After an extremely exhausting, yet wonderful, five day excursion in the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka, I can finally say I have successfully completely my first course in Sri Lanka! We spent our week in the north central region of the country studying ancient archaeological ruins in cities such as Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. The sites were absolutely breathtaking and way too great in number to talk about all of them, so I will just go flip through a few favorites.
Ancient monastic meditation caves and burial grounds composed the first day, and during the second day I adored visiting the Bodhi Tree and the Great Stupa. The Bodhi Tree was interesting because not only did I get my first Buddhist blessing from a priest tying a white thread around my wrist, but it was amazing to see the tree that the Sinhalese Buddhists believe to be brought over from India during the birth of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. King Asoka, a famous Indian king renowned for his spread of Buddhism in India as well as Sri Lanka, was said to have sent his daughter to Sri Lanka with a sapling of the Mahabodhi tree, or the tree in India that the Buddha was enlightened under. The Great Stupa, located next to the Bodhi Tree, was also a spectacle mostly because of its sheer size but also because of the sunset serving as a backdrop to the massive figure.
Hiking Sigiriya on the third day was probably one of the most fear defying things I have ever done but the top was beautiful, making the climb up very worth it. Sigiriya is more or less a gigantic rock, about 600 feet tall with ruins of an ancient palace built by a king on top. Apparently he was very paranoid of invasions, making his rock top palace probably the least accessible it could be. The intricacy of the layout was so extensive, and it is so difficult getting up to the top, that the entire thing took about 18 years to build. Even today, the rickety rusty staircases scaling the sides of the rock were absolutely terrifying to climb but once at the top, you could see how the king would feel god-like with his palace towering over the world. Frescoes of women were also a spectacle to see, as well as a “mirror wall” with ancient graffiti talking about the frescoes in the rock’s caves.
The last two days of the northern tour were pretty much a whirlwind of various short visits to archaeological sites in the Polonnaruwa area. One area, called The Sacred Quadrangle, had some of the most beautiful and well preserved temples and shrines that we have seen thus far. Finally, our last visit was at a cave temple at Dambulla that had some remarkable frescoes painted on the ceiling and walls and a massive golden Buddha statue at the entrance. I mean, this Buddha was so gigantic that you could see it from the top of Sigiriya! It is a modern construction, though, making it slightly less impressive than the giant Buddha statues we saw carved into rocks hundreds of years ago.
Overall, despite the intense heat and the exhausting, uprooted nature of the excursion, it was an amazing experience and so much more valuable than anything I would have learned about in the classroom. Even still, I am so relieved to be back with my host family in Kandy and am looking forward to wrapping up session one!