Friday, May 31, 2019

Sri Lanka

A year ago I could not have told you where Sri Lanka was located. All of that changed when a friend of ours visited Sri Lanka last June and posted a photo of a sloth bear she saw on safari. We asked her about the bear, then about the country and before long I was looking at Sri Lanka as a vacation destination. 

This post gives an overview of our eleven day trip, eight days spent in Sri Lanka and three days to get there and back. It includes links to my posts, primarily dealing with animals we saw, and my wife Judy's posts, who deals with all aspects of the trip in a timeline fashion. Neither of us are finished posting at this point, so there will be additional links added later.
     Things to Know Before You Travel to Sri Lanka  (Judy)

We left Los Angeles on Thursday, March 7, 2019, at 3:35 p.m. on a 16 hour Emirates flight to Dubai. I've wanted to fly Emirates for a long time and I loved their leg room, vast selection of movies and music, and of course, the funky stewardess uniforms.

Exacerbated by a 12 hour time difference, we did not arrive in Dubai until Friday at 7:30 p.m. with a four hour layover. The Dubai airport is enormous and it took us about 30 minutes by bus to get to our next terminal. The next terminal was a wonderful panorama of culture, including many people from the Middle East and Central Asia.  We left Dubai on an Emirate's sponsored FlyDubai flight of 4.5 hours at 11:20 p.m.

With an extra 1.5 hour time difference, we arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Saturday, March 29 at 5:25 a.m. (Bandaranaike International Airport is 32 km north of Colombo). We hit the ground determined to make a full day of it, despite the long flights and our lack of sleep. We were met by Sanjay, our guide from Lankatracker, based in Matare, who accompanied us the entire trip. We set out for Anuradhapura, 200 km to the north, about a four hour drive. Along the way we stopped for king coconut and jack fruit and watched people harvesting rice by hand. We checked into The Sanctuary at Tissawewa Hotel where we had a chance to eat lunch and rest for a couple of hours. Then we met up with Sanjay and hired an Anuradhapura guide and visited many of the sites in this ancient city, which was the capital from the 4th century BCE to the 11th century CE. Highlights for me were the animals: a large monitor, toque macaques and gray hornbills.
     Sri Lanka: Arrival and Drive to Anuradhapura  (Judy)
     Sri Lanka: a Visit to Anuradhapura  (Judy)
     Anuradhapura and Theravada Buddhism  (Bob)
     Bengal Monitor  (Bob)
     Sri Lanka Gray Hornbill  (Bob)
     Common Toque Macaque  (Bob)
     Grizzled Giant Squirrel  (Bob)
     Sri Lankan Common Myna  (Bob)
     Eastern Great Egret  (Bob)
Monitor in Anuradhapura.

Sunday morning, March 10, we got up early and left Anuradhapura shortly after 6:00 a.m. and drove southeast for 73 km, about 1.5 hours, to Sigiriya (Lion) Rock, arriving around 7:30 a.m. Sigiriya is a massive rock, about 660 feet high, accessed by a winding trail that includes rock steps and steel-stepped ramps. It was the site of a palace, before 500 CE, then used by Buddhist monks until the 14th century.
     Sri Lanka: Sigiriya Rock  (Judy)
Stairs up the last portion of the rock.
View from the top of Sigiriya Rock.
Judy on top - fabulous view.
Going down the stairs.

Hot, sweaty and exhausted, we enjoyed an ice cold Coke and then Sanjay drove about 1.25 hours (55 km), northwest, then southwest, to Polonnaruwa, the capital city for several kingdoms from the 10th century to the 17th century. Judy continued her quest to view the ruins, but I have to admit that by this time I was running out of gas and mainly looking for monkeys.
     Sri Lanka: Polonnaruwa  (Judy)
Langur in Polonnaruwa.
Gray heron in Polonnaruwa.

We had our best meal of the trip at Jaga Food Restaurant on the outskirts of Polonnaruwa. It had its own organic farm and was right next to a small stream. When we arrived a huge water monitor came out of the stream and walked very close to where the seating was for the restaurant, with only a small two foot tall fence separating us. It was one of the neatest experiences of the trip. The food happened to be very good as well, all various types of curry cooked in clay cooking pots.
     Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa: Jaga Food Restaurant  (Judy)
     Common Kingfisher  (Bob)
     Indian Palm Squirrel  (Bob)
     Asian Water Monitor  (Bob)
Asian water monitor.

