Sri Lanka 4: Mihintale

In retrospect, good idea we didn’t try to jam this trip in yesterday to catch a sunset.

Mihintale is about 30 minutes away from Anuradhapura proper, a good 20 minutes away from our guest house.  That’s by bus, the same kind of cuckoo-bananas buses we saw zipping by everything on our way from Colombo, and while biking (and surviving) the roads of Anuradhapura.  The guest house was nice enough to give us a sign written in blue highlighter, with our destination of Mihintale written in Sinhalese on one side, and the less obvious “Elementary School Near Jaffna Junction” written on the other side.  I’m assuming that’s what it said, anyway, due to my inability to speak Sinhalese.

The trip was fine, certainly not crazy, and actually kind of organized when you get on board, as a guy walks up and down the aisle changing your money for the fare, making sure everybody gets off where they need to get off.  20 minutes later, we were in Mihintale and the adventure began!

Mihinitale was the spot where Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka, when the son of Ashoka (Mahinda) found King Devanampiya Tissa hunting deer, asked him a skill testing question, and converted him to Buddhism on the spot.  The skill-testing question in question was the “Riddle of the Mangoes”, which went like this.

Mahinda Devanampiya
“What name does this tree bear, O king?”

“This tree is called a mango.”

“Is there yet another mango besides this?

“There are many mango-trees.”

“And are there yet other trees besides this mango and the other mangoes?”

“There are many trees, sir; but those are trees that are not mangoes.”

“And are there, beside the other mangoes and those trees which are not mangoes, yet other trees?”

“There is this mango-tree, sir.”

I’ll let everybody think on that a bit…

Anyway, spectacular site with lots of hills and walking.  We were warned ahead of time about impromptu “guides” that would try to take us up, and we were almost immediately “recruited” by a tuk-tuk driver, who tried to tell us that, if we didn’t go with him, we wouldn’t see the secret sites like the hospital.  Well, we ignored him and, five minutes later, walked by the hospital, at which point he found us again and said “Oh, that’s the hospital.”  Thanks, sir, services not needed.

We wandered into the nearby Mihintale museum, where the curator showed us around, explaining the different items in the museum, then took us to a small room and said “That’s it!” before standing in the doorway and extending his arms so we couldn’t get pass without pushing or paying.  I chose pay, because he was a nice guy overall.

Once we got to the hill, we started to wander up the stairs and, at the top of one of the landings, we found stairs to the Katanka Chetiya, an old stupa noted for its carvings.

At the top of those stairs, we also found Tileka.

Tileka was a shirtless man in a sarong who was sweeping up the area with a broom that would have been at home being ridden by a Halloween witch.  He was very excited to strike up conversation about where we were and, without really inviting us to a tour, but without us saying no, we were on a tour of the hilltop.  It was actually a pretty good tour, as he excitedly told us about where monks would stay to meditate, showed us views of Anuradhapura, and explained the animals on the Chetiya.  The most entertaining thing, though, was his voice, which went from old-man falsetto to baritone at the end of several sentences.  Neat guy and, yes, we gave him a few rupees.

After that, time to take in the site proper! Beautiful dagoba, a massive white Buddha statue, and the point where Buddhism was brought to Sri Lanka, surrounded by statues, a monk’s refectory, and amazing views of the lakes and fields of the area.  Not to be missed if you are in Anuradhapura.

We wandered through the complex a bit, saw some pools, frogs, neat trees, and then made our way back to the main road.  Grabbed a couple EGB ginger beers, met some kids who were coming back from school but asked us for money anyways (my response was “You’re in school to earn money, not take it”, which may have been lost in the “Hello-How are you-What is your name-Give me money” conversation) and then we crossed the road to catch our bus back to the guest house.  This bus also drove well, but had an awesome light-up Hindu god and lotus flower any time a stop was made.  Good times!

So lots of people come to Sri Lanka for beaches, and we’ll have more on that soon (like, tomorrow), but you’d be missing out if you didn’t at least see Anuradhapura.  Major cultural capital, fantastic buildings, great history, neat side trips.  Tonight, a traditional Sri Lanka curry that had to be pre-ordered, then some sleep, then an early morning bus!  More adventure awaits!

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