Anuradhapura: Regal Relics

Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, and is famous for its well-preserved ruins, as well as being 1 of 8 World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka. The ancient city, considered sacred to the Buddhist world, is surrounded by monasteries covering an area of over 16sq miles.

I arrived in Anuradhapura by tuktuk and my driver quoted me a fee of 1,500 Rupees (this included him waiting for me in town during my exploration of the area). The entrance fee to Anuradhapura is $25USD and this allows access to everywhere in the ancient city. My tuktuk driver offered me cheaper entrance fees by skipping the official ticketing system, but I politely refused his offer. I was also very vigilant with mosquito repellent here, as I was told malaria around Anuradhapura is more serious than anywhere else in Sri Lanka! It’s better to be safe than sorry!

The Giant Bodhi Tree
The Giant Bodhi Tree
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Sri Lankans gather to offer prayer under the Tree

The ruins around Anuradhapura consist of three classes of buildings: dagobas, monastic buildings, and pokunas. The dagobas are bell-shaped masses of masonry. Some of them contain enough masonry to build a town for twenty-five thousand inhabitants. Remains of the monastic buildings are to be found in every direction in the shape of raised stone platforms, foundations, and stone pillars, the most famous of which is Brazen Palace. Pokunas are tanks for the supply of drinking water, which are scattered everywhere through the jungle. The city also contains a sacred Bodhi Tree, which is said to date back to the year 245BC, and this was the first thing I observed upon arrival. It seems to be a place where Sri Lankans congregate and pray. For tourists, though, a mere photo will suffice, and then it’s off to explore Anuradhapura proper.

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Jethawanaramaya Stupa
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Isuruminiya Rock Temple
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Intricate carvings all around Anuradhapura

So how did Anuradhapura compare to the likes of Polonnaruwa, which is another of Lanka’s ancient cities? I thought about skipping Anuradhapura, as it is quite far north compared to other sites like Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa, but I’m glad that I added it to my itinerary at the last moment. Anuradhapura is simply HUGE and half a day is not really sufficient to see all of the main sights. It can be done in 5-6 hours, but you need an itinerary to help you maximise your time. I didn’t have one(!) so I just went wherever my driver took me – which sometimes wasn’t anywhere in particular!

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The iconic Samadhi statue at Anuradhapura
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Kuttam Pokuna is a giant reservoir-like tank that used to supply the Sacred City
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Ruwanwelisseya Dagoba

But you’re asking what are the main sights you should concentrate on when in the ancient city of Anuradhapura? Well, although I didn’t visit the entire selection, I’d certainly recommend the following:

  • Mihintale (a nearby mountain park which has great views over some of the biggest dagobas in the city)
  • The Giant Bodhi Tree and Temple
  • Ruwanwelisseya Dagoba (the famous giant white dagoba)
  • Jethawanaramaya Stupa (the large brown dagoba)
  • Isurumuniya Rock Temple
  • Kuttam Pokuna
  • Samadhi Statue
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Monkeys are everywhere in Anuradhapura!

I just want to mention finally the problem of monkeys around Anuradhapura. They are pretty aggressive, and I was worried about being bitten when I was exploring the ruins. Even when riding on a tuktuk, the monkeys still approached me for food and weren’t too happy when I didn’t oblige! They can – and do – steal personal belongings such as hats and sunglasses, so be on your guard!

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