Cycling has to be the Best Way to see an Ancient City

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Asia » Sri Lanka » North Central Province » Polonnaruwa
January 7th 2018
Published: January 7th 2018
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Woolly says – Someone, mentioning no names, came up with the bright idea of moving areas and catching a train to get there, what could be wrong with that I hear you ask, well nothing except it meant a 3.30am get up! Two of us in the party, again mentioning no names are not at their best at times like that, well unless I’m still partying from the night before!

At the risk of two grumpy companions I thought it worth it and having got everyone up if not quite awake our prearranged taxi arrived on time to speed us to Colombo Fort railway station.

Woolly says – I had thought the station would be empty at a silly time like that, but it was swarming with people trying to buy tickets and find the right train. Again, we realised how kind and helpful the people here are as we were directed to the right ticket office and then once we had found the correct platform a very kind young man showed us to our allocated seats, you can’t ask more than that, well except for more sleep! The six and a half hour journey was rather pleasant if somewhat bouncy as the train chugged mile after mile, watching the birds and cows as we passed was fascinating, I tried counting paddy fields but soon ran out of steam as so many flashed past my eyes. Arriving in the new town of Polonnaruva was a relief and the ability to stretch my paws before a short tuk tuk ride to our accommodation was easy once the women had haggled the driver down to half the starting price…there getting rather good at this even if I say so myself.

We were delighted with our digs for the two nights, very new, extremely clean and incredibly helpful. Having provided us with a fantastic dinner at a very low cost and arranged for bikes for the following day we settled down for an early night.

Woolly says – The morning was glorious and as I sat munching on roti for breakfast I watched the huge variety of birds that Sri Lanka has to offer and wondered if I was really going to have to peddle very far, given the shortness of my limbs I felt it might be a problem. As our host wheeled our steads over I smiled happily, apparently, he hadn’t got a mammoth sized one, so it looked like one of the girls would be carrying me!

Nothing new there then!

Woolly says – The kind owner of the property led the way on his motorbike to the ticket office for the ancient site that covers a huge part of the region. Having thanked him profusely and told him we would see him later I trotted into the office and waited for the purse to appear, I could hear some muttering going on and then suddenly we were back outside without our admission slip, I looked a trifle puzzled and asked what the problem was.

Small problem of finance, as in not quite enough cash for everyone’s ticket and the fact that they didn’t take cards, they had however directed us to the nearest ATM just down the road and having acquired the extra rupees we realised that it was Sunday and that the second part of the day might need to become the first part of the day.

Woolly says – Our colds had pretty much gone except in Jo’s case it had left her with one very sore ear and a total lack of hearing through it. She’d woken up feeling a bit under the weather and concerned for our flight in two days with the cabin air pressure, so a trip to the chemist was required and having realised that everything might close early it did seem sensible to get it done earlier rather than later. A handy tuk tuk took us to a nearby chemist where we explained the problem, the pharmacist shook his head and said she needed a doctor, this wasn’t going well and might impact on the wonderful day I had planned for us! Our lovely driver told us he would take us, could this be another scam I wondered but Zoe was on the ball and had agreed the price before getting in, we shot through the traffic and pulled up outside a large red cross and in Jo went. Twenty minutes later she arrived back at the tuk tuk carrying antibiotics and eardrops and looking happier even if she was still in a bit of pain, at last the day could properly begin.

We collected our bikes, brought our tickets and set off down the road to the World Heritage site.

Woolly says - The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa is the second most ancient of Sri Lanka's kingdoms, it was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu I in 1070 to reunite the country under a local leader. It was his reign that is considered the Golden Age of Polonnaruwa, trade and agriculture flourished under the patronage of the king, who was so adamant that no drop of water falling from the heavens was to be wasted and each was to be used toward the development of the land. Hence, irrigation systems were constructed during his reign - systems which still to this day supply the water necessary for paddy cultivation during the scorching dry season in the east of the country. The Kingdom of Polonnaruwa was completely self-sufficient, he was also responsible for building the most amazing kingdom with buildings that still stand today. The first part of our visit was to the inside museum, we ambled around reading bits and pieces of the huge amount of information, before stumbling across some incredible Hindu artefacts that had been uncovered during the excavation process, sadly no pictures were allowed but believe me they were worth the whole walk round the museum to see.

