Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa

mapCrew : 5

Transportation : Car

Duration : Two Days

 

When I was invited to a road trip to Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa by one of my friends, I had my doubts whether will it be interesting as I have visited those places many times in my childhood.  But when he told me that two foreigners along with another Sri Lankan friend will join, I couldn’t resist. I’ve always wanted to travel Sri Lanka (at least a part of it) with foreigners and see it through their eyes, experience the difficulties they face. Therefore, I gladly confirmed my participation.

My friend came all the way from Kurunegala by his car and picked me up from Kandy around 8.30 am. We went straight to Dambulla and had some short eats for breakfast. Then left to Sigiriya. Other three participants were on a two week long trip, which started on the previous week and we joined them at the place they spend the last night at Sigiriya. We had a cup of tea while they checked out. Then headed to Anuradhapura. We talked about their travel experiences in Sri Lanka on the previous couple of Days and they were really friendly.

It was about 11am when we reached Anuradhapura town. We all were hungry and decided to look for a good place to eat. Once we stopped the car and got out, we realized how hot it was. We quickly went in to the nearest restaurant and luckily we had a tasty Brunch and appreciable service there. Around 11.30am we got back in to the car and started driving through the complex road network, in search of the Anuradhapura Old (puja) Town.

Being three out of us five are locals, it was hard to find the ticketing office for foreigners. We saw “Isurumuniya” name board and parked the car. Though I have visited Anuradhapura few times in my childhood, I haven’t been to Isurumuniya before. So I was excited as much as our two German friends! It was early May and we felt like sun have came closer by few light years. As it was a temple, we had to remove our shoes and hats. The floor was burning hot so we darted to a shady corner inside the premises. There wasn’t much to see in the left side so we went in to the “Vihara geya”. There are some paintings in the ceiling. We saw two famous stone carvings called “Man and the horse head” and “Elephants playing in the water”. There are few explanations about the “Man and the horse head” carving, but the famous idea is a soldier resting with his horse. The elephants were carved in the bottom of the rock, just above the water. So it seems the elephants are playing in the pond.
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It was too hot to walk outside. One of us was holding a shawl over the head to cover the unbearable heat. One of the guards screamed saying that it is not allowed inside the premises. Knowing the teachings of lord Buddha, we decided  it is not worth to spend our time explaining it to him and went to a shade near the entrance. There we met a local elderly female who quickly became friendly and expressed her worries about not providing a reasonable service for foreigners for the money they charge to visit Anuradhapura Puja Town. We came back to the car park and went to the “Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi”, a sapling of the Bo tree which gave shade to Lord Buddha for Enlightening. There were many fences with gold plating around the “Bodhi” and a stone outer wall. Normally it is not allowed to go inside those fences, so we walked around the the “Weli Maluwa” observing the pilgrims worshiping the sacred tree. Surprisingly it was much cooler under the “Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi” and we spent some time there before going back. With the not being able to bear the rays of mighty sun, we decided to go back to our accommodation (A Circuit Bungalow of my friend’s Company) and come back in the afternoon. After a shower we went straight to a nap, woke up around 3pm for our evening session. But the sky was gloomy and we hurried to cover all the places before a heavy shower.

On the way back we located the tourist information center in google maps and contacted the telephone number. The three of us Sri Lankan were embarrassed as a lady answered the call and explained that it is not an information center, but her house.  There was no direction alongside of the road about the tourist ticketing counter either. So we followed google maps for the tourist information center. Unfortunately the rain started and we were forced to go back to our accommodation by the half flooded roads and lightening. So it was time for us to re-plan the itinerary. As our German friends needed to visit the remaining places in Anuradhapura, we thought it is best to cover Anuradhapura in the next day morning quickly as possible and then visit Polonnaruwa via Aukana in the evening. We had an early dinner and went to sleep as soon as we could.
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We woke up in the morning and had our breakfast from the place we stayed. Food was tasty but we quickly finished it to start our visit. As we inquired from the Circuit keeper, he directed us to the Jethawanaramaya Museum where we could purchase All-in-One Anuradhapura Ticket for our German friends. We quickly covered the museum and went to the mighty Jethawanaramaya by the vehicle (You also can walk there, but the distance is considerably high and we were in a hurry, so we used the car).  It was amazing to imagine how things were at those old times while walking around them.

