Buddhism’s first toehold on the island, this assortment of ruined monasteries and water tanks is one of the lesser trodden gems in the Cultural Triangle.

Some of the really emotive structural ruins are easily accesible at the road level, while others are on top of a hill, a climb of almost 2000 stone steps. The last part of the climb needs to be done barefoot, and is the most challenging, especially if the day is warm. The views from the top of the hill are breathtaking, but the site is worth visiting as a short stop when you are driving to or from Anuradhapura, even if you choose not to climb up to the top.

Mihintale is the place where Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka . The story goes that Mahinda, a Buddhist missionary from India (the son of the great Buddhist Emperor Ashoka), had a chance meeting with the Sinhalese King, Devanampiya Tissa in 247 BC, who was out hunting in the hills. After the latter successfully answered a riddle, Mahinda provided teachings of the Buddha and promptly converted the king and all of his entourage.

The upper terrace (which has to be walked barefooted) has the most important structures associated with the site, namely a small dagoba or stupa marking the spot of the Mahinda’s royal meeting, the Mahaseya Dagoba reputedly holding a single hair of the Buddha and the Aradhana Gala, a rock face with iron railings, the location of Mahinda’s first sermon.

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