From the written information we moved on, our first stop was the Island Park where we had our first wow of the day to find the kings Summer Palace and bathing pool.

Woolly says – After great discussion Jo and I felt that rather than go through every single thing that we saw we would for once let the pictures do the talking and just give a brief overview to the places we saw. Once the Island park had been fully snapped the bikes hit the road once more and having passed huge quantities of monkeys and cows causally going about their business we peddled up to the Citadel. Which contained what had once been the seven storey Royal Palace, it really must have looked amazing in it’s hey day as it was still incredible today, surrounded by over a thousand rooms we wandered across the remaining foundations before coming across the bathing pool, the intricate carvings were wonderful and even the slightly green slimy water looked like a cooling treat by this point, an ice cream would have to suffice, not a problem from my point of view and certainly drier.

Having wiped as much chocolate off his grimy face as possible, we followed the tourists towards the council chambers, elephants surrounded the base while pillars still stood tall and proud.

Woolly says – back to the bikes we went and a few minutes down the road we arrived at the Siva Devale one of the first shrines, ignoring the man trying to sell us mini elephants we took our pictures and moved onto the Scared Quadrangle. The Thumparma had once held Buddha’s tooth (yes, another one) but today is surrounded by scaffolding, inside its high ceilings were cooling, while several Buddha statues awaited offerings from his followers. Next came the Vatadge which was a Stupa where four large Buddha’s sat, it also gave a great view over the rest of the quadrangle and it’s many temples including the Galpota or Stone Book which holds some of his teachings. Down a small pathway we cut and admired the oldest Hindu temple on the site.

Known as Siva Devale No.2, small but perfectly formed. Jo apparently needed a rest by this point although she had barely peddled five miles yet so having obtained some water we sat in the shade and continued to marvel at the wonders around us.

I swear he thinks I’m super women!

Woolly says – Far from it but she does try! Off we went again, it was hard to miss our next location as it must be the biggest Stupa in the world (my opinion), the Rankot Vehera was immense, surrounded by Imagine houses which all contained Buddha’s and places to place offering to him, having clicked away we made our escape just as a coachload arrived. The next area was huge containing hundreds of Stupas of all different sizes, the larger ones for Royalty, the biggest of the bunch was the only lime coated one on the ancient site which stood out with it’s blindly white finish. Next to it was Kirivehera which was the largest Image house containing a massive Buddha who unfortunately had lost his head over the years. As we cycled onwards we passed rows and rows of trading shops, more and more monkeys and another cow or two, this place just didn’t stop in the way of delights.

It was time for a break and having found the shop that our host runs on the site we happily collapsed on chairs for a break and some more cold drinks.

Woolly says – The end was in sight, a short walk led us to the biggest Buddha yet, two standing but the most impressive was the Sleeping Buddha which at 46 feet 4 inches (14.12 metres) in length was pretty long, carved out of once piece of granite rock in the 12th century I could only stand in complete awe. Twenty minutes later and we had arrived at the last place, there were more but as the site was due to close and Jo’s little legs couldn’t keep going forever I made the most of the effort she had made and admired the Lotus Pond, once a bathing place it wasn’t the finest things we had seen in the day, but it was lovely none the less. We said our thanks and goodnights to the guards on the gate and peddled back, the most incredible of days in a truly tranquil setting, the bikes had been an inspired idea and far better than the coaches, cars and tuk tuks that others had used. Tired, hungry and grubby but not a day we will forget.

Additional photos below
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9th January 2018
Love it

Love it
Really nice clear shots in this blog Jo. Love it.
9th January 2018
Love it

Thank you
It would have been difficult to take a bad picture given the contrast of colours and the wonderful buildings themselves

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