Anuradhapura

20130428-202737.jpg

Marshall had told us that it would take us all day to get to Anuradhapura.
“If you leave really early, you may get there by 3. Then you can see the city the next day”
Well we didn’t have two days, so we were determined to do it all in one.
Well, where there’s a will there’s a way!
We woke up with the sun, grabbed some crackers and water at the bus station and set out. The train that Marshall had told us to take didn’t leave until 9:30. From there we had to stop in a city half way up, and take a bus to Anuradhapura.
“We have to get out on the road earlier than that. Let’s take the bus and figure it out from there.” We decided.
Everyone at the bus station (all bus stations in fact) were so helpful. Their chaotic, rapid yelling of destinations and gridlock mess of moving busses seemed daunting. But their state bus system is actually incredible. We never had to wait more than a few minutes to catch a bus heading in the right direction.
The bus operators found us a bus heading half way to our destination.
“From there, you change busses and go straight to Anuradhapura!”
Perfect! We hopped on the bus heading off to the middle of nowhere. Let’s hope for the best!
Our bus transition was effortless and we were on a second bus within minutes of arriving at the station. Just a few hours later we found ourselves at a guesthouse in Anuradhapura, with a juice in hand, organizing a tour of the ancient city for that afternoon: it was 1:30. Where there’s a will there’s a way!
By 2:00 we were on a whirlwind, 4 hour tour of the best sites in Anuradhapura.
Anuradhapura was the royal capital of Sri Lanka over 2200 years ago. For nearly 1000 years, Sinhalese monarchs ruled from the palaces of this ancient city. Today, a network of ruins exists. The ancient city is full of history, and as a tourist you are free to explore the palaces, gardens and ancient monasteries in the area.
Kelsi and I were lucky enough to have a young guide take us around the area. He was wonderful at bringing the ruins back to life by telling stories.
“This is where the king and his concubines bathed” he would start, “this place was full of running water, it rushed over the rock walls and created private rooms.”
The whole place slowly came to life as we passed through sleeping quarters and bathing ghats and bathrooms. The area was interspersed with ancient monasteries where monks would come to meditate. The whole place was full of lush green trees and big lakes; it was a stunning place to put a palace.
Still today there are working temples in the area. Large domed temples dedicated to Buddha, and monasteries built around sacred rocks or trees. The Bo tree found in Anuradhapura is considered the oldest tree on earth. It is supposedly 2000 years old. We arrived at the tree just before 6:00, when all the women and men came to pray at the temple. For some reason, I had expected the oldest tree on Earth to be massive: but it wasn’t. It was actually surprisingly unclimactic as we realized it was just a normal looking tree, half shrouded by the walls of its encircling temple. In the end it was the rituals of the people that were most interesting. Women crowded their way up one staircase, while the men did the same on the other. They all prayed at each of the four altars, and then somehow ended up in a procession line that circled around the grounds. Kelsi and I were as much a spectacle there as we were in India, but it was more curiosity. The school girls giggled and waved and shyly came up to shake our hands before running off to tell their friends. Parents would point us out to their small children and get them to wave to us. Our guide said the school girls would be gossiping about us in class for weeks to come. The whole afternoon was incredible. Our guide had wonderful insights into the Buddhist religion and was happy to share his beliefs with us. There’s something about the Buddhist culture that I really like; it seems like everyone is so at peace with the world, no matter their situation.
The day was busy, but in the end successful. We had made it half way across the country and seen the ancient capital all in a single day. It was home to eat and off to bed early. Another long day ahead of us tomorrow…

20130428-202418.jpg

20130428-202440.jpg

20130428-202513.jpg

20130428-202541.jpg

20130428-202602.jpg

20130428-202637.jpg

20130428-202837.jpg

20130428-202859.jpg

20130428-202927.jpg

Sri Lanka

Kelsi and I had absolutely zero expectations about Sri Lanka. Until the night before we arrived, in fact, the only thing we knew about the country was that Colombo was the capital and it has tea. Yes, we’re ridiculous. We had expected Sri Lanka to be our relaxing vacation time. Check out Colombo for a day or two, then lie on the beach for 5 days and unwind. Then we googled it…
Sri Lanka has SO much to offer. It has pristine beaches, ancient ruins and abandoned palaces, a rich history of Buddhism, and some of the most incredible tea plantations in the world. It has the most Unesco World Heritage sites for a country of it’s size (8 in total) and is home to the ancient fortress Sigiriya, that is considered by many to be the 8th Wonder of the World. On top of that, Lonely Planet has rated it as one of the top ten places to visit in 2013. For a place that was wrapped up in a brutal civil war until 2009, the country is still off the beaten track to most tourists. Wow.
This meant both good and bad news. The good thing was that we were about to see most, if not all, of these things. The bad news was, our relaxing five-day beach holiday was going to have to be put on hold.
In only a few hours we put together a 14 day sightseeing tour of our own. The problem was, we only had 5 and a half days, and a small budget. What to do?
Wen it came to our week in Sri Lanka, I think the phrase should be “where there’s a will, there’s a way!” We were not about to let limited time and money get in our way. We would wake up at the crack of dawn, figure out the local bus systems, eat the cheapest street food we could find, and make it work!
Our first hour in the country was almost discouraging. We stopped at a tourist office in the airport to ask directions to the bus.
“Why would you take a bus? I can organize a taxi for you to Colombo no problem: 1600. Or we can organize a whole tour for you! What’s your budget?”
“$25 a day!” we replied with a smile.
“$25 a day?!” The two tour agents laughed and laughed at us. “That’s impossible. The entrance fees to
Anuradhapura and Sigiriya are $25 and $30 alone! You can’t have that low of a budget!” They laughed until finally pointing us in the direction of the bus stop. We were going to do it! We didn’t have any more money, and we weren’t going to miss out on anything.
And in the end, we came back 6 days later having spent $28 a day and we managed to visit BOTH Anuradhapura and Sigiriya! It could have been $25 if we hadn’t spoiled ourselves with beer and seafood on the last night! As I said, where there’s a will, there’s a way! Sri Lanka, here we come!