Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pilgrimage places in Sri Lanka - Mihintale, Anuradhapura

One of Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Anuradhapura - Mihintale, Sri Lanka

My main motivation to visit Sri Lanka was to visit Buddhist pilgrimage sites. It had just became my interest these past few years to visit Buddhist pilgrimage sites while traveling. I knew and saw many Buddhist followers and monks from Sri Lanka who visited Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India, but did not expect that majority of its population was Buddhist (70% of the country's population was Buddhist - Theravada Buddhism). I never even thought of visiting the country before, until Tashi introduced me to Sonam who was currently studying there.

Planning Sri Lanka's itinerary :D

Sonam told me Anuradhapura was the must visit place if I was interested to visit the pilgrimage sites although he himself had never gone there before. So since it was our first visit, we both relied a lot on Google map while planning which places to go, which one to visit first, how to go there; checked on Google regarding the information of each place; asked local about how far the distance from one place to another, which transport to take, how much roughly it would cost, etc.

Train journey from Ragama to Anuradhapura - 11 April 2018

On my 6th day in Sri Lanka (11th April 2018) after having breakfast, Sonam and I started our journey from Ragama Junction railway station. The train delayed for 20 minutes. It departed only at 9.35 am. It took us 5 hours to reach Anuradhapura and we only managed getting the seat 2 hours after we boarded.

Once reaching Anuradhapura railway station Sonam bargained with the tuk tuk driver asking for local price to reach Mihintale - our first destination. Fyi, the tuk tuk driver there would usually ask much higher fare (up to double fare) for tourists.

Entrance - Mihintale, Sri Lanka

Mihintale was believed by Sri Lankan to be the place where a Buddhist monk - Mahinda (son of Emperor Ashoka of India) - met up with King Devanampiyatissa, which inaugurated the presence of Buddhism (the birth of Buddhism) in Sri Lanka. It was located 13 km east of Anuradhapura. It took about half an hour by tuk tuk to reach from Anuradhapura railway station. The driver dropped us at the entrance and we continued our visit on foot.

The entrance towards Kanthaka Dagoba or Kanthaka Cetiya - Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Kanthaka Dagoba or Kanthaka Cetiya at Mihintale - Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

First, we visited Kanthaka Dagoba or Kanthaka Cetiya - a circular stupa with four frontispiece decorated with sculptures of dwarfs, animals, human, divine figures and floral motives. Each frontispiece had different animals on top of the square pillars - the elephant on the east, the lion on the north, the horse on the west, and the bull on the south (Source: wikipedia.org). It was located on the right side from the main entrance. We had to go up through staircases to reach the place.

From there we moved on to Ataseta Cave - the cave of Vasali - by passing through big rocks. You could sit on the rock there to get some fresh air, overlooking the beautiful view of Maha Stupa.

Singha Pokuna or Lion's Pond at Mihintale, Sri Lanka

Next, after passing by the car park, on your right you could have a look at the Singha Pokuna - lion standing with two legs' pond. It was the place to collect water supplied from Naga Pokuna through the tunnel for the use of bhikkhus (monks) - which could also be found on the way up towards the Alms Hall - figures of snakes with the hoods spread out in the background.

The Alms Hall or Refectory in Mihintale, Sri Lanka

The above picture was the Alms Hall or refectory - the place where daily alms were provided for bhikkhus who resided in the Chetiya Pabbata Vihara.

Mihintale stone inscriptions - two large slabs of granite

Next to it you could find the Mihintale stone inscriptions - two large slabs of granite contained rules and regulations related to administrative purposes of the monastery.

Kept walking and you would be directed towards ticket counter. Foreigners had to pay LKR500 while it was free of charge for local resident. After that you would be directed to a place where you could store your shoes safely guarded by a staff. Lucky for us that the weather was not hot (it was rather cooling and dry), or otherwise our barefoot would be so painful stepping on the hot sands, little stones, and big rocks.

Ambasthala Dagaba at Mihintale, Sri Lanka

Ambasthala Dagaba was said to be built by King Makalantissa. The ruins showed that there had been house built encircling the stupa. The Dagaba itself contained the relics of the great Apostle Mahinda. It was in this place where King Devanampiyatissa first met the Arahat Mahinda. (Source: wikipedia.org)

Mihintale Buddha Statue - Sri Lanka

We had to hike to a giant stone to reach the above Buddha statue. As I said previously, we were very lucky that the weather was not hot, because otherwise we were not able to climb through the hot stone.

Captivating view from the Mihintale Buddha statue - The rock and iron hand railings to go up

The view from this place was amazing!!! Worth the hike :) I did not expect that the place could offer such an amazing and peaceful view. Loved it so much!

