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A climb to the summit of a holy site near Anuradhapura to visit the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka

It was during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (250 – 210 BC) that the Arahat Mahinda, son of the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka, led a group of missionaries from North India to Sri Lanka. He, along with his group of followers, settled in caves on the hill of Mihintale. The new religion swept over the land in a wave and the King donated land for a monastery in the heart of the city which was also his own Royal Park.

1. BLACK WATER POND

Pond of Black Water near Mihintale Mountain

Before heading to the main site at Mihintale we stopped to visit the lovely Kaludiya Pokuna, a natural black water pool where the reflections of the surrounding forest and rocks provide a beautiful setting. As well as the natural wonders there are some ruins of a small monastery that sat on the banks of this that are interesting to meander through. This is a great place to explore and spend a little time contemplating life.

Ruins near Black Water Pond

2. MIHINTALE – THE CRADLE OF BUDDHISM IN SRI LANKA

The remains of a temple at Mihintale

Not too far (about 12.5km or 7.8 miles) from the ancient city is situated the “Missaka Pabbata” a 1,000 feet (300 m) peak that is known as Mihintale, the cradle of Buddhism, in modern lingo. At this place the belief that

According to Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, Thera Mahinda, a famed Buddhist monk and son of the Indian Emperor Ashoka, came to Sri Lanka from India on the full moon day of the month of Poson (June) and met King Devanampiyatissa. From here he preached the doctrine of Buddha and effectively launched the faith in Sri Lanka. No wonder this place is so revered by the Buddhist faithful in Sri Lanka. This meeting has a big impact on King Devanampiyatissa who subsequently renounced war and took it upon himself to spread the word of Buddha within his kingdom.

This is a large complex that housed a large number of monks over the centuries. At the base of the mountain, there are a number of ruins of what was once a hospital, a large circular stupa (Kantaka Cetiya Vaahalkada) and a spacious refectory.

Kantaka Cetiya Vaahalkada

The current day real action at Mihintale takes place at the top of the mountain. To get there you have to climb a series of steps. There are quite a few steps but they are deep and wide and in fairly good condition. Of course in the humidity of Sri Lanka, you’ll have worked up a sweat by the time you get to the top. Before entering the holy area at the summit you’ll need to drop your shoes off at the booth before heading in.

Steps leading to the summit and the holy site of Mihintale

3. AMBASTHALA DAGABA

Ambasthala Dagaba, is a small stupa surrounded by stone pillars. The Stupa is believed to house the relics of the monk Mahinda. It is at this spot that it is said King Devanampiyatissa first met Arahant Mahinda.

4. ARADHANA GALA

This is where the monk landed. According to legend he literally landed, transported through the air from India. As there were no helicopters in those days it is more likely that he climbed the rock. Today, its symbolism is not lost and pilgrims who come to Mihintale follow in the footsteps of Mahinda. We are not Buddhists but the draw of climbing these steps to the top of the rock was too tempting. The steps are very worn, almost non-existent and covered in sand – which makes them very slippery. There is a single railing to hold on to, but there is no one-way system, so those on the way up and on the way down have to share. I decided I didn’t fancy negotiating the crowd, but Karen, as usual, was game for the challenge. She got to the top – but did admit afterwards it was hairy – but the views at the top with the sun-setting were worth it.

The stairs to the top of Aradhana Gala
The rickety railings
Traffic congestion the top of Aradhana Gala
Spectacular views from the top of Aradhana Gala
Aradhana Gala at Mihintale after dark

5. BUDDHA STATUE

To the side of the Ambasthala Dagoba is a flight of rock-carved steps leading to a large white Buddha statue. These steps are not a challenging as those to the top of Aradhana Gala but are slippery in a couple of places. But again worth climbing.

6. MAHA STUPA

As if we were not done with climbing we still had to climb to the very summit of Mihintale Hill to reach the Maha Stupa. More steps but much better than the ones we had just done before! This is a whopping Stupa, built by King Mahadathika Mahanaga (7-19 AD). The base of this is 136 ft (41 m) in diameter. For many years this Stupa lay in disrepair but has been lovingly restored.

In Summary … 

This was a magical place to visit, even if you are not a Buddhist. Sunset is a great time to go as the temperature is falling and if you are lucky you will get to see a spectacular sunset. I think I mentioned that there were a lot of steps, which in some places were sketchy, but if you felt able to negotiate these hazards the rewards were great.

Should definitely put this place on your itinerary if you are visiting the Anuradhapura area.

Best time to visit Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a variety of different tropical climates where rainfall periods and amounts of precipitation determine the distinction between a rainforest climate, tropical Savannah climate and tropical monsoon climate. Sri Lanka can be visited year round, however because of the two rainy seasons there is a lot of confusion as to when is the best time to visit. Here is a peek into the various monsoon periods: You have the Yala Monsoon; this means rain in the west, southwest and inland from the end of April to September. The other is the Maha Monsoon; this means rain on the east coast from October to March.

Are you planning to travel to the west and south coasts or inland? Then you have the highest chance of pleasant weather from December to March. Are you going to the east and north coasts? Then you have the highest chance of good weather from April/May to September.

Where to stay in Anuradhapura

1. ARYANA BOUTIQUE HOTEL

Set in Anuradhapura, 3.7 miles from Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Aryana Boutique Hotel offers accommodation with a restaurant, free private parking, an outdoor swimming pool and a shared lounge. Offering a garden, the property is located within 4.3 miles of Kuttam Pokuna, Twin Ponds. The accommodation provides room service, a concierge service and currency exchange for guests.

At the hotel every room has air conditioning, a desk, a terrace with a garden view, a private bathroom, a flat-screen TV, bed linen and towels. The units will provide guests with a wardrobe and a kettle.

Aryana Boutique Hotel offers a continental or à la carte breakfast.

The area is popular for cycling, and bike hire and car hire are available at the accommodation.

2. SWEET HOME TOURIST REST

Set in Anuradhapura, 4.3 miles from Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, Sweet Home Tourist Rest offers accommodation with a restaurant, free private parking, a shared lounge and a garden. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a terrace. The accommodation provides a 24-hour front desk, airport transfers, room service and free WiFi.

The units come with a fridge, stovetop, a kettle, a bidet, free toiletries and a desk. At the guest house every room includes a flat-screen TV, a shared bathroom, and a balcony with a garden view.

Guests at Sweet Home Tourist Rest can enjoy a continental or an American breakfast.

3. CEYLONMIA HOME REST

With garden views, Ceylonima Home Stay is located in Anuradhapura and has a restaurant, room service, snack bar, garden and terrace. The homestay features both WiFi and private parking free of charge.

Providing a patio, all units are air conditioned and include a dining area and a seating area with a cable flat-screen TV. For added convenience, the property can provide towels and bed linen for an extra charge.

Guests at Ceylonima Home Stay can enjoy a continental breakfast.

Both a bicycle rental service and a car rental service are available at the accommodation.

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is 5.6 miles from Ceylonima Home Stay, while Kuttam Pokuna, Twin Ponds is 6.8 miles away

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