Saturday, 23 September 2017

Polonnaruwa - royal ancient city

Our train to Anuradhapura was at 6:10 am and Joseph, owner of the homestay dropped us at the Railway Station. First Class air conditioned train starts at 1:30 pm reaching Colombo at 8:30 pm and the 6:10 am train reaches Colombo by 1:30 pm. En route you will notice tiled roofs of many houses with "Red Cross" written over them. The train reached Anuradhapura at 1:30 pm. Headed straight to New Bus Station to get a bus to Polonnaruwa (160 LKR, 3 hours).  The new town of Polonnaruwa where the main bus station is situated is known as Kaduruwela, 3 kilometers away from the old town. You might see buses having board of Kaduruwela, which will stop at old town before proceeding to new bus station, very few buses will have the Polonnaruwa board. The bus goes through Kekirawa-Habarana-Ritigala-Giritale. Along the main road there are main shops renting cycles, geared cycled are better in this town.

A 10 minute walk on the main road past clock tower is the Devi Tourist Home (LKR 2000, non AC double), food is available on request here. Renting an air-conditioned room is highly recommended for the hot and humid nights. Johron and family makes you feel at home. This guest house was run by Johron's father and has been accommodating tourists since 1980s. The rooms are tidy and come with mosquito nets. We had the best Lankan rice and curry here -consisting of many Kerala cuisine based dishes -drumstick, jackfruits, plantain flower. Johron will drop you to the bus stand at Kaduruwela (LKR 350)

There is a nice restaurant on the main road, run by Ohseen and family - dishes up Lankan and continental cuisine. He has two rooms for guests (LKR 2200 nonAC / LKR 2700 AC). Two kids nearby were riding good MTB cycles, LKR 18000 for DSI branded 18 speed cycle.

Ancient City of Polonnaruwa is not as sprawling as Anuradhapura. We started riding our Shimano geared cycles (LKR 300)  with Panasonic dynamo from Devi tourist home and had local breakfast of Idiyappam with coconut chutney, lentils (parippu) and coconut milk based gravy in the town (LKR 220 per plate). Tickets for visiting the ruins ($25, for SAARC $12.5) can be purchased at the ticket office inside the Archeological museum. It is better to pay in USD as you get a good conversion rate of LKR154. We decided to cycle back to museum, after visiting the ancient city during the first half of the day. The map provided with the ticket is quite useful.

Royal Palace was a captivating seven storeyed palace of which three are remaining. We were delighted to see a group of young monastery students in orange robes. There are many stalls inside the Heritage Site selling souvenirs, which steals the serenity of the place. Polonnaruwa is a hot place and make sure to carry lots of water and sunscreen with you.  The Sacred Quadrangle consists of many ruins like Vatadage - a circular chapter house where the central dagoba has four statues of Buddha in four directions. Before reaching the central dagoba there are two terraces, of which the second one has fine guardstones at its entrance. Thuparama Gadige - is the smallest gadige (an image house) in Polonnaruwa but also one with its roof intact. Hatadage is a tooth-relic chamber believed to have been built in 60 days under supervision of King Nissanka Malla.

The best part of the ruins in Polonnaruwa has to be the Gal Vihara - the finest of the Sinhalese rock carvings. Separate statues of Buddha has been carved out of one long granite slab. Standing Buddha with arms crossed is not the usual position of Buddha, whereas reclining Buddha has fine detailed carvings on the pillow and a subtle depression where Buddha's head is placed.  Rankot Vihara is the largest stupa in Polonnaruwa and the fourth largest in the country. Nearby are the ruins of a hospital. Unfortunately the exit is to the main road, which has heavy traffic. It was a challenge to cycle back to the Museum. This archaeological museum is well kept and informative too. Spend some time here as it is also a respite from hot and humid sun. 

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