Chaotic Colombo and a peaceful Anuradhapura

We’ve now ended our travels through India and have begun a new chapter in Sri Lanka, a beautiful country with loads of ancient history to discover.

A few days ago we landed in Colombo and made our way through the hectic bus stations to get to Mount Lavinia for Colombo Beach Hostel. We’ve been told Sri Lanka is much more chilled out than India but this experience was comparable to New Dehli or Agra in terms of how busy it was and how desperate people were to get us in their tuk tuks. Again we had men following us and telling us that there were no buses to where we wanted to go and trying to send us the opposite way towards their vehicles. Even when we got on the bus they tried to overcharge us but I’d seen the guy giving change back to other passengers and made sure we were paying the same.

What I’m coming to realise is the bigger the city or tourist spot, the higher the chances are someone is going to try and make some extra money from us. I have very little time for tuk tuk drivers anymore, especially since we’ve had several men lie to us about where the bus stops or when it’s due hoping we’ll give up and pay them 10x the amount to get there. As we’ve passed through quieter regions though things become calmer and some people have even stopped to help us get to where we want to be rather than leave us looking lost.

We had originally planned to get out of Colombo after one night but flights and connections are quite stressful for Mark so we decided instead to take it slower and add an extra night. Our hostel in Colombo was a great place to meet people and the rooftop was always buzzing with activity. After a good sleep we spent the day with a few of the other guests who were heading into Colombo for the bus and ate lunch in a small restaurant serving local food. Once Rachel and Amanda (the girls heading off to Kandy) were on their bus we wandered around Colombo Fort with the remaining Canadian guy, Dillon.

We had a fun day of getting lost, followed by an evening sharing some excellent food with the other guests. The guy who runs the hostel, Rodney, runs mini cooking classes for the evening meal where the guests can join in cooking the food for everyone. We had a crab curry that evening and it was so delicious.

The following day we ate breakfast early and packed our bags to head up to Anuradhapura, a place we had read very little information about but knew it was full of temples and history. The train journey up was supposed to take five and a half hours but ended up taking closer to seven. We stood up for the first three hours thanks to the train being full of lads on their way to a football match, who wouldn’t even give up their seats for older ladies. At one point a local man asked us to speak to his sister on the phone which was a strange experience because we had no idea what to say.

By the time the train arrived into Anuradhapura we were tired and ready to get in a taxi to our next hostel, Fig and Gecko. It was a surprise to be welcomed into the hostel by the very British accent of Paul the owner who we ended up chatting to for a long time over tea. Paul was really helpful during our stay, providing bicycles and maps of both the local area and Mihintale which was just a short bus journey away. He also let us use the projector and their Netflix account in the evening to watch films.

On our first full day in Anuradhapura we decided to hire the bikes and explore nearby. Using Paul’s handy map we set off on our ride, although it wasn’t long before the rain began to fall and the journey turned into a soggy one.

We waited out the worst of the rain with some goats under a tree before trying again and when we got to the furthest point on the map I realised I had bigger problems than just water. I’d decided to wear some trousers I bought in India (the ones I spent sewing back up on the night of Diwali) and had managed to catch them on the bike seat.

When I got off the bike four miles from the hostel I heard a rip and a hole started forming in the back of them. I tried to ignore it but before I knew it there was a tear going from one side of my bum to the other and the only way for me to continue was to use my shawl around my waist to cover up. This was awkward for a couple of reasons as I couldn’t enter temples with my shoulders on show and when it wasn’t raining I was being burned by the sun. Heading back would have been the most sensible option, but as we passed other points of interest it was difficult to skip them so I just carried on regardless of the breeze.

We did head back after we reached the halfway point and it was nice to stop worrying about accidentally offending any Sri Lankans nearby. After an outfit change we got back on the bikes and cycled to the sacred fig tree Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Big dark clouds had already been looming above us and it wasn’t long before the downpour began.

We hid under cover for a while but it was obvious that the rain wasn’t going to stop soon so we just ventured out in it. We figured it’s better to see stuff and get wet than stay dry and see nothing. There was a break in the rain just long enough to get ice cream before cycling back in another downpour.

For our second day in Anuradhapura we got a bus to Mihintale to see the mountain peak full of temples and ancient structures. The area was fascinating and there are so many little things to see dotted about. We spent a few hours doing the walk around and also braved the hill summit Aradhana Gala. Our first and favourite part was Kaludiya Pokuna which literally translates to Black Water Pond and is a gorgeous little spot about 15 minutes from the bus stop.

When we arrived there were two adorable kittens at the entrance who decided they were going to join us for a while and followed us all the way to the water. We sat with them and watched them play with the environment but managed to escape the cute trap when some other tourists passed by.

Mihintale was even more beautiful than Anuradhapura and we even braved a steep rock to look at the surrounding view. It was so easy to take photos here even on a cloudy day because it’s just so wonderful to look at.

We had actually planned to leave Anuradhapura that day but we now have no concept of time and didn’t realise it was a Sunday. After we’d eaten dinner we said our goodbyes and waited at the bus stop in the dark in more torrential rain for an hour. No buses seemed to be heading towards Dambulla, or at least no drivers wanted to take us, so we eventually gave up and went back to the hostel we’d just left. We tried again in the morning after another delicious breakfast of egg hoppers and fruit and were able to get a bus right away.

Despite all the rain, our trip up north has been great and I’m really glad we didn’t just head to Kandy first like everyone else seemed to be doing. It’s been so nice getting out of the city and seeing some history and culture so if you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka in a better season, definitely put it on your itinerary.

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