Mihintale & Aukana Buddha

Day -03 - 20-Dec-2015  (I continue From Here ) 

The Spanish couple - Roc and Lidia are leaving to Trincomalee this morning. I meet them at the breakfast table and we bid farewell hoping to cross paths again. 

I realise that I have forgotten to carry my Camera battery charger. It is impossible to record this trip with two lithium ion batteries. I am worried, if I could find a charger here. That puts me in worry. I not only want to travel but also record my experiences and pictures help them convey better for future travellers. 

A bus to Mihintale takes me only 30 minutes to reach there. But, I make a mistake and get down one stop before the actual bus station. But all that happens is for good. I spot these two asian hornbills sitting on top of a tree and screaming. 

I also stop by an electronics store and check if they have a charger for my camera battery. The storekeeper searches a lot, looks at the cable I am carrying and tries a couple of options before saying no. I am happy that there is an attempt made to find alternatives.

Before heading to the temple, I stop at a restaurant. As I see others eat Iddiyaam (spring hoppers), I am happy. Its one of my favorite dishes back home. In Mangalore we call it Shemey. The same is served neatly with several curries and some Sambol. Sambol is a mix of coconut, onion and other spices and makes a good side dish with anything. 

I am pleasantly surprised that here people only use the designated area for crossing roads and vehicles yield for pedestrians. Everyone wears a helmet including the pillion rider and none breaks the rules. One does not have to go to developed nation to spot this culture. I am totally impressed with this country already. And so far, I have spotted very less littering and have not seen anyone pee in public. 

Just before a flight of stairs that take you to the temple on the left hand side is a small archeology museum. The curator and the guard request me to come in, explain me the details of the hill and several historic sites on its summit and then tell that the entree is free but a donation is expected. I hand over a nominal amount which goes into the curators pocket and in return I get a grin. 

Mihintale is a very religious place for the Buddhists in Sri Lanka because it is here that Mahinda (Son of emperor Asoka) met the king Devanampiya Tissa in 247BC while the later was hunting in the forests. Mahinda tested the king’s wisdom and considering him a worthy disciple converted him to Buddhism and thus introducing Buddhism to Sri Lanka. 

I walk up with my lonely planet guide and here are the sites - 

The stairway - 1843 ancient granite slab steps lead you to the hillside.

Kantaka Chetiya - At the first landing a small flight of steps to the right lead to a ruined Dagoba with impressive friezes.

Monk’s refectory and relic house - On the second landing  is the monks refectory with huge stone troughs that were filled with rice for the monks. Two stones with inscriptions details out the rules and regulations. 

Ambasthale Dagoba - The final steps of stairs lead to Ambasthale Dagoba. There is a stupa in the centre,  a statue of king Devanampiya Tissa, a more recent Buddha statue on a hill to the left.

Mahaseya Dagoba - The biggest dagoba on the hill.

Sela Chetiya - Its a rock with narrow pathway up to the summit containing a stone rendering Buddha’s footprint. It is a challenge getting up here because there is room for only one person to stand on this path. Yet, it was amazing to see all the devotees so patient to help one another climb or get down. 

Mahinda’s Cave - A small walk down in the forest, behind Ambasthale Dagoba is the cave where the King and Mahinda are supposed to have first met.

I return back to Anuradhapura by around 12:00 PM and try to find an hardware store. I check in a shop and they direct me to an alley where I find this store that sells all types of electronic accessories. The store keeper takes a detailed look at the cable and battery and walks to a shelf that has the chargers. I point to him at the Canon charger but he verifies others as well to see the specification matches with that of mine. He seems happier than me to have found something I was looking for specially because he did not speak good English and we communicated just alright. 

After that I wonder what to do next. I contemplate several options and go back and forth to different bus stations looking for a bus to my next destination that fails to finalise. Finally, it occurs to me to visit Aukana Buddha which is about an hour or so away. I take a bus to Kekirawa but thanks to google map, I get down at Ipalogama cross. 

