The ruins of Polonnaruwa by bicycle

Polonnaruwa forms part of the Sri Lankan cultural triangle, the others being the sacred city of Anuradhapura and the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya. All 3 are located close to each other, have been declared World Heritage Sites and charge an extremely high entrance fee. 

Sri Lanka is an extremely cheap country to travel but the admission fees to their “cultural highlights” are completely disproportionate to everything else and much higher than equivalent countries (the Taj Mahal in India is half the price). I don’t have a problem with tourists paying more than locals but 25 dollars (3200 rupees) for each site seems pricey to me , many other backpackers and locals, who feel it discourages tourists from experiencing their heritage. Ah well, I decided I didn't want to miss the opportunity of hiring a bicycle and spending the day weaving through ancient ruins.

It's all about the ruins in Polonnaruwa.
It's all about the ruins in Polonnaruwa.

Lankatilaka temple.
Lankatilaka temple. In the 12th century this was one of the most breathtaking Buddhist shrines in Asia,  apparently.

Nice stone carving in Lankatilaka temple.
Nice stone carving in Lankatilaka temple.
Polonnaruwa is the second oldest of Sri Lanka’s ancient kingdoms, Anuradhapura being the oldest until that fell to destruction in 993 after invasion from India. It was declared the capital of Sri Lanka by King Vijayabahu I in the 11th century AD and maintained this status until the 13 century, after which the capital moved once again and Polonnaruwa was swallowed by jungle.

Scary face
Scary face.

Reclining Buddha in Gal Vihara
Reclining Buddha in Gal Vihara. One of the most popular sites here. Over 14 metres in length and apparently one of the largest sculptures in South East Asia.

The Lotus Pond
The Lotus Pond. Made using slabs cut from stone. 

It takes a full day to see all the ruins with a bike and really get the most of it. Most of the ruins were in excellent condition and you can easily get lost in the grandeur of the ancient architecture and beautifully sculptured stone carvings. Duran Duran obviously agreed and chose to use Polonnaruwa as the backdrop to their music video Save a Prayer. Amazing popular culture fact.

Rankot Vihara
Rankot Vihara. A 54m Dagoba - the 4th largest in Sri Lanka.

Steps leading to no-where with Polonnaruwa Vatadage in the distance
Steps leading to no-where with Polonnaruwa Vatadage in the distance.

Peering through the ruins to a seated Buddha in the Polonnaruwa Vatadage
Peering through the ruins to a seated Buddha in the Polonnaruwa Vatadage .
The only down side is the actual town of Polonnaruwa. It is, in a word, a shithole. Lots of locals aggressively selling tours, guides, tuk tuks, bikes and more. Normally not a problem, but these guys were just so annoying even the firmest of "No’s" didn’t always suffice. A small price to pay for these great sites.

Lunchtime for the monkeys with the Palace of King Parakramabahu in the background
Lunchtime for the monkeys with the Palace of King Parakramabahu in the background. 

Monkey's in Polonnaruwa
Could have spent all day just watching the monkeys. It's a real bonus that the ruins are teeming with monkeys.

Monkey's in Polonnaruwa

Despite the high entrance fee I felt Polonnaruwa was worth it. I would definitely recommend renting a bicycle, taking loads of food and water then slowly make your way around the ruins day dreaming as you go. Plus, at the time of writing you can easily walk along an unfinished road (a right turn off approximately 100 metres before the main entrance) and see most of the sites for free!


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