Sri Lanka has always been one of the favourite destinations of tourists. Its splendid natural and cultural heritage has attracted millions of tourists from all over the world over the centuries. However, due to the current economic and political crisis the country is facing, the tourism industry is facing a toll.
Yet, still, the island remains a paradise for tourists, with its magnificent cultural heritage, cultural diversity, and evergreen fauna and flora forever pleasing the travellers.
Today I shall tell you five of the top places that I suggest to foreign tourists who plan to visit the country or local tourists who plan to travel within the country. These are places that are with high cultural, historical, religious, archaeological, and environmental value to the island. These five places are precious gems that are so close to the islanders’ consciousness as places that define their cultural identity.
Sigiriya or the Lion Rock, to me is the crown jewel of Sri Lanka’s historical places. It is the pride of the nation and also, unofficially known as the 8th world wonder. This 5th century Rock Fortress is a man-made wonder and also a place to experience the serenity of nature. You can witness the world-famous frescoes and the giant lion paws and the ever-magnificent magical mirror wall.
The summit of the rock provides a mesmerizing view of the vicinity and if you are lucky, you can witness the sunrise or the sunset, and pay tribute to the sun god.
After its use as a political stronghold faded away, the place became home for Buddhist monastic monks. Sigiriya also has one of Asia’s oldest and finest ancient royal gardens.
Sigiriya is also filled with unsolved, age-old mysteries. Its creator King Kasyapa of the 5th century had a tragic life and death. Sigiriya is also a place where many other historical tragedies and murders happened.
To the visitor, there are many places to walk around and enjoy including the caves, monastic and palace ruins, ruins of the fortress, frescoes, graffiti, ponds, and gardens.
Dambulla Cave Temple
A magnificent gallery of ancient wall paintings, Dambulla is one of the finest specimens of Sri Lankan paintings and sculptures. Known to be a temple that was started during the Anuradhapura period by King Walagamba (103 BC and c. 89–77 BC), the temple continued to flourish under the royal patronages of kings up until the Kandyan kingdom.
Dambulla is a cave complex turned into a large Buddhist temple. The many caves are all decorated with exquisite wall paintings depicting Buddha’s life and Buddhist history. The caves are also filled with delicate and graceful statues of the Buddha, deities, and bodhisattvas.
Its location and the natural environment provide a soothing, and serene experience to the traveller, and an opportunity to be closer to mother nature.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic known as the Sri Dalada Maligawa at Kandy is the utmost sacred Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. It is the place where the Buddha’s sacred tooth relic is kept. This sacred tooth relic was the symbol of the sovereignty of the Sinhala kingdom after its arrival on the island in the 5th century CE. Hence, many invaders crossed the borders of their territories to get hold of the sacred relic and surrender the island nation.
After being held at many temples in the country, the sacred relic was finally placed in Kandy, Sri Lanka’s last capital. The present temple was built by the king Sri Veera Parakrama Narendrasinghe (1707–1739) and it displays extraordinary architectural features of that time.
The most interesting aspect of this place is the fascinating and mystic culture and traditions that are woven around the sacred relic. The pinnacle of these traditions is the Esala perahera which is held during August every year. This magnificent pageant is something you must not miss.
One of the world’s oldest urban centres and one of the few capitals of the world that continuously lasted as a capital city, Anuradhapura is surely the most sacred city for Buddhists in Sri Lanka. It is where the sacred bo tree and the most sacred Ruwanwali stupa are located.
Anuradhapura reigned as the capital of Sri Lanka for almost 15 centuries, the city that is responsible for the culture and civilisation of Sri Lanka.
First planned and built as a capital by King Pandukabhaya (37 BC to 367 BC) it lasted as the capital till the 11th century CE. Anuradhapura’s urbanisation dates two or three more centuries back, approximately to the 9th century or so, as it was revealed at the Citadel excavations.
It is also the home to a great irrigation system that has always awestruck the world. Giant stupas that only surrender in size to the giant pyramids of Giza are at Anuradhapura, yet their sacredness surpasses the pyramids for the devotees.
This spectacular city is also home to an uncountable number of classical arts and architecture. One can also witness the calmness and beauty of nature by spending an evening at an ancient man-made tank.
Located at the far end of the island, at the Jaffna peninsula, Delft is an islet where mother nature resides. It is blessed with beauty. The bright white beaches, corals, and turquoise oceans are a traveller’s delight. The wild horses that freely roam the place are a beautiful sight one must not miss.
Also, the ruins of an ancient fort made of corals and limestone, fighting a never-ending battle against the sand brought by the wind create a picturesque vision contrasting against the bright blue sky.
Delft also is home to an Anuradhapura period monastery with a few stupas which is believed to be built during king Devanampiyathissa’s time, when Arhant Sanghamittra (Emperor Asoka’s daughter) arrived with the sacred bo sapling.
By Ama H. Vanniarachchy