Dambulla, Sri Lanka
I woke up to the sounds of rain falls and decided that I should see Polonnaruva (also spelled “Polonnaruwa”) today with the hopes that tomorrow would be less wet for when I visit Sigiriya, which I would ideally like to see with blue skies; unfortunately, this is the northeast monsoon season (November to February – there is also a southwest monsoon season from May to September . . . Sri Lanka is pretty much always enveloped in rain), so wet weather is the norm and is to be expected. After waking up, I got ready, grabbed my umbrella, left the hostel, and walked to the city center of Dambulla, where all the buses stop. Once at the city center, I waited for the bus to Polonnaruva and then took it to the ancient capital. The bus drove me for about ninety minutes before stopping at a small bus station along the way; I then switched to another bus that dropped me off near the museum and ticket office for Polonnaruva. I soon found my way to the museum, bought my entrance ticket, and then I walked around inside the building, looking at the different artifacts and displays detailing the history of Polonnaruva; I did hurry through the museum though since I was more interested in seeing the actual ruins (besides, one can learn all about anything nowadays on the internet, so other than the unique artifacts a museum may house, a museum really only offers a dedicated shelter to learning which visitors can come to to focus their minds, being free of distractions, on actually consuming the given history inside – of course if this is Vietnam or China, the given history is painfully one-sided). After exiting the museum, I walked out to see the real history, remnants of an ancient kingdom. I first walked to Dipauyana (Island Park), which was built by King Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 AD), and has the Audience Hall of King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 AD) and a bathing pond, as well as several other structures. I then walked out of the Island Park and to the main entrance to the rest of the ancient city (separated from the museum, Island Park, and some other structures by the main road that goes to the modern-day city of Polonnaruva.
Inside the main compound, I walked to the Citadel, a seven-storeyed palace called Vaijayanta Prasada (built by King Parakramabahu the Great), and where there were several ruins surrounding it (such as the council chamber of King Parakramabahu the Great); while visiting the Citadel and surrounding ruins, it began to pour very heavily, so I tried my best to stay out of the rain, but my pants bottoms and shoes were hopelessly drenched. I also visited the nearby Kumara Pond, a nice geometrically designed pool. Next, I walked north to the Sacred Quadrangle, which has the impressive Vatadage, a round structure that is believed to have been the Temple of the Tooth, built during the reign of King Parakramabahu the Great; it used to have a circular, sloped, wood roof covering it, but naturally time has wiped it away. The Sacred Quadrangle also has an enclosed image house where I viewed some Buddha sculptures inside (out of the rain), the Atadage (the Temple of the Tooth built by King Vijayabahu the Great (1055-1110 AD), originally a two-storeyed building), the Hatadage (the Temple of the Tooth built by King Nissankamalla in, supposedly, sixty (“hata”) hours; this temple also has three standing Buddha images inside its walls), and the Nissankalata Mandapa (where King Nissankamalla listened to recitals of Buddhist scriptures). After visiting the Sacred Quadrangle, I continued my tour walking northward; my next stop was Pabalu Vehera, a large brick stupa that is believed to have been built by Queen Rupavati, a consort of King Parakramabahu the Great, but there is no definitive evidence to confirm this; the name is believed to have been derived from beads (“pabalu”) that were recovered near the site. I then walked to the nearby Siva Devale Number 2, the oldest Hindu shrine in Polonnaruva; it was built by King Rajaraja (985-1014 AD) and according to a Tamil inscription found in situ, this has been dedicated to King Rajaraja’s consort, Vanavanmadevi; inside there is a stone-cut Sivalinga, but I did not enter inside on account of the temple being surrounded by a pool of water from all the rain. My next stop, after Siva Devale Number 2, was the Manik Vehera, a monastery with a stupa, Bodhi tree shrine, image house, refectory, and a monks’ quarters. I then walked to Rankot Vehera, a very large brick stupa, and walked around the outside of its sacred walls since I didn’t want to take my shoes off in the rain and walk around in the mud. NOTE: most sites in Polonnaruva require visitors to remove their shoes out of respect before entering; that’s fine if it is indoors and out of the elements; however, most sites in Polonnaruva that require shoe removal are outside, which means visitors are expected to walk on wet stone, through puddles, and even through mud in many areas; unfortunately, I was wearing shoes with socks; if only I had known better, I would’ve worn my sandals (I was sure to wear sandals the following day while visiting Sigiriya and the Dambulla Cave Temples). I then walked to the Alahana Parivena, which is the largest monastery complex in Polonnaruva (established by King Parakramabahu the Great) and has the Kiri Vehera (a large white stupa), Lankatilaka (a large, tall, vaulted type of image house), and Baddhasima Prasada. After visiting those ruins, I walked to the Gal-Vihara (built by King Parakramabahu the Great) which has a shrine and three Buddha images carved out of the large rock that makes up Gal-Vihara. Then, I walked to Demala Maha Saya, a large brick and earthen stupa that was built by Tamil prisoners of war and has now been overtaken by the surrounding vegetation; currently there is an archaeological excavation at the site and not much to see other than some exposed layers of brick; I walked around the large stupa hoping to see something interesting, but just ended up getting soaking wet due to the trail being overgrown with plants that were all wet. Next, I walked to the Lotus Pond, a small, but nicely shaped pond, before continuing to the last structure at the end of the road (the northernmost site for visitors to see in the complex), the Tivanka Image House; the structure had a lot of renovation being done on it, but inside was a tall Buddha statue (headless now) and many preserved paintings on its walls. I then visited some more unmarked ruins before exiting the compound at the north-west entrance. Lastly, I visited the Naipena Vehera, a nice collection of ruins on the side of the road before I took a bus to the Polonnaruva City Bus Station; from there, I took a bus back to Dambulla (which took about two hours).
Upon reaching Dambulla, I entered in to a nearby restaurant and had a plate of fried rice and a bottle of 7-Up. I then walked back to the hostel, talked with the Portuguese man some more (he sparked the desire for me to visit Lebanon on this trip and ski amongst the tall cedars – that would be a lot of fun) and with his lady friend who had arrived at the hostel today (tomorrow they will be leaving to hike to the top of Adam’s Peak); I then showered and relaxed for some time before going to sleep.