Sunday, June 9, 2013

Travel Monday: Luscious countryside, rock temples and cave treasures

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.
~ Martin Buber

Sri Lanka is an island that is rich for exploration and discovering the unexpected. In my experience a simple ride in a tuk-tuk, a walk through a forest or a drive off the beaten track can lead you to ancient places, untouched natural beauty and surprising experiences.

At one extreme we can plan our travels with a set destination and mapped out journeys down to the nth degree. At another there are only loose plans attached to a general sense of direction and a feeling of adventure.

This trip was one of the latter.
On a quiet morning we left Anuradhapura in a tuk-tuk in search of an adventure. Before our trip we had discussed heading towards Vavuniya and what we'd heard about the area between Anuradhapura and Vavuniya.

It had been raining on-and-off so the countryside was beautifully luscious and green, which was very pleasing to the eye. 

Even with rain, traveling in a tuk-tuk ensured we could still continue our journey on "difficult" roads.

About 25kms north from Anuradhapura (and halfway to Vavuniya), we came to the town of Medawachchiya. We had heard of an impressive ancient rock temple in the area that peaked our interest, but we didn't exactly know where it was located. After asking a few locals we eventually found our way to the Issenbessagala Purana Ruwangiri Rajamaha Viharaya, also known simply as Issivaru Bessa Gala Temple.

I haven't found much written about this particular rock temple, however, I have heard some people say they believe Arahant Mahinda visited this place before going on to Mihintale.

It is not a difficult climb to ascend to the rock temple, but undoubtedly it was a bit of a challenge given the wet conditions and moss growth making it slippery.

The views from as we climbed up were gorgeous. You could see for miles...

We explored the rock temple slowly. The site was relatively well maintained and there were various shrines as well as the main dagoba.

You could easily leave this place with a feeling of discovery after time spent atop the rock temple. However, we decided to explore a little more by descending using a different path from where we ascended the rock temple. There were some steps carved into the rock face making it a little easier to descend, however it was still quite slippery so I tread carefully on the way down. 

To our surprise, there was a sign for an "Arahath Cave" tucked away once we got to the base of the rock. It led us to a cave built into the rock. You could see that a modern brick wall and door had been built to protect the cave.

We took a peek inside and were amazed at the interior. It was bright, colorful and murals had been painted onto the upper cave walls. It wasn't clear if these were ancient drawings or if they had been drawn in more recent times. There wasn't anyone around when we visited and it didn't look like it had been used. There was however, quite a pleasant energetic feel to the place. It made me think there hadn't been that many people venturing to visit the cave, and hence why it was still well maintained. In some ways that made me glad. It also made me consider the relative merits of blogging about the place!

As you can imagine, we felt light and happy in our hearts as we left Issivaru Bessa Gala. It's certainly a wondrous thing to travel, explore and discover something you didn't expect to see.

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