Cycling through an ancient city

Cycling through an ancient city

After hopping off the train and walking past the usual Tuk Tuk drivers you see at every bus station or train station, we saw the first big old trees and rice fields in the distance. The colors of the rice fields and the blue sky were marvelous and so we just walked away from the main road as soon as we could and went onto the little paths, that led directly into the fields, into the green… We wandered under the leafy roofs of palms and old, big jungle trees with trunk diameters up to several meters. Across high grass, with mongooses crossing the path before us and spiders spinning their nets between the grass halms. It was just wonderful. The noises from the road fading away into the distance and old temple ruins peaking through the tree tops, the sun glimmering and shimmering through the rice plants and reflecting off of the water in the fields. There were little bridges running along those fields, connecting them together and we walked over them barefoot, feeling like we went into some kind of surreal dream. The green colors of the plants, the trees and temples in the distance, the wild peacocks roaming the fields, a herd of goats happily munching away the grass on the little landbridges inside the fields and the bright midday sun shining on our heads. And except for us and a single farmer, who was throwing nitrogen fertilizer into the water to help the crops grow, there was nobody. And that even though Anuradhapura is an actually quite touristic spot in Sri Lanka because it is a famous ancient temple site…

We even considered sleeping in our hammocks there for the night but did not because we still had a meeting to attend with our new banker friend. After all he invited us to dinner and if you are on a tight budget (like we are), you will never drop a nice free dinner, never ever. Especially not if it is in good company. So instead we hid our bags amongst the spiders in the tall grass, hoping that nobody would find and steal them and after that we went off to examine the surrounding temple area a bit more. On our way we got a cheap King Coconut on the go. King Coconut is a special type of coconut which does not grow much flesh on its inside but instead contains a really tasty, sugary, sour and overall exceptionally refreshing juice. For 100 rupies we got two, which is ok, but the pleasure of getting a nice refreshing drink after a day of exhausting train travel and walking through the sun was just worth it.

On our way from the rice fields to the temples we saw little monkeys walking on top of electricity wires, balancing on those dangling metal ropes as if it were a piece of cake… the entrance to the temple area was guarded by security and they wanted us to buy some crazy expensive tickets before entering so we figured out we would come back the other day to see wether or not we can negotiate or find a way around it.

We enjoyed the sunset at a little bridge close to the place where we dropped our bags under the shadow of some trees, enjoying the golden sunlight reflecting off of the water and tinting everything into a beautiful glow. It was just another little magic moment with Flo playing the ukulele sitting on the old bridge, soft sounds, soft light, the rice fields stretching into the distance. A nice end to a so far beautiful day.

After the sunset we figured it would be the best to go to the train station where we first arrived, so that we have an easier time meeting with Aravinda. At this time we did not yet book any hotel or rooms or whatsoever because we were still thinking about sleeping in the hammocks. But Aravinda wanted us to be safe and sound so he was just asking us again and again where we actually wanted to sleep and in the end talked us into getting some accomodation somewhere. We booked something really cheap on booking.com and were after all quite glad that we had a safe place to keep our bags. After some time of waiting at the train station Aravinda arrived with his motorcycle and then we walked to a Chinese restaurant through the nighttime life of Anuradhapura. It was a bit crazy, because the traffic there is a bit chaotic and with all the little lights from the shops and cars and Tuk Tuks etc. blinking it was quite a nice view to just walk along the streets. The restaurant we ate in was just awesome. Both Flo and I were quite hungry by the time we arrived there because after all we had no real lunch, just some snacks in the train, so it was really nice to see the giant portions of fried rice and noodles they brought us. We even got drinks there. It was our first Gingerbeer, which is a superb fizzy drink tasting a bit sweet and a little bit like ginger… now we are addicted and get it at every little store we can find. Aravinda paid all of the food and drinks and we were soo thankful for him to invite us. And once again we did not know at all how to express the amount of gratitude we felt towards this person. But up to now I have been in contact with him, keeping him updated on our journey, the hotels we stay in, the places we visit and I really think whenever we get back to his hometown Anuradhapura, we will try to see him again. Sadly he needed to leave again the next day really early in the morning, so we could not spend more time with him exploring the ancient city of Anuradhapura. After the dinner he even took us to the hotel with his motorbike. So one of us stayed at the restaurant, while the other one went with his backpack on, onto the hind of the cycle and drove away with Aravinda to the hotel… a cool breeze blowing through the hair, the accelerating motor rumming under the seats, the air filled with freedom and a bit of adrenaline, my hands grabbing the shoulders of what I would have called a complete stranger like 20 hours ago… I felt like I was on a real adventure. And I think Flo did feel the same. We arrived safe and sound at the hotel we booked and were amazed how much bang for your buck you get around here. Prices for double rooms are generally cheaper throughout Sri Lanka per person than they are for two individual beds in a cheap hostel… (at least so far they have been) The receptionist even spoke good English and laughed at us negotiating with a good old round of rock, paper, scissors, wether or not we should have milkrice for breakfast. Sadly I won… so no milk rice in the morning. To make the receptionist happy again, we agreed to rent two of their bikes for the next day. Nearly all the people we have met, told us to rent bicycles because the ancient temples are quite far apart from each other and it is nearly impossible to go to all of them in one day just by walking. Exhausted by this wonderful adventurous day, we fell asleep nearly instantly. I even slept while the light was still turned on and Flo took a really funny picture, which Rico sadly deleted (Obviously I did not write this sentence). You would understand why I deleted it if you could see it for yourself. Next day we got the agreed bicycles… one was really old and the other one was for kids, but because the hotel was quite far from the city we figured it would take us quite long to find better ones to rent so we still agreed. And off we went. Slowly but surely, through the crazy Sri Lankan traffic in completely white clothes, we wore because we knew we would visit different temples. It must have looked quite funny, two white people in buddhist clothing on crazy bicycles riding along the left sided Sri Lankan traffic for the first time.