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Then we went to the Ruwanweli Seya, The Pagoda made by king Dutugemunu. Folklore reveals that even The king himself contributed the construction by bringing up bricks. In the final stages of the construction, Younger brother Saddhathissa takes over the project as King Dutugemunu falls sick. At the deathbed King Dutugemunu requests to see the completed pagoda. As there was not enough time to complete it before the great king dies, Prince Saddhathissa covers the uncompleted parts of the pagoda by white linen and take the king there. It is said that the king believed the construction was over, Worshiped the pagoda just before his last breath. At the time we visited there was a “Kap-ruk Pooja”, an offering of linen to the pagoda and it was getting crowded as it was two days before Wesak holidays. Between Ruwanweli seya and Sri Maha Bodiya (which we visited the day before) there is another special location called Lowamahapaya. Though now there are only ground level stone pillars left, It is said that there were a nine story building with a Bronze colored roof (hence the name, Lowa-Maha-Prasadaya) which remained the tallest building of the country except the pagodas Ruwanweli seya, Abhayagiriya and Jethawanaramaya between 155BC and 993AD. This building was destroyed by the attacks during the reign of King Saddhathissa and he had reconstructed it with seven stories.

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Our next stop was the Abhayagiriya Complex, which was used as a college to Bikkhus (Buddhist Monks) in the Anuradhapura era. Therefore, the ruins are spread around a vast area. Credit of Abhayagiri Pagoda construction goes to the youngest son of King Saddhathissa, king Walagamba ( 103 BC, 89-77 BC). As soon as he came to the throne there was an Indian Invasion which he couldn’t withstand, he retreated. At that time there was a Jain Shrine in this place and it is said the priest named “Giri” insulted the King “Here the great black Sinhalese King is retreating”. It took another 14 year for King Walagamba to defeat the invaders, but when he did He built this giant Stupa on the location of that Jain Shrine and named the Pagoda by combining the King’s name (Abhaya) and the Jain Priest’s name (Giri).

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After that we went to the “Samadhi Statue” of Lord Buddha. It was wonderful to see how the craftsmen have finished the live-like stone statue. It is believed there were four statues like this around a Bodhiya (Bo Tree), but the tree and other three statues are destroyed.  Then we stopped at “Thuparamaya” which is considered as the first Pagoda constructed after introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. This was constructed by King Devanampiyathissa, enshrining the color bone of Lord Buddha. As the name reveals Thupa (Pagoda) + Aramaya (Where monks reside), there are ruins scattered around the pagoda which are suspected to be the roof for monks. With Thuparamaya, we finished our Anuradhapura tour and started our journey to Polonnaruwa via Awukana.

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It was around 12 pm when we reached “Awukana” after a long ride on countryside roads. The name “Awukana” means “Under the harsh sun rays”. The Standing Statue of Lord Buddha was constructed during the reign of King Dhathusena, Father of King Kashyapa (who resided in Sigiriya). Recently a roof over the masterpiece of skillful Sri Lankan craftsmanship has been constructed, but as our German friend highlighted it obstructs the grand view. It will be better if the roof height can be increased, but don’t know about the feasibility. They charge 1000LKR from foreigners just to see the statue. Sadly it would have been better if they could do some value addition to the visit at least like a Ticket with the Image of Awukana Statue with related information for the price foreigners have to pay. We brought some biscuits from a nearby shop, so we can wait until we reach Polonnaruwa for Lunch (A very late Lunch) . On the way back we slowed down a bit to capture the breathtaking view over the waters of “Kala wewa” which was also constructed and treasured by the King Dhathusena.

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It was around 3.30 pm when we reached Polonnaruwa. One of our friends had recommended a place to have the lunch, so we tracked the location. Google maps directed us along a narrow road off the main Road (A11) in between light green paddy fields. When we arrived the place, all we could see was a garden adjacent to a house and a young man working with some banana trees. We were worried that this must be a wrong place, but gladly the he confirmed that it is “Jaga Food”. We got a warm welcome and he ushered us to the restaurant i the back of the garden. It was an open area next to a pond with visitors’ comments all over on the ceiling. Though it was very late for lunch, they had their Lunch Buffet open. It was one of the tastiest rice and curry buffets i have been and they had Curd & Trickle, Papaya and Sri Lankan Pan cakes (A yellowish pan cake wrapped around a lump of pol pani – a coconut and trickle mix). Our hungry tummies as well as the souls were filled with their delicious food and hospitality. Our German friends took a minute to made a comment on their ceiling and we hurried to Polonnaruwa town after thanking Jaga and his wife.

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It was easy to find the Pollonnaruwa ticketing place at the Archeological museum as Jaga gave us the directions. Pollonnaruwa ruins were fairly located near to each other and we could access them by a vehicle (must-walk distance is very low). First we took a right turn as we entered the from the gate to visit ruins of the palace called “Vaijayanthi Prasadaya” of King Parakramabahu the first (1153-1186 BC). The main building is said be of seven stories and consisted of 1000 chambers but there is only signs of three stories and 55 chambers at present. South Indian invader called “Maaga” had set fire to this palace to destroy and you still can see burn marks on the brick wall. There were numerous remains of the royal palace scattered around and we were amazed to see that the drainage network of that time is still in good condition. We walked along the ancient paved pathway to visit the “Kumara Pokuna” (The royal bathing Place). It is said that this was constructed by King Parakramabahu, in his garden called “Nandana Uyana” which was below the level of palace. A nearby canal was used to bring water and poured into via two sprouts made like “Dragons”.

