A 5 - 6 hour drive up north east towards the ‘Cultural Triangle’ lies just one of the medieval capitals of ancient Sri Lanka that thrived during the 11th and early 14th centuries, Polonnaruwa. The well - preserved ancient ruins of a kingdom long lost in time gives you valuable insight into how life was in ancient Sri Lanka and their customs. Starkly resembling Mesoamerican architecture, you might question yourself as to whether you travelled back in time.

Top Reason to Visit

Considered to be one of the more important archaeological sites in Sri Lanka, boasting of well - preserved, restored ruins and the majestic manmade tank of Parakrama Samudraya (Sea of Parakrama), the ancient city Polonnaruwa is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thus, making it the obvious reason to visit Polonnaruwa.

While You're There

Straight out of an Indiana Jones movie:

The ancient city complex is a treasure trove for the history buff, boasting of significant monuments every few metres apart from each other, such as the Gal Vihara, the Polonnaruwa Vatadage, the Palace of King Parakramabahu, statue of King Parakramabahu and countless others, along the picturesque Parakrama Samudraya or ‘Topa Wewa’ (Tank) as it is now called. It is almost equivalent to the place Indiana Jones would find a crystal skull in. Moreover, the nearby archaeological museum also provides great insight into the beginnings and endings of one of the most known kingdoms in Sri Lanka. So get on your bicycle and peddle back in time.

Monkey Kingdom:

Although the ancient city is no longer inhabited by humans due to it being a historical site, monkeys are one of the inhabitants that have not left the ancient city. The ‘toque macaques’ species that are abundant in the city are harmless and friendly social creatures which draws many locals and foreigners alike. Don’t be too friendly though because they could actually steal your stuff if you are careless.

The gathering of elephants:

Keeping with the sprawling wildlife, Polonnaruwa is also considered a base for great wildlife excursions. Located around an hour away from the ancient city is the Minneriya National park that is considered to be the area with the highest concentration of Asian elephants in the world. Wildlife experts claim that the reason for this gathering is due to the Minneriya reservoir not drying out during the dry seasons, therefore allowing the wildlife to quench their thirst all year long. The sight of the elephants gathering around the reservoir is always something special to witness.

Customs that will leave lasting impressions:

The society in Polonnaruwa is a deeply religious and cultural one, where religious rituals are performed at every auspicious time. One of the more unique rituals that can be witnessed is during the Poson season (around the full moon day in June) where the town comes alive with a vibrant ‘perahera’ (religious procession). Moreover, on the other main ‘poya’ days (full moon days), the ancient buildings such as the Gal Vihara and the Medigiriya Vatadage are visited by people with many flower offerings, making it quite an interesting affair.

Insider Advice

Travel: Frequent buses (LKR 20) link the old town and Kaduruwela. Tuk-tuk drivers ask for LKR 250. However, the best way to get about the ancient city is by bicycle or scooter that can be easily arranged by most guesthouses.

Weather: The months from May to October are considered the months when the ancient city experiences dry weather, as opposed to the other months that make way for frequent showers.

Money: It is imperative that you carry cash in hand with small notes like LKR 20s, 50s and 100s for your everyday expenses, since credit and debit cards will be quite worthless here.

Clothing: Due to its strong cultural and historical links to Buddhism, it is best to be clad conservatively, so as to respect the traditions of the people of the area.

Safety: Due to its historical and cultural significance, safety would not be much of an issue. However, make sure you are mindful of your belongings when travelling about the ancient city.

Meals and refreshments: There’s little reason to venture far from your hotel or guesthouse for a meal as there are few standout selections locally.

In conclusion, Polonnaruwa is a wonderful mix of history, with its well preserved ancient city complex, and serene wildlife due to its close proximity to a national park with unique wildlife features. Great adventures await in this ancient town.

Title image by: Jehan Gamalathge
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