We highly recommend a day excursion from Dambulla
to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa during your Sri Lanka trip. A
scenic two-hour drive through lush countryside passes numerous
lakes along the way, which are actually the remnants of a vast
network of thousands of human-made ancient irrigation tanks.
These represented sophisticated cultivation practices at the
time of development. Many have silted up, but those that remain
provide habitat for wildlife and a plethora of bird species. You
may need to stop the car for elephants crossing the road in search
of refreshment; a delightful diversion and a great photo
Polonnaruwa was the second capital city of Sri
Lanka, built in the 11th and 12th centuries A.D., and is a UNESCO
World Heritage site. Its ruins are better preserved than the older
city of Anuradhapura. As you tour Sri Lanka, spend a tranquil day
exploring all the sites, either covering the short distances
between them by car, or better yet, by bicycle.
Gal Vihara (Cave of the Spirits of Knowledge)
contains four splendid statues of the Buddha in "Upright,"
"Sedentary" and "Recumbent" postures carved out of the granite
outcrop. The imposing standing image is 23 feet tall. This is a
sacred pilgrimage site for devotees of Buddhism.
The Royal Palace is at the center of the complex. The wooden upper
stories have not withstood the test of time, and all that remains
is the first floor, made of stone. Superbly rendered elephant
carvings and seated stone lions grace the Audience Hall, which was
used by the ancient kings to hear petitions and meet with foreign
rulers. The remnants of the Royal Bathing Pool are also in
The Shiva Devale (Shiva Temple) celebrates the
Hindu god of destruction. It dates from the 13th century Indian
conquest, and evidences the precise stonework for which India is
famous. The Khiri Vihara makes for an interesting stop on any tour
of Sri Lanka. Khiri means "white," and this aptly named
dagoba's whitewashed plaster survived seven centuries of
abandonment to the jungle.
The area known as the Quadrangle houses the richest
collection of ancient buildings in Sri Lanka. Explore the circular
Vatadage reliquary, with four entrances leading to a central shrine
which contains four seated Buddha images.
The Thuparama exhibits strong Hindu influences,
while the Latha-Mandapaya, a miniature dagoba, displays the
classical Buddhist lotus buds. The Khiri Vihara formerly housed the
sacred Tooth Relic, since moved to Kandy where it is currently
The Hatadage is another former tooth reliquary. The Gal Pota, or
Stone Book, was used to record Buddhist texts and royal
genealogies. The Satmahal Prasada is a six-story, pyramid-like
structure, unlike anything else in Sri Lanka, and appears to
exhibit Khmer influences.