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27 Nov 2014....Pittsburgh  PIT — Washington Dulles  IAD — Istanbul  IST — Colombo, Sri Lanka  CMB

29 Nov.............Colombo...Digampathaha

30 Nov.............Sigiriya

  1 Dec.............Anuradhapura

  2 Dec.............Polonnaruwa

  3 Dec.............Dambulla...Colombo...Embark M/V Voyager

  5 Dec.............Hambantota...Kataragama

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  These few days in north central Sri Lanka were a pre-cruise trip before a month's sailing in the western Indian Ocean. Except for the last day, it was pretty well organized and the tours we did of the ancient sites allowed sufficient time to see them. Our centrally-located hotel was in a jungle setting with great food, nice rooms, and good service. Travel was by comfortable bus with both a company leader and local tour guides. It rained, more or less, every day which put a crimp in seeing the Sigiriya Fortress and the Dambulla Cave since they involved much scrambling over rock staircases. The last places, Hambantota and Kataragama, were visited as an excursion from the ship; while not really ancient, they were an interesting example of an almost theme-park like collection of temples and shrines from several religions. A busy couple of days, it was well-worth the cost to see these remarkable sites.

  The Anuradhapura Kingdom was established in 380 BCE during the reign of Pandukabhaya of Anuradhapura. It served as the capital city of the country for nearly 1,400 years. Society underwent a major transformation during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura, with the arrival of Buddhism from India. In 250 BC, Mahinda, the son of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka, and a Buddhist monk, arrived carrying the message of Buddhism. His mission won over the monarch, who embraced the faith and propagated it throughout the Sinhalese population. Succeeding kingdoms on Sri Lanka would maintain a large number of Buddhist schools and monasteries and support the propagation of Buddhism into other countries in Southeast Asia. In 245 BC, a monk planted the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, which was a sapling from the historical Bodhi tree under which Gautama Buddha became enlightened. It is considered the oldest human-planted tree (with a continuous historical record) in the world. Many of the structures have been preserved and/or restored, and the site is an active Buddhist place of worship and pilgrimage

  Sigiriya is a palace and gardens dominated by a massive column of rock nearly 660 feet (200 m.) high. King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) moved the capital and his residence from Anuradhapura to the more secure Sigiriya. During his reign, Sigiriya was developed into a complex city and fortress. Most of the elaborate constructions on the rock summit and around it, including defensive structures, palaces, and gardens, date from this period. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes. On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. The name of this place is derived from this structure —Sīhāgiri, the Lion Rock. The capital and the royal palace was abandoned after the king's death. It was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century and today has been mostly restored. Because of rain and the lateness of the day, I didn't make it up the Lion Rock, which was a distinct disappointment.

  The second most ancient of Sri Lanka's kingdoms, Polonnaruwa was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu I, who defeated Chola invaders in 1070 to reunite the country once more under a local leader. The city is probably as old as Anuradhapura, but what is seen today is the work of the rulers during the12th and 13th centuries. Even more extensive water storage and distribution systems were built which are still in use today and the whole environment is green with forest copses alternating with flatlands and agricultural paddies. Some unusual and distinctive buildings remain in decent shape although most have lost their roofs; the sculptural work on columns and walls is particularly attractive and includes free-standing images, reliefs, and rock-cut images of Buddha and his symbols.

  Dambulla, the Golden Rock Temple, is the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The rock towers 520 feet (160 m) over the surrounding plains, and there are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding area. Major attractions are spread over 5 caves, which contain statues and paintings related to Lord Buddha and his life. It is a World Heritage Site, and is one of the very few I've missed—in this case, because of heavy rain, I decided the exposed rock surfaces and steps to get to the caves were too dangerously slippery to climb. I probably should have tried it, but a wise mind prevailed. Oh well...next time.

  Kataragama holds a temple complex dedicated to Kataragama Deviyo. It is one of the few religious sites in Sri Lanka that is venerated by the Sinhalese Buddhists, Hindu Sri Lankan Tamils, Sri Lankan Moors and the indigenous Vedda people. It is a collection of modest shrines, of which the one dedicated to Kataragama Deviyo is the most important. For most of the past millennia, it was a jungle shrine very difficult to access; today it is accessible by an all-weather road and pilgrims flock to the site. Almost all the shrines are managed by Buddhists, apart from Hindu shrines dedicated to Devasena and Shiva and the Islamic mosques. It is unusual, and heartening, to see religious shrines and people intermixed like this; and the buildings, while not great architectural masterpieces, are honest representations of the various faiths.

