On one of my recent travels to Anuradhapura, as we had nothing much to do in the evening, decided to climb the Mihinthale rock to watch the sunset. Turned out that we were not the only ones who had that idea.
The rock of Mihinthale sits about 12 km from the city of Anuradhapura, and is a small mountain range which goes upto about 300 m in height. It is revered by Buddhists of Sri Lanka and is believed to be the very spot that the monk Mahinda met King Devanampiyathissa and preached Buddhism to him, on the full moon day of Poson (June). Mahinda was the son of the Indian emperor Ashoka, and was sent to Sri Lanka as a Buddhist envoy on a mission to spread peace. If you are visiting Sri Lanka during the month of June a visit to Mihinthale on the full moon day of the month could be a unique experience as Buddhist pilgrims from all over the country visit Mihinthale for religious ceremonies.
Mihinthalae was pretty quiet the day we climbed, with only a few scattered groups of locals and tourists around. But it seemed that the humans were not the only ones interested in climbing the rock. As we hiked up, we noticed many animals and birds from the surrounding woods slowly making their way to the top.
We assumed it was due to the warmth of the rock. The Mihinthale range sitting amidst a vast plain basking under the hot Sri Lankan sun absorbs a lot of heat during the day , and stays warm even as the evening cools down. It could have also been that most of the animals lived on the mountain itself, like some of the Toque Macaques (Macaca sinica sinica) we saw feeding under the Frangipani trees beside the great stairway. As we climbed the famous 1840 stairs to the middle terrace, the Macaques made their way up with us with hopes for any tidbits that we may have had for them.
We reached the top level with the biggest stupa or the Mahaseya right in time for sun set. Although the Macaques did not follow us up there, a troupe of Grey Langurs (Semnopithecus priam) scampered past us in haste, showing no interest in us at all. And the sight from the top was not disappointing. The evening sun bathing the land in red/ gold light was truly an amazing sight. But this was NOT the most beautiful sight that I witnessed that evening. No, that honor went to the Grey Langur who came up to look at the sunset!
As everyone was immersed in the splendour of the setting sun, I noticed a Grey Langur nonchalantly striding up to the edge of the rock, leaving its troupe behind near the stupa. He made sure he kept his distance from the humans, found a quiet little spot for himself, and sat down. I suppose this was the most normal thing in the world, but being there, watching this primate end its day the same way I wanted to end mine; to just sit on top of a rock and watch the sun set, spoke volumes to the hippy in me. Before I knew it I was crawling on my belly like a snake to capture this moment on my camera.
I’m sure I was projecting my human emotions on it, but I was mesmerized by the way that it reminded me of a man weary after a long day, just sitting down in some peaceful place, letting his fatigue melt away. I gazed at it for what seemed like hours, and as I came out of that moment which I could only describe as ‘zen-like’, I found that quite a few people had noticed what I was doing and were taking photographs of me 🙂 I suppose I did look a bit funny, sprawled across the ground next to a massive stupa, lost in my own world with a monkey.
The climb down was not as eventful.
We saw a White-spotted Chevrotain (Moschiola meminna) that was climbing up the rock. I don’t think the Chevrotain appreciated the encounter much, as it had a complete “deer caught in the headlights moment”, and wouldn’t move until we passed.
We climbed up to the top of the adjacent rock known as the ‘invitation rock’ for some stunning views of the Mahaseya silhouetted against the last rays of the sun, and then proceeded to climb down in complete darkness, the memory of the Langur still playing in my mind.