Sanjay figured out that Judy loves elephants and arranged a last minute safari to Minneriya National Park, the best park for elephants in Sri Lanka, about 37 km northwest of Polonnaruwa and a 45 minute drive. Sanjay arranged for an open air safari vehicle and driver to meet us there and we spent two hours in the park, from, 3:00 to 5:00 p.m, looking at elephants, and seeing some other animals such as openbill storks, a jackal, a junglefowl and a monitor.
     Sri Lanka: Minneriya National Park  (Judy)
     Sri Lankan Jackal  (Bob)
     Asian Openbill Stork  (Bob)
     Sri Lankan Elephant  (Bob)
     Indian Stone-Curlew  (Bob)
     Oriental Garden Lizard  (Bob)
On safari in Minneriya NP.
An elephant alongside the road outside Minneriya NP.

From Minneriya, we drove 31 km southwest to Dambulla and visited Sam Popham's Arboretum for a night visit to look for the loris. It was overkill. We were exhausted, not only from a long, hot day, but also still recovering from our flights to Sri Lanka. It was a lot of walking, the guides were over-dramatic, and very uneventful - we caught just a couple of brief glimpses of a loris. We finally pulled the plug on the activity and said "enough." We spent the night at the Cassandra Culture Resort in Avudangawa, northeast of Dambulla. The air conditioning was great and that mattered a lot.

Monday, March 11, we stopped by a batik factory in Dambulla, then continued southwest to Nilagama, near Galawela, for what was called the "village experience." We took a ride on a cart pulled by a bull, then took a catamaran out onto a small lake and landed at the home of woman who lived on the shore. She prepared us a very tasty lunch, with a little help from us, doing things like grinding coconut for a sambol and separating rice kernals. After lunch we were taken by tuk tuk back to our vehicle. Even though the experience was all contrived, it was lots of fun. The cart ride and catamaran weren't really necessary, the meal was enough by itself.
     Sri Lanka: Henry's Batiks and a Home Visit  (Judy)

Driving back north a bit, we visited the Dambulla Cave Temple, a Buddhist monastery utilizing caves in a mountain, dating back to the 1st century BCE.
     Sri Lanka: the Golden Temple and the Cave Temples of Dambulla  (Judy)
     Sri Lanka Bronze Skink  (Bob)

From there we traveled south 74 km, about two hours, to Kandy. Sanjay dropped us off so we could walk partially around the lake, viewing some fun birds, like black-crowned night herons and spot-billed pelicans. Then we watched a cultural dance performance for an hour, then spent another hour or two in the Dalada Maligawa Temple, or Temple of the Tooth, watching lots of excited people and trying to figure out where we should be to view what we knew not. Sanjay drove us outside of Kandy to Barigama, where we spent the night in a small stand-alone cottage after having a nice buffet dinner.
     Sri Lanka, Kandy: Cultural Dancers and the Temple of the Tooth  (Judy)
     Black-Crowned Night Heron  (Bob)
     Sri Lanka Black Turtle  (Bob)
     Indian Jungle Crow  (Bob)
     House Crow  (Bob)
     Indian Pond Heron  (Bob)
     Little Egret  (Bob)

Tuesday, March 12, we started out with a visit to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens outside Kandy. I was not excited about it, but was so glad we visited. Aside from the beautiful orchids and trees, the real reason to go there was to interact with the toque macaques that wander the grounds and view the Indian flying fox bats that inhabit the trees by the thousands. The latter was worth the visit by itself.
     Sri Lanka: Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya  (Judy)
     Indian Flying Fox  (Bob)
     Pale-Fronted Toque Macaque  (Bob)
     Sri Lankan Yellow-Billed Babbler  (Bob)
Fly fox bats in the botanical gardens.

Then we set off for Ella, via Nuwara Eliya, through the hill country of Sri Lanka. We made a dubious stop at a spice farm, and spent lots of time climbing in elevation up winding roads to Nuwara Eliya where we went for a short walk and luxuriated in the cool temperatures. After a stop at a Hindu Temple on the outskirts of town, we got to Ella near dark, and stayed at the Ella Gap Panorama, high up on a hill above town. Our excitement for the night was a huge beetle that got in to our room through an open bathroom window and started Judy into a shrieking run when it started to fly, something I don't believe I've seen before in almost 40 years of marriage.
     Sri Lanka: From Kandy to Ella -- Hotels, a Post Office, a Farmers Market, and a Hindu Temple  (Judy)
     Highland Toque Macaque  (Bob)

