After breakfast, we set off for the ancient city of Anuradhapura (74 km or 16.25 miles, 1.30 hours). Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, famous for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilization. It is believed that the city was founded around the time when a sapling of the Bodhi tree of Bodh Gaya (India). It was under this same tree where Buddha meditated and got enlightened. And it was brought and planted here in the 3rd century B.C. Although the capital was abandoned following an invasion towards the end of the 10th century, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. And one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.
This sacred city was established around a cutting from the 'tree of enlightenment,' the Buddha's fig tree, brought there in the 3rd century B.C. by Sanghamitta, the founder of an order of Buddhist nuns. Anuradhapura, a Ceylonese political and religious capital that flourished for 1,300 years, was abandoned after an invasion in 993. Hidden away in dense jungle for many years, the splendid site, with its palaces, monasteries, and monuments, is now accessible once again.
There is quite a lot to see! Depending on available time and your interests, we will visit some of them. The most visited attractions are:
Jaya Sri Maha Bodhiya- a sacred fig tree in the Mahamewna Gardens, which is believed to be a sapling of the original Bodhi tree of Bodh Gaya, India. It was under this same tree where Buddha meditated and attained Enlightenment! Nearby is Ruwanweliseya Stupa, a 338 ft tall white structure, which was built in 140 B.C. and contained Buddha's relics.
Another significant temple is Thuparamaya, which is among the earliest stupas of Sri Lanka. Abhayagiri Monastery, Kuttam Pokuna bathing tank, Jetavanaramaya Stupa (The largest stupa in the world!), Samadhi Statue in Mahaenawa Sculpture Park, rock-cut statues of Lord Buddha and ruins of palaces, Isurumuniya rock temple, etc.
Next, we proceed to Mihintale (12 km or 7.5 miles from Anuradhapura), a mountain peak. Sri Lankans believe it to be the site where Buddhist monk Mahinda met King Devanampiyatissa and converted him to Buddhism! So, Mihintale is an important pilgrimage site and has several religious monuments and abandoned structures.
There are three levels and 1850 steps in total. Combined with heat, it may not be for everyone, but that is the only way if you want to explore the entire site. If you wish, you can skip the first climb by taking transport to the Dana Salawa Level, as many locals do! It may take two and half-hour for the total trip up and down. There will be en-route stops visiting the Alms Hall, inscriptions, and exploring the main platform with tree hills- Aradanagala Gala. It is the actual point of meeting between Mahinda and the king, Mahaseya Stupa, and the Buddha statue. There are also caves- used by monks for meditation and residence. The surrounding is scattered with rock boulders and many other monasteries and statues.
After a long day of excursion, we will retrace our drive to our hotel in Sigiriya.