Burning our Feet at the Ancient Cities of Sri Lanka

Aluvihara Rock Monastery - Ancient Cities - Sri Lanka
The Aluvihara Rock Monastery . One of the stops on the Ancient Cities tour

Every single place we visited in the Ancient Cities region was beautiful, unique, filled with dagobas and HOT! To begin with, as the ruins are all also spiritual centers, we had to remove our hats and shoes before entering any of them. This was especially painful as the sun was beating down from overhead and the walking areas were beyond scorching.

On numerous occasions we actually smelled the flesh burning on the soles of our feet as we ran, hopped and tiptoed our way over sand, cement and tiles. There were more than a few times that Carrie stayed in the car as I ran out to take a photo of yet another dagoba.

So, what did we actually see?

DAY 1

Matale: We saw a Hindu temple and a guard, for a fee of course, showed us the giant chariots used to carry relics during annual parades. Later, we visited a rock monastery featuring amazing sleeping Buddha statues literally carved out of the sides of giant boulders. Also, the monastery had gory statues and drawings showing the torture of different types of sinners. And a dagoba.

Nandala: The most peaceful place, it was just a ruined temple and dagoba in the middle of nature with literally no one else around. Oh, and it was shady and breezy. A nice break.

Dambula: After getting past the largest golden Buddha I have ever seen, towering above the entrance, we climbed up a bunch of stairs to see more reclining and sleeping Buddhas carved out of a rock wall. There were five rooms filled with Buddhas as well as paintings and murals on the walls. Amazing!

 

A giant Buddha statue in the Matale Aluvihara Rock Monastery — Sri Lanka
A giant Buddha statue in the Matale Aluvihara Rock Monastery — Sri Lanka

 

Dambula Giant Buddha, Ancient Cities, Sri Lanka
The Golden Buddha of Dambula towers above the countryside

DAY 2

Anuradhapura: After our driver overslept (or his bus broke down, depending on what you believe), we headed north as close to Tiger territory as we safely could to visit an ancient capital of Sri Lanka. Literally, we must have seen nearly a dozen dagobas of different sizes and materials. By the end we were all dagoba’ed out.

Mihintale: This is the site where Buddhism originated in Sri Lanka and another important pilgrimage spot. Usually filled with tourists, we were alone with our tour guide as he showed us more ruins of an ancient Buddhist colony and painted a wonderful picture of what life used to be like there. We opted to skip the giant dagoba atop the hill, as it required an extra admission of more than we had left that day.

 

Mihintale, Ancient Cities, Sri Lanka
Mihintale. One of the Ancient Cities and the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka


DAY 3

Polonnaruwa: Another former royal capital, we spent hours driving from ruin to ruin, checking out temples, living spaces, palaces, baths and, of course, dagobas.

Sigiriya: Towering above the countryside, this 60 story flat topped rock was either a hub for royal and military activities or a Buddhist monastery, depending on what historian you listen to.

 

The Gal Vihara Buddha statue in Polonnaruwa — one of the Ancient Cities in Sri Lanka
The Gal Vihara Buddha statue in Polonnaruwa — one of the Ancient Cities in Sri Lanka

 

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
The view from atop Sigiriya, Sri Lanka