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WORLD HERITAGE SITES

Sacred City of Anuradhapura

Ancient City of Sigiriya

Ancient City of Polonnaruwa

SIGIRIYA–the fortress atop the 'Lion Rock' and the gardens were built in the late 5th century CE
SIGIRIYA–the fortress atop the 'Lion Rock' and the gardens were built in the late 5th century CE
SIGIRIYA–a moat surrounds the rectangular gardens to the west of the Lion Rock
SIGIRIYA–a moat surrounds the rectangular gardens to the west of the Lion Rock
SIGIRIYA–a series of gradually rising terraces is connected by brick walls and stairs
SIGIRIYA–a series of gradually rising terraces is connected by brick walls and stairs
SIGIRIYA–only foundations remain of the many palace buildings in and around the gardens
SIGIRIYA–only foundations remain of the many palace buildings in and around the gardens
SIGIRIYA–trees and vines have grown over and onto the brick walls
SIGIRIYA–trees and vines have grown over and onto the brick walls
SIGIRIYA–water channels connect several ponds along the main axis
SIGIRIYA–water channels connect several ponds along the main axis
SIGIRIYA–the Lion Rock rises majestically from the gardens
SIGIRIYA–the Lion Rock rises majestically from the gardens
SIGIRIYA–at the base of Lion Rock, numerous natural and altered caves served as retreats for monks
SIGIRIYA–at the base of Lion Rock, numerous natural and altered caves served as retreats for monks
SIGIRIYA–another cave…notice the shallow steps carved into the rock
SIGIRIYA–another cave…notice the shallow steps carved into the rock
SIGIRIYA–moss-covered brick paths and stairs lead to the Lion Rock
SIGIRIYA–moss-covered brick paths and stairs lead to the Lion Rock
SIGIRIYA–after squeezing through this tunnel, one starts the climb up the rock face
SIGIRIYA–after squeezing through this tunnel, one starts the climb up the rock face
SIGIRIYA–dry-stone walls and a warning
SIGIRIYA–dry-stone walls and a warning
SIGIRIYA–lush tropical vegetation
SIGIRIYA–lush tropical vegetation
ANURADHAPURA–rice paddies
ANURADHAPURA–rice paddies
ANURADHAPURA–herons and other birds are attracted to the watery rice paddies
ANURADHAPURA–herons and other birds are attracted to the watery rice paddies
ANURADHAPURA–artificial lakes and reservoirs supplied water to the capital city
ANURADHAPURA–artificial lakes and reservoirs supplied water to the capital city
ANURADHAPURA–Ruwanwelisaya Stupa juts above Lake Tissa Wewa
ANURADHAPURA–Ruwanwelisaya Stupa juts above Lake Tissa Wewa
ANURADHAPURA–Jetavanaramaya Dagoba, built of brick about 300 CE, is 400 ft (122 m) high
ANURADHAPURA–Jetavanaramaya Dagoba, built of brick about 300 CE, is 400 ft (122 m) high
ANURADHAPURA–monkey with stupa-shaped head
ANURADHAPURA–monkey with stupa-shaped head
ANURADHAPURA–the Kuttam Pokuna (Twin Ponds) are two bathing tanks built of stone
ANURADHAPURA–the Kuttam Pokuna (Twin Ponds) are two bathing tanks built of stone
ANURADHAPURA–relief carving of a 5-headed cobra (Nagaraja) at one of the tanks
ANURADHAPURA–relief carving of a 5-headed cobra (Nagaraja) at one of the tanks
ANURADHAPURA–most of the buildings are little more than foundations and the ground is water-logged
ANURADHAPURA–most of the buildings are little more than foundations and the ground is water-logged
ANURADHAPURA–water birds inhabit all parts of the city
ANURADHAPURA–water birds inhabit all parts of the city
ANURADHAPURA–stone foundations and pillars mark the sites of ancient buildings
ANURADHAPURA–stone foundations and pillars mark the sites of ancient buildings
ANURADHAPURA–the buildings were raised above ground level
ANURADHAPURA–the buildings were raised above ground level
ANURADHAPURA–this long, narrow building was probably a dormitory
ANURADHAPURA–this long, narrow building was probably a dormitory
ANURADHAPURA–semicircular 'moonstones' at the buildings' entrances are unique to Sinhalese architecture
ANURADHAPURA–semicircular 'moonstones' at the buildings' entrances are unique to Sinhalese architecture
ANURADHAPURA–relief carving of a guardian figure
ANURADHAPURA–relief carving of a guardian figure
ANURADHAPURA–Thuparama Stupa, built c. 225 BCE, was the first to be built after Buddhism was introduced
ANURADHAPURA–Thuparama Stupa, built c. 225 BCE, was the first to be built after Buddhism was introduced
ANURADHAPURA–the Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba, built c. 140 BCE, is one of the world's tallest stupas
