Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Memos from SRI LANKA. 2nd Memo: Little house on the P...olonnaruwa

Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993. I must say that due to their length, these Sri Lankan names are very twitter-unfriendly.


Bright lights, big city? Well, not here.

Apart from the Brahmanic monuments built by the Cholas, Polonnaruwa consists of the monumental ruins of the garden-city created by Parakramabahu I in the 12th century.

Just like the Sacred City of Anuradhapura, it was inscribed in the UNESCO-list of  World Heritage Sites in 1982.


One of the greatest masterpieces on the  site: The Buddhas of Gal Vihara.

And I like it much better - due to three reasons:


Firstly, it's smaller and more compact and overseeable. The archeological site covers basically two areas, a long one in the north and a small spot in the south. Therefore, once you get there, you can peacefully cycle from ruin to ruin. When you are wearing shorts or a sleeveless top, you cover up with a sarong or a shawl, you take off your hat and your shoes and you are good to go for an inspiring visit.

In general, they are super-strict with these rules. As soon as they spot someone not dressing appropriately, they call that person out. And if you don't have anything to cover, you wait outside; simple as that.

However, I don't get why they don't make a business of this - like they do for instance in Bali: At every temple, there is someone waiting, ready to sell you a sarong so you can enter. Actually a win-win-situation for both sides - but here, they don't do it.


Sadly, some people don't get the message even if they are standing just two feet away.

Once you're done, you put on your shoes, take off the sarong - what a relief that is in the hellish heat - and off you cycle to the next spot. Perfect.


The Vatadage, a fine example of a relic house. 

Not only did I keep losing my way in Anuradhapura - which was totally on me and my lousy sense of orientation and a bit on google maps that spotted me somewhere within a radius of about two square miles, not as helpful as desired. It's also far more tiring visiting the site by bike since they are so far from each other.


Only cycling allows you to spot all the tiny treasures along the way.

Don't get me wrong, I like big cities. But when they are big, they have to feel big. There has to be a central square, shops, maybe a small mall, cafés, and restaurants. A metropolis. Not unpleasant streets and extended dirt roads.

And that brings me to the second reason why I prefer Polonnaruwa, and this one is totally unfair: Anuradhapura was my first stop. And although I didn't really have a culture shock and cycled crisscross town from the first minute, I needed to grasp the concept of what is a city in Sri Lanka.

The same thing happened to me before, for instance in Los Angeles. I'm totally European, so a city to me has to have - like I pointed out above - some sort of clear nucleus, a point of orientation, a center. What's considered the old center in Los Angeles is the dullest neighborhood of the entire city. Therefore I didn't like it, I found that confusing. Once I grasped their concept of a city, I was fine and able to adapt - and to enjoy.


And a great farmers market is an important asset to a great city.

So that Anuradhapura didn't feel like a city to me got me a bit irritated.
When I came to Polonnaruwa, this concept wasn't new to me anymore and didn't put me off.

The third reason why I prefer Polonnaruwa over Anuradhapura has not really to do with the cities but with the accommodation I chose: Instead of booking myself in a middle-class hotel, I made a reservation at the Sun Guest House*, a four-room accommodation run by a charming middle-aged man who was already as sweet as can be via WhatsApp before I'd even arrived.
Although his house is practically in the city center, it is right next to rice paddies - remember: Different concept of cities in Sri Lanka.
The rooms are certainly not luxurious, but they are spotlessly clean and you find everything you need. And if there actually should be something you're missing, the owner Sumith goes out of his way to arrange it for you.

It reminded me a bit of my trip to Cuba where I used to stay in Casas Particulares, nothing but a different name for homestay, and also of my trip to Croatia last summer where I mostly rented privately owned Apartman.



After he arranged all these delicacies on the table, Sumith told me the name of each dish and explained what it was. Somehow the food became even more savory.

If I hadn't been a great fan of homestays, anyway, the dinner Sumith's wife prepared for me would convince me to never book a standard hotel room again.


Sunset over lake Parakrama Samudra - why should the name of lakes be shorter than the city names?! - without the elephants, I was so hoping for; but beautiful just the same.



Note to the curious reader: Like I did during former trips, in my Memos from SRI LANKA, I'm posting one chapter from every stop. At the end of the entire tour, there will be an extended travel guide with all the relevant travel information including addresses, links etc. 
Until then, just enjoy my narratives and reflections.


Wanna know what happened before? Here is the first Memo from SRI LANKA:

1st Memo: An unexpectedly scenic train ride to Anuradhapura


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Disclaimer: I appreciate that Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau is supporting my blogger trip by supplying me with tickets to some of the main landmarks like e.g. the Archeological Site of Polonnaruwa. However, all opinions on these services are mine and weren't by any means influenced by my cooperation partner. 

* I paid for my stay at the Sun Guest House their standard price, so this recommendation comes truly from the heart. However, if you book using this link, I'll get a small commission from booking.com - I wouldn't take a small commission from these lovely people who make a living from their small guest house.

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