We arrived in Anuradhapura around noon when the sun was high up in the sky. We must carefully plan our day in this decades-old ancient city for there would be much to discover, from its archaeological and architectural wonders to its bird residents. While Sri Lanka ancient city of Anuradhapura is largely known for its long history of being the Ceylonese political and religious capital that thrived for 1,300 years before being abandoned after an invasion in 993, this sacred city also offers sunset scenery and birding unique experience with a fertile ground for a wide range of bird species, particularly in its outskirts and backroads where we have been making multiple stop to take out our gears and photo-shoot superb birds species.
We started our exploration by visiting the Sri Lanka ancient city old section of Anuradhapura, which is now preserved as an archaeological park and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. There was a great number of evocative sights located in the immediate vicinity from enormous bell-shaped dagobas (brick stupas) to ancient pools and ruins of ancient temples and palaces. We made our first stop at the Abhayagiriya Stupa. Walking barefoot on the sun-baked floor of the temple (visitors are required to take off their footwear prior to entering the temple as a gesture of respect), we circled the temple clockwise. Standing at 338ft, the temple was definitely one of the tallest monuments in the world, and no matter how much we strained our necks in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the temple’s top, we could never see it. Making our circumambulation around the temple, we saw some monks, pilgrims and other visitors. Owing to the temple’s massive size, the presence of another human being did not make the temple feel overcrowded. From this temple, we moved on to the Ratna Prasadaya Guard Stone. As our guide explained, was once a monastic complex that was used by the Mahayana Buddhism monks but which was destroyed by the Dravidian invasion around the 8the century. Today, what’s left of the Ratna Prasadaya monastic complex is a guard stone, which features a stone-carved cobra king, who held vessels of abundant prosperity, and is believed to have served as a symbol of protection over the monks. Looking at the remnants of the monastic complex, it took a great amount of imagination to picture its glorious past. As a matter of fact, it took a great amount of imagination to picture the flourishing past of the entire Sri Lanka ancient city of Anuradhapura.
Few hundred meters away, we discover the Moonstone of Sandakada Pahana, which we learned was a unique Sri Lankan architectural detail established during the later years of the Anuradhapura kingdom. Carved on the moonstone were a lotus blossom leaf and rows of animals including elephants, bulls, lions and horses --- the four animals representing the different stages of life.
Embark back in our tuk tuk for couple of minute until we make it to Kuttampokuna, the twin pools that were once the bathing tanks or pools. Looking at the pools, we could not help but be impressed by the extravagant irrigation systems of the pools.
By the time we left Kuttampokuna, the sun had started to go down which is the best time to get to some of the best spots for sunset scenery and birding. So, we made our way to the outskirts and backroads of Anuradhapura. At one point, we stopped at a village with a vast expanse of paddy fields. There we walked along the road, got close to one of the best sunset scenery and birding paddy fields spot, in search of the bird residents of Anuradhapura. Good luck was on our side for we spotted quite a good number of birds, some of which we had seen in other parts of Sri Lanka such as XXX, while others were new to our eyes including XXX. It was truly amazing to see those birds. Once again, we were convinced that Sri Lanka was definitely a birding paradise, in addition to all its other jewels.
As the sun gradually sinking underneath the horizon, it cast its orange glow all over the lush green paddy fields, we decide to get along by the famous Basawkkulama Tank where the sunset scenery and birding of Sri Lanka ancient city were incredible. From where we were, we could see three of the most prominent dagobas of Anuradhapura. They looked tiny from a distance, but having come from there, we knew it was just the distance playing tricks on our eyes.
We then made our way back to center of the ancient capital of Anuradhapura, a spot that would, according to our guide, give us a most stunning sunset view of the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa. Indeed, we were not disappointed at all. From the spot where we were standing, we could see the entire white-washed temple engulfed in the vivid orange and red glows of sunset, lights of the temple were already turned on making the temple look even grander, and we could see lines of people coming and going. It was like seeing a whole temple come to life. Compared to how we experienced the temple earlier in the day, the temple seemed to have become much more alive in the evening.
We could not miss to be part of its aliveness so we went back to the temple. The atmosphere certainly had a more pronounced sense of spiritual quality. Monks and pilgrims made offerings, prayed with sincerity and humility, religiously chanted Buddha mantra. Some were on their own, but most were in groups. Young and old. Rich and poor. Men and women. Different skin colors. It was clear to our eyes that their shared religious beliefs bonded them ever so strongly. All of a sudden, we could not help but feel as if we were intruding a very sacred ceremony or experience. But being part of this spiritual experience was definitely a moving and intimate experience, to sense the strong faith that those people had in their own religious convictions. We decided to sit on the floor, among the monks and pilgrims. Saying nothing to each other, we watched the spiritual scenes unfold right before our eyes, with much respect for the believers. We felt at ease, peaceful, like we were welcomed, like we blended in, and such feelings were incredibly wonderful. After what seemed like eternity, we decided it was time to rise to our feet and head back to our hotel.
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