Amazingly enough, we again make the mistake of assuming that tickets can be bought at the entrance, and after buying them at the museum, we cycle to the north entrance to be blocked by the guards. When we finally make it to the main entrance, the sun is already burning on our heads even though it is not even 8:30am. We start by cycling north over the pleasant and quiet roads of the ruins of this second most ancient capital of Sri Lanka, park our bicycles, and walk to Gal Vihara, a cluster of Buddha statues carved from one huge slab of granite. One is remarkable, as it has its arms crossed, and next to it, we find a superbly executed reclining Buddha which somehow looks soft. We walk to the nearby Kiri Vihara dagoba, a huge white stupa that once laid covered by jungle for some 700 years, and turned out to still be white even after all those years of trees lying on top of it! Right next to it, we are in awe at the majestic, cathedral-like Lankatilaka, where aisles run below high walls to an enormous Buddha statue from which the head is missing.
There are very few others around, so we can fully concentrate on the majestic ruins that all hint at the greatness of the culture that once created them. I now cycle north, past the carved Lotus pond, to the Tivanka image house. It is covered by a modern roof, protecting this Buddhist temple with Hindu carvings on the outside. A supervisor puts his broom against the wall and walks with me, and I marvel at the intricate and well-preserved frescoes on the walls. Too bad the supervisor makes it impossible to take any pictures, but he does allow me to walk the meditation circuit by opening a small door. I walk on the backside of the Buddha statue and come out at the other end through a dark alley. This is the northernmost site to visit, and once I am back at Gal Vihara, I continue to the largest stupa of them all at Polonnaruwa.
It is called the Rankot Vihara, and towers more than 50 metres above me. After taking off my shoes, I walk around its base, finding a small ceremony being prepared on the backside. From here, it is a small ride to the Sacred Quadrangle, a raised platform with lots of ruins. Here, I find some ruins of temples where only columns remain, but also stones with inscriptions. The main draw here is the Polonnaruwa Vatadage, a circular temple which once upon a time held the Sacred Tooth which can now be found in Kandy. It has finely decorated stair access on four sides, all with intricately carved entrance stones depicting elephants and horses, and sitting Buddha statues, with a stupa right in the middle. Cycling further south brings us to the ruins of the Royal Palace, where the large holes suggest that beams once supported several floors, a swimming pool, and the Audience Hall, which has individually carved elephants all around its base, and impressive lions carved at the entrance stairway. By now, the light is awful, and people stream in from tour buses: it is time to leave the beauty of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa of the Chola dynasty from the 10th century, behind.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
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