Top 3 Best Tourist Destinations in Sri Lanka

Are you sick of the maddening rush of your city and want to leave behind all your works and deadlines then plan a Holiday in Sri Lanka where you can spend some amazingly relaxing moments on a hammock so that you can let go all your anxieties and stress? It is quite fair to state that a trip to Sri Lanka is all-time ultimate healers as being an island country it is packed with glimmering and pristine beaches, picturesque topography, and mosaic landscape. Besides such scenic splendors, this drop-shaped island country is packed with platforms offering adventurous activities like trekking and surfing and this all makes it a perfect holiday destination for all kinds of travelers.

01. Kandy

Kandy Lake, Kandy
Kandy Lake, Kandy [Image Source]

Kandy is nestled at an elevation of 488.6 meters above the sea level and midst of the scenic hill country along the River Mahaweli. It was the last Kingdom of Sri Lanka between 1592 and 1815 A.D. when finally the British captured its last King. Still, Kandy has not lost its significance for the natives and can be seen as the core of the cultural identity of the Sinhalese people due to many successful defenses of the British colonial power.

Different names were given to Kandy throughout history as Senkadagala and later in the 18th century Mahanuvara (“the great city”) which is still used by locals today. In the late 15th century it was known as Kanda Uda Pasrata or “the five counties of the hills”, which the Portuguese shortened to Kanda and the British changed to Kandy. Brahmin inscriptions indicate that even at the beginning of the Christian era Kandy and its suburbs were inhabited. The highland also called Malaya was not only a place of refuge but also an independent territory.

Four legends are told about the rising of the city Senkadagala of which the most popular is about the Brahmin Senkada who lived in a cave observing a fight between a mongoose and a cobra. As soon as the mongoose was running away the Brahmin told of the rare incidence to the King, who decided to build a palace on the auspicious place. 1592 the famous tooth relic was brought by Vimaladharmasuriya I. to Kandy. In the following seven Kings Reigned over the Kandyan Kingdom before the last King was captured by the British 1815.

Attractions in Kandy

The Temple of the Tooth Relic also known as Dalada Maligawa

The legend tells that the tooth of Buddha was taken when he was lying on his funeral pyre and smuggled to Sri Lanka in 313 A.D. in the hair of the Indian princess Hemamali, who escaped from the Hindu army which pressured the kingdom. The temple was built by Vimal Sharma Suriya I., who brought the sacred tooth relic to Kandy. His successor expanded the two Storeyed construction by one Storey to treasure the precious relic. The octagon called Pattirippuwa, which shelters an oriental library today was constructed on the order of the last king of Kandy, who used it as a resting place. The great gate’s doorsteps are adorned with a typical Kandyan moonstone (Sandakada Pahana) a symbol you will always find at the entrance of any temple in Sri Lanka. The hidden part of the moonstone represents the side within us, which is free of outer and inner restrictions, our free will. The two-story temple comprises the lower chamber and the upper chamber, where the seven-tooth relic caskets enclose the valued treasure. To the right side of the octagon, you will find a shrine room in which a precious crystal Buddha image is placed.

Entrance Fees

Full: $ 10 (€ 7.50)

Three significant temples around the Tooth Temple

  • Gadaladeniya: The first temple to visit is the Gadaladeniya which is built on a rock and was completed in the year 1344 A.D. Pursuant to the inscription the architect was Indian and therefore gave the temple a South Indian appearance. In the main shrine room, you will find a seated Buddha with gods on either side. The image of the Buddha of the chamber was destroyed by the Portuguese. Unfortunately, the decorative paintings of the Stupas were a restaurant in a defacing way. Still, the main shrine contains all important features of an image house.
  • Lankatilaka Viharaya: The same road will lead you to another temple attraction in Kandy, the Lankatilaka Vihara. Again its architect was South Indian. The temple was constructed on an uneven stone surface with brick and granite. According to the architect, the temple is a continuation of the Polonnaruwa period with Dravidian and Indo-Chinese characteristics. A magnificent flight of steps is leading to the temple’s entrance. The legend tells that a monk observed how a golden bowl was floating on the sky, which was seen as an auspicious sign for building a temple at that place. The main building of the temple houses various Buddha statues and is surrounded by shrines of Hindu and native deities.
  • Embekke Devale: The excellent wooden architecture is dedicated to the god of Kataragama or Skanda. As a visitor, you will be attracted by the wood carvings on the pillars and the roof. Almost destroyed by ants and beetles they were repaired in 1948 with the help of talented local craftsmen. It is said that the original artwork was created in the palace of Gampola which was ruined by the Portuguese. A huge variety of Kandyan symbols is presented on the pillars showing images of dancers, dragons, fictitious animals, musicians, entwined swans, peacocks, and many others.

