It was five minutes past 10 and streets of the town were completely empty. “Why haven’t we figured by now that Sri Lankans go to bed at 10pm?”, I asked myself banging the guest house door. A pushy tuk-tuk driver followed us from the train station offering a room at his ‘brother’s’ hotel. A few weeks in Sri Lanka made it pretty clear that all Sri Lankans have a ‘brother’ or ‘cousin’ with a hotel room for you. We wandered from hotel to guest house for another hour until managed to wake up the two-meter tall, bearded owner  of one place, wearing only his sarong.

When a Dutch engineer and a group of locals discovered Borobudur in the jungles of Java, at almost the same time but 3700 km away, a Cornish chemist wrote about the former capital of Ceylon, Anuradhapura. Now a small village, in the midst of a desert, but still considered a sacred spot. After a makeover and the addition of a price tag, voilà a UNESCO heritage site is ready to please.

Top of Ruwanwelisaya stupa in Anuradhapura.
Black faced macaques grooming on a tree after harassing dogs and stealing their food.

The town is divided in two, new and old, the old is where the UNESCO site is established with tourist-friendly infrastructure. The new part of town (new in a loose sense of the word) is miles away from the tourist sites, but is the centre of local commerce.

Old man squeezing his clothes near the lake before taking a bath and washing his clothes.


Gampola entered the turbulent history of Sri Lanka’s ancient kings following the introduction of Buddhism and the increasing influence of Hinduism from Southern India. Although formerly Sri Lanka’s capital, today it’s a fairly standard modern Sri Lankan town with a quiet pace of life.

Man working in the fields before heavy rain.

Gampola is surrounded by mountains and is around 20km away from Kandy. Its Disney-like white tower, with an external spiral staircase that often disappears into the low cloud, can be seen from miles away. We were heading to the Dabathgama view point and other than that, there is little else to visit here.