Wednesday, March 13, we drove through Ella and began a downhill grade. We stopped briefly at a gorgeous waterfall and stopped on the outskirts of a lake to see some more Indian flying foxes. We got to the Elephant Transit Home on the western border of Udawalawe National Park and watched game keepers feed orphaned elephants. Sanjay showed us a small owl in a tree, and pulled some tamarind off a tree and peeled it so that we could eat it - sour, but good. Sanjay arranged for a driver with a safari vehicle for an afternoon safari in Udawalawe National Park. I had envisioned this is as a dull sequel to the Elephant Transit Home, but Udawalawe is a legitimate venue with fantastic scenery and lots of wild animals. I enjoyed it every bit as much as the highly acclaimed Yala National Park (a later visit). We saw a broad variety of wildlife, but highlights were elephants, jackals, Malabar pied hornbills, painted storks, mugger crocodiles and a crested hawk eagle. Afterwards we drove to Kawantissapura to spend the first of two nights at Magampura Eco Village Resort. We had a very nice late dinner there.
     Sri Lanka: Ravana Falls and the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home  (Judy)
     Sri Lanka: Udawalawe National Park  (Judy)
     Malabar Pied Hornbill  (Bob)
     Ceylon Paradise Flycatcher  (Bob)
     Green Bee-Eater  (Bob)
     Painted Stork  (Bob)
     Sri Lankan Axis Deer  (Bob)
     Sri Lankan Crested Serpent Eagle  (Bob)
     Spot-Billed Pelican  (Bob)
     Eurasian Spoonbill  (Bob)
     Common Green Forest Lizard  (Bob)
     Brahminy Kite  (Bob)
     Oriental Scops Owl  (Bob)
     Sri Lankan Red-Wattled Lapwing  (Bob)
     Sri Lankan Ruddy Mongoose  (Bob)
     Indian Peacock  (Bob)
     Spotted Dove  (Bob)
View from our hotel outside Ella.
Ravana Falls outside Ella.

Thursday, March 14, I met Sanjay and our driver with a safari vehicle at 5:00 a.m. Judy was exhausted and not feeling well and decided to stay at the hotel and get some rest. We drove about 40 minutes to a less-used entrance to Yala National Park and got in line for the park to open. Sanjay told me that the first two hours were exclusively to look for leopards, we weren't stopping for anything else. I was fine with that. We drove to an area of large rocks and drove around the roads in that area a number of times. Contrary to the prohibition on stops, Sanjay did stop for us to take photos of a stripe-necked mongoose we hadn't seen on our trip - he seemed pretty excited about it. We saw a small lake near the rocks and a couple of mugger crocodiles and some birds. Also a sambar deer that normally does not come this low. We eventually widened our search area and came across a clearing full of wild water buffaloes and about 15 safari vehicles lined up. Someone had seen a leopard go into the trees at the back of the clearing. We waited for 20 minutes or so and many of the vehicles started to move into the surrounding area. Sanjay had us stay put. Then he excitedly announced he saw the leopard and had the driver jam it forward about 50 yards. Like a rugby scrum, a bunch of other vehicles followed suit and crowded around us. We saw the leopard leave the trees and walk through a clearing. It was a madhouse among the vehicles. Eventually we headed back to the hotel for lunch to pick up Judy (during the two hour period in the park where vehicles must stop in prescribed areas). We went back to the same entrance, but largely drove different roads. Sanjay had a large cooler with very cold water, a watermelon, some mangosteen and other delicious fruit that we ate near a ranger station (where we were allowed to get out of the vehicle to eat). At the end of the day we had dinner back at our hotel.
     Sri Lanka: Yala National Park  (Judy)
     Sri Lankan Leopard  (Bob)
     Sri Lankan Crested Hawk-Eagle  (Bob)
     Mugger Crocodile  (Bob)
     Stripe-Necked Mongoose  (Bob)
     Black-Headed Ibis  (Bob)
     Indian Hare  (Bob)
     Common Kestrel  (Bob)
     Lesser Whistling Duck  (Bob)
     Wild Water Buffalo  (Bob)
Lake in Yala NP.
Leopard in Yala NP.

