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The best of Sri Lanka
January 31, 2016, 10:57 am
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With a geographical outline like a pear and refreshingly idyllic surprises everywhere on the island, Sri Lanka rightfully claims to be the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’.

This small island has big wonders in store for the tourist. See the world’s oldest living tree in Anuradhapura, stand awestruck by hundreds of elephants gathering in Minneriya, meditate in a 2000-year-old temple, exchange smiles while strolling a mellow village, marvel at exotic birds and wildflowers, try to keep count of the little dishes that come with your rice and curry or stroll past colonial gems in Colombo, and all this before hitting the many glorious beaches and phenomenal surf. 

Places to visit:

Colombo: Sri Lanka's capital and largest city, Colombo, is at first glance a confusing jumble of bustling streets, modern office blocks, peeling colonial buildings, and downcast apartments. Besides this, there are also fine restaurants, a buzzing nightlife scene, good museums, parks, and beautiful Buddhist temples. The beach resort of Mt. Lavinia is only a short taxi ride from the downtown area and offers a golden, sandy beach and sunset views to die for. As an exciting blur of colors and cultures, Colombo presents a neatly packaged microcosm of this island nation.

 

Hill country and Kandy: Occupying the island’s southern heartlands, the sublime green heights of the hill country are a world away from the sweltering coastal lowlands – indeed nothing encapsulates the scenic diversity of Sri Lanka as much as the short journey by road or rail from the humid urban melee of Colombo to the cool altitudes of Kandy or Nuwara Eliya. The landscape here is a beguiling mixture of nature and nurture. In places the mountainous green hills rise to surprisingly rugged and dramatic peaks; in others, the slopes are covered in carefully manicured tea gardens whose neatly trimmed lines of bushes add a toy-like quality to the landscape, while the mist and clouds which frequently blanket the hills add a further layer of mystery.

 

Galle: At first sight, Galle is an endlessly exotic, bursting with the scent of spices and salty winds, and yet also, with its wonderful collection of Dutch-colonial buildings, a town of great beauty. Classic architecture melds with a dramatic tropical setting to create a reality that is endlessly interesting. Above all else, Galle is a city of trade and, increasingly, art. Today the historic Fort area is crammed full of little boutique shops, cafes and hotels owned by local and foreign artists, writers, photographers, designers and poets – a third of the houses are owned by foreigners.

 

Ancient cities: Crumbling temples, lost cities and sacred sites are reason enough to head up country to the cultural heartland of Sri Lanka. It was here on the hot central plains that ancient Sinhalese dynasties set up their capitals and supported massive artistic and architectural endeavors. Eventually these kingdoms fell, giving nature a chance to reclaim the land.

For more than a century archaeologists have been slowly shedding the many layers of history from this overgrown landscape. The rock fortress at Sigiriya, the monumental dagobas of Anuradhapura and refined carvings of Polonnaruwa are but a few of the sites now considered national treasures.This region is commonly called the ‘Cultural Triangle’. Besides the amazing ruins, save time for the national parks, which team with elephants and outstanding birdlife.

 

Anuradhapura: The ruins of Anuradhapura are one of South Asia’s most evocative sights. The sprawling complex contains a rich collection of archaeological and architectural wonders: enormous dagobas, soaring brick towers, ancient pools and crumbling temples, built during Anuradhapura’s thousand years of rule over Sri Lanka. Today several of the sites remain in use as holy places and temples; frequent ceremonies give this place a vibrancy that is a sharp contrast to the ambience at Polonnaruwa.

 

Sigiriya: Rising from the central plains, the iconic rocky outcrop of Sigiriya is perhaps Sri Lanka's single most dramatic sight. Near-vertical walls soar to a flat-topped summit that contains the ruins of an ancient civilization, thought to be once the epicenter of the short-lived kingdom of Kassapa, and there are spellbinding vistas across mist-wrapped forests in the early morning.

 

Adam’s peak: Located in a beautiful area of the southern Hill Country, this lofty peak has sparked the imagination for centuries and been a focus for pilgrimage for more than 1000 years.

Famously known as Adam’s Peak (the place where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out of heaven), some believe that the huge ‘footprint’ crowning the peak belongs to St Thomas, the early apostle of India.The pilgrimage season here begins on poya day in December and runs until Vesak festival in May. During the pilgrimage season pilgrims and tourists alike make the climb up the countless steps to the top.

 

Tangalle: Lapped by lazy azure waters, the coconut-colored beaches around Tangalle are simply astonishing. Tangalle itself marks the dividing line between the picture-perfect tropical coves that dominate much of the southwest coast and the long, wave-lashed beaches that one will find in the southeast corner of the island.

 

Mirissa: Crack open a coconut, slip into a hammock and rock gently in the breeze. Of all the bigger Sri Lankan beach resorts, Mirissa is the favorite of many visitors. In general, this is a place for sitting and being rather than doing.

 

Festivals:

Sri Lanka's tooth festival: The Festival of the Tooth, Esala Perahera is celebrated in the Sri Lankan town of Kandy every year in the month of Asalha (July). Legend has it that when Buddha was cremated in the 5th century BC, one of his followers took a tooth from the pyre. The holy tooth was later smuggled to Sri Lanka, where King Megavanna was so happy to have the religious relic on his island that he had it paraded through the city for his subjects to marvel at.

The sacred tooth relic, which is now housed in the Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, is paraded annually in a procession using a replica casket and has become one of the famous events of the Buddhist world. The festival is a time of great rejoicing for the locals as well as foreigners who come from far and near to be a part of this festival.

 

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