Anuradhapura Durian Desert


Durian season is pretty much over. There are a few regions that still have some durian, but it's tough to find and the quality is questionable. We goofed and spent our time in Vietnam, when we should have been here in Sri Lanka! Everything happens for a reason, and it's not like we totally missed Sri Lankan durian. So we're taking the opportunity to fill the durian vacuum in our lives by exploring some parts of Sri Lanka where there is never any durian.


Anuradhapura was once the thriving capital city of Sri Lanka. The great Sinhalese kings ruled here from the 4th century BC until the 11th century AD. Durian wouldn't be introduced from Malaysia for another 500 years. More importantly, Anuradhapura was the site at which the son of Buddhist king Ashoka first brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka. The city is surrounded by ancient and present-day monasteries and is still considered a sacred place.

The ruins span an area 16 miles square, so Rob and I rented bicycles to explore. I really miss my bicycle, so it has been a joy to be back on two wheels again! One day we rode 12 km to Mihintale, a small mountain jutting out of the flat, dusty land. There's a path along the man-made Nuwara Wewa lake which took us about 5 km out of Anuradhapura and on to Trincomalee Road, which is a straight shot to Mihintale.

I love the colors of the landscapes here, the way the red earth highlights the green of the trees. After a pleasant, although dusty ride, we had a nice time wandering around the ruins of the ancient hospital in Mihintale. We chose not to pay the 500 rupees each to walk to very top of the mountain, as the view was already great. It seems like here in Sri Lanka you pay for the last few meters.

We'd been told we would have to pay $25 each to visit the Anuradapura ruins. A wily tuk-tuk driver offered us a day in the ruins for 6,500 rupees ($50), including his tuk-tuk and guide services. He said he could get us past the ticket officers. Later I heard another tuk tuk driver offering tourists 4,500 rupees. We thought this was really strange, but learned from travel websites that it's pretty common practice among tuk-tuk drivers. All we could think of was that maybe the drivers had made agreements with the guards.

Sri Maha Bodhi Tree
 Being botanically minded, we were mostly interested in visiting the Sri Maha Bodhi Tree, the oldest known cultivated tree in the world. The Sri Maha Bodhi Tree is a scion (cutting) taken from the fig tree in India under which the Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. According to the ancient texts, it was brought to Sri Lanka and planted in 288 BC, making it the oldest living angiosperm (flowering plant).

We didn't feel like paying the $25 entrance fee, so we decided to see how close to the Boddhi tree we could get for free. Turns out, those tuk-tuk drivers don't have any special deals with the guards, because there basically are no guards. Anyone, including us, can just wander in to the ancient city. You have to pay 200 rupees each to actually enter the temple of the Bodhi Tree, but we were satisfied by the view from the outside. There were so many enormous, ancient trees throughout the ruins that the Bodhi Tree looked small in comparison. Once again, it seems like you pay for the last few meters.

Monk on shore of Basawkkulama Tank
I've really been enjoying the clean air, dry heat, and afternoon breezes of this region. It's quiet, with little traffic and beautiful sweeping landscapes dotted with the giant upward spikes of the Buddhist Stupas pointing toward the hazy skies. If only there was durian, it would be perfect!

That said, Rob and I are planning to head back to Kandy in a few days to see if we can find any of the remains of durian season. It's been nearly two weeks now since we tasted durian, which is a record for us on this trip. We've both been hankering for it, so we'll take one last go at searching for Sri Lankan durian. Mmmmm.

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