Mihintale is truly a magical place, surrounded by mist, burning incense and Buddhist hymns, the atmosphere here is just mystic and so appeasing.
Built in the first century BC, this site is really important in Sri Lanka History and has a huge signification in Buddhism History. It is there, that, in 247 BC, King Devanampiyatissa from Anuradhapura met Mahinda, son of the Indian emperor Asoka. Devanampiyatissa then decided to convert to Buddhism, that’s how the religion appeared and spread in Sri Lanka. Later, he founded a sacred city to commemorate the event. From Mihintale, also called Mahinda Mountain, only a couple temples and ruins remain, mostly located on top of a hill, in the heart of the city.
1840 steps will lead you to the temples still standing, on the way to the top, there are some hidden ruins and amazing viewpoints over the neighborhood jungle. The dagobas and statues have been extensively renovated, which is a bit disappointing because everything looks new apart for the parts too old to be repaired, mostly pillars. There’s only one dagoba well preserved but not restored like new, it’s located before the level where you buy the tickets. There’s no sign pointing to it, roughly, when you buy the ticket there are two ways in, one with stairs and one with a path accessible by tuk-tuk, it’s along the second way that you’ll find it, it’s on your right side going down, through the bushes. After the dagoba, on the right side, there’s an amazing viewpoint, you’ll have to climb a bit but it’s worth it. Ask around if you don’t find the place.
The dagoba mentioned above:
And the viewpoint:
You can hire a guide if you want to have more explanations about the ruins, Buddhism and the all the symbolism attached to the religion. They usually speak good English, you can also find people speaking French, Italian, German… but their accent is often terrible. I always prefer to ask them to speak English, because I just don’t understand the French version. There are always some of them waiting at the entrance, agree on the price first and on the time they’ll spend with you. They are really persistent if you don’t hire them and might just follow you around and give you explanations anyway, and of course they expect money. My technique is to tell them I only took money for the entrance fee and the tuk-tuk ride and even if I wanted to I cannot pay them. It usually works.
The best time to visit Mihintale is for sunset, arrive around 4 pm, it takes about 2 hours to visit the site. Because the site is on a hill, the view is really amazing, there’s a big rock you can climb to. They built stairs and a ramp but if you look on the side, there are some small square holes in the rock, that was what they used as stairs back then. It’s impressive, they really weren’t scared of falling. From up there, if it’s clear, you’ll be able to see the old capital Anuradhapura, and the Mahakanadorawaan reservoir. It is the perfect spot to watch the sunset.
The place gets really crowded during the Poson full moon around May-June. In Buddhism and also Hinduism, the full moon, called Poya in Sri Lanka, is always an important day. In Sri Lanka, the full moon days are considered as holidays and almost everything closes down for the day. It’s a time to pray, make offerings and take on pilgrimages.
Mihintale is really a must in Sri Lanka, the atmosphere is just so unique, visiting sacred places in Sri Lanka is always a very spiritual moment, even to me, who’s far from the religious type. The places are always so peaceful, with people chanting, flowers everywhere and the smell of frangipani incense following you around.
To get to Minhitale, you can hire a tuk-tuk from Anuradhapura or if you want to go cheap take the bus, but it doesn’t drop you off right on top so you’ll either have to hire a tuk-tuk or walk (it’s doable). Be careful of the wild dogs during night time, people often get bitten there, so once the night has fallen try not to walk, just take a tuk-tuk. The security people at the ticket booth probably won’t let you go by yourself anyway. If you get into a bad situation with dogs, don’t be scared, they will feel it and know that they are also scared of you, that’s why they’re barking. Just pick up a big rock and they’ll probably just run away, they know what the rock means. But don’t worry you’ll be fine just avoid the parking lot at night.
You can visit Anuradhapura and Mihintale on the same day, you’ll be tired but it’s doable.
Interested in visiting temples? Check out my list of 10 must-see temples in Sri Lanka.
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