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Then we moved to the next ruins cluster, which is to the left from the main entrance. “Thivanka Pilimageya” is an image house as the name implies which was constructed by King Parakramabahu (1153-1186 AD). “Thivanka” means bent in three places,and the Buddha statue in here is bent from the Shoulder, Hip and the Knee (This pose is common in the guard stones). The Buddha statue is  believed to be about 8m in height but now it is less as the part above the head has been destroyed. Interior wall of this building is decorated with Polonnaruwa era paintings of “Jathaka Katha” and Incidents from the life of Lord Buddha while the exterior walls are decorated with various stone statues. It was so dark inside the building at that time, so i couldn’t take a good picture of the statue and paintings inside.
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“Watadageya” is in front of Thivanka Pilimageya and it is a Round (Wata) Stupa (Da) House (Geya).  There are few “watadageya” s in Sri Lanka. Polonnaruwa Watadageya is considered the best remaining of it’s kind. Madirigiriya and Thuparamaya (both in Anuradhapura) are other best examples. This is believed to be constructed by King Parakramabahu to safe keeping of the Tooth Relic or a work of King Nishshankamalla to hold the “Pathraya” (Alms Bowl) of Lord Buddha. A stone fence with very detailed designs and columns covers the inner brick wall which encloses the Stupa and Buddha Statues.

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Then there is “Atadageya”next to it, which once hold the sacred Tooth relic. This said to be a two story building constructed by King Vijayabahu the First. There is another more closed sturcture called “Hetadageya” adjacent to “Atadageya”. There is a Stone Door frame with very deatailed carvings and the stone walls have inscriptions. Walls are believed to be decorated with frescoes and carvings. This building too had multi stories and the remaining section of stair case is still in good condition. Finally we visited “Sathmahal Prasadaya” at the same site. As the name Sath (seven) Mahal (Story) Prasadaya (Building) implies there are seven stories to this building (Which are still can be seen). This is said to be a Square shaped Stupa, which is very rare in Sri Lanka.
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Then we drove to the Pollonnaruwa Gal Vihara complex car park under the gloomy dark sky. It started to drizzle as we walked towrds Gal viharaya but as it was our last stop, we didn’t care to wait till it stops. The distance we had to walk is less than 500m. There are four Granite Statues of Lord Buddha in all three poses. One large statue in seated pose adjacent to a smaller similar statue inside a “Kuti” (room) called “Vidyadara Guhawa”. A standing statue and a reclining statue. The place said to be called “Uththararamaya” andconsidered to be a work of King Parakramabahu the First. Recently a roof has been constructed over these figures in order to protect them. We couldn’t spend much time there due to the rain and we came back to the parking lot and started to drive back home. We reached Kandy around 9pm and our foreign friends stayed with the plans to visit Kandy on coming days.

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Kurundu Oya Falls

MapCrew : 8

Transportation : Hired Van (Use a vehicle with good ground clearance, preferably a 4 wheel drive)

Duration : One Day

 

Kurundu Oya Ella is the second highest waterfall in Sri Lanka. “Kurundu Oya” is a feeder of “Mahaweli Ganga” and connects directly to the Randenigala reservoir. This Majestic waterfall is in the upstream of the Kurundu oya surrounded by a dense Sub-Montane Forest. Top of the waterfall can be reached through “Ragala” side but we took walapane route to reach the bottom of the waterfall.
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It was a long weekend in January 2016. Though many had planned to participate to this hike, all of them couldn’t make it except one friend and he is a member of a Traveling gang called “Wanagatha Kollo” (Boys in Wild). So he came with them and it was more like I joined with them in this Hike. You can visit their web page through below link.
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Wanagatha Kollo – Excluding Me…

http://www.wanagathakollo.com/
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We started our journey from Kandy around 7 am by a hired Van. There are two routes from Kandy to Walapane and we choose the Road via Randenigala as it is shorter and the road condition is good. We had to stop for 30 minutes near Adhikarigama for breakfast and to buy some food to eat on the way. The roadside view of the Randenigala Reservoir is fantastic and we couldn’t resist stopping in few places for better camera angles.

