Polonnaruwa is peppered with relics of the past. There are many places in Sri Lanka that open a window into the past but none quite compare to the experience in Polonnaruwa. This place beautifully captures the immense skill of the 12th century Sri Lankan carpenters that have been preserved to this day. There are many historical and religious sites to see from the grand statues at the Gal Vihara to the monumental Lankathilaka Image House.
Cycling from site to site
There are many ways to get to Polonnaruwa, the most popular being the A/C SLTB (Sri Lanka Transport Board) buses. Assuming you are travelling from Colombo, the journey may take you upwards of about 4 hours and would cost no more than Rs 250. Once there, a popular mode of transport is to travel from site to site by way of bicycles, which can be rented. However, if you are travelling to Polonnaruwa during the dry season, it is recommended to get around with a hired vehicle as it gets very hot. If you still insist on cycling from site to site, be sure to bring a lot of water with you as the heat can very easily dehydrate.
Once at Polonnaruwa, there are many historical sites to visit and experience. One of the most famous is the Gal Vihara, which hosts four meticulously crafted statues of the Buddha at varying poses and sizes; the largest being a fourteen-meter long statue of the Buddha in a reclined position, portraying his ascension into Nirvana. It is recommended to come during the morning or evening as the area can get quite hot, especially since you are required to remove footwear due to the site being a religious one. If you do decide to visit the site during midday, be sure to bring an extra pair of socks to fight off the hot floor.
Another popular site is the archaeological museum and ruins. It is recommended to visit the museum as an appetiser for the ruins to come since it is small. However, the contents of the museum truly capture why the place is as popular as it is, sporting immaculate carvings of a bygone era.
The ruins themselves are quite well preserved as far as ruins go, and are quite expensive. Touring the entire set of ruins would take about 3 hours. Visitors are encouraged to wear modest clothing to the religious regions of the ruins. One could cycle to all six sites or could make use of a driver to transport them there as a way to beat the heat.
Lankathilaka image house
Another incredibly popular location is the Lankathilaka image house, hosting monumental carvings of stone featuring the Buddha and various carvings on the outer walls. Although it is a smaller site, there is much to take in. Like many of the historical sites, it too houses religious material and as such, an appropriate lack of footwear is expected.