For breakfast we stopped at a nearby street shop that offered the same snacks that we had already eaten in the train: little dumplings filled with Curry, vegetables and potatoes. For 20 rupies a piece we could get like 10 for a little bit more than a Euro. We also stopped to buy one kilo of Bananas and this must have looked even funnier. Two white people, in white clothing, with crazy bicycles, standing in the sun eating crazy amounts of banana. At the least the shop owner laughed at us… After that we finally went to the temples. The first one was not really spectacular, more like the small temples we had already seen. But it had a quite nice lying buddha statue, some beautiful rocks with a stupa on top. From up there we had a quite beautiful view of the surrounding landscape and could see the other temple buildings in the distance. There was also a pond with lots and lots of lotus flowers and another artificial lake, that mirrored the temple. The funniest thing we encountered though were the chipmunks. Because it was a buddhist temple, people brought offerings for the Buddha – all kinds of fruits and flowers… and guess what: The chipmunks did not care about those fruits being offered for somebody else. They just enjoyed their freshly prepared feast as soon as the people left again.

The next temple had a really big white sitting buddha statue. Even though the quality of the statue was not the best (it looked quite cheap and was made out of some kind of plastic) it left us in awe, just due to its giant size.

Then we went to the oldest Bodhi tree in all of Sri Lanka… according to the story the locals told us, this tree should have been roughly 2500 years old. It certainly was really impressive because people all around where praying and worshipping the tree because it is a sign for Buddhas enlightenment. He got enlightened under a Bodhi tree in India and the seeds from this original tree in India have been brought to places all over the world, spreading together with the Buddhist philosophy and one of the seeds was planted in Anuradhapura. The tree actually did not look like it was over 2000 years old but it was quite huge and impressive and there even were constructs holding old branches in place, so that they do not break off. Even cooler than the tree though were the hordes of monkeys roaming the area. I even got really close to one by accident because I fotographed a female and her little baby and walked to the side without paying attention to the surroundings. The sharp “Hsssshhhh” sound of a big male ape I nearly walked into scared me so much… my heart was pounding like crazy.

After those temples we had been cycling for quite some time and were quite hungry. So we wanted to get some food again and went back to the city, where we ate in a small bakery shop.

We ate small tea buns (basically white bread, which is normally used for burgers and hot dogs) filled with different things, fish, omelette, chicken… we also bought a giant piece of butter cake. 500 Grams of cake for a bit over a Euro – our sugar addiction said yeeeesss 🙂 While we were eating an old Sri Lankan man watched us. Somehow he noticed that we were from Germany and after a while, he came over to our table and greeted us with a smile: Guten Tag! We were really baffled. How did he know German? So we asked him. It turned out that he knew how to speak German fluently because he lived in Germany for quite some time, while he studied medicine. He was a professor for neurology, on the search for wonderous cures due to meditation and focused minds… so he is trying to establish a scientific link between spirituality and medicine which I think is a quite awesome thing to do. Trying to prove something beyond the normal scientific realms… it sounded like an cool adventure. We really enjoyed his company, because he was a wise person, who came around a lot, learned many things, had a broad understanding and knowledge about the world… always on the search, always trying to improve. But at the same time he was a bit of a maniac and kept asking us wether or not we can arrange a deal with the toothpaste brand Meridol from Hamburg Germany to give him a discount on a large quantity because he wants to sell it in Sri Lanka on a big scale. His excitement for Meridol seemed endless, he used it himself and it worked wonders he told us again and again. In the end we got some good advice for literature from him and he got our e-mail address and phone number to contact us in the future. So maybe we are going to receive an e-mail about some Meridol toothpaste business really soon ^^. The time flew by while we talked to him so after we left him to go back to the temples again it was quite late already, so we figured, that we could only visit one more temple. We decided to take a closer look at the big brown dagaba we saw the day before from the rice fields because it looked more ancient than the white ones. When we arrived there the sun was just about to set and luckily there where nearly no tourists or other people around. So we did not even need to pay the really enormous entrance fee and felt quite lucky about that. The area around the temple is full with little trees and old ruins, remainders of walls and buildings. There were also a lot of monkeys jumping around everywhere just like at the temples we visited earlier.

But the main thing to see was the really mindboggingly giant dagaba. It was made out of bricks and mortar completely and was really really old. Still it seemed as if it had been perfectly round once which is a little miracle if one takes into consideration when those things have been built. Walking on the giant bolders that made up the square on which the whole thing was placed I felt rather humble. It was a feeling one can not really convey through words or through pictures either. Anyways… Seeing the sun go down, coloring the skies in different shade of orange, red and pink against the giant building was the best. The clouds seemed to glow themselves and everything was touched with a warm orange evening light. It was magnificent and added to the whole mystical atmosphere of the place.

As soon as the sun was down completely and dusk started to settle, lamps around the dagaba turned on and illuminated it. Now it looked completely different, still really beautiful, yellow, orange bricks against a dark blue night sky… instead of the giant shadow against the evening sky…

We wandered back to our bicycles, through the dark, actually rather afraid of stepping to close to a monkey in the now dark temple ruins. Without any scratches or bitemarks we went back to the new town, eating dinner, inspecting our sunburn and driving through the crazy city traffic at night without any lights on our bicycles. Luckily we wore white cloth the whole day and were quite visible due to that. Back at the hotel, we again fell asleep in mere seconds, exhausted from another wonderful day in Anuradhapura.

Rico

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