Aradhana Gala at Mihintale, Sri Lanka

Next was to climb another huge rock to the top of Aradhana Gala. History said that Mahinda came to Sri Lanka by travelling through air and this was the place where he landed. (Source: wikipedia.org) It was windy and it offered another beautiful view up there :)

Maha Stupa at Mihintale, Sri Lanka

And finally to the top where Maha Stupa was located. It was built by King Mahadathika Mahanaga and restored afterwards.

Mihindu Seya Stupa - Mihintale, Sri Lanka

We encircled the stupa one round and halfway found the above - Mihindu Seya Stupa.

View of Anuradhapura from Maha Stupa in Mihintale, Sri Lanka

From there we could see the view of Anuradhapura and the surrounding areas.

Bodhi tree at Mihintale, Sri Lanka

With that we had covered most places in Mihintale. We walked back to where we came from, took tuk tuk and visited more pilgrimage sites in Anuradhapura. Overall, it was a great place to visit and worth visiting. So, stay tune for more upcoming posts!! :)

Monday, May 21, 2018

Places to Visit in Sri Lanka - Adam's Peak or Sri Pada (Sacred Footprint) - Part 2

Waiting for the sunrise!!! Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

At 5.30 am everyone stood up at their place facing towards the east and looking forward to the upcoming sunrise. Tshering managed to get a space for me towards the upper side so that I could get better view of it. The sky was still dark but we were all patiently waiting. We moved towards our left side to avoid the glaring light from the lamp post near the building in front of us.

Waiting at dawn - Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

The sky looked just like the photo above. Seemed like the clouds were too thick and did not allow the sun to rise beautifully.

Panoramic view from the Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka - 9th April 2018

Mountainous view from Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka 

The viewing place was packed with people. Could say I got the best place to view. However, even until 6 am, when the sky started to turn bright, the sun was still nowhere to be found. Oh.. sad... It was not as what people expected. Slowly people started leaving the place to avoid over crowd situation when going down.

Where we stood - Me, Tshering, and Sangay at Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Our group photo once again :) - Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

We took our group photo before leaving the waiting place. Then moved to the other side to see other kind of view - clouds among the mountains (see picture below).

Clouds among the mountains - Sri Lanka

I kept my expectation low though. My main goal was only to reach to the top timely and safely so that I could convey my prayer in front of the sacred footprint. The sunrise was actually just a bonus or extra - if I managed to view it beautifully! :)

About to go down - Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

As you could see from the above picture, many people started to go down after failing to see the majestic sunrise. We were all about to go down as well, but we were stuck there by the crowd.

Woohooo!!! The sun was finally coming up!!! - Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Beautiful!!! :) - Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

And as I was about to reach the staircase to go down, suddenly I saw the bright sun finally appearing from the clouds, above the Maussakelle reservoir from down there. Wow!!! No wonder the crowd was not moving. Because every one was stuck there, busied taking photos from where they stood. All of us too, moved to one side, enjoyed the sun light, and took photos :)

Me among the crowds :) - Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Beautiful sun rays illuminating the mountains and reservoir below - Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Thank you SB for the beautiful sun rays from the Adam's Peak :)

Smile :)

Panoramic view from Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka :)

Thank you SB for finally letting us see the beautiful sun rays there before we left the place! For me, that's really the bonus gift from the trip, making it a memorable one :) Thank you, thank you, and thank you!!!

Beautiful view from Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Walking back down from Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

View of Maussakelle Reservoir on journey down from Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

The journey down was equally great! The view towards the mountains and reservoir was beautiful!!! I could not stop admiring it and had to occasionally stop to take its pictures :)

Hundreds steps up and now down :D

View of Adam's Peak - Sri Lanka

Adam's Peak view at daytime

There were hundreds or maybe thousand steps from bottom to top??? The journey back down was tiring too, but I still preferred that rather than going up hahaha....

Entrance point to Adam's Peak called Makara Thorana - Sri Lanka

Sleeping Buddha statue (Makara Thorana) - Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Our legs were trembling after some time due to too much steps to walk through and went down fast. We stopped sometimes for toilet, for taking a rest, and while waiting for the rest of the group to come down.

Took a rest :)

There was a stop where you could have your legs massaged. There would be a lady or man stopping you by and offering for free massage. At the same time they were promoting the balm, herbal tea, and other products that their company was selling. The staffs were very friendly though. One of them was even buying and offering Sri Lanka sweets for us while one of our friends had her legs massaged. The products were sold at cheaper rate and good to buy some as gifts or presents for your loved ones back home.

