We booked a tuk-tuk driver through our hotel to explore Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka in November 2018.
Our tuk-tuk driver was very chatty and a great source of information about the archaeological site and the history of Buddhism. We started our day at the Jetavana Museum where we bought tickets for the complex ($25 per person). The driver insisted on taking us around every room in the museum, which was a little boring, but it did help us to understand the features of the site.
Our first stop was the Jetavanarama Dagoba, built in the third century. When it was built, it was almost certainly the third tallest monument in the world, the first two being the Egyptian pyramids. It is said to be made of more than 90 million bricks. A dagoba is a dome-shaped memorial alleged to contain relics of the Buddha or a Buddhist saint.
We saw a lot of wildlife on our excursion. Just driving around the complex we saw egrets, fruit bats, kingfisher, hornbill, water monitor lizard, an iguana, a cobra, peacocks, langur monkeys, macaques, dogs, goats, cows, turtles, pelicans, parakeets and mongoose!
Our second stop was a whistle-stop tour of the citadel. We didn’t even leave the tuk-tuk to look at the ruins of the Royal Palace and the Mahapali Refectory, and the Temple of the Tooth.
We spent more time at the Abhayagiri Monastery which dates back to the first century. We went to the Abhayagiri Dagoba, the Moonstone, the twin ponds, the elephant ponds and an area where the monks were fed rice and curry from huge troughs, that would have been gold plated at the time. We learnt about how the irrigation system worked and a lot of information about Buddhism. We visited a modern temple and the driver explained all about the three styles of Buddha statues – learning (meditating in a lotus position), reclining (nirvana) and teaching (standing upright).
We stopped for a while at the Basawakkulama lake where we could see all three dagobas and lots of birdlife on the lake. There was also a group of langur monkeys playing in the trees by the water.
Our final stop was the Mahavihara complex and the Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest planted tree in the world. The Ruvanveisaya Dagoba is a magnificent white dagoba guarded by a wall of elephants. Farmers were performing a full-moon ceremony to pray for their crops by wrapping the dagoba in red cloth. People were walking around the dagoba chanting with their hands in a prayer position. Many visitors were wearing white and praying at the sites.
The Sri Maha Bodhi has been guarded for 2,000 years and is very sacred to the people of Sri Lanka but unfortunately it was surrounded by a high wall so you couldn’t really see it! The driver invited us to sit and meditate with him in the temple, which was a very special experience, before taking us back to the hotel.