There are no or very few buses to this remote location so one has to rely on private vehicles or tuk-tuk. I enquire at the first tuk-tuk I spot for a ride to the intended destination. Well, he does not speak or understand English. I ask how much for a return ride and he says 70 LRs. I ask him again if the number is correct as on the lonely planet I had read it to be Lrs 800 for this 26kms round trip. We take off and he drives by the Kala Wewa reservoir built by king Dhatusena (5th Century AD). Thick old trees form the banks of this reservoir giving it a cool and blissful feel. Many chose this places as a picnic spot.

After a few kilometres of drive he realises that he has made a mistake and its not Lrs70 but Lrs700. I smile and agree to the increase in fare. Even without knowing each others languages we interacted just fine. 

Aukana Buddha is a 12m tall idol carved on a single stone. Buddha is in ashiva mudra signifying blessings and the burst of fire from the head signifies total enlightenment. 

I return to where the tuk-tuk is parked and stop to buy some lunch in a nearby restaurant. The owner there helps me with the ingredients of each dish. I try two small coconut and rice rotis and they are served with a spicy red chutney which is delicious. Of course I order some ceylon tea and all this is priced very less as compared to the towns.

While returning, the driver stops at the reservoir for me to take pictures. He also stops at other scenic places and hints me to take pictures. I take a few selfie with him and he is delighted and during all this we rarely speak a word. I feel the power of communication without a language. 

On my bus back to Anuradhapura, an overweight young girl makes room for me to sit. Though I would have preferred standing, I did not want to disappoint her so I cramp into the little remaining space. She strikes a conversation with me in sinhalese. Upon learning that I am an Indian she is seems very happy. She says that she has a whatsapp friend from Chennai whom she has not met. She can speak broken tamil. She pulls out his picture from her whatsapp list and shows it to me. She tells me that she likes India a lot. I ask her why does she like India to which she smiles and says - "I don’t know". This is not the first person I am meeting here who has had high regards for Indians. Everybody here seem to love India and Indians. This actually made me aware of a responsibility. People outside our country look up on us, they admire us and sometimes respect us for what we have achieved. To me that adds a lot of responsibility on how we Indians conduct ourselves, behave in and outside of our country. I wonder if we are this polite to the foreigners visiting us? Truly, the modesty and kindness of Sri Lankans has touched me and made me realise my own responsibilities.

The buses here play a lot of sinhalese pop songs. All of these songs sound very similar to one another. Most or all of these videos have a young couple in it and the theme is always about love and betrayal. 

I take a walk by Anuradhapura market and capture some action. The vegetables look fresher and bigger in size than the ones I see in India. There are also a huge collection of fishes. The market is  fully charged at this hour of dusk.

I decide to walk back to the hotel so that I can observe the locals. People seem to be very fond of lottery tickets here. There are small booths setup by the roads and a crowd is always seen buying lottery tickets. 

During my walk back to the hotel more Sri Lankans speak to me and feel happy to know where I come from. At the hotel, I chat with Chaturanga and he happens to watch a lot of Bollywood films. Shahrukh Khan is his favorite actor. He says that Bollywood movies are more popular in Sri Lanka than Hollywood or Sinhalese films. He also admires the Indian cricket team. We discuss some cricket and he tells me that both Jayasurya and Kumara Sangakkara are from his hometown Matale. Just then a group of Tamil youngsters walk in asking for some donation for Ganesha festival. December is an odd time to keep a Ganesha idol in a locality as generally they are placed during Ganesh Chaturthi that happens in September. Chatturanga tells me how the Tamils celebrate this festival by showering milk, kum-kum, turmeric and water etc on the idol. He has witnessed several such poojas in his hometown. The custom here appears slightly different from that in India.

Thus another day has come to an end. Another day full of activities and different from the previous day. I seem longing for more excitement and awaiting with curiosity for what the next day would offer. 

Route - Anuradhapura -> Mihintale -> Anuradhapura -> Aukana

Continued Here