Anuradhapura is the ancient capital of Ceylon, one of the eight UNICEF World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka and one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. For centuries, it has also been a Buddhist shrine, a place of pilgrimage, and perhaps the largest concentration of important and historic temples on the island. Many tourists come here. I was there too, but during my stay in Anuradhapura… birds and dragons prevailed.
In a very old city
Of course, I also visited the temples called Dagoba. In the old part of the city they have a large selection, they are famous for various reasons: from the remains of the Buddha and ancient statues to additional attractions such as the bat colony in Isurumuniya or the beautiful sunsets in Mihintale. The temple is located outside the city. I also came across the end of the visit of the President of Sri Lanka in a modern dagoba dedicated to the memory of war heroes. We owe this trip – during my time there – uninterrupted electricity, because in Sri Lanka, electricity is normally cut off 2-3 times a day. During an official visit to Anuradhapura to ensure uninterrupted electricity, electricity was saved in neighboring provinces, where it was put into operation three days a week for three days.
From the 3rd century BC to the 11th century AD, Anuradhapura was the capital of the kingdom of Sinhala in the northern part of the island. According to chronicles, the city was founded by Prince Pandukabhaya in about 380 BC (you just have to get used to the long and difficult names in Anuradhapura!). According to legend, the city began with a visit to Sri Lanka by the Indian prince Sangamitte, a Buddhist nun who brought a tree strain meditated by the Buddha himself. The sacred tree planted at that time still grows in one of the temples of Anuradhapura (!).
Thor Heyerdahl, who once conducted archeological excavations in another dugout, Ruwanwelisaya, claimed that the rock blocks used to build this giant stupa probably came from an earlier Buddhist temple that worshiped the sun. Anuradhapura has always had many temples – Dhatusena, one of the 113 kings who ruled here, built at least eighteen new temples. Unfortunately, I could not visit all of them and – I admit – I did not try very hard. A fairly expensive entrance ticket to the old part of Anuradhapura is given for only one day and forces tourists to rent a taxi or tuk-tuk (motorized rickshaw) and travel hastily away from the site. It was hot. I found quite a few temples, a meditation area, and the Bronze Royal Palace (of which 1,600 columns and a small reconstruction remained). And I returned to the lake.
On the lake
My hotel in Anuradhapura was right next to the lake. It was a lake where many people fled early in the morning, young people gathered after school around noon, and in the evenings were crowded in the surrounding bars and restaurants, setting tables on the shore. There were also cyclists, family trips, and fishermen fishing from the shore or wooden boats. My hotel was a little off the road, but the alleys around the lake were never empty.
Nevertheless, many birds lived in and around the lake. It has always been – from the smallest, for example, yellow crows in Asia, small ants or common crows, to the largest through Chinese and nocturnal birds: white, gray and purple. They sat in boats and rails, fished in the bushes near the walkways, or sat in all the herds on the islands or in the pile of bushes on the lake. Herons were accompanied by vultures, as well as daggers – amazing birds that only floated with their heads out of the water and actually looked like floating snakes. In the evenings, other large birds, such as storks, ibis, and even eagles, were brought to the lake to spend the night.
The trees and bushes around the lake were also crowded with birds: several species of pigeons, noisy lizards, cuckoos – large colored cuckoo birds – and somewhat similar cats “Ceylon magpies”. There were also long-tailed fly hunters who resembled birds of paradise, local bee-eaters, and strange, colorful trout that ate orioles or fruit. Water roosters ran in the same way as runners, and red hunters – royal fish with bright, turquoise-red feathers – hunted from branches hanging over the water. In addition to birds, there were palm squirrels, mongooses and … dragons everywhere in Sri Lanka.
The latter swam in the lake the most. These are giant lizards up to 1.5 meters long, monitor monitors, as well as widespread in Ceylon and not so closely associated with the Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizards.
About dragons, dogs and cows
Larger monitors are slightly smaller than Komodo dragons in size. But when they saw them swimming in Lake Anuradhapura, they did not look like a small species. An impartial observer can easily confuse a dragon jumping into the water with a crocodile. And he wouldn’t be so wrong, because in the lake in the center of the city, monitors played a role similar to that of crocodiles – they were the main predators of reptiles. They did not attack humans, but the birds in the lake no doubt needed protection. In shallow water, I saw dragons hiding in water roosters and lizards roaming along the shore. One of them, disguised as the side of the boat, could clearly feel the birds on the boat.
The reptile’s head came out of the water, causing initial horror. Probably not only me. The owners of my hotel had a dog, to be more precise – the gray-faced bitch was not younger. He was usually very quiet, friendly with hotel guests, and kindly ignored everyone: hikers, runners, cyclists, cats and other dogs, birds and squirrels. However, seeing the monitor approaching the shore, the woman jumped up and ran to the edge of the lake, barking so loudly and persistently that the flowing lizard changed its route and walked away. In this sense, the old female dog was extremely strong – no monitor lizard was allowed to go ashore near the hotel where it was guarded. The hotel owner said he was also very vigilant – he had long since decided to keep the dragons out of his herd, and he remained faithful to it.
He was no exception. When I chose to face the dragon floating on the other side of the lake, I saw that the other dogs were moving in the same way, and they simply did not run away. However, those dogs also barked at people, and the hotel female dog had no enemies other than large lizards.
To add color to the city lake in Anuradhapura, I would like to add that cows and buffaloes were grazing on its banks. In Sri Lanka, cattle are traditionally grazed on water bodies where grass is better. However, in Anuradhapura, the shores of the lake were heavily colonized by juice bars, cafes and small restaurants, especially in the afternoon, when there were many visitors. You had to share. So one evening I leaned my heavy head on the table and drank juice with a cow sitting at the next table.
No one chased him, although he did not order anything …