Friday, March 15, we got up early again, and went to the same entrance in Yala. We took different roads and went to the other side of the park. While still very early and low light, Sanjay spotted two leopards on top of a large rock down a small side-road. The driver backed up and then down the road and we saw both leopards before they disappeared on the other side of the rock. We then spent another 30 minutes or so driving around to the other side of the rock and in the vicinity looking for the leopards, but did not see them again. We stopped for lunch at a beach on the ocean and were allowed to get out and walk around. There was a memorial there for people killed in a tsunami at that spot a number of years ago.
     White-Breasted Kingfisher  (Bob)
     Sri Lankan Junglefowl  (Bob)
     Sri Lankan Sambar Deer  (Bob)
     Indian Boar  (Bob)
Eating lunch in Yala NP - our safari vehicle.
Judy on the beach in Yala NP.

We went back to the hotel for lunch, gathered our belongings, then headed for Bundala National Park, about 47 km away. There we got a different driver and vehicle, checked in, and entered the park. We saw several purple herons, some rose-ringed parakeets, a gray-headed fish eagle, two white-bellied fish eagles, saltwater crocodiles and even an elephant hiding way back in the trees. I got very bad diarrhea and had to take a pit stop in some trees. I was lucky to get out of the vehicle before losing my load. It was an explosion and came on quite suddenly.
     Sri Lanka: Bundala National Park  (Judy)
     Pied Kingfisher  (Bob)
     Blue-Tailed Bee-Eater  (Bob)
     Indian Rose-Ringed Parakeet  (Bob)
     Purple Heron  (Bob)
     Oriental Darter  (Bob)
     Gray-Headed Fish Eagle  (Bob)
     White-Bellied Sea Eagle  (Bob)
     Sri Lankan Tufted Gray Langur  (Bob)
     Yellow-Wattled Lapwing  (Bob)
     Great Stone-Curlew  (Bob)
     Saltwater Crocodile  (Bob)
     Indian Flapshell Turtle  (Bob)
     Indian Cormorant  (Bob)
     Indian Star Tortoise  (Bob)
     Gray-Headed Swamphen  (Bob)
     Black-Winged Stilt  (Bob)
     White-Breasted Waterhen  (Bob)
     Oriental Skylark  (Bob)
     Common Snipe  (Bob)
     Common Redshank  (Bob)
     Ceylon Ashy-Crowned Sparrow Lark  (Bob)
Our safari vehicle in Bundala NP.
Beautiful ocean view in Bundala NP.

We continued on to our hotel, the Lagoon Paradise Beach Resort, 56 km away in Marakolliya, near Tangalle. It was right on the ocean and the humidity was through the roof. I was feeling wiped out. We had dinner right on the sand on the beach.

Saturday, March 16, was our last in Sri Lanka. Sanjay took us to the home of a man who keeps snakes. We spent about an hour there with the man bringing out four different Indian cobras for us to look at, a very venomous Russell's viper, a huge Indian rock python and some small green vine snakes.
     Sri Lanka: Lagoon Paradise Beach Resort and a Snake House  (Judy)
     Indian Cobra  (Bob)
     Green Vine Snake  (Bob)
     Indian Russell's Viper  (Bob)
     Indian Rock Python  (Bob)
Indian cobra at the man's home.

We visited a small sea turtle hatchery in Kogalla. It was not at all what I expected. It was very small and had a few tanks with four types of sea turtles, most of them hurt in some way, some new hatchlings and some unhatched eggs in sand. It was underwhelming.
     Sri Lanka: Iconic Fishermen, a Sea Turtle Sanctuary, and Some Souvenirs  (Judy)
     Hawksbill Sea Turtle  (Bob)
     Olive Ridley Sea Turtle  (Bob)
Holding an olive ridley sea turtle.

We stopped for a photo-op of three stilt fisherman along the rocky ocean beach. It looked like three crosses on Calvary. Sanjay paid the required tip to their stooge on the road. Completely fake and unsatisfying. I would not have paid them or taken a picture.

We stopped in Galle and walked up to part of the walls over-looking a cricket match. We saw some purple langurs in a nearby tree, the only ones of this particular species we saw. We took a walk along a wall looking down on the ocean and visited a mosque nearby.
     Southern Purple-Faced Langur  (Bob)
Purple faced langur.

We had an okay seafood lunch and then headed toward Colombo for our flight back home. We caught the only stretch of freeway-like road in Sri Lanka and made much better progress than normal until we hit Colombo and major traffic jams.

We got to the airport north of Colombo with time to spare and caught a 10:05 p.m. Emirates flight to Dubai.