ANURADHAPURA–the Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba, built c. 140 BCE, is one of the world's tallest stupas
ANURADHAPURA–smaller stupas inside a wall of elephant heads
ANURADHAPURA–smaller stupas inside a wall of elephant heads
ANURADHAPURA–these columns once supported the bronze roof of Lovamahapaya, the Brazen Palace
ANURADHAPURA–these columns once supported the bronze roof of Lovamahapaya, the Brazen Palace
ANURADHAPURA–this Sacred Fig tree is said to be a branch of the Maha Bodhi tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment
ANURADHAPURA–this Sacred Fig tree is said to be a branch of the Maha Bodhi tree under which Buddha gained enlightenment
ANURADHAPURA–other structures in the city are more recent but no less revered
ANURADHAPURA–other structures in the city are more recent but no less revered
ANURADHAPURA–prayer flags flutter from a tree
ANURADHAPURA–prayer flags flutter from a tree
ANURADHAPURA–small private shrine
ANURADHAPURA–small private shrine
ANURADHAPURA–roots of a tree invade a stone wall
ANURADHAPURA–roots of a tree invade a stone wall
ANURADHAPURA–monkey and a melon
ANURADHAPURA–monkey and a melon
ANURADHAPURA–elephant and handler in the ancient city
ANURADHAPURA–elephant and handler in the ancient city
DAMBULLA–stupa atop the Golden Rock Temple, a set of caves with ancient Buddhist wall paintings
DAMBULLA–stupa atop the Golden Rock Temple, a set of caves with ancient Buddhist wall paintings
DAMBULLA–main entrance to Golden Rock Temple with a monumental Buddha image
DAMBULLA–main entrance to Golden Rock Temple with a monumental Buddha image
DAMBULLA–amusing treatment of the entrance door
DAMBULLA–amusing treatment of the entrance door
DAMBULLA–the area has numerous potteries making traditional terracotta vessels
DAMBULLA–the area has numerous potteries making traditional terracotta vessels
DAMBULLA–shapes and decorations that haven't changed in a thousand years
DAMBULLA–shapes and decorations that haven't changed in a thousand years
POLONNARUWA–nearing the city, we spot a wild Sri Lankan elephant browsing the grass
POLONNARUWA–nearing the city, we spot a wild Sri Lankan elephant browsing the grass
POLONNARUWA–at another stop, we observe a few monitor lizards lying in wait
POLONNARUWA–at another stop, we observe a few monitor lizards lying in wait
POLONNARUWA–these were BIG guys! The guides fed them pieces of chicken
POLONNARUWA–these were BIG guys! The guides fed them pieces of chicken
POLONNARUWA–monitor lizard smiling
POLONNARUWA–monitor lizard smiling
POLONNARUWA–monumental Buddha image on the shore of the Sea of Parakrama, a man-made reservoir
POLONNARUWA–monumental Buddha image on the shore of the Sea of Parakrama, a man-made reservoir
POLONNARUWA–small pond
POLONNARUWA–small pond
POLONNARUWA–a blue lotus, the national flower of Sri Lanka
POLONNARUWA–a blue lotus, the national flower of Sri Lanka
POLONNARUWA–remains of the royal palace, said to be seven storeys tall
POLONNARUWA–remains of the royal palace, said to be seven storeys tall
POLONNARUWA–the Audience Hall of King Parakramabahu (1153-86)
POLONNARUWA–the Audience Hall of King Parakramabahu (1153-86)
POLONNARUWA–a troupe of monkeys scampers around the ruins
POLONNARUWA–a troupe of monkeys scampers around the ruins
POLONNARUWA–a female monkey has found a convenient resting place
POLONNARUWA–a female monkey has found a convenient resting place
POLONNARUWA–the Vatadage, an unusual circular structure of two levels, once held the Sacred Tooth Relic
POLONNARUWA–the Vatadage, an unusual circular structure of two levels, once held the Sacred Tooth Relic
POLONNARUWA–four magnificent carved stairways lead up to the central platform
POLONNARUWA–four magnificent carved stairways lead up to the central platform
POLONNARUWA–a carved guard stone, the stairway and one of four Buddha images on the Vatadage
POLONNARUWA–a carved guard stone, the stairway and one of four Buddha images on the Vatadage
POLONNARUWA–the Thuparama Gedige, a thick-walled temple with small rooms inside
POLONNARUWA–the Thuparama Gedige, a thick-walled temple with small rooms inside
POLONNARUWA–Buddha images in the dim light inside the Thuparama Gedige
POLONNARUWA–Buddha images in the dim light inside the Thuparama Gedige
POLONNARUWA–the Nissanka Latha Manadapaya, a small unique building with a stone fence imitating a wooden one
