I left the relative peace of my colonial hotel in Anuradhapura and hopped a tuk-tuk to the bus station. Gratefully, the driver dropped me right at my bus for Habarana and after some negotiations, the conductor promised to let me know when I had reached my destination. The thick plastic covering the lace upholstery on the seats (think a grandmother’s living room sofa), the tasseled curtains, and lack of other tourists, should have been a giveaway for what I was in for, but it wasn’t until we pulled away, that the full picture unfolded. Sinhalese music began blaring from speakers throughout the bus, and the driver, who apparently can decorate as he chooses, had installed running lights, religious icons and stuffed teddy bears across the inside front of the bus. I saw a guy pass some money to the conductor, then stand at the front of the bus and shout over the music an informercial for colored pencils. After his very formal speech, he walked down the aisle and sold his wares. About twenty minutes later, at a stop in the middle of nowhere, the conductor was passed more money, and a guy who just boarded (as the pencil guy stepped off) proceeded to shout out the benefits (apparently, since I don’t speak Sinhalese) of various creams and liquids. This parade of salesmen went on for nearly the entire two-hour trip. While I didn’t buy anything on the moving equivalent of the home shopping network, it was definitely worth the .50 cent admission!
In Habarana, I checked into my guest house – a six room place run by a local family. The sister and mother do all of the cooking, serving breakfast and dinner each day. I headed out for a late afternoon safari in nearby Minneriya National Park. After the ruins of Anuradhapura, I needed to look at the living! Around the watering hole there were elephants and hundreds of birds of all colors and sizes. All in all, a good way to end a day of travel.
The next morning, I felt ready for the ruins of Polonnaruwa - tuk-tuk to town, another bus, a rented bike and I was off. Polonnaruwa was the second seat of the kingdom of Sri Lanka and the ruins were even more elaborate than ones I had seen from the first kingdom. Temples whose architecture looked like churches, remnants of frescos covering the surfaces, and intricately carved stones decorating the inside and out. The west definitely does not have a monopoly on great design and architecture. I left the main road and headed down a dirt road, to a small Hindu temple I had read about. The road was off the beaten path of the tour busses and quiet. I walked around the small stone structure and heard singing. It was a Hindu man (disciple?) whose job it was to tend the temple and make daily offerings. He saw me and invited me up the stairs to look inside, then he began chanting, dipped his hand in reddish chalk and marked my forehead, telling me I was blessed and wished me good luck.
I thanked him and biked back up the deserted road. I did feel blessed and certainly lucky to be able to do what I’m doing and see what I’m seeing.