Monday, April 18, 2016

Elephants and ruins

On the third day, we headed out to Polonnaruwa, another UNESCO World Heritage site. Polonnaruwa was the second capital of the Sinhalese kingdom. The first one was Anuradhapura. We had originally planned to go to both but our guide warned us that they were both ruined cities that looked very similar. It was hot and humid and there were steep entrance fees for foreigners. So we picked Polonnaruwa and changed our itinerary to go look for wild elephants in the afternoon.

But our morning started with breakfast. We were seated next to a window for breakfast and guess who kept us company outside, eating their own breakfast? A troop of monkeys.

At Polonnaruwa, we stopped by a huge lake that was built by one of the great kings of the Singhala empire, Parakramabahu. The lake still provides irrigation to the local area and has since the 12th century BCE.
Sri Lanka is a bird watching paradise and we saw our fill of birds without looking for them.
We started at the library. Only the first story and steps are left. The rest was made of wood and was destroyed centuries ago. You can see the holes where the beams were inserted for the second story.
Steps leading up to the second story
Imagine yourself baking in the hot humid sunshine. This next building is the audience hall where the king conducted business.
Close-up of the carving on the sides.
We went past the audience hall to see the king's bath.
There are places to sit around and enjoy the cooling water.
Along with a good system of drainage.
We then moved on to the temple area. The king owned a sacred relic - a tooth of the Buddha. The Buddha visited Sri Lanka 3 times and the island is mostly Buddhist. But the possession of this relic is what gave the king his authority. So each of the 5 capitals has a temple of the tooth relic. The only one that is not in ruins is the one in Kandy, which was the last capital before the British overthrew the kingdom. That temple, which we will visit later, is still alive and the tooth relic is there.
These statues are not original, I think. They have been moved here for protection against the elements. But I could be mis-remembering.

Look at the columns. They are fashioned after lotus stems.
The entrance to each building has a moonstone with carvings in it. The moonstones here do not have cattle or lions in them, the former evidence of the Hindu influence and the latter the symbol of the Singhala kingdom. In Anuradhapura, there are cattle in the moonstones. Since one steps on them, it is not auspicious to put sacred animals underfoot.
The moonstone leads to steps that are flanked by guardian deities.
Many statues of the Buddha.
The buildings are beautifully laid out in symmetrical forms.
A very long, very ancient tablet.
With carvings on the ends.
We then moved on to another area of the ruins. A monastery with stupas.
This is one of the largest in the country. Kiri Vihara
Then we moved on to another section, which is a very sacred. A temple to the Buddha that is still active and thriving. But a respite for wildlife. A parrot in a tree.
And another iguana...
Finally, we came to the Gal Vihara, the heart of the city.
We took off our shoes/sandals and walked on the hot sand. There are three statues here of the Buddha. The first is when he is meditating - before he became the Buddha. The second is of him teaching. The third is after he died.
To the left is the meditating statue. The one to the right is the temple where people worship. Meditating...
The temple..
And after his passing. Some people say it is the Buddha sleeping. Our guide said it was after his passing. You decide.
A statue of the king.
After we left Polonnaruwa, we had a quick lunch and headed out to a safari to see wild elephants. This is the area where the jeeps are waiting while the drivers buy tickets to the national park. This one is called the Eco-park. There are multiple parks where the elephants roam, depending on the season. At this time of year, Eco-park is where they usually are.
We caught a glimpse of one rather quickly.
And then nothing. An eagle on a tree.
We drove for a long time. It was dusty and bumpy and hot. We kept our eyes peeled. We were almost out of the park when all of a sudden, there they were.
Mothers and babies.

Lots of jeeps clustered around the herd. They pretty much ignored us. We were quiet and just took pictures and watched in awe. And then we left, hot and dusty and satisfied.

My hair was matted and a giant nest. We went back to the hotel and showered and packed because we were leaving for Kandy the next day.

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