We had just arrived at the Isurumuniya Temple at the southern end of Anuradhapura’s Sacred City, and were scoping out the grounds. The temple is set in a large rock near the Tissa Wewa lake, and just to the left of the main shrine was a small cave. “Hey, check this out!” I shouted to Jürgen, immediately regretting the volume of my voice. The cave was filled with thousands of bats who came swooping out above me. Jürgen might have been impressed, if he hadn’t been busy with his own terror: a six-foot long serpent had slithered across his path. Welcome to Isurumuniya.
After recovering from our fright, we explored the rest of the temple in peace. The shrine is beautiful, in a spacious cave carved out of the rock. Above the Buddha’s head are what look like bat nests. (Do bats have nests? I don’t think so. In that case, I don’t want to know what those were). We were visiting during the evening, and the temple’s setting was made even more gorgeous by the low light. Stairs lead above the shrine to the top of the rock, and we enjoyed a spectacular sunset over the Tissa.
The temple complex includes a small museum where, along with other relics from Anuradhapura’s golden years, a famous carving called The Lovers is kept. It was about to close, though, and we didn’t get a picture (but there’s one here!)
The region around the temple is full of worthwhile sights, as well. Just to the north, you can find the Goldfish Park. This lovely little area holds the remains of the royal baths, which take their water from the Tissa. We were completely alone when we visited, even though these were among the most impressive ruins we saw during our time in Anuradhapura.
South of Isurumuniya are the remains of the Vessigiriya Monastery. We hadn’t been expecting much, but this was another incredibly cool area. A field of mammoth rocks, into which caves and engravings had been cut. As we climbed around, we were in impish spirits, laughing wickedly about some truly disgusting and profane things. We thought we were all alone, but while loudly discussing CENSORED, we turned a corner and came upon a Buddhist Monk who had been using the monastery’s solitude for meditation. He lifted an eye at us, and smiled. So, either he didn’t understand what we were saying to each other, or that was one dirty monk!
If you have extra time in Anuradhapura, don’t pass up the amazing southern zone, which is almost completely ignored by tourists. It’s one of the city’s best areas.