My flight with Qatar Airlines was at 10 pm on Thursday night. After 12 hours to Doha, 2 hours of layover, another 4.5 hours to Colombo, another hour from the airport to the train station and another 4.5 hours in a train I reached Anuradapura, the old Sinhalese capital established around 5th century BC and lasting till the 4th century AA. The train ride was very comfortable, trains being not as crowded as in India and this is one of the few differences. The country looks cleaner, more modern in people’s attire to the pointy that hardly you see anybody dressed in traditional clothes. And if it is a word to define it, the word would be “leafy”; the entire ride was through palm trees and banana trees that gives you the feeling that you are riding a train in the jungle. If you ever thought as Sri Lanka as a Buddhist meditating in jungle, your thoughts were closer to the reality. The Buddhist tradition is deep in the country, the Sinhalese for being the prime and, even today, the inspirational form of Buddhism for the Theravada Buddhism. All other countries from SE Asia were actually descends of this original form. I felt the deep devotion here in Anuradapura, that represents the main pilgrimage place in Sri Lanka where buses congregate all day bringing people from all across the country. They come with offers to the temples and they circumambulate the white enormous stupas in prayer. This form of Buddhism is more austere and no matter that influences from Hinduism are present , including the pujari equivalent, it lacks the flamboyancy of the Hindu temples or the Mahayana ones. The austerity consists even in the fact that you have to walk barefoot and with no hat on the stupa and temple platform, and this is normal everywhere except that here the platform is made out of rough stones and they are huge and in the middle of the day the stone is hot and beside the fact that you are hurt by the uneven stones your feet get fried. After a while you try to give up and look from outside at the beautiful immaculate white stupas. I took a tuk-tuk from the train station (Rs100) that brought me at a hotel, Levi’s Tourism (!?), just a regular guesthouse of a guy who probably liked this jeans.(Rs2000 with hot water, no AC, Wi-Fi) and I negotiated right away to go and visit the archeological and sacred area for an overpriced Rs2000. The area is very large and without a mode of transportation is hard to cover in a day. Luckily after so many nights sleeping in various locations but not in a bed I was rested because of the sleep I got in Qatar Airlines and I left around 11:00 and returned completely exhausted with my feet hurt and burnt around 6:30 pm after we were able to cover all the sites. The entrance ticket to the site is $25/day and the Cultural ticket available since last year was no more. The driver can get you without paying for a steeper fee but I chose not to do it and encourage the country to preserve its treasures. Over all the impression of the place is not so deep because the ruins are very similar and apart from the spectacular stupas most of the stuff are pillars of the old and ruined palaces, monasteries, refectories, etc. almost the same. However the size of the place is monumental and to wander in it is a treat that should not be missed. But for anybody who visited SE Asia’s Angkor or Bagan it may be a little of a let down and this is a general impression among the travelers I encountered. The sites are getting animated by the pilgrims who come in large number but their obvious deep devotion is not displayed outwardly, like you would see in Burma or Thailand. The guest house was full with Russians, French and some Germans. I stopped for a shower and I left with the tuk-tuk in town to eat something, realizing then that the driver did not eat the entire day. I did not even have breakfast, not talking about lunch but other people may not be used with this non-Buddhist austerity, so I treated him with some biriani while he was trying to find me a car for the following day. When I returned at the hotel I was so exhausted that I barely was able to make some calls and start this posting and crashed into a deep sleep.
Anuradapura, Sri Lanka