Cycling around Polonnaruwa
At the top of many visitor's itineraries when they come to Sri Lanka are the ancient ruined cities of Polonnaruwa & Anuradhapura. Most tourists aren't usually in Sri Lanka long enough to explore both cities so opt to do one or the other. We really enjoyed our day in Polonnaruwa so we're squeezing in a visit to Anuradhapura before we fly to India on Monday.
The best way to see Polonnaruwa is by bike, we had such an idyllic day cycling from ruin to ruin. We saw many people doing it by car or tuk-tuk but that seems to take half the fun out of the day, so my top tip is to cycle if you can. The city takes around 4 hours to cycle around if you want to see each ruin and spend a bit of time at each one.
The experience begins in the archaeological museum, where you'll discover more about the ruined city as well as see religious statues that were discovered at the ruin site. It's worth spending some time in the museum and learning a bit about the history of Polonnaruwa.
A bit about the History of Polonnaruwa
Polonnaruwa replaced Anuradhapura as the capital city of Sri Lanka around 1018 when the King was taken captive and imprisoned in India. The Cholas chose Polonnaruwa as their new capital and moved the capital from Anuradhapura. Polonnaruwa was more strategically placed and less easy to attack. For three centuries Polonnaruwa was the capital of both the Sinhalese and Chola Kingdoms.
In 1070 the Chola dynasty was overtaken by the Sinhalese kingdom (King Vijayabahu I) and they kept Polonnaruwa as their capital. It was during this Sinhalese period that Polonnaruwa reached its high glory.
By the end of the 13th century Polonnaruwa was abandoned and left to sink into the dense jungle where it remained hidden until the early 20th century when work began to restore the ruins.
Highlights of the Ruins
Some of the highlights of the ruined buildings are found below with a short description about each one.
1. The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is probably the first ruin you'll encounter if you turn right when you enter the city site. The Palace dates back to the reign of King Parakramabahu I (1153 – 1186). Once upon a time this was a huge building and even the remaining ruins manage to capture some of its previous grandeur.
2. The Royal Baths (Kumara Pokuna)
The Bathing pool is hidden away down a few steps and is beautiful ancient bath. The pool is designed in an unusual geometric shape and the water was fed into the pool by two spouts carved with makaras. Next to the pool are the ruins of the royal changing room decorated with lions and moonstone.
3. The Audience Hall
This is a beautifully preserved ruin where the King would have granted audience to his ministers and officials. The base is covered in carved elephants, dwarves and lions.
4. The Sacred Quadrangle (Dalada Maluwa)
This is where the sacred tooth relic would have been housed and is the most important religious shrine in the ruined city. The Quadrangle houses the impressive Vatadage (circular relic house).
5. Rankot Vihara
This is an impressive red-brick dagoba that rises to 55 metres of so, it's the fourth largest dagoba in Sri Lanka and dates back to King Nissanka Malla (1187 – 1196). This particular ruin is in splendid shape and looks almost exactly the same as it would have when it was first built.
6. Dagaba Kiri Vihara
The lovely Dagaba Kiri Vihara (meaning milk-white) was built in honour of the King`s Queen. When the archaeologists came to the area and cleared it from the dense jungle, they found the original lime plaster still in perfect condition after 700 years.
This is one of the ancient cities finest monuments, aside from the Dagobas this is the tallest and one of the most impressive buildings to have survived. Inside the hall stands a giant Buddha (sadly he's now headless).
The stone shrine of Gal Vihara is made up of four (perfectly restored) Buddhas all carved out of the same granite rock.
Aside from the ruins there's not much else going for Polonnaruwa so you don't need to spend more than a day or two in the town.
I highly recommend taking the time to visit the beautiful ruins of Polonnaruwa and learning more about the history of Sri Lanka. We're really looking forward to exploring Anuradhapura this coming weekend.