As one of its sacred cities, Anuradhapura forms a significant part of Sri Lanka’s history. Together with Sigirya and Polonnawura it forms the country’s famed “Cultural Triangle” and is a must-see destination for any visitor. It’s no surprise that city has gained international recognition as a UNESCO world heritage site. Spending just one day here is not nearly enough to be able to fully appreciate everything there is to see. In this article we do your research so your visit is a day to remember.
Anuradhapura Cultural Experiences
The ancient part of the city was established in 380 AD, and is full to the brim with cultural heritage. You can’t go far without stumbling across temples falling into ruin, a preserved dagoba, or even a palace. It’s worth planning a day trip that coincides with a “poya” or full moon day – pilgrims dressed all in white descend on Anuradhapura’s places of worship, making it quite a sight to behold. Bear in mind that separate transport has to be arranged for traveling to and exploring the ruins themselves, since they are not in the actual modern day city. An entry fee of $25 (paid at the Archaeology Museum) also applies, but don’t let that deter you! The much-needed funds go towards restoration and maintenance of the park.
The sacred area is dedicated to different sects of Buddhism, such as Theravada, Mahayana and Mahavihara. To get as much out of your trip as possible, you might want to consider hiring an English-speaking tour guide. With their extensive knowledge, they will bring to life the stories of these ancient landmarks and add another level of understanding to your tour of the impressive infrastructure.
Where to Eat
Anuradhapura has more to offer than solely historical interest; there are also a lot of cheap but good quality places to eat out. Ambula offers an all day self-service buffet, with all kinds of curries, salads, and rice. The traditional experience is enhanced by the setting – a quaint timber hut thatched with palm leaves, where customers meet at low wooden tables. Takeaway parcels of delicious local food can also be bought and kept for later in the day. This is handy when you are on the go and wan to fit in as many sites as you can.
Ambula’s aesthetic is reflected in many of the other cafés in the city. The interestingly named Police House Bungalow is another popular spot among locals, and is located beside a scenic lake.
It’s likely that most of your day will be spent wandering around the city’s fascinating ruins. Although this may not leave much time for additional adventure activities, you can combine the two. It is possible to opt for a self-guided bicycle tour of the sacred city compound. Bikes are easily available for hire from various hotels and companies in the main town. Just make sure to read up on the attractions in advance if you are interested in the history of the place.
You will also have the chance to see some local wildlife amongst the ruins – fruit bats, lizards, and especially monkeys can be found living in close quarters with pilgrims and visitors alike. Note that the macaque monkeys are notorious for stealing tourist’s belongings, so watch out!
There are many monuments and attractions in Anuradhapura that could be classified under this category. The Temple of the Sacred Tree (Bodhi Tree Temple) is perhaps the most impressive sight of all. It is the second most sacred place in Sri Lanka itself, the reason being that it contains a sacred fig tree obtained from the original Bodhi Tree under which Siddhartha Gautama attained his enlightenment, after which he became known as the Buddha. The tree in Anuradhapura was planted in 288 BC, making it the oldest living tree anywhere in the world!
Only five minutes walk away from the Temple is the majestic Ruwanwelisaya stupa. Its an enormous white dome that is unmistakable among the monastic ruins, and it is one of four monumental stupas in the sacred city. When you are looking around, remember to walk around the dome clockwise, since Buddhist belief dictates that the Buddha blesses you through your right arm. If you’re lucky you might get to witness a religious ceremony, such as the ones held here to celebrate the harvest season.