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Published: September 10th 2017
Pilgrims in sacred city
There were thousands of these pilgrims predominantly dressed in white due to the celebration of the full moon.
Up and after breakfast waiting for the van we organised the night before to arrive. Donna remarked "wouldn't it be funny if the van turned out to be the same guy who brought us from the train station".
A little after the designated time who turns up to take us on our tour but the train station guy. We climb in and head off on our tour. The guy telling us the original driver couldn't make it but they'd arranged for him to fill in. The first indication that all was not well was when Chris received a call from the Little Paradise man saying our van and driver were two minutes away. Hmmm so we're effectively being kidnaped! Asked the driver to stop and then put him on the phone to the NP guy and they proceeded to have a ten minute argument, it would seem the crux of his claim being that we were his clients and stolen from him.
We decided either way we didn't want to go with this guy so got out and waited beside the road for the correct van to arrive, all the time being harangued by the drive telling us the
correct driver was a very "bad man".
Finally into the correct van and off for a great day of ruins and temples with the "bad man" who actually seemed a good guy. The sacred city is amazing 20sq km of ruins and temples.
Due to a full moon there was an influx of pilgrims, all dressed in white and largely elderly. The city comprises large areas of ancient ruins together with various stupas and temples that continue to be functional. Due to the area it is spread over we rode in the van between sites.
Now as background I should clarify that this van was really a mini vanette which did mean the back seat with three across was cosy. I rode in the front and the others in the rear. At the first stop on getting ready to realight the driver said to Marie " you can go in the front because you are the fattest ".Hmmmm, first thoughts for everyone was did we really hear that. Second thoughts were wonder if temporary insanity is a justification for assault or worse in Sri Lanka. Anyway Marie rose to the occasion accepted it was not malicious but
merely the pragmatic view of a driver who was interested in his passengers welfare. So off we go with Marie on the front.
Like all temples all knees and shoulders need to be covered, Marie and Donna brought along shawls to cover their shoulders but alas the dresses were marginally too short. The guards despite being very vigilant for knees and shoulders were equally up to the task of finding a couple of old rags for Donna and Marie to put around their shoulders. So shoes off and into the various temple areas and stupas. Having the pilgrim crowds in many ways made the experience, surrounded in white with the occasional flash of colour from either offerings or sashes was quite spectacular.
It was however oppressively hot and by early afternoon we were temple and stupa'd out so off to a hotel for lunch.
Returned to the "resort"and grabbed togs and the van guy took us to a newer hotel on the edge of town where we could use the pool. As we arrived it became apparent the hotel was in fact a work in progress and while open for guests can only be described as sad.
The complex was enormous and the pool lovely but we had it to ourselves. Saw one other guest so not sure how this venture is going.
After swimming dropped the girls back at the "resort" and Chris and I got the van guy to take us to Mihintale where there is a path up 1900 steps to a stupa on the hill top.
Apparently in good weather it is spectacular at the top. Unfortunately the weather was totally crap; thunder, lightning, torrential rain as only the tropics can deliver together with gale force wind. We got the driver to drop us at the bottom and planned to meet him at the halfway carpark. He advised first half was best and inferred we would probably find it difficult to do the whole thing (cheeky bugger, perhaps Marie was right after all!). So off we went expecting something akin to our favourite training steps up the Hakas in Ngaruawahia.
As it transpired the Sri Lankan definition of difficult and the New Zealand are somewhat different, we got to the halfway in about five minutes and decided that we might as well push on through to the summit, as Sir
The orange ribbon unfurled as more joined the procession until there was sufficient to wrap around the stup. Perhaps 150m!
Ed would have said. This might have been the first of a number of mistakes.
Another couple of flights of steps and we reached the point at which it became "holy" and had to relinquish shoes and unfortunately also remove caps and rain jacket hoods. As if to prove there really is a god the rain then intensified. Off we went to the stupa at the summit. Not overly arduous and before we knew it we were exchanging the obligatory "well we knocked the bastard off Tensing" in a howling gale with horizontal rain.
We then started the descent and after collecting shoes moved on down to the halfway area. No sign of our vanette or driver so decided we'd wander on down the roadway thinking he had to be coming up, this was possibly mistake two.
Once we got the bottom it became apparent the road came out some distance from the start of the stairs. So we decided we might as well wander along the road towards the lane that led to the start of the stairs, possibly mistake three.
Just as we were setting off an old pilgrim bus (that is an old
bus filled with even older pilgrims) pulled up and the driver offered us a ride. McVet by this stage had wandered on but it seemed a good idea to me so called him back and on we got. Definitely the BIG mistake! Anyway the bus was filled with very elderly pilgrims, cooking stuff and miscellaneous other bits and bobs. We got on like a couple of drowned rats in bare feet still carrying shoes, dripping water to the absolute joy of the old folk, this was quite likely the most exciting thing that had happened to them all day! I should also mention here that Chris had borrowed Donnas white linen pantaloons to wear for this outing. Said pantaloons having become see through with the rain may well explain the enthusiastic welcome we got!?
So off we go, initially thinking they were heading for the steps, this thought was dispelled as we rattled on past the access road. By the time we managed to negotiate a stop we were some distance down the road but fortunately near a lane that appeared to run in generally the right direction. It was hard to tell as the weather was by this
stage such that you couldn't see the hill or stupa to get bearings. Off we go up this lane and fortune finally smiled on us as we got to the little collection of vendors that had shelters at the bottom of the steps.
By this time it was almost dark and all visitors had gone. I should mention now that McVet had left his phone in the vanette and I didn't have the drivers number. So to cut a long story a bit shorter after a number of relayed messages through the Little Paradise guy and us walking back to the main road we finally meet up with the vanette and somewhat bedraggled we head off home.
Another really nice meal at Little Paradise, can thoroughly recommend this place in Anuradhapura.
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