Sunday, March 17, we arrived in Dubai at 1:00 a.m. and had to wait 7.5 hours for our Emirates flight to Los Angeles, leaving at 8:30 a.m. Our flight to Los Angeles was 16.5 hours, arriving at 2:00 p.m.
     Sri Lanka: Galle and the Journey Home  (Judy)

We were shocked and saddened to learn of the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka just a little more than a month after we left. I'm sure if our trip had been scheduled after the bombings we would have considered cancelling, but we felt completely safe while we were there.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Indian Peacock

There are three species of peafowl: (1) the Congo peafowl native to the Congo Basin of Africa; (2) the green peafowl native to portions of Southeast Asia; and (3) the Indian or blue peafowl native to India and Sri Lanka. 
Two peacocks in Udawalawe NP.
Peacock in Yala NP.
Peafowls were in every national park we visited in Sri Lanka, as well as many areas outside the national parks, and the guides pooh-poohed them, to the point of not ever stopping when we saw them. Toward the end we did stop a couple of times, at our insistence, but we got very few photos as a result. I wish I'd taken more photos of them, including peahens (I only took photos of peacocks). Sanjay told us they were not native to Sri Lanka, but it appears that they are. 
Native distribution of Indian peafowl, per Wikipedia. Note that Sri Lanka is part of that native distribution. 
Peacock in Bundala NP.
The male is called a peacock and the female is called a peahen. The Indian peacock has a metallic blue crown and feathers on the head are short and curled. The crest is fan-shaped and has feathers with bare black shafts tipped with bluish-green webbing. It has a white stripe above the eye and a crescent shaped white patch below the eye, both formed by bare white skin. The sides of the head have iridescent greenish blue feathers. 
Peacock in Yala NP.
The back has scaly bronze-green feathers with black and copper markings. The scapular and wings are buff and barred in black, the primaries are chestnut and the secondaries are black. The tail is dark brown and the "train" is made of elongated upper tail coverts (more than 200 feathers) and about 20 tail feathers, most with an eye-spot. 
Feathers on back and side. 
The underside is dark glossy green shading into blackish under the tail. The thighs are buff colored. 
Peacock in Uduwalawe NP. Note chestnut primaries. 
The peacocks we saw were as wild as the other birds we saw and had to fend for themselves. Perhaps they are derided because they are so common and do not spook easily. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Anuradhapura and Theravada Buddhism

One of the intimidating things about learning new cultures and religions is that virtually everything initially read has no meaning or understanding in one's own context. As I begin to delve into Theravada Buddhism and the history of Anuradhapura I realize that I am only barely scratching the surface of something that is really very large and complicated. I do this with some trepidation. 

Theravada Buddhism:

Theravada Buddhism is a form of Buddhism, as are Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. See here for a discussion of differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism and here for a discussion of differences between Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism was developed as a distinct school in Sri Lanka and then spread to the rest of Southeast Asia. It is now the dominant religion in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka. It is also practiced by a minority of people in India, Bangladesh, China, Nepal and Vietnam. 

The mythical founders of Buddhism in Sri Lanka were the Indian Emperor Ashoka's son, Mahinda, and Ashoka's daughter Sanghamitta, which helps legitimize Theravada's claims to be the oldest and most authentic school of Buddhism. They arrived in Sri Lanka during the reign of Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura (307 to 267 BCE) who converted to  Buddhism and helped build the first Buddhist stupas. 

According to Wikipedia, there are no known artistic or architectural remains from the early period except for the cave dwellings of monks which reflect the growth and spread of the new religion.  I don't know if they relegate to legend the Sri Maha Bodi Tree, discussed later, or believe it is of later origin, when making that assertion. Buddhism appears to have established undisputed authority during the reigns of Dutthagamani and Vattagamani from the mid 2nd century BCE to the mid 1st century BCE. The first records of Buddha images come from the reign of King Vasabha (65 to 109 BCE), then after the 3rd century CE history shows a record of growth of Buddha images and Bodhisattavas (people on the path towards Buddhahood, who have received a prediction from a living Buddha that they will become a Buddha, but have not attained it). 

Between the reigns of Sena I (833 to 853) and Mahinda IV (956 to 972) the city of Anuradhapura had a huge building spurt by various kings during a long period of peace and prosperity and a large part of the present architectural remains in Anuradhapura date from that period. 

