Lankan rhapsody

Asian Paradise

Lankan rhapsody

From ancient Buddhist temples and sprawling tea estates to pristine beaches and cultural activities, Sri Lanka is every tourist’s dream destination. Amrutha Varshini explores the country steeped in history and culture.

When we planned our first international trip, excitement was natural and contagious. We chose our close neighbour, Sri Lanka, to be our first destination abroad. It seemed as though we had walked into a replica of India. On our first day in Lanka, we set off towards Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. We got our timings just right and were fortunate to witness herds of elephants bathing in the soothing river. We then visited Dambulla Golden Temple where we saw hundreds of statues of Buddha positioned across six caves, at the top of a hill. The majestic view from  the top was a treat for the eyes.

Next day, we explored the remains at the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, which was the highlight of the day. I could feel the rich history of 800 years that lay hidden in the ruins. Spread over 25 km, the city consisted of a lake, fort, palace, Tupasama Temple, Nissamka Mantapa etc. The palace, which was in ruins, is believed to have had over 300 rooms, as the king had more than 200 wives. Buddha’s tooth relic was preserved here for a few years, but was later moved to Kandy. Our next stop was at Sigiriya (lion’s rock in Sinhalese), which is a place with a large stone, ancient rock fortress and palace ruins in the central Matale District, surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs and other structures.

A popular tourist destination, Sigiriya is also renowned for its ancient paintings, which are reminiscent of the Ajanta caves of India. It was used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from the 5th century BC, with caves built and donated by devotees of the Buddhist Sangha. The entrance to the top of the palace was built in the shape of a lion’s mouth and is one of the eight World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.

Culture vulture

Our journey took us next to Kandy, which was 85 km away. The vibrant city reminded me of Vasco in Goa. We got a rare opportunity to witness a cultural show in Kandy. Exotic mask dances, the rhythmic throbbing of drums, and the fiery ritual dances blended to conjure a living picture of the centuries-old dance tradition of Sri Lanka. The beat of the drums was irresistible, the cadence exquisite, almost hypnotic. The fluid movements of traditional dance mesmerised the audience. One of the highlights of Kandy city was Batik, what we call boutique. The colourful clothes and painting strongly reflected the details of wonderful workmanship.

Our next hop was Nuwara Eliya, a hill station, which is considered to be the most important location for tea production in Sri Lanka. The city is surrounded by Pidurutalagala, the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. After a brief tour around one of the many tea factories in Nuwara Eliya, we visited Sita Amman Kovile. Legend has it that this is where Sita was held hostage by Lankan king Ravana in the Ashok Vatika. We then headed towards Yala National Park in Tissa Maharama. The park covers around 979 sq km, and is the most visited park in Sri Lanka. Including Sri Lankan elephant, 44 species of mammals have made Yala National Park their home and it has one of the highest leopard populations in the world.

Heritage calling

The drive from Tissa Maharama to Tangalle the next day featured the panoramic view of the low, rounding hills. The lush greenery was alluring, enhancing the exotic aura of the mystic East. The Dutch Town in Galle comprised a mosque, lighthouse, the Dutch Reformed Church, the old Dutch government house, the National Maritime Museum, residence of the Commander, and the Great Warehouse built around 1669 to store spices and ship equipment. The town is also home to several places of worship including the Meera Mosque built in 1904, Buddhist temple built at the site of Portuguese Roman Catholic Church, the All Saints Anglican Church built in 1871, and the Clock Tower Galle Fort, which was built by the Portuguese in 1588. The Dutch Town is a historical, archaeological and architectural heritage site, which even after more than 423 years, maintains a polished appearance.

The next day saw the oceanic side of Lanka. We went to Hikkaduwa Beach where we ventured into the sea in a glass boat, saw beautiful coral reefs, varieties of colourful fish and huge tortoises. With a lot more to explore, our next stop was Bentota, which offered a glimpse of Sri Lankan nature with a river boat cruise.

The last day of our trip, we spent sightseeing in the largest city and the commercial, industrial and cultural capital of Sri Lanka — Colombo. The main city is home to a majority of Sri Lanka’s corporate offices, restaurants and entertainment venues. Famous landmarks in Colombo include the Galle Face Road, Viharamahadevi Park, Mount Lavinia Beach, the National Museum established on January 1, 1877, Gangaramaya Temple, which is surrounded by an artificial lake, and the Old Parliament and Independence Square. Cannons that were once mounted on the rampart of the old fort of Colombo are laid out for observance, giving a colonial touch to the city.

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