Sri Lankan curry rice - Devil's chicken, potato curry, Sambol, bean curry, Dhall, and chilli :)

At about 10 am we finally reached the restaurant where we had our dinner the previous night. This time, to have our breakfast cum lunch. We had Sri Lankan curry rice this time.

At 11 am we caught the bus back to Hatton railway station, which took about 2 hours to reach. We took a train back to Ragama Junction at around 1.30 pm, and reached there at 7.30 pm. Sonam and I slept most of the journey as I was so tired and sleepy. He could not sleep well though as he worried about our bags that we put on top. I was not even thinking about it - forgot :P Hahaha... 

Delicious Bhutanese dinner for the day!!! :)

Once reached home, I faster unpacked, took bath, washed clothes, had dinner - delicious Phaksa pha (Bhutanse dried pork with chili) prepared by Sonam with fried Nutella (soy vegetable curry) prepared by Oli. Thank you guys!!! I could not eat much though as my stomach was a bit uncomfortable, but it was really tasting good la! I took diarrhea medicine and fell asleep soon after that. So, that was the whole journey story. Thank you Sonam and everyone who had arranged and accompanied me for this journey and thank you SB for the good health, fate, karma, safety and everything!!! Thank you, thank you, and thank you :)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Places to Visit in Sri Lanka - Adam's Peak or Sri Pada (Sacred Footprint) - Part 1

Adam's Peak or Sri Pada (Sacred Footprint)

When I said I would travel to Sri Lanka, Adam's Peak was the first place that Sonam mentioned, kind of the 'must visit' place there, especially for those who came for pilgrimage. Not only that, it was the toughest place to go too. It was not only about the distance or height of the place that we had to climb, which took 4-5 hours to reach, but also we had to do it in the middle of the night (when everybody was sleeping comfortably) after such a long train and bus journey, and we had to go back right after that (without a sleepover plus it took another long bus and train journey back home). So, when making our plan, Sonam suggested me to visit that place first while the rest would follow. Therefore, we went there on my third day in Sri Lanka together with many of his juniors.

Train and bus journey to Adam's Peak or Sripada

It was cheap and easy traveling around Sri Lanka using the railway service, only if you were able to stay among the crowd, in a non-AC cabin, for hours (it was kinda slow traveling along the track, with the traffic, many stops, and so on), with many hawkers passing by (plus its smell - food smell, I mean), stand up until you manage to get the seat (that's the thing - you could get the train ticket easily, but not the seat), and sometimes you even had to stand for at least 2-3 hours until the person left the seat, that also if you were lucky.

It was convenient to check the train's schedule, cost, how long it took, etc. online. You just had to go to Google search and type in the railway station you started the journey from and the destination to reach. E.g. Train Ragama Junction to Hatton (the nearest train station from Adam's Peak).

Search train information in Sri Lanka

Click the first one that appeared as per above picture. Then it would show you as per below.

Train information from Ragama to Hatton - Journey to Adam's Peak

As per seen in the above picture, you could find out the distance between two places, the different train with different timing available for the day, the ticket price (based on the class that you preferred and chose), and if you clicked on the green button, you would be directed to the opposite direction's information (Hatton to Ragama). Fyi SGD $1 was equal to LKR115 - the 2nd class ticket would cost SGD $2. And if you would like to find out the detail information on each train, just click on it and the below information would appear.

Detail train information - Sri Lanka

Train's arrival time to Ragama, departure time from the station, arrival's time in Hatton, and other details would be shown. Well, that was for the guidelines when you planned for your travel. Most of the time train would come late (not always though!) The ticket would usually be bought at the station on that day itself. Not all train had the reserved seat cabin (reserved seat meaning that you surely got the seat on the particular train, which was quite rare, and was usually better be purchased days before to avoid the 'sold out' situation).

Sonam and I often bought the 2nd Class ticket but we ended up sitting at the 3rd Class cabin for the whole journey as we found out that people would get down from train faster at the 3rd Class cabin and there was not much different from 2nd Class and 3rd Class cabin anyway plus there was seldom any ticket checking done by the train staff.

Once we bought 3rd Class ticket and boarded to 2nd Class cabin. But it was a 'Reserved 2nd Class', not the usual one. Lol. The staff came and checked our tickets. Luckily there were other local passengers who helped us talking with the staff that we were actually boarded to the wrong cabin and when we tried to get down and change, the door was locked and we could not go out. So the staff gave us lenient and asked us to go down at the next stop, which we did not as we both were sleeping (and no intention to get down because we got the nice seat and enjoyed it comfortably). And too bad that he noticed that we were still sitting there hahaha... He woke me up and warned me to get down at the next stop, quite angrily! Hahahaha..... :P No choice lo, we had to get down and change right after that :'D

So, we got in the train. The train went to Kandy first (3.5 hours journey), stopped for a while, before continuing its journey to Hatton. The 2 juniors who boarded the train earlier managed to get the seat and they gave it to me and Sonam. They had to stand in for some time until they managed getting the seat. Thank you la! Only when it reached Kandy, the rest of juniors came to our cabin and sat together.

