines at Anuradhapura and small shrine at Nalanda were all places that we enjoyed. There is far too much to describe without boring you so I'll stop with that!

She Said:

I'm kind of templed and rock carvinged out at this point.  We saw a lot of really neat ancient ruins, and some of the Buddha carvings were in amazing condition. I am particularly glad that we had the car as made it very easy to get around to all the sites and gave us the flexibility to change plans a lot (hourly).  And Todd seems to be enjoying the driving as he thinks he has mastered the Sri Lankan driving style.

The climb up Sigiriya was one of the highlights of our journey around the Ancient Cities, but it was particularly scary if heights bother you (or if you are allergic to hornets - see photo).  I have a slight fear of heights, and some of the stairs were tiny metal railings just stuck into the side of the rock about 500 feet in the air.  At one point, you had to go up a metal spiral staircase on the side of the rock for about 100 feet, and every time I looked down through the slats in the stairs my heart pounded and my legs shook.  But at least the staircase was caged in, so if for some reason you fell, you couldn't go very far (not that this made me feel any better).  But once we got to the top it was all worth it!

On another high note, today we saw a giant snake (about 8 feet long) crossing the road in front of our car.  But the good news was we were in the car!!  I was worried that it had somehow gotten stuck in the undercarriage of the car and was going to bite my foot when I opened the door, but Todd said he was absolutely certain that he didn't drive over it.

Tomorrow morning we are driving back to the cute city of Kandy, which after seeing some rather dingy Sri Lankan cities over the last couple of days, should be a real treat (as sweet as you'd expect a town named Kandy to be!)




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