From Sigiriya I headed north east by tuk-tuk to the town of Polonnaruwa located in the North Central Province. Polonnaruwa is part of the cultural triangle but is often overlooked by tourists short on time as it is over 6 hours away from Colombo by car; although it is also reachable by a lengthy train journey. Polonnaruwa is known for the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient city of Polonnaruwa which covers some 122 hectares. Whilst planning my trip to Sri Lanka I knew that this ancient site was on my radar.
Quick history lesson!
Polonnaruwa is the 2nd most ancient city in Sri Lanka and was established as the Medieval capital in the 11th century AD. It replaced Anuradhapura (a site also on the cultural triangle), which was plundered, made desolate and laid hopelessly bare to the invading armies from Southern India.
In more modern times Polonnaruwa has found fame; Duran Duran featured the ancient site in their 1982 hit video for Save a Prayer (which also features Sigiyira), whilst Disney based there 2015 Monkey Kingdom here.
After two bumpy and draughty hours in the tuk-tuk (a journey longer than it should have been thanks to a fallen tree which resulted in a long detour) I was grateful to hop out and start to explore the ancient city by foot. It was a brutally hot day with a storm brewing overhead, I was thankful for the many trees dotted amongst the ruins that offered a respite from the sun.
The site is extremely sacred and as such you are encouraged to be covered up. Some of the ancient ruins you may not enter without shoulders and knees being covered and shoes and hat removed. The importance of the site was apparent by the quantity of locals visiting and many were dressed in their religious white clothing.
Large areas of the ancient site have been renovated and the overgrowth cleared back, but if you wander off a little you’ll soon come across un-excavated grounds half covered by entwined tree roots and long grass. Along these paths monkeys sit on the ancient brick walls happily ignorant of human presence, whilst sunbathing lizards scuttle off at the sound of dry leaves crunching under your feet.
Back among the main ruins skinny stray dogs wander around tourists’ legs looking up at you longingly hoping for scraps off food, you’ll have a new shadow for a short while before they move on to someone else. An extremely fair skinned, red-headed French lady found herself the centre of attention as locals looked on at her intrigued, she and her husband’s guide soon translated that they wanted a photo with her as they’d never seen anyone so white! She gracefully agreed.