Colorful flowers-decorated bus coach from Hatton to Adam's Peak :)

By the time we reached Hatton, the sky had turned dark. We reached at 8.30 pm. After asking the local around, they asked us to get into the bus that heading to Adam's Peak, outside the railway station, right after we reached due to infrequent bus available at night time. We did not expect that the bus would be super crowded!!! People were packed like sardine fish inside the can. Luckily, I got a very special seat - Buddha blessed me :)

At first I got a seat at the very first front row. Then an old lady with a crutch was coming up. I gave up my seat for her and the driver asked me to sit next to him (not really a seat, more like place to put stuffs right beside him - if you took Tata coach bus before, you would know how it was - or just see the below picture).

That was where I sat - the red carpeted area - my special seat :D

There was hand railing surrounding me, which also protected me from the crowd behind. I had fresh mountain air from the entrance door and bus driver's window, I got the closest view of the TV screen above me with music blasted from the loud sound speaker, and the VIP or unblocked view of the road ahead (I could even see the snake crossing the road when the driver was stopping until it passed by - what a loving and passionate driver he was! - or perhaps just avoiding bad luck if he happened crossing it accidentally :P).

I was non-stopped expressing my gratitude and admiring the driver for his way handling the stir skillfully, controlling the bus in the best and fast possible way - like handling an orchestra - to reach our destination, while many of my friends were vomiting, having headache, motion sickness, and left with no fresh air behind - one by one was carrying plastic bag in front of them, or otherwise sticking their heads outside the bus window :D

Finally a group photo - seven of us - at Vijitha Restaurant (Adam's Peak base) - Sri Lanka

We reached the Adam's Peak base (called Nallathanniya) at 10.30 pm. It was drizzling. We went inside a restaurant, took a rest, had our skipped lunch, dinner cum supper altogether in one meal plus tea, and changed our clothes there. While resting, some of us went out buying last minute necessity like pants, socks, disposable raincoat, etc. at many outdoor tent shops nearby (it was opened even at the time like that).

At 12.10 am we started our journey. Luckily the rain had stopped. The path was mostly the well-built staircases made of rough stones illuminated by electric power lines at the side - not so bright but enough to lead our way up. Slowly, we all walked together.

Sama Chatiya or World Peace Pagoda - Our way towards Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Forty-five minutes later we stopped at the Sama Chatiya (the World Peace Pagoda) - built by Japanese monk - Ven Nichi Fuji back in 1976. We made three rounds and prayed before continuing our journey.

Shops along the way, place to rest before climbing up again :D - Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

We climbed the stairs and took rest. Climbed and took rest. Repeat. Hahahahaha... Yes... I think I was the slowest among the rest, perhaps due to the age as I was the oldest in the group, plus I was a city person, not mountain girl. Lol! :'D

There were many shops opened for all the visitors, mostly selling food and drinks. The higher the place, the more expensive the items would cost. They provided many bench for people to rest, even when we did not buy any single thing. Nice eh?

The beautiful shiny bright full moon was there encouraging me to keep walking ahead, as if it told me, "Moon is the limit. Go catch me there!!!" And too bad, it went higher and higher each time I saw it. The stairs had become steeper too towards the peak. We had to walk slower. With every last breath and energy I had, I kept moving on. By 4 am we finally reached the top, and yes, I was the last one to reach :D

Offered butter lamp and at the same time got some warmth from it :) - Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

We bought flowers and butter lamp and gave it as offering to the sacred Footprint. Buddhist believed that it was Buddha's footprint; Hindu believed that it was Lord Shiva's; while Muslim and Christian believe that it was Adam's. So everyone from any religion could come and pay their respect to the same footprint there.

Taking rest at Adam's Peak :)

The place had already been crowded by the time we reached there. Majority who went there was still local people with many foreigners around. I found it very amazing to see many elderly - even with crutch - were able to climb it slowly and reached to the top. Perhaps they had been going there since a very young age - I saw many children walking up there too, accompanied by their parent/s. I was amazed with their spirit, really!!!

After done with praying, we waited nearby the area where people standing to see the sunrise about an hour's time. By 5.30 am all stood up and looked towards the east, waiting for the sun to come. To be continued...
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