It was around 11am when we reached Walapane, and wasn’t much hard to find the way to Japanese peace pagoda (which is the road to Kurundu Oya Ella). The initial bit of the road is concreted and then there are few stretches with stone paving and gravel. We came to a Three way junction and took the road towards right (up hill) after asking the neighboring villagers. The road to left is towards the Japanese Peace Pagoda which we thought of visiting when returning from the waterfall.
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It was a dirt road from there most of the time and had extreme elbow bends, where the driver just reversed the vehicle uphill until the next elbow bend as it was easier than taking that turn. Again we came to a three way junction and the driver of the hired van refused to go further as the road conditions were bad. We took our backpacks and thought of hiking from there just before a lorry coming uphill appeared from a bend. We asked the lorry driver for directions and he offered us a ride further towards the waterfall. 😀 We gladly accepted it and jumped into the lorry. There is a mini hydro power plant construction going on, which will be fed from the water of Kurundu oya waterfall and that lorry was carrying construction material for that project. The Driver gave his mobile phone number in case we need help about directions. The lorry ride was fun as the climb is steep and the view was great. He stopped in a cleared area where construction material was unloading and we went from there by foot.
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Few hundred meters of walk brought us to the Construction area of the inlet valve for the water tunnel and we used the concrete canal (which was under construction) to go forward as the lorry driver instructed. The start was good but there was mud and some rain water (1~2 inches high) accumulated in the canal and the muddy water inside our shoes slowed our walk. Only one from our gang was wearing a pair of safety shoes and he survived from that problem. If you can walk on the side walls of the concrete canal, it also a good solution for that matter, but as one side is a steep cliff it doesn’t worth the risk. End of that canal was a steel gate to prevent the water coming in and we climbed on to the concrete structure to have a good look at this massive water flow. The mist made of its own water vapor was trying to cover the waterfall.
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At the water inlet gate

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First Cascade is hidden…

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Kurundu Oya Ella has three cascades and was in its full flow as the upstream area had rain past few weeks. We were at the bottom of the waterfall facing the third cascade and the first one was hidden behind the Second. We went through the journals available on the internet about Kurundu Oya Ella and thought of climbing to the second cascade through the thick cover of vegetation. So we went back on the same path until the place where we get out from the lorry and found that another lorry is about to leave back to walapane. So we waited until the unloading is over and jumped back in the lorry and arrived to a small path along the way towards the second cascade.
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Three Cascades…

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We started the walk along that and came to a fountain where we refilled our water bottles and had a rest. After crossing few barriers over the path we came to a dead end facing a thick Sub-Montane Forest. A call to a friend who traveled along this path confirmed that we had to go through the vegetation. So we put on our long sleeve t-shirts, packed our cameras and put them in the backpacks and went in. Few steps inside the vegetation lead us to a small cave like path through the bushes and we followed it. Leaches were every where and the earth was covered with wet decaying leaves making it hard for us to set foot firmly. The rocks were sliding down as we stepped on them and had to keep a few feet distance to avoid rocks hitting our heads unexpectedly. The path became more unclear towards the jungle and we came to a point we had to decide whether are we going to go further or turn back. Considering the time and thickness of the jungle we turned back and rushed towards the fountain. Even then it was hard to find the way back.
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As soon as we reached the fountain first thing we did was removing shoes and socks to remove the leaches trying to find a way in through the socks. I removed 4 leaches and one was able to bit me through a sock. After that we put our shoes back, washed our faces and had a snack before starting the walk back. We was bit disappointed with unsuccessful trail towards the second cascade and thought of climbing the mountain over the path at least to have a good look at the first and second cascades of the waterfall. The mountain was shorter and easy climb as we saw from the path. So we started climbing.
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First Cascade – On the way to the mountain…

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It took a while for us to realize that what we saw from the path was not the actual case. There were few carrot nurseries which were hidden to the path and then was a steep climb full of loosen rocks. The view from the mountain top was great and we spent almost an hour there zooming our cameras to capture the best.
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Top pool of Kurundu Oya Ella…

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Randenigala reservoir from the view point…

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The path we walked – Little hut is where the material unloading site…

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Our expectation was an easy path downwards when starting the climb and as what we saw from the path was not the actual case it was hard to go back from the same path. We peeked to the other side of the mountain and saw the van we came as a dot. That meant if we could go down from that side the distance will be shorter.
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Two of us lead the way downwards as all others (including me) had doubts about going down from that steep endless cliff. We had no other choice than following them and it was harder than we thought. The arms and legs were bruised and all had a big brown patch of mud in the back of the trousers after the most steep part of the way back. Then there was a head high, thick (But, Damn that was heavenly) growth of “Maana” bushes where a shades of a foot path was available.
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We took that path and finally came back to the point where we got out from the lorry second time an walked back to the Van. We couldn’t visit the Japanese peace pagoda as it was around 4 pm then and we rushed back to Walapane town to have something to eat. We couldn’t find a place in the town and decided to head toward the “Belihuloya” (Not the famous “Belihuloya” in Badulla District) at least we could then have a bath.
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The view point covered in mist…

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The friend we met in the Roti Kade…

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There was a boutique where we had “roti” and “plain tea” before jumping in to the water. We spent about half an hour in the water and got into the Van with tired but satisfied faces. It was around 9pm when we arrived Kandy.