The Tripitaka is the traditional term for the Buddhist scriptures. It constitutes the Dhamma, the truth or teaching of the Buddha, and the organization of the Sangha, the community of monks and nuns. The canonical version for Theravada Buddhism is referred to in English as the Pali Canon. Mahayana Buddhism also holds the Tripitaka to be authoritative, but includes other literature in its canon as well. The Tripitaka was composed between 550 BCE and the start of the common era and was probably written down in the 1st century BCE. The earliest record of Buddhist scriptures committed to writing anywhere was Theravada Pali texts from the Mahavihara (monastic complex) of Anuradhapura. 

There were three subdivisions of Theravada in the early history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka: Mahavihara, Abhayagiri vihara and Jetavana, each based in Anuradhapura. Mahavihara was established first, then the other two were established by monks who broke away. A Chinese monk who visited Sri Lanka in the early 5th century noted 5,000 monks at Abhayagiri, 3,000 at Mahavihara and 2,000 at Cetiyapabbatavihara. The Mahavihara ("Great Monastery") school became dominant in Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 2nd millennium CE and gradually spread through Southeast Asia. The Abhayagiri Theravadins maintained close relations with Indian Buddhists and adopted many elements from Mahayana teachings. Abhayagiri was an influential university and center for the study of Mahayana from the reign of Gajabahu I (113 to 135 CE) until the 12th century. The Jetavana Theravadins adopted Mahayana elements to a lesser extent. 

During the reign of Parakramabahu I (1153 to 1186), the Mahavihara sect got his political support and he completely abolished the Abhayagiri and Jetavanin traditions. The monks of those two traditions had to either return to the laity or attempt reordination under the Mahavihara tradition as novices. He also rebuilt the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, restoring Buddhist stupas (a mound-like structure containing relics of Buddhist monks or nuns that is used as a place of meditation) and Viharas (monasteries). He appointed a Sangharaja (a monk who presided over the Sangha, which is the Buddhist community of monks, nuns, novices and laity) and was assisted by two deputies. 

Anuradhapura was the capital of the Sinhalese (an ethnic group native to Sri Lanka and about 75% of the population) from the 4th century BCE until the beginning of the 11th century CE. Today Anuradhapura is surrounded by monasteries covering 16 square miles and the ancient city is considered sacred to the Buddhists.

Jetavanaramaya (Stupa in Ruins of Jetavana Monastery)

The Jetavanaramaya is a stupa located in the ruins of the Jatavana monastery. A part of a sash or belt tied by the Buddha is believed to be the relic enshrined there. It was the first ruin we visited in Anuradhapura. It was built by King Mahasena of Anuradhapura (273 to 301 CE) and at 400 feet was the third tallest structure in the world when it was built (the Pyramid of Giza is 481 feet and the Pharos Lighthouse in Alexandria which is listed as taller, was between 333 and 387 feet, actually shorter).  It has foundations 28 feet deep. Elephants were used to stamp down stones which were used to fill in fissures. The stupa was constructed using 93.3 million baked bricks, engineered by Sri Lankans and composed 60% of fine sand and 35% of clay and could withstand a stress ten times more than what they are withstanding. The bonding material was crushed dolomite, limestone, sieved sand and clay and the stupa was then covered with a lime plaster that included seashells, sand, clay, pebbles, plant resin, oils, glues, coconut water, egg whites and sugar syrup.  When Anuradhapura was destroyed and abandoned in the 11th century the stupa was covered by jungle. King Parakramabahu (mentioned above) tried to renovate this stupa in the 12th century and it was rebuilt to the current height of 232 feet, much smaller than its original height. 
The top of the stupa from a museum we visited.
The stupa from where we parked our car. The red-roofed structure at the base housed an internal museum or worship area devoted to Buddha, pictures of which follow.
Small bits of the lime plaster that covered the stupa remain. 
Carving of a Nagaraja. Naga is a Sanskrit word which refers to a serpent, especially the King cobra, and denotes divine or semi-divine deities that reside in the heavenly netherworld and occasionally take human form. They can be represented as wholly human with snakes on the heads and necks; the serpents themselves, like this one, or as half-human half-serpent beings, like a guardstone shown below. 
An elephant carved into stone, I believe from a moonstone in front of the stupa.
King Mahasena, under the influence of monk Sanghamitta, brought a campaign against orthodox Mahavihara Theravadins and they pillaged the Mahavihara complex at this spot until it was eventually abandoned and the valuables of that monastery were transferred to another area. This stupa was built to replace what had been there previously. 
Inside the stupa is this large reclining Buddha. 
I'm not sure if this place is a museum or a place of worship, or both. We did see people coming in to worship while we were there. 

