The ancient city

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Friday, February 15, 2013

We're on the bus south to Dambulla, still within the city limits but already sensing an easing of tension and a lifting of clouds.  An unfamiliar mixture of emotions that clashes with the sight of butterflies as they migrate to the mountains.  Our host tells us that the Sinhala name of Adam's peak is butterfly mountain (Samanalakanda) and that is where they are headed. 

From the moment we arrive to the moment we leave our intuition hints at something bubbling below the surface of this small but busy town.  We had pictured something more romantic, a peaceful society nestled within ancient ruins, temples and caves as reminders of their faith and how to live.  Instead, people seemed to meet us with puzzled expressions and looks of slight concern.  Perhaps this could be explained by Anuradhapura's proximity to the Tamil land of the north which results in this continued tension, or that the friction, sometimes explosive, has meant that foreign faces have been a rarity for the last few decades.  

We befriend an English couple and next day we tour the ancient city, exploring the ruins dating back 2500 years, huge stupas and dagobas- the biggest of which is said to contain enough bricks to build a wall 10ft high by 1ft wide from London to Edinburgh.  It makes for a long day in the baking sun, walking around trying to bring back to life a people and a culture from the weathered remains.  Sculpted caves, with drip ridges and sleeping quarters, where the stone has become polished from its many years of use. These intricate stone carvings, as well as engravings and temples signalled the foundations of Buddhism in the ancient capital.  Later, in Sigiriya museum we discover these caves may have been inhabited since 10,000BCE or earlier, providing shelter long before Buddhist monks used them.  

Templed out we seek refuge in the stalls, coming away with a 'silver' tin and a tiny Buddha.  Questioning the veracity of our tradesman, I find a poor man's way to test for silver.  By lighting a match against it, the silver combines with sulphur to produce silver sulphide, visible as a black mark left on the silver.  It works on the test piece (Laura's necklace) and on the tin :-)
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