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7 Must Visit Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka

Article by Sakie Ariyawansa

Apart from the everyday talk of the tropical climate and golden beaches, Sri Lanka is equally famous for many heritage sites that reveal its true identity and uniqueness. These sites are of either cultural natural or historical significance which keeps the travellers’ eyes glued to them throughout the year and are absolute marvels.

Anuradhapura Ancient City

The first ancient capital of Sri Lanka and the one to have lasted the longest as the main city of the country, Anuradhapura is a home to a collection of man-made amazes. A soil that has seen numerous episodes of the many reigns and the art and culture that developed with the influence of Buddhism is still a place visited, as a historical or religious tour by many. The right wing branch of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, under which Siddhartha is said to have attained enlightenment, is also placed in Anuradhapura showering its blessings upon its disciples. Being one of the greatest and sustainable civilizations in Asia, Anuradhapura is a discovery itself for archaeologists, with its historical monasteries, stone carvings, irrigation systems and Stupas. The kings of Anuradhapura built these monuments as in to defeat each other in creativity.

A full-fledged tour of Anuradhapura would take one minimum 8-10 days, not missing a soothing dip in the lakes that lie almost everywhere. Though the weather is fine all around the year, April and September would treat you the best with a moderate temperature. Make sure to spend a full moon night at Ruwanvelisaaya premises, a large Stupa and complex built by King Dutugemunu and let your soul be set free with the calm surroundings.

Polonnaruwa Ancient City

Polonnaruwa is usually a combined trip along with Anuradhapura, and is friendly during any time of the year. Both Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa have decent hotels for lodging, but homestays or guest houses have become trendy. Of course, who would not want to taste home-made local curries over fresh brown rice!

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Sigiriya, a citadel, a fortress that is one of the most remarkable symbols of Sri Lanka known for its astonishing location, breath-taking view and phenomenal technology used.  It is located in Central Sri Lanka, in Matale District. Sigiriya in name, stands for the Lion Rock. It is also considered as the eighth wonder of the world. King Kashyapa had built his palace complex on top of this rock, well protected from enemy threats. The remains of the castle building prove that there were water fountains which carried the water to a height of about 200 metres. The terrace gardens that brought the natural bliss closer to the residents of the palace had been well watered and nourished. The skill of the rock carver is second to none, that is clearly visible off the lion gate on the way to the peak of the rock.

The mirror wall, a polished parapet on the rock wall, is filled with poetry and phrases inscribed by the ancient travellers on the way up the fortress on the glamour of the palace and the thoughts that crossed their minds of its elegance. Sigiriya frescoes that bring a picturesque liveliness to the walls of the rock reveal the talent of the ancient painter. These are said to have close resemblance to Ajanta cave paintings and are of ladies whose identity is a mystery till date.

February to April is the best time to visit Sigiriya. The site opens at 7 AM. The climb is quite challenging, but if one does not stop to look at things for long, it will not take more than 30 minutes to reach the top. Food joints around Sigiriya could be a bit expensive if you are on a budget holiday, so it is best to get back to the city to treat your hunger pangs.

Dambulla Cave Temples

A 30 minute ride from the Sigirya rock fortress is the Dambulla cave temple which is also known as the Golden Temple of Dambulla. It is the largest and best preserved temple complex in the island, and depicts the life of Buddha by the means of statues and paintings. The 5 caves in the complex consist of 150 Buddha statues, kings and Hindu Gods. The cooling interior of the caves protects the peacefulness and serenity for the traveller to indulge him/herself in the detailed purity of the art of the Dambulla era. The temple dates back to 2000 years back but yet inspires the one’s eyes with its grandeur. Visiting the caves in the early morning is advised to avoid the crowd and heat. 

Sigiriya and Dambulla can be covered as a one day trip where Dambulla can be visited in the morning and Sigiriya in the evening. Both the attractions are well connected by a bus route that runs throughout the day. The temple opens to the public from 7 AM till 7 PM.

Kandy: Heart of Sri Lanka

The last kingdom of Sri Lanka, subject to many controversies, stands in Central Sri Lanka. Home to the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha, a temple built within the Royal Palace Complex has made Buddhists from all across the world visit it. The relic had its vital role in the scenario of politics of Sri Lanka, whereas the one who bears authority of it is entitled to be the ruler of the country. Therefore the protection of the sacred relic took immense efforts of the kings at that time to continuous sustainability of the governance.

The best season to visit Kandy is preferably during the months of July-August, where the Esala Perahera; a colourful procession where the sacred tooth relic is carried upon tuskers, dressed and decorated in glimmering garments for the view of the many spectators on both street sides. Both local and foreign tourists fill up the roads to witness this glamorous event, which includes various traditional dances and musical performances.  Kandy city is a blend of Sinhalese architecture as well as Portuguese, Dutch and British touches. Much of the freedom fights was witnessed by Kandy, where the revolution for independence from the British was demanded under much bloodshed of the local civilians.

The Kandy city is great for a walk, and souvenir shopping. It is also a place which has quite a collection of dishes considering the variety of communities who are its residents.

The 3 hour train journey from Colombo to Kandy is recommended and is also very relaxing!

Galle

Galle is a must visit in any Sri Lankan itinerary. The reason is its fresh sea breeze and contemporary look and feel due to its colonial era remains. Galle was the main port on the island at the time of the arrival of the Portuguese. Because of its perfect location and ease of access the Portuguese, Dutch and the British took intense advantages of it, by using it as a fort and a surveillance point.

Galle is now developed as one of the major tourist hubs, while preserving its architecture influenced by the previous colonial reigns. Leading restaurant chains have entered into the Galle Fort, due to the heavy footfall of tourists into the area, offering them warm dishes of fresh seafood and cooling beverages. Galle is also very popular for its beaches and parties and is much similar to the Goa city of South India. The main attraction sites of Galle are the fort, the lighthouse, marine museum and the Dutch hospital which is now a shopping precinct.

Sinharaja Forest

Nature has its own undefeatable beauty at all times. Proving this, the Sri Lankan heritage sites list has given space to the famous Sinharaja Rainforest as well. Home to many endemic species, the forest reserve is located between the Sabragamuwa and Southern provinces of the country.  Wildlife may not be clearly visible in the forest because of its dense vegetation but is has a vibrant wildlife of amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects. Planning a visit to this rainforest should be done very carefully taking into note of the heavy rainfall to the area. January-March is known as the driest months of all so would be the best time to pay a visit to this nature kingdom.

As well as exploring its awe the travellers should also be careful not to harm or disturb the eco system. Safety precautions such as boots, full body covering outfits and a medicine kit is advised to be carried with you.

So what is still stopping you from not booking your tickets to Sri Lanka? Isn’t it a worthy package of all kinds of attractions? Go ahead and plan that holiday and have the time of your life in this small island, with a big trip!