Friday 15 March 2013 – Mihintale.
Last night I arranged to meet Benne, the German guy I met on the train a couple of days ago, this morning to go to Mihintale for the day. It is a small town fifteen kilometres out of Anuradhapura that has a few places of historical significance, and therefore of interest to me! Benne went there yesterday and wanted to go back to a special place to meditate. he had met a great tuk-tuk driver/guide that he said we should use again, it all sounded like a good plan to me as I was going to go there tomorrow anyway.
I was up at 8:00 and wandered back down to the place I had breakfast at yesterday for more of the same today. Though sadly they had neither of the things I had yesterday so I tried a bun with a fried egg on it plus an onion roll – or I should say an onion and chilli roll, it damn near took the roof of my mouth off!
On the way there and back and during breakfast I had versions of this conversation, I have it about twenty times a day. Mr X is a tuk-tuk driver. If you have travelled anywhere there is tuk-tuks you will know this conversation.
Mr X – hello
Me – hello
Mr X – How are you?
Me – Good, thanks. How are you?
Mr X – Where you from?
Me – New Zealand
Mr X – Ah, New Zealand, nice place. How long you in Sri Lanka?
Me – One month
Mr X – You like Sri Lanka?
Me – Yes, I like it very much
Mr X – how long you in Anuradhapura?
Me – Three days
Mr X – Where you go now?
Me – Shop – just there.
Mr X – Where you go later?
Me – Riding a bike around.
Mr X – Where you go tomorrow?
Me – I don’t know yet, not sure.
Mr X – I give you good price for tour.
Me – No, thank you very much.
Mr X drives off.
I am wondering if I should just get my answers printed on a t-shirt, save everyone some time. Its all part of the fun I guess and I am sure most see it as a bit of a game.
I met Benne after breakfast and we walked up to Main St where we caught a bus to Mihintale, we seemed to have picked the right time of day as it was not too crowded and we were charged the local price as well, 30 NZ cents for the thirty minute ride. On pretty diabolical roads !
We met our guide for the day, Amara at the bus station and headed off to visit some of the sites. Benne wanted to go and spend some time meditating alone at a spot he went to yesterday so Amara took me round the places that Benne had already visited.
We started with some rock caves that Buddhist monks had lived in for centuries, but were finally closed in the 1980’s. The hill complex Rajagirilena contains a number of old monk houses as well as the usual collection of cheeky macaques.
From the hill we went to the Indikatu Seyu complex, a 9th century site that is believed to have been an active Mahayana Buddhism monastery, which is unusual in an country normally associated with Theravada Buddhism. These gate posts represent jars of water, flowers, milk or other offerings and they are at the entry point to most of the sites here.
At the base of the main temple complex was the remains of a monks hospital, consisting of a number of cells as well as this herbal oil bath. Though that does not look herb infused oil to me…
Ammara and I then went back to the Dark Water Pool to collect Benne, who I found sitting on the top of a large rock. The area is incredibly peaceful and I could see why he wanted to spend some time alone here.
The large pool was man-made probably around 1200 years ago. The large site had a number of buildings including a library and this reading room.
There was a meeting hall, complete with bathroom.
The small rock hill on the side of the pool has a number of caves that are still being used as homes for monks. We were allowed to walk past the monks houses while they were at the monastery for lunch. I liked the walking meditation path, I have not seen/noticed these before.
We stopped for some water and short eats in a road side shop, where the owner brought her son out to see us – and have his photo taken.
This other boy was quite interested in us as well and wanted his photo taken as he rode past. The people of Sri Lanka are famous for their smiles and it is a very friendly place.
Mihinthalaya is the birth place of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (the first temple was monastery was built in Anuradhapura) when Mahinda, the son of Ashoka – a great Indian Buddhist leader, converted Sri Lankan king Devanampiya Tessa in 247BC. The temple complex here is quite large and up a load of stairs. We were told by Amara that there was not too much at the main dagoba at the top of the hill, which I later found out was not quite true and I was disappointed we did not go up there, I should have read up on it before going – a rookie mistake! Anyway, what we did see was pretty cool though.
When we arrived a large group of school children were coming down the stairs so we waited for the bulk of them to come down before taking a walk to the first landing. Many waves, hellos and smiles were exchanged with the children and the accompanying adults.
We turned off here and went up another set of steps to the Kanthaka Cetiya, constructed around 210BC.
There were some quite nicely preserved carvings and a painting of lions.
Behind the dagoba was a set of rocks the main one had an inscription, thought to be the oldest recorded in Sri Lanka, from around 2000 years ago, dedicating the rocks and caves for the purposes of meditiation.
We had a good grovel and clamber around the rocks, admiring the view out over the mainly flat forested areas surrounding the town. I am always amazed at how tree roots work their way down to water.
We plodded back down the steps feeling all a bit dehydrated, before heading back up another small hill to Giribhanda Citaya. A smaller dagoba that is mostly under ruin, there was a good view down over the ruins of a small monastery at the base of the steps.
Which I visited next.
For our last stop we took a fifteen minute ride out to the edge of one of the large tanks in the area. A tank is basically a large reservoir and there a number of them in the area. They are mostly man made and must have been a major construction project when they were made centuries ago. The wind picked up as we got in the tuk-tuk and a sudden storm blew over the area, luckily we were not still on the hill as we would have been completely soaked. The wind was blowing the water over a small spillway.
Which made crossing the ford a damp affair.
We stopped on the ford for a while to watch the amazing collection of water bird life, some of my colleagues from the Africa trip would have loved it here, we saw a huge variety of bird life – and I did not photograph any of it – Ok I took a couple, but they were crap!
Our final objective was this granite bridge, thought to be the oldest bridge in the country, pre-dating the great Buddhist building work so over 2300 years old. It is in the middle of nowhere !
I really like the tool marks in the stone.
And that was it ! back to Mihintale through a brief shower.
And on the bus back to town. I went round to Benne’s guest house for a large and nice rice and curry dinner, my guest house does not serve food. Benne is off to the coast tomorrow which does not fit in with my plans, though we will probably catch up further down the track.
It was a good day, again!