Anuradhapura: monkeys, tuk tuks, and something sacred for 2400 years

AnuradhapuraI gave Anuradhapura short shift in my last blog; there is more there than the museum of my emotional decomposition, specifically, the ruins of Sri Lanka’s oldest capital city, dating back to the fourth century BC. (It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)


Sri Lanka has a hungry government, and, how shall I say this, some people think they are hiking their entrance fees beyond the merit of some of their attractions. In addition, the charges seem to vary somewhat, even for the visa at the airport. Not good, guys.


A benefit of not being able to sleep was getting there before the other tourists.

A benefit of not being able to sleep was getting there before the other tourists.

The entrance fee for the ruins in Anuradhapura is usually $25, the lowest of the three in the “Cultural Triangle” that also includes the former capital at Polonnaruwa and the abandoned monastery mountain of Sigiriya. I am sure both of those are very worthwhile, but there are lots of places to visit on this island, and I am trying to pace myself on the temple-stuff as I head into SE Asia.


One of my “friends” with a tuk tuk offered to take me around the ruins, $32, and I wouldn’t have to pay the ticket price because he would sneak me in by a different road.


The question: support the local economy or the preservation of historic sites? I told him I’d consider it.

One of the white stupas

The next morning I went to get food and stopped another tuk, which had just dropped some kids off at school and was not going to hassle me. Those are the ones I like best. He offered the tour for much less, but I’d have to get the ticket.


Question answered: both.


(Normally I would explore on foot, but the ruins encompass 32 square kilometers, and the sun here is punishing.)

Holy breakfast

I offered to buy him breakfast too, and we were already friends by the time we got to the ticket office. I paid my fee, you’re welcome Sri Lanka, and we tuk tukked off under the trees where monkeys strolled among sleeping dogs.


At the first stupa the monkeys were finishing off yesterday’s offerings for breakfast. The little brownish toque macaques would run away from me, but the gray langurs were more bold, and reminded me of the vervet assassination attempt in Zambia… (Please let me know if I’m wrong on either monkey type.)


Stupa under restorationWe toured several ancient stupas, including this one which is undergoing restoration, and has a sort of freight elevator taking people up.


“Isurumuni” means “The Lovers” and is the name given to an interesting little temple and museum built around a dramatic rock formation that sits inexplicably in the otherwise flat area. At the top is a footprint-shaped depression that is said to be the print of Buddha.


The last site was the ancient bodhi tree, which has been continuously tended since it was brought here in the third century BC by Sanghamitta, the Indian princess who, with her brother Mahinda, introduced Buddhism to the island. It is said to be a cutting from the original tree under which the Buddha found enlightenment.


I immediately respect any religion that worships a tree. That makes sense to me.

Sacred bodhi tree