We found the Buddhist images to be highly colorful.
Above the door leading into the reclining Buddha.
A closer view of the scene above the entrance.

The beautiful tiled floor.
This structure was covered by jungle until 1909 when approvals were obtained to uncover it, using funds from ticket sales to foreign tourists. Bricks were burned using the same kind of mixture used by the original builders. 

When we visited we had to take off our shoes to approach and we had no socks. We burned our feet on the hot pavement and it severely dampened my desire to do any more barefoot adventures into other stupas we visited. As a result, this is the only stupa I visited the inside of. Suggestion to future visitors: take a pair of thick socks when visiting Anuradhapura. 

Kuttam Pokuna or Twin Pools

The Kuttam Pokuna or Twin Ponds/Pools are part of the Abghayagirya Monastery complex and are one of the best specimens of bathing tanks or pools in ancient Sri Lanka. The larger pool is 132 by 51 feet and the smaller pool is 91 by 51 feet with depths of 18 feet and 14 feet respectively. We encountered our first Toque macaques at this site and they, not the pools, occupied most of my attention. 
One of the twin pools.
One online site represents these pools as the second oldest swimming pools in the world, built in the 4th century BCE. Another site, I think more correctly, represents them as 8th and 9th century ritual baths used by Buddhist monks. 

Samadhi Buddha

The Samadhi Buddha statue in Mahamevnawa Park is part of the Abhayagirya Monastery complex and depicts Buddha in the Dhyana Mudra position, the posture of meditation associated with his first Enlightenment. The Buddha sits cross-legged with upturned palms placed one over the other on his lap. The statue is seven feet, three inches tall and carved from dolomite marble. It is believed it was made in the 3rd or 4th century. The statue's eyes are hollow, indicating they were impressed with crystal or precious stones. 
The Samadhi Buddha
We had to take our shoes off to approach the statue and my feet were burned from the first stupa, so I walked across this uneven ground very gingerly. I was distracted here as well by an animal, our first and best view of a Sri Lanka gray hornbill

Abhayagiri Dagoba

The Abhayagiri Dagoba is a stupa that was part of the Abhayagiri Vihara monastery complex. It was restored and renovated by a UNESCO project that cost $3.9 million and it was unveiled in June 2015. We stopped briefly to look at it from the car, then continued on. 
Abhayagiri Dagoba
This stupa was the original custodian of the tooth relic, the left canine tooth of Gautama Buddha. According to Sri Lankan legend, when Buddha died in 543 BCE, his body was cremated in a sandalwood pyre at Kushinagar and his left canine tooth was retrieved from the funeral pyre by his disciple, Khema. Through a series of circumstances it ended up in Sri Lanka (although places in China, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and California also claim to have the tooth relic).  It moved around in Sri Lanka until it ended up in Kandy where it is now held in the Temple of the Tooth, which we also visited later. 

The Abhayagiri Vihara was a major monastery site for Theravada as well as Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. 

Eth Pokuna or Elephant Pond

Eth Pokuna, or Elephant Pond, part of the Abhayagiriya Monastery complex, was 522 feet long by 173 feet wide and 31 feet deep. It had a holding capacity of 2,648,600 cubic feet of water. It was used by the monks of the monastery that numbered over 5,000. 
Elephant Pond
Ratnaprasada or Jewel Palace

The Ratnaprasada of the Abhayagiri Monastery Complex was built by King Kanitta Tissa from 192 to 194 CE. It was rebuilt in the 8th century and was seven storeys high. It was the Uposatha house. Buddha taught that Uposatha was a day for "the cleansing of the defiled mind" and lay and ordained members of the sangha were supposed to intensify their practice, deepen their knowledge and express communal commitment through monastic reciprocity. Apparently the house was somehow used for that purpose. 
These stone columns and the foundation are what remain of the house. 
The Ratnaprasada entrance has one of the best examples of a guardstone which depicts the Cobra King, his head framed by a cobra hood, holding a vase with a dwarf attendant at his feet. 
The Naga at the first stupa we visited above, was a full cobra. This is a part cobra, part human. 
Near the guardstone is a moonstone, or sandakada pahana, which is a carved semi-circular stone slap placed at the bottom of a staircase. In Anuradhapura the moonstones were all the same. A half lotus was in the center, enclosed by concentric bands. The first band was decorated with swans, followed by a band with a foliage design, followed by a band with four animals: elephants, lions, horses and bulls. These animals follow each other in a procession symbolizing the four stages of life: growth, energy, power and forbearance. The fourth and outermost band had carvings of flames, representing a fire altar. 
The moonstone.
An elephant from the moonstone.
A figure in the outer part of the foundation.
Another figure, something that looks very similar to things I've seen in England. 
Thuparamaya Stupa

