Footsteps at…The Aukana Buddha

Now, you may wonder why I chose to write a separate post about this particular Buddha image. Apart from being the most beautiful image I have ever seen, the shenanigans that ensued in getting us to this Buddha merits a post.

I have mentioned that this part of the country had a lot of rain over the last few days. Ravi mentioned that it was so bad in some places that roads had got washed away, and homes flooded too. Given that we had to drive past the road leading to the Aukana Buddha en route back to Dambulla from Anuradhapura, we thought we wouldn’t be affected by washed away roads, but boy, were we wrong.

As soon as Ravi turned to the road leading to the statue, he realised his car would not make it through the flooded road and so he turned around and decided to try another route, through a local village, which, as our good friend Murphy would have it was also flooded. Shaking our heads we thought that the adventure was over, until a local man walked up to us and said he knew of another way to get us to the statue. Ravi asked him if the way was safe and involved a road, to which the man answered yes, so off we went, to see the Aukana Buddha!

So, off we started, jumping across a wire fence and bashing our way through bush and bristles, all the while trying not to get thorns in our slipper clad feet (I had enough of my wet boots and so traded them for flip flops once we were done with exploring Anuradhapura). I am pretty sure that in the villager’s mind, the narrow path amongst bristle and bush was akin to a road! Bashing across, roughly 10 minutes from where we started, we finally got to a road and I thought, phew, its easy peasy from here.

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Uh uh, no. This is where the adventure took a turn of its own. The road soon came to an end, and became a railway track. I thought to myself, not too bad, I can handle this. A few minutes of walking later, I could hear the gush of water and I asked the chap we were with whether there was a waterfall nearby, to which he answered that the rain had been so heavy that the road parallel to where we were walking had now turned into a river and that was the sound we were hearing. At this point, the track came to a bend, and just as we walked along this bend I caught a glimpse of the ‘river’ he was talking about. My heart did a double flip. The only way across this ‘river’ was along the railway track, because there was no other bridge!!!

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Here comes the legendary ‘fork in the road’ story. To cross and see the Aukana Buddha, or to turn back and go to the car and drive back to Dambulla? I was awash with nervousness, excitement and panic, all at the same time. The area to be crossed was about half a kilometre long, and there were large, gaping holes between each rail slat that we had to jump over, and bear in mind that there was no railing and there was a river beneath us, with a very strong current. We asked the chap when the next train would be along, and he answered that he wasn’t sure but they were not very frequent along this route and there wouldn’t be another for a while.

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We almost turned back but something kept beckoning, so we decided to let the footsteps do the talking and took that first step, beginning to cross the slatted railway track across the river. I had Ravi holding one hand, gripping it to keep me steady and the chap holding my other hand, while I muttered under my breath, ‘one step at a time.’ And what was M doing? Videoing the whole debacle! Fool.

Thank goodness there was no train, and the crossing was over without any drama (other than than the constant chant of ‘oh my god, oh my god, oh my god’ going on in my head)!!

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The Aukana Buddha site was a 5 minute walk from the railway line, and we got there in the nick of time. The site closes at 5pm, it costs Rs 500 per person and thankfully, we still had half an hour to revel in the glory of this statue.

This image is carved from a single piece of rock, and is narrowly joined to the rock from whence it is carved by the back. The statue is 12 metres high, and carved in the blessings pose, with the power of enlightenment around its head. The best time to see the statue is at dawn, when the suns ray light up the face. The Buddha stands atop a lotus flower, but this flower is not part of the rock that the main Buddha is carved from.

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The serenity of the Buddha cannot be described, and the ensuing calm in that area is forever etched in my mind. When I try and meditate (try being the operative word here), my thoughts often float to the Aukana Buddha, and a feeling of zen and calm immediately washes over me. My footsteps were destined to see this place, my spirit destined to receive the blessings pouring forth from the outstretched hand, and not even a flooded road could prevent this from happening.

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We had to get back to our car the same way we came, and the Gods were with us because there was no train, but it did start to drizzle. The route back seemed to be shorter than the way there and we were soon at the village where we had started off. Settling into our car again, I said a silent prayer of thanks to God and our angels, who had clearly been with us as we embarked on this journey, having experienced a true slice of Sri Lankan zen, and the hospitality of her people who welcomed us to wash our feet in their homes after our trek.

The Aukana Buddha, an adventure never to be forgotten.

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