We looked for a new place to have breakfast and ended up in a local restaurant. When we walked past the kitchen, we quickly thought the worst. Luckily, the food tasted good, and we could continue with a smile on our faces. We quickly withdrew some money and took a tuk-tuk to the bus station. Chaos, heat, and crowds were raging there. We had to look around for a bit, but soon we found our bus heading to Kurunegala. Luckily, this bus had air conditioning. Additionally, we were surprised to find out that the buses were very cheap for long-distance travel. We paid three euros together for an 80-kilometer ride. They placed our backpacks on a seat at the front, but we had to pay extra for that too. They do everything to earn some extra money. Understandable but still a bit unfortunate.
Arriving in Kurunegala, we had to figure out where to catch our next bus to Anuradhapura. An overcrowded and bustling bus station didn’t make it any easier. However, a few friendly bus drivers showed us the way through the crowd. Once we boarded, it quickly became apparent that this was a different type of bus. No air conditioning, open windows, and more people. But this bus was cheaper. We paid two euros together for a 114-kilometer journey. The strange thing is that it takes about 2 hours and 30 minutes to cover this distance. The traffic here is hectic, dirty, and noisy. Once outside the cities, it’s much better.
They drive like crazy in the streets, overtaking any car or tuk-tuk that’s too slow. I occasionally held my breath when they made overtaking maneuvers. Sometimes, they drive with four vehicles on two lanes. The loud Bollywood music on the bus kept us alert enough. When the bus stops in the next village, several vendors board to sell food—oranges, cookies, peppers, drinks, and the strangest things. It was certainly an experience. 170 kilometers, five hours, two tuk-tuks, and two buses later, we arrived at our hostel. You can calculate for yourself how slow the traffic is here. We made a deal with our tuk-tuk driver that he would take us around the city and the surroundings the next day for 4000 rupees (20 euros). Our hostel welcomed us warmly. Three dogs were running around, which Inez didn’t particularly enjoy. Our room was fresher and nicer than the previous one, and we were pleased about that. We walked on the main street and later ate something at our hostel. A clean bed was definitely a relief.
The next morning, we received a complimentary breakfast. Toast, a hard-boiled egg, jam, bananas, and tea. Simple, but much appreciated and delicious. During breakfast, we had a friendly conversation with an Australian. At ten o’clock, our tuk-tuk arrived to pick us up. We visited the city and bought a piece of cloth to cover our bare legs. It’s important in Sri Lanka, when visiting temples, for both men and women to cover their knees and shoulders. We didn’t feel like wearing long pants in this hot weather, so we bought a piece of fabric to wrap around our legs when needed.
Our driver took us around the entire area. We visited various temples and stupas. A stupa is a large temple that no one can enter. These temples used to be filled with treasures and are still off-limits today. One of the temples was under restoration. Several painters were restoring the entire temple. Unfortunately, our driver didn’t speak English very well, so we received little to no information about the temples and their history. When we arrived at the oldest tree, we found a guide who took us to three different places and provided us with a lot of information about the temples and Buddhism. It was very interesting to learn that Buddhism is not considered a religion but a way of life. Do good and receive the good. It’s all about karma. Here, too, we were allowed to participate in some rituals. We laid down a flower and lit an oil candle. On the way to the Moonstone, we also encountered some locals bathing in the river by the waterfront.
Our lunch break took us to a cozy stall. Here, our driver’s brother runs a place to eat and drink. We enjoyed a refreshing King Coconut and Banana Rotti. It was a typical Sri Lankan setting and an enriching experience. We visited the Moonstone Temple and then drove to the next village, Mihintale. This is the place where Buddhism originated and a famous pilgrimage site for monks. We had to climb 1,840 steps to reach the top. Along the way, we encountered a Frangipani flower. It had an amazing fragrance and reminded us of frangipane. Once we reached the top, we had to climb a few more steps on the Aradhana Gala rock to enjoy a stunning view of the Sri Lankan jungle. On the way, we encountered some monkeys who can come very close to you without warning. On the other side was a large white stupa and a beautiful white Buddha statue. When we descended, we had to wait for our driver. We had lime juice from a local woman to cool down. Refreshing! There was also a man riding around on his motorbike selling the local lottery tickets. Later, we went to a restaurant for a quick meal. Our driver even waited outside for us. We asked if he wanted to come inside, but he politely refused. On returning to our hostel, we gave him the leftovers from our food and wrote something in his review book. We were extremely tired and it didn’t take long for us to lie down in our beds.
X Ely & Inez