Thuparamaya was the first Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. As alluded to in the introduction of Theravada Buddhism at the beginning of this post, Mahinda Thera, an envoy sent by King Ashoka, introduced Theravada Buddhism to Sri Lanka. At his request, King Devanampiya Tissa (247 to 207 BCE) built Thuparamaya in which he enshrined the right collar-bone of the Buddha. However, this stupa was destroyed on a number of occasions and then restored. The present construction, therefore, only goes back to 1842.  The stupa is built in the shape of a bell. 
Thuparamaya Stupa
A buddha shrine right next to it. My photo does not reveal it, but Judy's photo shows a moonstone at the foot of the stairs and two guardstones, one on each side of the entrance. 

Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba

Ruwanwelisaya is a stupa built by King Dutugemunu around 161 BCE who became king over all Sri Lanka. It is 338 feet tall, shorter than the original 400 feet of the Jetavanarama Dagoba, but much taller than the existing rebuilt Jetavanarama Dagoba which is now 232 feet high. It was a ruin in the 19th century and renovated in the early 20th century until fully restored in 1940. It is one of 16 places in Sri Lanka said to have been visited by Buddha himself. It is said to house relics of Buddha, but the relics are not specified. 

The compound of the stupa is surrounded by four walls with elephant figures incorporated into them. The dome of the stupa signifies the vastness of Buddhist doctrine. The four facets above it represent the Four Noble Truths. The concentric rings indicate the Noble Eightfold Middle Path and the large crystal at the pinnacle represents the goal of enlightenment. 
Monks wrapping the stupa in orange cloth.
We visited on a Poya Day, one of 12 or 13 each year. Each Poya Day marks a different historical event in Buddhism, such as Buddha's birth or his first visit to Sri Lanka. We witnessed part of a flag-wrapping ritual where huge ribbons of colorful cloth are transported by lines of pilgrims to the foot of the stupa. It is accompanied by flag-bearers, the sound of trumpets and the beating of drums. Eventually the monks gather the cloth and wrap it around the base of the stupa. 
A procession bringing in the orange cloth accompanied by people with horns and drums. 
People would rush over to touch the cloth. 
Near the stupa, in a building, were colorful representations of Buddha similar to those we saw at the Jetavanaramaya Stupa and people inside appeared to be worshiping or meditating. 
These wonderful elephants, in bronze, were over the doorways into the building. 
A similar looking reclining Buddha.
Note the doorway reflected in the glass.
Similar figures off to the side.

A representation of Buddha's footprint.
Sri Maha Bodi Tree

Our final destination was the Sri Maha Bodi Tree, purported to be the southern branch of the tree under which Buddha attained Enlightenment, planted here in 288 BCE. It was brought to Sri Lanka by the now familiar, Sangamitta, daughter of Indian Emperor Asoka, who founded an order of Buddhist nuns in Sri Lanka. It was planted by King Devanampiya Tissa on a terrace 21 feet above the ground and surrounded by railings. This act signals the beginning of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and this is probably the most sacred site in Anuradhapura, a city full of sacred sites.  
It seems pretty clear that the tree limb supported by the iron supports is the bodi tree. After that, for me, it is a mish-mash of confusion. 
The walls and the golden fence are visible.
More perspective as we back away.
Various developments have been made to the site over the years. The most obvious were: the 10 foot high and 5 foot thick wall constructed in the mid-1700s to protect the tree from elephants, the golden fence around the tree constructed in 1969 and an iron fence below the golden fence. 
Judy and some worshipers around the side. 
In 1907 and 1911, branches of the tree were broken in separate storms. In 1929, an individual cut down a branch. And in 1985, in what is known as the Anuradhapura massacre, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam shot and killed a number of Buddhists on the upper terrace. 

A wonderful white elephant gate.
After an intimidating beginning for this post, I'm already starting to feel a little more comfortable with Buddhism and some of its different branches.