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Golden Temple of Dambulla
Temple of the Tooth

Indian Subcontinent >> Sri Lanka >> Sightseeing in Sri Lanka

Sightseeing in Sri Lanka

Though a small country, Sri Lanka has quite enough to keep a visitor occupied for a few weeks. There’s a lot to see, including old forts, museums, temples, viharas, churches, wildlife sanctuaries, beaches, and more.

Located two and a half hours away from Colombo on the road to Kandy is the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, a great favourite with visitors to Sri Lanka. Orphaned baby tuskers are looked after by foster parents in this government run sanctuary. The babies are a big draw and best hours to visit the Orphanage are bath and feed times - 0915 to 1200 and 1315 to 1600.

Besides the capital Colombo and the hill city of Kandy, there are few other cities of importance in Sri Lanka. Colombo is the capital, and therefore has an economic, political and cultural significance all its own.

Kandy, which defied foreign conquerors for many centuries, is the second largest city of Sri Lanka and a culturally vibrant place. Easily one of the best known, and most sacred of Buddhist shrines in Sri Lanka, the Temple of the Tooth at Kandy is a World Heritage Site. It dates back to the 16th century and houses a relic of great significance – a tooth believed to be that of the Buddha. During the lunar month of Esala (July/August), the Esala Dalada Perahera festival is celebrated with a procession, and is a spectacle worth seeing, complete with drummers, dancers and richly decorated elephants.

Some towns in Sri Lanka are famous purely for 'tourist value’ – places like Bentota and Hikkaduwa are known mainly for their sunny golden beaches and their coral reefs. Sri Lanka’s best known beach resort, Hikkaduwa has an attractive coral reef, golden beaches and plenty of opportunity to swim, scuba dive, surf or go snorkelling. There are also tours in glass-bottomed boats, especially in the area of the 'coral sanctuary’.

The second highest mountain in Sri Lanka (2224 mts high), Adam’s Peak is also known as 'Samanalakande’ ('The Mountain where butterflies go to die’) and 'Sri Pada’ ('Sacred Footprint’). Adam’s Peak is sacred to most Sri Lankans, of whatever faith – Christians believe that it is the place where Adam first set foot on Earth; Buddhists hold that the 'footprint’ at the top of the peak is that of the Buddha, while Hindus believe that it is Lord Shiva’s mark. Thousands of pilgrims have been trekking up the peak for more than a 1000 years. Adam’s Peak lies 65 km from Colombo, the nearest settlement being Dalhousie.

Outside of Colombo and Kandy, there are plenty of tourist attractions. Towns of historical importance include Negombo which was under Dutch control for a long time, and still has many reminders of Dutch rule – in the form of old buildings and canals, Galle, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa - the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka.

205 km from Colombo is Sri Lanka’s first capital, Anuradhapura, established around the 4th century BC and inhabited for over 1000 years. Its exquisitely carved stone remains lie to the west and north of the modern town of Anuradhapura. Extensive temples, tanks and ponds form part of the city complex, of which the holiest site is the Sacred Bo-Tree, which is believed to have grown from the tree under which the Buddha received enlightenment.

Sigiriya, one of Sri Lanka’s many forts, is different in that it is not of European origin. It was built in the 5th century AD, and stands at the top of a 200 m high rock embankment. It is unique in some ways: there are some amazingly good rock paintings of women (the only non-religious old paintings discovered so far on the island), there are water gardens, and there is even a graffiti wall over 10 centuries old!

Galle is for those who are interested in the colonial side of the island. 115 km south of Colombo, it is a port that had a major Dutch presence for a long time. Galle has a huge 36-hectare fort (in perfect condition even today) built by the Dutch, and inside it are Dutch houses, museums and churches, all in excellent repair.

Situated 309km from Colombo is Ruhuna (Yala) National Park, Sri Lanka's most visited game sanctuary. Spread over 1200 sq km Yala enjoys the added bonus of a scenic waterfront and picturesque lagoons. Known best for its elephants it also has leopards, boars, peacocks, sambar and a variety of migrant birds. Rent a 4WD and park near a waterhole at dawn or dusk to see the wildlife. Other national parks in the country are Uda Walawe National Park (170km from Colombo), Wasagamuwa National Park (200km from Colombo), Horton Plains National Park (200km from Colombo), Bundala National Park (260km from Colombo) and Gal Oya National Park (360km from Colombo).

Two fairly well known cities – Batticaloa and Jaffna – have been off the tourist map for more than a decade now, due to the warfare raging between Tamil insurgents and the government troops.

Even while travelling within Sri Lanka, from one town to the next, you’ll come across interesting surprises- spice gardens, tea estates sprawling over the hills, gem pits, cashewnut groves, strawberry fields, temples and much more. Just keep your eyes open!

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