The ruins of Polonnaruwa are impressive. They reminded me of a bit of Angkor Wat due to their wild appeal. The drive from Dambulla to Polonnaruwa took around 1.5 hours and the entire trip scented of green sap. Polonnaruwa is located close to wild animals packed national parks of Minneriya and Kaudulla and I found this unique combination of archaeology with the jungle to be very exhilarating. Throughout the Cultural Triangle (Sigiriya-Dambulla-Polonnaruwa) drive, one passes through the flat central plains of Sri Lanka, where vast billowing clouds and herds of wild elephants are a common sight. These national parks add a pleasant charm that makes many visitors decide to stay a day or two in Polonnaruwa and the touristy town is well-equipped to cater to international travelers. The nearby Kaduruwela (around 4km east of Polonnaruwa) contains all the banks, shops, and other facilities, while the huge, beautiful tank near the city offers a relaxing ambiance.
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The rise of Polonnaruwa
Located in the flat central plains of Sri Lanka, the grand city of Polonnaruwa thrived as an important religious and commercial hub. It was the seat of powerful rulers more than 800 years ago. The beautiful ruins of today are still capable of giving glimpses of how magnificent the city had been in its heydays. Polonnaruwa archaeological park is filled with stupas, statues, ruins of tombs, tanks, and temples. The city enjoyed its golden age in the twelfth century and it represented one of the highest benchmarks of early Sinhalese civilization. Polonnaruwa was established by Vijayabahu after his successful repulsion of the South Indian Chola kings. He and his successors painstakingly not only beautified it but they also managed to transform it into one of the great urban centers of South Asia. Their grand development project, however, nearly made the state bankrupt and waves of invasions from southern India doomed the fate of Polonnaruwa within a century of its establishment.
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How the mighty Polonnaruwa fell
Polonnaruwa slipped through the passage of time, was abandoned and eventually was reclaimed by nature where it remained hidden for nearly seven centuries. The ancient city was rediscovered sometime in the mid-twentieth century and extensive restoration has revived Polonnaruwa’s beauty to the fullest. It was originally enclosed by three rings of walls and within them were parks and gardens. A royal palace complex stood in the heart of the city and in the north of the city, lay the most important religious buildings. This cluster is popularly known as the Quadrangle and it contains some of the finest monumental remains in Sri Lanka. To the west of the city lies an artificial lake created by one of Polonnaruwa’s kings and it supplied water for irrigation, urban demands, and also provided a defense. Polonnaruwa’s largest monuments are in the north and it includes the buildings of the Menik Vihara, Rankot Vihara, Alahana Pirivena and Jetavana monasteries, including the famous Buddha statues of the Gal Vihara and the soaring Lankatilaka shrine.Polonnaruwa Travel Details
Despite its generous scattering of shrines, statues, and temples, Polonnaruwa does not have much religious significance. However, it is advisable to not show your back to the Buddha statues or walk over the stupas with shoes.
How to reach Polonnaruwa
- The best way to explore Polonnaruwa is to either base yourself there or go there as day trips from Dambulla or Sigiriya. It takes 6 hours by bus to reach Polonnaruwa from Colombo. Kandy Anuradhapura -are both 3 hours away. Dambulla and Sigiriya are 1 hour away from Polonnaruwa.
Polonnaruwa Timings and Entrance Ticket
- 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM; except full moon’ poya nights’ and tickets prices are 25 us$ adult/ 12,50 us$ child.
The best way to get around Polonnaruwa
- The best way to see the ancient city is in an air-conditioned car. It works perfectly especially if you are on a day trip. Budget travelers explore the ancient city on rental bikes. The sites are easy to find and free maps are available at the ticket office.
Recommended Read: SIGIRIYA TRAVEL GUIDE
How much time do you need
- Polonnaruwa ancient city is comprised of a citadel (inner city) and an outer city. There are 2 types of buildings – the king’s palace/royal court as well as administration buildings in the inner city. The outer city or the Quadrangle has religious shrines, with the main shrine being the Sacred Quadrangle. The main sights are scattered along a one-way road and concentrated. One day is enough to see the main sights of Polonnaruwa, though two days are required to enjoy the ancient city to the fullest. There are no restaurants within the complex so bring light snacks and eat a hearty breakfast before arriving.
What to see in Polonnaruwa
- Royal Palace, Citadel and Kumara Pokuna – Believed to have been originally seven-storeys high, only the foundation remains today.
- Siva Devale No. 1 and No. 2. are two of the most prominent of the 14 Hindu shrines found inside Polonnaruwa. Siva Devale 1 and 2 are located in different parts of the city.
- The group of monuments called the Sacred Quadrangle includes the Vatadage, Hatadage, Sathmahal Prasada, Nishshanka Latha Mandapaya, Gal Potha, etc. The Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha is believed to have been enshrined in the Vatadage. It is surrounded by four well preserved seated Buddha statues.
- The massive brown-coloured stupa Rankot Vehara is one of the two main stupas within the Polonnaruwa complex.
- Gal Vihara is supposedly the highlight of Polonnaruwa and the only place in Sri Lanka that made maddeningly frustrated. Though located inside the complex, to enter Gal-vihara you need to produce your ticket again, so make sure you haven’t misplaced it. I did this mistake and had to retrace my entire walk in the hot afternoon sun to get another ticket. This rock shrine consists of a group of rock sculptures showing Buddha seated, standing and lying down. The standing Buddha statue has his arms crossed across his chest.
- Lotus Pond has a lovely flowery shape and was once used by monks for bathing.
Follow the rest of the Sri Lanka series here
- WHAT I LOVED ABOUT SRI LANKA
- COLOMBO TRAVEL GUIDE
- COLOMBO VIBES
- KOLLUPITIYA MARKET IN COLOMBO PHOTO WALK
- MIRISSA DAYS
- THE STILT FISHERMEN AND CAVE TEMPLE OF KOGGALA
- MOONSTONE MINES AND MASKS FOR DEVIL DANCING: GALLE OFFBEAT THINGS
- A VERY RELAXING WEEK IN KANDY
- KANDY TRAVEL GUIDE FOR SLOW TRAVELING
- DAMBANA ADVENTURE
- THE ELUSIVE VEDDAS OF SRI LANKA
NOTE: In view of the security situation in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of terror attacks on 21 April 2019, the updated travel advisory states that the security situation in Sri Lanka is gradually returning to normal with the lifting of curfew & restrictions on social media and the opening of schools. Foreign nationals travelling to Sri Lanka are advised to be careful and vigilant.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE