On my 4th and 5th day, I travel to the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya, the eastern point of the Golden Triangle where 80’s synthpop group, Duran Duran, filmed their enchanting video, Save a Prayer.
Walking amidst stone temples, palaces and stepped pyramids, I notice a striking resemblance to the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat located 4,200 miles to the east. Both cultures must have come from a similar place of origin and/or shared a common architectural blueprint. Whichever the case, they are both immersed in mystery and magic.
How Prince Charming developed a footphobia.
Throughout my second day in Anuradhapura, I explore more temples and stupas and acquire firsthand knowledge of Sri Lankan history. For instance, I learn that a fig from the same Bodhi tree where Siddhartha Gautama reached enlightenment beneath was planted here in 288 BC, eventually becoming the oldest planted tree on record. Since it was heavily-surrounded by colorful flags and a golden fence, I was unable to snap a photo that gave its ancient beauty any justice.
In addition, I learned why some statues near the Jetavanaramaya stupa had European-styled sideburns painted on their austere faces. Occupying Sri Lanka from 1815 to 1948, British officials mandated that various statues integrate a British likeness to them, the two below being altered in 1936.
Feasting on a Sri Lankan dinner, I wonder what other sacred statues around the world have been altered with European noses and big, bushy sideburns.
The second leg of my Sri Lankan journey continues at Anuradhapura, an ancient sacred city and northern point of the Golden Triangle (Polonnaruwa and Kandy being the eastern and southwestern points). Booking an observatory seat in the train’s caboose, I quickly become acquainted with the hospitable locals.
A man named Raj introduces me to his family and offers helpful advice, snacks and a cup of Sri Lankan-brewed coffee. Throughout our roller-coaster-for-a-train-ride, I help his astute daughter, Narisha, record the names of passing train stations on her notepad.
Upon reaching Anuradhapura, I toss my flip-flops aside (as is customary when visiting sacred sites) and saunter through courtyards, temples and stupas (nicknamed ‘tetas’ by a Spanish tourist). Ending the day, I walk along the lakeside, where a coral snake brings two joggers to a sudden dash, and meditate beneath the setting sun.
This week I’m posting photos from my travels through Sri Lanka, the island with many names: Ceylon, Teardrop of India, Resplendent Isle, Island of Dharma and my personal favorite—the Pearl of the Orient.
At present, its capital is Colombo. Its official languages are Sinhala and Tamil. And it’s medley of faiths include Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. The first leg of my journey starts in Colombo, where I explore the streets, visit the national museum and watch the awe-inspiring sunset.
For the most part, international airports are associated with duty-free shopping and passengers rushing to their boarding gates. But sometimes, they can be associated with cultural identity and awe-inspiring beauty. Take this airport in Mumbai, India, decorated with historical relics and intricate mandalas. One stroll around its enchanting terminal could make you miss your flight.
Recently I traveled along what was once the Silk Road. Of course what remains doesn’t reflect the grandeur of ancient times, but with a little help from Google, a compass and friendly locals, I was able to locate a few gems (big ones!). Traveling from east to west, they are Maijishan, Mati Temple and the Mogao Grottoes.
Maijishan @ Tianshui, China
Mati Temple @ Zhangye, China
Mogao Grottoes @ Dunhuang, China