Trip Start Sep 05, 2005
284Trip End Ongoing
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For the most part we wanted to eat nothing but local food on this trip so we decided to see what Sri Lankan breakfast was like. String hoppers (sticky noodles made into small pancakes), Sambol (sort of coconut with chilli), dahl (delicious!) and potato curry. Absolutely delicious and a great way to kick start a long day!
We were up at 8am and planning to head to the most northern part of this trip, Anuradhapura. However whilst packing our bags the hostel owners came into our room looking worried and informed us that a bomb had just gone off there a couple of hours ago! A quick look on the net showed it was quite serious (link) so we altered our plans and decided to head to Polonnaruwa instead.
We grabbed a tuk-tuk from the hostel to the bus station before boarding a bus towards Polonnaruwa. The bus station was rather confusing and we ending up trusting the judgement of the locals as the destination sign was completely in Sinhala. Thankfully it was the right bus and even though it was the lowest class of bus it was in my opinion slightly better than the one we took from Negombo. It was hideously overcrowded though, especially at one stage when we picked up about 50 schoolgirls on their way home. We also needed to stop at a checkpoint for a bag search and someone from the army joined the bus for about 10km's.
We completely missed the stop for Polonnaruwa and when the driver spotted this mistake he kicked us out in the next town. After asking for directions in a computer shop we realised we were 2km's away from where we needed to be and deciced to walk it. Polonnaruwa was nothing like I had expected. As base for one of the premier sights in Sri Lanka, and a UNESCO World Heritage site, I was expecting a large touristic setup. In reality it was a dusty one street town and we were the only touists. There were however a number of guesthouses and we somehow ended up in the worst one. Incredibly basic, with a very pushy owner but very cheap so I couldn't really complain.
As the ride from Kandy, coupled with the 2km walk, took so long it was nearly 3pm by the time we had checked in. This left us in a state of limbo. We didn't really want to hang around in town any longer than was necessary but we thought we would need far more than 2 hours to see the ruins. We decided that we would get up early the next morning and get to the site when it opened, if we were finished within a few hours then we'd catch a bus to the next town, if not we'd stay another night.
So with nothing else to do we ended up chilling on the rocks down by the lake. It was an incredibly tranquil spot and in any other country would be rammed with lakeside bars/guesthouses and tourists. Thanks to the 20 year civil war that is still evidently occuring we were on our own apart from the locals bathing and washing clothes. It was as if we had stepped back in time 100 years. I hadn't been anywhere like this before and doubt I will experince anything like it again! With absolutely nothing else to do we returned to the guesthouse for another good curry before going to bed at 8:30!!
The bedroom in the guesthouse had been unsufferably hot all night so I barely slept at all. I was incredibly thankful when the alarm finally went off and I could have a cold shower to cool down. If we were staying in town another night then we were finding another guesthouse with better fans!!
After some more hoppers for breakfast we went to inspect the bikes we had rented for the day. Lars and I are both ruins junkies and figured that hiring bikes would be the best way to get around the vast site of Polonnaruwa. We were both raring to go, had fully charged camera batteries and spare memory cards.
Come 9am we were at the entrance for opening time, we didn't leave until 3pm!! Polonnaruwa was unbelievable. All I knew about the place was the stone Buddha statues that I had seen on TV but had no idea of the vast size of the site and multitude of ruins to see. The ruins started off small and gradually got larger and grander as we cycled further.
Unlike the few tour groups we saw turn up (Russian and Japanese) we were the only independant people there. The tour groups blitzed round the whole site in around 90 minutes whereas we were there for 6 hours and enjoyed every minute! We stopped at every ruin we came across and more often than not were the only ones there. Some of the ruins we stayed at for 30-45 minutes each so how they were able to see everything in 90 minutes I don't know. Standout ruins were the enormous Rankot Vihara stupa and Lankatilaka, an abolutely huge standing Buddha that I didn't even know was there beforehand. Quite why more people weren't coming to see these wonders is beyond me but I was more than happy to basically have them to myself.
Cycling back to town I knew I had a problem. Since getting to Sri Lanka we hadn't been able to find any sun cream and we were burnt badly! I couldn't buy any before leaving due to the carry on luggage restrictions and there was none in town. The next few days were not fun so if you can, take some with you before arriving to save the pain!!
Once back in town we checked out and quickly moved next door to the Gajeba guesthouse. We had stopped there for a coke the day before and it seemed much nicer. It had a nice lazy restaurant area with some good gardens and more importantly air-con!! With our sun burn the air con was heaven!
Before yet another early night we visited the lake again to take in the scene for a final time. Polonnaruwa had been an incredible place to visit. One of the most relaxing towns I've ever visited with the bonus of world class ruins that deserve more recognition and tourists. I was ready to move on the next day but certain it was a place I'd happily return to in the future on another trip.