Finally we reached Anuradhapura after about 5 hours of driving from Negombo. The city is important in Sri Lanka as a former ancient capital and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.
Anuradhapura is most famous for it’s well-preserved ruins of ancient Sri Lankan civilisation.
The best way to visit them is on a bike.
In the 4th century BC King Pandukabhaya made it his capital, constructing a well organised town, including reservoir, shrines, cemetery, chapel and execution place.
It remained as the capital for Sinhalese kings for over 2,500 years before falling to invading Southern Indians.
It was the centre of Theravada Buddhism for many centuries and is surrounded by monasteries over more than 16 square miles.
The ruins have three types:
1) dagobas or stupas: bell-shaped stone buildings, some over 340m round (note you must walk around the dome clockwise)
2) monastic buildings
3) pokunas: bathing pools or water tanks
The city also is home to a sacred Bo-Tree dating back to 245BC, a spiritual reminder of Buddhism beginnings (it was grown from a cutting of the original tree in Bodhgaya under which Buddha gained enlightenment).
As the shrines are religious temple areas you must always remove your shoes, take off hats and cover your shoulders and knees…
You can also see plenty of monks in their striking saffron-coloured robes. Interesting fact - the reason the robes are orange is because monks originally took the unwanted material wrapping dead bodies in the woods as clothing but the previous use meant the fabric was full of bacteria, so they boiled them up in saffron, killing the germs and colouring them in the process.
People bring various offerings of flowers, food and clothes to these temples.
And there's a constant lovely smell of incense
Multiple times I was given a flower (including the national flower - a blue water lily) from one of the stalls outside and so placed it in front of one of the Buddhas.
Around, people were praying and chanting holding string to ward off evil.
It's a great people-spotting opportunity!
They mostly wear white to temples.
We even saw a Catholic priest visiting one of the sights.
Other things to do
If you like museums, there is an archeological museum in the ruins grounds which I popped into.
Some people visited Mihintale which is nearby. This mountain peak is believed to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and a popular pilgrimage site.
I, on the other hand, opted for an Ayurvedic full body massage - an important cultural experience (and also a holiday luxury!)
We were treated to a picnic in the ruins of Anuradhapura.