Your full day guided tour begins in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s first Buddhist capital, which was established in 377 BC by King Pandukabhaya. It is centered on a cutting from the ‘tree of enlightenment’, known as the Bo or Bodhi Tree. The incredible ruins found in Anuradhapura bear testimony to the prominence given to Buddhism over the centuries in Sri Lanka. It was once an important political and religious capital that flourished for 1300 years, however in 993 it was abandoned after being invaded. The ruins of the capital were hidden amidst dense jungle for many years, but today it’s a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, a fascinating area to explore and a wonderful introduction to Sri Lanka’s ancient Sinhalese civilization. Of all the palaces, monuments and monasteries in and around Anuradhapura, the colossal Dagobas that scatter the landscape seem the most impressive. These are unique to Sri Lanka due to their circular foundations surrounded by a ring of monolithic columns, as your guide will explain. The tour will also take you to Sri Maha Bodhi, otherwise known as the Sacred Bo tree, which is said to be the oldest documented tree on earth. Your guide will also take you past ancient palaces, administrative buildings, a hospital and the impressive bathing tanks, home to an ingenious filtering system. Learning about Anuradhapura’s complex irrigation system is surprisingly one of the highlights.
After your morning tour of Anuradhapura you will be taken to Mihintale, approximately a 30-minute drive away and 12km east of Anuradhapura. Mihintale is of enormous significance to the Singhalese as this is where Buddhism originated in Sri Lanka. It was on the summit of this mountain that the great Sinhalese king, Devanampiyatissa, was converted to Buddhism. The best time to climb the mountain is early morning or late afternoon when the temperature is cooler. A climb of 1840 small steps will take you to the summit of the sacred mountain and along the way you will meet daring monkeys, vendors selling anything from local ornaments to spices. You may also find the occasional woman or man asking for alms.