02. Anuradhapura

Abhayagiri Vihara, Anuradhapura
Abhayagiri Vihara, Anuradhapura [Image Source]

The epic tradition of the island tells that Prince Vijaya from India was the founder of the island kingdom and founder of the Sinhalese or people of the so-called lion race about 500 years before Christ. At a later date, King Pandukabhaya succeeded Pandu Vasudeva which was the successor of Vijaya and established Anuradhapura as the capital in 380 B.C. It remained the capital of the royal kingdom for almost a thousand five hundred years. Anuradhapura was built on the banks of a river and with its construction, King Pandukabhaya himself gave a mature model of city planning.

In the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (250-210 B.C.) the famous Buddhist emperor Ashoka sent his son Mahinda with a group of missionaries from North India to Sri Lanka to introduce the new doctrine to King Tissa which embraced Buddhism and built the first Dagoba commonly known as Stupa in Anuradhapura which enshrines a Buddha relic. To show his gratefulness he furthermore gifted Mahinda the royal garden and saw that the Bodhi tree was planted, which was brought from Central India. To aid the agricultural he built the water tank in Anuradhapura.

The following King Elara, a South Indian Tamil remained in Anuradhapura for forty years. Instead of Stupas, he built forts to stabilize his position. From 161-137 B.C. Dutthagamani reigned the kingdom and built almost a hundred Viharas, two famous examples (Maha Thupa and Maricavatti Thupa) in the capital. After the Tamils were defeated the largest number of Viharas was built. A very popular one is the Abhayagiri Vihara with the Abhaya Giri Stupa, which is the tallest Stupa of Anuradhapura and the oldest brick building in the Old World.

Anuradhapura was not only famous for its Stupas but also for the unique hydraulic system which was splendidly constructed by King Mahasen and initiated by a predecessor. He built reservoirs and tanks to divert the water for agriculture. The great Minneriya tank is over twenty miles in circumference.

For information about the main attractions also view the post ‘The eight main Attractions of Anuradhapura

Entry Fees

Full: $ 25 (€ 18.50)

Half: $ 12.50 (€ 9)

Attractions in Anuradhapura

  • Sri Maha Bodhiya: The daughter of the Indian emperor Ashoka brought the Bodhi tree to Sri Lanka where it was planted 249 B.C. The legend refers to the Indian branch of the Jaya Sri Maha in Buddha Gaya in India where Buddha experienced enlightenment during meditation. It has been told that the world-famous Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura is the oldest surviving historical tree worldwide.
  • Ruwanwelisaya: The breathtaking Dagoba Ruwanwelisaya which means gold-dust was built in the second century B.C. when the Tamil King Elara was defeated by Dutugemunu (also called Dutthagamani). With a height of 250 feet, it was considered to be the third-highest brick building in the ancient world but destruction through invaders was lowered to 180 feet. In the last decades, the Dagoba was Restaurant several times and has reached a height of 351 feet. The facade is decorated with many stone elephant statues while the inside of the building houses a shrine with somebody relics of Buddha.
  • Thuparamaya: The word Thuparamaya compounds the words Stupa and Arama, which means monastery. It is the oldest of the Stupas in Sri Lanka built by King Devanampiya in the third century B.C. The legend of the ancient Stupa tells that Mahinda, the founder of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, wanted to return to India for worshipping the Buddha relics there. After a conversation with the King, who didn’t want Mahinda to leave Sri Lanka it was decided to build a place where the relics can be worshipped. As a There of the kingdom, he obtained the right collar bone of Buddha thus leading to the construction of the Stupa.
  • Lovamahapaya: Lovamahapaya was built in 150 B.D. by Dutugemunu (also known as Dutthagamani) as the monk’s residence for a Buddhist university. Due to the astonishing appearance of the building archeologists were irritated for it was built as a religious university to learn and practice modesty. Thus it was suggested that the monks who remained were the ones who have chosen the path of inner silence, after experiencing all the luxury around them consequently would have realized the impermanence of all the things they were surrounded with.
  • Abhayagiri Dagoba: The Dagoba was built during the reign of King Vatta Gamini Abhaya known as Valaga Mba (89 – 77 B.C.), back then 300 feet high, but in the following fell in disrepair and couldn’t be reconstructed to reach its original size again and now stands to an height of 230 feet. The legend refers to a Jain monk whose heritage stood at this place in the first century B.C. This Stupa and the surrounding area housed the northern monastery. Buddhist monks lived here and developed institutions for religious teachings, which supported the dissemination. Abhayagiri can be seen as religious as well as a national symbol since it signaled the end of the Brahmin and Jain is in the ancient city.
  • Jetavanaramaya: This Stupa was built by Mahasena at the end of the third century A.C. with its original height of 400 feet being the tallest of the ancient Stupas worldwide and the third tallest structure behind the great pyramids of Giza. The monastery was leaning towards Abhayagiri in spreading the Buddhist message and is furthermore a representative of the tensions between the two discordant branches of Buddhism, the Theravada, and Mahayana Buddhism. Almost 100 million baked bricks were used for the construction of this enormous building, which shows a significant development of the ancient Sri Lankan engineering.
  • Mirisawetiya Stupa: The Mirisaveti Stupa is situated in the West of Sri Maha Bodhiya in the ancient city of Anuradhapura. It was built after the Chola King Elara from South India was defeated by King Dutugemunu (also called Dutthagamani). It was told that the King left his scepter with the relics of Buddha inside to take a bath and as he returned couldn’t move the scepter from its place. In the following, this became the place where the Stupa was built.
  • Lankarama: As the Abhayagiri Dagoba the Lankarama Dagoba was built by King Valagamba (also called Vatta Gamini Abhaya), who ascended the throne after defeating the Tamils once again. You can see ruins as stone pillars around the Stupa which indicate that there was a building around it. Close to the Stupa, you will find the Elephant Pond (Eth Pokuna) which is still provided with water by the ancient canal system.
  • Isurumuniya Vihara: This rock temple is set in a beautiful surrounding and predominantly known for its rock carvings. Before entering you will marvel at the magnificent elephant carvings done above the water line at the right side of the temple. Next to the shrine door, you will find a carving showing a man with a horse looking over his shoulder. After entering you encounter a seated Buddha in a niche of the rock underneath a Makara arch. The museum next to the temple exhibits more interesting carvings mostly admired ‘The Lovers’ of Isurumuniya.
  • Ranmasu Uyana: What you see here are the bathing pond and chambers of the queen with artistic elephant carvings and a sophisticated hydraulic. It’s embedded in beautiful nature next to mysterious rocks with inscrutable engravings interpreted as a stargate to other worlds. On top of the rock, you will find a small man-made crater where the medicine was ground.

03. Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Dambulla
Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Dambulla [Image Source]

200 meters above the surrounding landscape the former fortress of Sigiriya emerges on a massive rock as natural beauty and historical monuments and displays Sri Lankan architecture tradition in the most astonishing way. Evidence of prehistoric habitats was found in the Aligala Rock-shelter established to the east of Sigiriya Rock. Already in the third century B.C. Buddhist monks settled around the rock.

Sigiriya is also part of Sri Lanka’s political history as in the ending fifth century the king Dhatusena I., who ruled from Anuradhapura was the victim of a palace coup of his son Prince Kassapa and Megara, the king’s nephew and army commander. As the prince was attacked for his patricide he moved the capital to Sigiriya when it got its present name ‘Simha-Giri’ or ‘Lion Mountain’.

The fortress on the reddish gneiss rock was assumed to be impregnable; nevertheless, King Kassapa I. was assassinated in his short-lived but glorious kingdom. Thereafter it was returned to the monks. Still, the ruins are giving a good impression of the splendor of this kingdom.

On the summit, you will find the former fortified palace, the cisterns, and rock sculptures. Halfway up the rock after passing by the mirror wall you will encounter the famous rock paintings described below. At the foot of the rock lies the evidence of Sri Lanka’s advanced hydraulic technologies which are unique in Asia. Take your time to stroll through the water gardens, terraced and boulder gardens of Sigiriya.

The Legendary Frescoes

The fabled frescoes of the Sigiriya complex data back to the fifth century. They show apsara or celestial nymph known as a favored motif in the religious and royal art of Asia. The paintings have been interpreted in numerous ways. One of them suggests that they portray the women of Kassapa court in a devotional procession which was later questioned by a historian due to different traditions of region and period. According to other historians, it is more likely that the ladies were models for Sigiriya artists and reflects life and beauty ideals. Another interpretation gives the idea of Lightning Princesses and Cloud Damsels as an image of divine royalty.

Water Gardens

Sigiriya gives an example of the oldest landscaped gardens worldwide. The largest water garden contains a central island surrounded by water in a well-known ancient garden form, of which the one in Sigiriya is one of the oldest maintained examples. The Fountain Garden operates on a simple principle of gravity and pressure. On a rainy day, it works even today. The third water garden lies on a higher level and embodies an extensive area of terraces and halls.

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