Sri Lanka has had a long and colourful past, reflected in the sprawling ancient monuments and ruins that remain. The tropical island is also overwhelmingly and varyingly beautiful, with stretches of white sands bordering cerulean seas while hours away the countryside turns into cool, deep green valleys and hills encrusted with tea bushes. The food is a highlight too – local cuisine is often made from fresh, organic ingredients and is delicious. Finally the people themselves are welcoming of all, making the country a true land of smiles.
It is also convenient that the island is relatively small, so travelling from one end to another is easy, and there is a variety of amazing experiences along the way. Here are some must-see places for any adventurous traveller!
- Kandy Esala Perahera
During Esala, which falls in July this year, Kandy hosts one of the most grand, significant and majestic parades in all of Asia. Featuring musicians, dancers, street performers including fire breathers and acrobats as well as show stopping bedazzled elephants, the Kandy Esala Perahera is one of the most exciting things to do in Kandy. The festivities last for ten days, and the once reigning capital of Sri Lanka is aglow with the lights and sounds of joyous celebrations. The term perahera means parade in Sinhalese, referring to a magnificent parade that sees the sacred tooth relic of Buddha being carried on the back of an elephant through the winding streets of Kandy as onlookers revel in the performances of the artists and thoroughly enjoy the happy occasion. After the whip crackers, who make a great noise that signals the oncoming parade, dancers and flutists who play for dynamic dancers follow, all leading the way for a few elephants bedecked in royal decoration to bear the sacred relic. The experience is a vivid one, as travellers can feel a part of the vibrant community as they view the parade that is unlike any other.
The most famous fortress in the country – Sigiriya – is also one of the most popular things to do in Sri Lanka! A meandering complex that features water gardens, caves, and steps both stony and metal that have travellers climbing up the side of a massive natural rock fortress, Sigiriya has everything going for it. Embroiled in a historical feud, the ancient ruins of the castle carry the tale of brothers fighting over a throne. The grounds were in later years handed to a group of monks, and an aura of peace has settled over the ancient stonework. Walking through the gardens leads you through a variety of ponds, some filled with water and some dry but intact. It is noteworthy that there are parts of the grounds that have not been excavated yet, but what has been laid bare is the marvellous architecture that works with its natural surroundings, making for a pleasant walking experience. Some of the highlights include the huge lion paws that protect the last staircase that leads to the rock itself, in fact the very name Sigiriya means Lion Rock! A spiral staircase that provides a stellar view of the grounds also leads you up to a cave hewn from the stone that features beautiful frescoes, thought to be queens, concubines or priestesses. The top of the rock features ruins of the palace itself, as well as a wonderful panorama of the deep green countryside. Sigiriya thus mixes adventure with a taste of history, and a healthy appreciation of both man’s skills and nature’s beauty.
- Dambulla Cave Temple
Close to Kandy and on the way to Anuradhapura is the Dambulla Cave Temple. Featuring a scenic walk up the sloping side of a rock, along with some adorable hordes of monkeys along the way, the cave temple is a relic of ages past. An immense cavern on the side of the rock, thought to be mostly natural with some man-made help, features five caves or shrine rooms that are filled with statues of Buddha as well as other important people in Buddhism history. Over 150 images of Buddha are stored in these caverns, making it a sacred place that combines art with religion. There are paintings along the cave as well, sprawling designs that speak to the talent and piety of those in the past. The combination of being cloistered in the cool caves while viewing these artworks is an awe-inspiring one.
Polonnaruwa is one of Sri Lanka’s ancient kingdoms, and the city holds a variety of wonders that will take upwards of two days to fully explore and appreciate. It is easy to bike around some of the ruins, enjoying the shade of the cool trees as you take in the sights. One of those sights is the Parakrama Samudraya, a beautiful reservoir built by King Parakramabahu the Great. It is the largest ancient reservoir in the country, and is impossible to miss. Nearby is an interesting statue sculpted from rock and thought to be a rendition of the king himself. The statue reaches the height of 3.5m and is an imposing one.
Polonnaruwa holds many ruins, including the palace of King Parakramabahu. The thick walls allow one to imagine a suitably impressive palace. Nearby is the Kumara Pokuna, a shady pool believed to have been used by royals of the household. The Nelum Pokuna, which is designed to look like a Lotus flower and features eight petals, is also beautiful. The Shiva Devale is very interesting, being the oldest structure in the city and remaining almost exactly as it was when it was built due to its stone work. Other structures of interest include the Thuparamaya image house, a heavily ornamented building, and Nissanka Latha Mandapaya, featuring unique granite columns. Viewing the abodes of royalty calls to mind the best luxury resorts in Sri Lanka, where it is possible to live like a king for a while!
The thriving city of Anuradhapura holds some of Sri Lanka’s most impressive structures, namely the Abhayagiri, Ruvanvelisaya and Jetavanarama Dagobas. Massive in scale, the latter is famous for being the third tallest structure in the ancient world, behind only two Egyptian pyramids. The dagobas reach for the sky in the shape of domes, an impressive sight to behold with the sun shining behind them. In stark contrast to the Abhayagiri and Jetavanarama which are red with brickwork, Ruvanvelisaya is a lovely, pearly white as it stands far above the trees. Anuradhapura is also home to the Sri Maha Bodhi, what is considered to be the oldest authenticated tree in the world. Grown from a cutting of a sacred tree from India, the tree has been protected for thousands of years, and calls pilgrims from all over the island. Ensconced in its own area, the tree is a wonder that is respected. Anuradhapura’s collection of ancient artefacts allows travellers to reflect upon the passage of time, appreciating the place of mankind in the time stream of the universe.
Sri Lanka is thus an unmissable travel destination. The island offers up its historical secrets for discerning travellers, enabling them to find adventure among the paths that wind through natural forests while also enabling travellers to contemplate on their surroundings, achieving peace of mind and relaxation. Opening our doors wide to guests, this lively community invites all to explore the mysteries of Sri Lanka and go on the journey of a life time!