Tracing Buddha in the ancient cities of the Sinhalese Kingdom: A’pura and Kandy

From Jaffna we take a train south to Anuradhapura, one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka. Not expecting too much before our arrival, we are taken aback by the beautiful green garden city and it’s wonderful mix of old and new architecture. The friendliness of the ever so welcoming locals is just overwhelming: in Lievi’s Guesthouse we are offered fresh lime juice and enjoy chatting casually with Lievi himself when it turns out that he is fully booked for the night but gladly refers us to stay in the guesthouse of one of his childhood friends at “Travel Holiday Resort” (no, this is not actually a resort;) …being in Sri Lanka we’ve already learned not to think of appellations what we’d normally think. “Hotel”, for example, is merely a streetside café and similarly, a “Holiday Resort” is – in most cases – a little family-run guesthouse with a few rooms.

Having lunch in the “House of Taste” is a treat indeed: a generous portion of red or yellow rice served on a lotus leaf with curry, dal and *ta-thaaa* some salad on the side! The restaurant made entirely of coconut palm leaves is a popular lunchtime place for local office workers. And here we even get napkins! Why this is so special? In Sri Lanka we got used to simply help ourselves with the provided second-hand paper in streetside cafés and “hotels” to get rid of the worst of grease and crumbs 😉 As everyone eats with their hands, easily accessible sinks and “washing stations” are installed so that people can wash quickly before and after eating. Hence, napkins might just be too much of good…  We meet the proprietor Ravi who is delighted to meet people from London, the city where he had lived for 6 years of his life. And again – it’s so wonderful to have those conversations with the locals, this is part of what “exploring a place” means for me.

Discovering Anuradhapura by foot is a special experience – we seem to be the only ones who ever had this “crazy” idea. Tuk tuk drivers can’t believe it, one of them – be it out of readiness to help what he might perceive as “lost tourists” or out of salesmanship – even follows us into a small dirt road to inform us that it’s a dead end. Well, according to our research it’s not so we politely refuse his offer and follow our path unflinchingly.

Other tourists rent a bike, hail a tuk tuk or even book a guided tour. We actually take great pleasure in walking it and I especially enjoy the nature- and wildlife watching that this option provides for. Here it’s particularly the monkeys that I am taken with, I could watch them for days on end.

As implied above, a distinctive feature of the townscape of A’pura are the countless temples and dagobas. Dagoba is the Sinhala word for stupa, “a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics – typically the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns – that is used as a place of meditation.”

Buddhists from near and far come visiting and paying homage to the most sacred Bodhi tree since time immemorial, here in A’pura. “It is said to be the right-wing branch from the historical Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. It was planted in 288 BC and is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world with a known planting date.”

Worshippers in white and bright orange clothes attend the offerings with flowers, incense sticks and fragrance oil. These offerings often act as preparation for meditation. “Within the traditional Buddhist framework of karma and rebirth, offerings lead to the accumulation of merit, which leads to:

  • a better rebirth in the cycle of birth and death
  • progress towards release from suffering

At this point, I do want to note that my source for above sapience is our good friend Wikipedia©.

I really enjoy walking through the leafy, tranquil town of ancient A’pura. The atmosphere is somehow special here: mystic and indeed a bit like traveling through time. When we stop at “The Sanctuary at Tissawewa” this is a great time to sit down, sip a glass of iced tea and enjoy our surroundings. It is a beautifully conserved former British governors’ residence and includes a vast garden with stately trees and populated by parrots, monkeys, peacocks, hornbills and other birdies. Right form there, we stroll along a path to get to Tissawewa Lake and the Royal Pleasure Gardens, built 2000 years ago including the old baths of the ancient kings and queens.

To close our ~10km loop walk we stride back through paddy fields and watch the sunset tonight from a dais next to Lord Buddha.

“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

~Lord Buddha~

And then comes Kandy: it’s Sri Lanka’s second city and accordingly busy. It is also full of western tourists and has therefore lost a bit of its authenticity and colonial charm, we think. Nevertheless, it is here where the country’s most sacred Buddhist relic can be toured – in the Temple of the Tooth. We, on the other hand, take great pleasure in finally trying our first mango with chilli in Sri Lanka, enjoy a nice chat with the street vendor and then hike up the short walk to the panoramic vistas over Kandy and the surrounding mountains. Yes, the landscape has indeed changed – we are in the middle of the “Hill Country” and it’s noticeably colder up here. The elevated location in the heart of the country is in fact the main reason why Kandy managed to defend its status as the last independent bastion of the Sinhalese. The Kingdom of Kandy clung onto its freedom until 1815, long after the rest of the island had fallen to the Portuguese and Dutch, preserving its own unique customs and culture which live on today in the city’s unique architecture, music and dance (©RoughGuide). …And being here, we seize this opportunity: the one and only “touristy thing” we do on our trip through Sri Lanka is watching the famous “Drum and Dance Show” sponsored by the Kandyan Art Association: Ceremonial Dance, Peacock Dance, Fire Dance, Harvest Dance … we see them all 🙂

Most intriguing of all though is – of course once again – animal kingdom. Fishes, turtles, egrets, lizards and other reptilia around the water, monkeys in the trees. And then we observe giant fruit bats fly through the sky as night is falling. Getting ready for a good night’s sleep in the atmospheric Old Empire hotel with its beautiful wooden furniture and the washbasin truly from colonial times. We love the beautiful veranda-style balcony with loads of green plants, overlooking the buzzing square below. It’s the perfect place to end the day with a local Lion Beer ~ cheers!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Helga says:

    Super… Man..Frau kriegt Lust auf dieses Land


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