Polonnaruwa – day 118

 Had organised to have breakfast at the guesthouse at 8am which would give us a lie-in after our early start yesterday. But we were woken up by a rowdy tour group of Chinese people, having their breakfast at 6.30… Was the icing on the cake to having stolen all the wifi connection the night before!!! Lols – the joys of travelling! Got up and ready for our own (quiet) breakfast of coffee, toast and omelette before walking down the road to the bus stop. We saw the bus coming and Jayne, like a superstar, whistled and shouted, getting it to wait for us while we ran the remaining 100 metres to the bus stop. Headed back to Dambulla to catch a second bus to Polonnaruwa. A TukTuk driver offered to take us their and back for 5,000 LKR (£25) but we still chose to catch the public bus which only cost us 160 INR (80p – for the both of us!). Ever the economists!! The 2 hour bus journey was through nice countryside and the journey was made more amusing by Jayne trying to get her purse out of the rucksack to pay the conductor… Whilst standing up… On a particularly bumpy road…. Even the local women behind me thought it was funny! Stood for most of the way which was a bit tough – in India, all the bus windows are always open – they have a tendency to close them in Sri Lanka so if, like us, you are standing in the aisle, it can get a bit hot! Jumped off the bus at the right stop and was offered TukTuk and bike rentals before we even had a chance to work out what we needed to do. Decided to walk up the road to the entrance of the ruins only to find that we had to return to where we had got off the bus to buy the tickets – typical! Walking back down the road, we saw the biggest water monitor lizard – easily the size of a 10-year old child – watching us intensely from his sunny spot. After deciding that we were clearly boring, he scuttled off into some bushes, possibly to eye up the small calf in the field near by!!! Got our eye-wateringly expensive entrance tickets and headed back to the entrance. Got offered a bargain deal on a days bike rental (200 LKR each), decided to start with the ruins the furthest away and work our way backwards so that we had the shortest ride at the end of the day when we would be most tired!! Cycled the 3km to the second entrance gate, past another offer of TukTuk services and some ruins that weren’t even listed on the map or in the guide book. Was really nice to cycle on the deserted path which meant we got to cycle side-by-side and have silly races. Stopped first along the way at the Lotus Pond. As the name suggests, it is a pond in the shape of a lotus! Apparently, there are ancient scripts that state that there are eight of these in the area but only a few have been discovered – and this one is the only one that has been restored.  We then got back on our bikes, cycled until the end of the road and the Tivanka Image House. Tivanka means ‘trice bent’ and refers to the Buddha statues that are in a three curved position, a position reserved usually for females. Was being heavily restored but we could see the sculptures of the ‘energetic dwarves’ on the outside and the remaining frescoes inside (the only ones left at Polonnaruwa). Got back on our bikes and headed down to the Demala Maha Seya (stupa). Absolutely deserted, apart from two workers who looked surprised to see us, the stupa was covered in scaffolding and protected from the elements by a tin roof. Walked around the outside but didn’t feel like we should climb the hill to investigate it further so we got back on our bikes again and started pedalling! Cycled past a school group of Buddhist monks having a packed lunch – it was very cute seeing all the young boys in their robes – before arriving at the Gal Vihara. Cut from one single slab of granite, these four Buddha statues are incredible, especially since three of them are absolutely huge! There are two meditating Buddhas, one reclining Buddha and a standing Buddha. The reclining Buddha is 15m long and the standing Buddha is 7m tall. Jayne spotted a lizard eating a scorpion which distracted us slightly!!   

 The Buddhas all have lines from the granite passing through their features which makes them even more interesting. Overheard a guide explaining that the standing Buddha is controversial due to his hand positions. Some say it’s not Buddha but instead is his most loyal follower. Others argue that because he is stood on a lotus flower, it has to be a statue of Buddha. We then crossed the road to the Kiri Vihara (literally meaning ‘milk white’). Considered the best unrestored dagoba in the entire complex, the original plaster is in perfect condition having been preserved by the overgrowing jungle for more than 700 years. We then headed to the Quadrangle section – a tightly compact group of ruins all raised up on a platform and surrounded by a wall. It seems that the tooth of Buddha was once housed here, with a temple and a shrine supposedly used for the relic.   

 Another ruin (the only one with its roof intact) held eight Buddhas, one with its head missing. A different guide was explaining to his group that the eyes were made out of sapphires and thieves stole them but the roof of the temple had (and still has) a window in it so that the sun could make the eyes sparkle. We were feeling the intense heat at this point, having to move quickly across the floor when we had to take our shoes off as the soles of our feet were burning. We decided to visit the last group of ruins, the royal palace group, before returning to the shade of the museum. The royal palace group consists of a palace, audience hall and bathing pool. The pool had crocodile mouths for its spouts and the audience hall had a frieze of elephants in different positions and lions at the top of the steps.   

 After visiting the museum, where we found the most interesting bit the before and after photos, we returned the bikes and grabbed ourselves an ice lolly before waiting for the bus to take us back to Dambulla. Managed to get off the bus at the junction that leads to Sigiriya and then catch the next bus with not too much waiting. Arrived back at the guesthouse, ordered dinner and caught up on downloading photos to our hard drive. Had kottu and string hoppers for dinner before returning to our room just as a coach load of tourists turned up. 

Tuesday 2nd February 2016

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