Tree of Knowledge

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.

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Train to the Golden Triangle

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.