POLONNARUWA–the Nissanka Latha Manadapaya, a small unique building with a stone fence imitating a wooden one
POLONNARUWA–the stone columns in this building are uniquely curved with lotus bud capitals
POLONNARUWA–the stone columns in this building are uniquely curved with lotus bud capitals
POLONNARUWA–another structure with a forest of carved stone columns
POLONNARUWA–another structure with a forest of carved stone columns
POLONNARUWA–the carvings have an almost Celtic appearance
POLONNARUWA–the carvings have an almost Celtic appearance
POLONNARUWA–the Hatadage was another Tooth Relic shrine, built by King Nissanka Malla (1187-96)
POLONNARUWA–the Hatadage was another Tooth Relic shrine, built by King Nissanka Malla (1187-96)
POLONNARUWA–inside the Hatadage are three granite Buddha images
POLONNARUWA–inside the Hatadage are three granite Buddha images
POLONNARUWA–the Hatadage's exterior wall is wonderfully decrepit, with mossy reliefs of warriors and dancers
POLONNARUWA–the Hatadage's exterior wall is wonderfully decrepit, with mossy reliefs of warriors and dancers
POLONNARUWA–lizard standing guard in the ancient city
POLONNARUWA–lizard standing guard in the ancient city
POLONNARUWA–the Satmahal Prasada, a stepped pyramid built of brick
POLONNARUWA–the Satmahal Prasada, a stepped pyramid built of brick
POLONNARUWA–the Gal Vihara, or Rock Monastery, with large Buddha images carved from an exposed rock face
POLONNARUWA–the Gal Vihara, or Rock Monastery, with large Buddha images carved from an exposed rock face
POLONNARUWA–rock-carved reclining Buddha at Gal Vihara
POLONNARUWA–rock-carved reclining Buddha at Gal Vihara
POLONNARUWA–lunch at a lovely restaurant overlooking the Sea of Parakrama
POLONNARUWA–lunch at a lovely restaurant overlooking the Sea of Parakrama
HAMBANTOTA–this is the south-east coast of Sri Lanka that was devastated by the 2004 tsunami
HAMBANTOTA–this is the south-east coast of Sri Lanka that was devastated by the 2004 tsunami
HAMBANTOTA–this part of the island is rather flat and much is jungle-covered
HAMBANTOTA–this part of the island is rather flat and much is jungle-covered
HAMBANTOTA–British-built lighthouse on the coast
HAMBANTOTA–British-built lighthouse on the coast
HAMBANTOTA–a Martello tower fort, built by the British c. 1805 to protect the harbor
HAMBANTOTA–a Martello tower fort, built by the British c. 1805 to protect the harbor
KATARAGAMA–beautiful wild peacock on the roadside
KATARAGAMA–beautiful wild peacock on the roadside
KATARAGAMA–an ancient multi-religious site originally sacred to a local Hindu deity
KATARAGAMA–an ancient multi-religious site originally sacred to a local Hindu deity
KATARAGAMA–Kiri Vehera Dagoba was built over a spot the Buddha is said to have visited
KATARAGAMA–Kiri Vehera Dagoba was built over a spot the Buddha is said to have visited
KATARAGAMA–the stupa has many small shrines nearby
KATARAGAMA–the stupa has many small shrines nearby
KATARAGAMA–a female worshipper adds a flower offering
KATARAGAMA–a female worshipper adds a flower offering
KATARAGAMA–small Buddhist shrine with dancing colored lights
KATARAGAMA–small Buddhist shrine with dancing colored lights
KATARAGAMA–one of the entrances to the Hindu section of the grounds
KATARAGAMA–one of the entrances to the Hindu section of the grounds
KATARAGAMA–exterior wall with peacocks and elephant heads
KATARAGAMA–exterior wall with peacocks and elephant heads
KATARAGAMA–a lady feeding the resident monkeys
KATARAGAMA–a lady feeding the resident monkeys
KATARAGAMA–small Hindu shrine with hand-forged symbols
KATARAGAMA–small Hindu shrine with hand-forged symbols
KATARAGAMA–a fire offering at the Hindu temple
KATARAGAMA–a fire offering at the Hindu temple
KATARAGAMA–a curious coconut smashing ritual in the courtyard of the Hindu temple
KATARAGAMA–a curious coconut smashing ritual in the courtyard of the Hindu temple
KATARAGAMA–symbols of the local deity, an avatar of Shiva
KATARAGAMA–symbols of the local deity, an avatar of Shiva
KATARAGAMA–the temple grounds include an Islamic mosque
KATARAGAMA–the temple grounds include an Islamic mosque
KATARAGAMA–draped graves at the mosque
KATARAGAMA–draped graves at the mosque
KATARAGAMA–a Saddhu (holy man) contemplates the visitors
KATARAGAMA–a Saddhu (holy man) contemplates the visitors

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