Ancient ruins fascinate me, so when I heard about Polonnaruwa, I was really eager to visit. The sights of the ancient city are a bit spread out, so renting a bike is the perfect way to get around. Bike rentals are available, and most guesthouses probably offer that as well. At least ours did.
The ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa were a fortified capital in the 11th and 12th centuries, now consisting more than 30 historical buildings. Tickets for the fenced in archeological area are bought at the Polonnaruwa Museum, ticket price: 3250Rs/25USD. The museum in itself is also worth a visit, housing archaeology remains of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, and introducing the sights you are visiting.
The sights Potgul Vihara and the Island Park including the baths, are outside the main area, and free of charge. Therefore, if you arrive in the afternoon, you might consider seeing them then, and have the whole day to explore the ancient city with entrance fee the next.
Island Park include the Council Chamber of Nissankamalla, with a large lion figure in the southern end of the building. This was also a recreation area, with baths getting fresh water from the lake.
Potgul Vihara and the statue of Parakramabahu
The sight Potgul Vihara and the statue of Parakramabahu is perfectly located along the lake Parakrama Samudra. Biking along the peaceful narrow road, with the lake on one side and the lush green rice fields on the other, is the perfect introduction to Polonnaruwa. I just couldn’t help getting the melody from a Norwegian commercial with a woman on a bike stuck in my head, as I softly pushed the pedals. Stopping on the way back to enjoy the sun setting at the other side of the lake was off course not a disadvantage. In case I need to remind you; I really love sunsets!
The main archaeological site was just a short bike ride away, with one of the highlights, the sacred Quadrangle, right next to the gate.
The quadrangle holds numerous significant sacred monuments, displaying the most grandeur architecture of the Polonnaruwa period. These are the Thuparama image house, Vatadage Stupa shrine, Atadage and Hatadage (shrines of the Tooth and Bowl Relics), Nissanka Latha Mandapa, Galpotha (Stone Book) and the Sathmahal Prasada Stupa (Seven story edifices).
The most eye-catching sight of the quadrangle is the circular Vatadage. The middle of the shrine is surrounded by four large Buddha statues seated around it.
It is believed that the Atadage was constructed to contain the Buddha Tooth Relic, that is now in the Temple of Tooth in Kandy.
Seeing the Sathmahal Prasada immediately made me think of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Probably not without reason, as it is thought to have been built for Cambodian soldiers as a place for worship.
We were more or less the only people, and as we biked along the empty paved path, we spotted a group of shy deer in the distance, monkeys sauntering around or hanging from a tree, and every now and then a grazing cow. There are remarkably many trees, but then again, the city was rediscovered covered in a jungle.
Just as we walked over to Gal Viharaya, a group of monks dressed in white started chanting in front of the reclining Buddha (see YouTube video). Sitting down, relaxing and listening to their song blending with the sounds of birds, insects and monkeys, was a powerful experience.
Almost blinded by the great white cupola, I just barely noticed the slim animal rising at the low wall by the side of the path. A snake! I am not know to be particularly afraid of animals, but I could feel my heart skip a beat. It was fine while it stayed over there, posing perfectly in front of the camera, as it was its life mission. It was obviously not, and the snake shortly snapped out of it, and wiggling rapidly across the trail. Towards me! I froze for a second, trying to pretend not to exist. Luckily, it did not bother about me, and disappeared in the grass.
Back to the “dead” sights. Have a look yourself!
Around the sights you will meet many souvenir salesmen. I rarely lose my patience, but people trying to sell me things I do not need, and does not take no for an answer, is one of these moments. I do understand that they try, by all means. However, when I politely tell them that “No, I do not need the carved baby elephant or the postcards”, I really don’t want them to ask me repeatedly.
To be honest, one of them was a lie. I actually did need a postcard, as I was planning to be retro and actually send one. However, I prefer to buy my postcards in peace, so no sales for him. At least not to me. Let’s just state this once and for all; bargaining markets are really not my thing…
After a day full of cultural impressions, it was the perfect ending to sit at the patio at Rest House, enjoying an ice-cold beer, overlooking the mirroring lake. The monkeys were clearly envious, trying to steal it. Sadly for them, they had to settle for the water bottle.
Facts are given by the Central Cultural Fund and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
Experienced in January 2015.