The oldest and most famous, is situated in the North Central plains, just 200 km to the north of Colombo. Set in 40 square km is an Architectural wonder of Ancient ruin, surrounded with Monastery and sculpture! Settled in the 4th Century BC, by the Indo Aryans, it stood for 15 Centuries till it fell to Chola invaders .It was the seat of Sri Lankan Royalty and became an influential political and cultural centre in South Asia. Recent archaeological discoveries have unearthed evidence of Pre Historic cultures, pre dating the advent of the Aryans.
To the south is the second oldest of Sri Lanka’s Ancient Kingdoms. It has a history as old as Anuradhapura. The Chola invaders moved the seat of Power from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa in 1029 till they were expelled by King Vijayabahu, who re-established the Sinhala lineage in 1070. It was the seat of power and administration for two more centuries, till the throne was moved south to the Yapahuwa kingdom in the 15th century, due to its susceptibility to Northern invasion.
It has a beautiful architectural design with one of its main features is the vast reservoir built by King Parakramabahu and rings the city and still functions to this day irrigating the surrounding paddy fields. It is replete with beautiful ruins and exquisite sculpture and is one of the world’s best maintained cultural heritage sites and a definite must visit.
SIGIRIYA, the lion’s rock further south is one of the best preserved examples of Sinhala cultural Heritage, selected in the 5th century CE by King Kasyapa as his Royal capital; it was abandoned at the end of his tragic reign and functioned as a monastery till the 14th century. It has a beautiful structure and design. From its ascent, past the mirror wall with its beautiful murals and through the gigantic Lions paws to the summit and surrounded by ancient ruins of the Royal palace set amidst ancient royal gardens, and the magnificent view of architectural and engineering genius landscaping the surrounding countryside will leave the visitor astonished. It is a completely justified visit!
Dambulla at the centre has one of the best preserved cave temple complexes, dating from theist first century BC and still functions and follows monastic traditions to this day! It has over 8 documented caves, the major attractions are the main five, set under a massive over hanging rock, carved with drip ledges to keep the interiors dry one can see one of the largest Mural works depicting the life of the Gautama Buddha, covering the walls and roofs of the caves, splendid architecture and statues of the Buddha, sculptured out of native rock, with a few Hindu Gods, with many being added over the centuries. There is archaeological evidence, to show that there have been cultures much earlier than the Indo Aryans and beyond 7 century BC, during the following Centuries, Dambulla became one of the centres of Buddhist traditions, and culture in Asia!
Kandy to the south, once the capital city of the Sinhala kingdom, till it fell to the British raj and brought to end 2300 years off the Sinhala Dynasty and the longest unbroken monarchic rule in History, set in the central plateau it is surrounded by lush hillsides and tumbling rivers. The Temple of the sacred tooth relic, is the most hallowed Buddhist site in the world and is the centre of the Nations Buddhist culture and tradition .The yearly exposition of the sacred relic carried through the streets of the City, on brilliantly caparisoned Elephants with great ritual and grand pageantry is Asia’s grandest spectacle and can only be witnessed in Sri Lanka. Blended with all of this is the nostalgic memories of a colonial past with its vistas of hill sides carpeted with the emerald green Tea shrubs, and hotels clinging to the mountain side and valleys, with distant villages like miniature child’s toys. A visit to the botanical gardens is another luxury any one can afford!
The sacred footprint, Adams peak, Samanala kanda. A bit further to the south west is the most famous location in Sri Lanka and written about by ancient Historians. Referred by all religions with all claiming the sacred footprint as their own ancestors or deities. It’s silhouette visible at sunrise from all along the South western seas, was like a beacon and a magnet to adventurers and to seafarers travelling from the west. Legend has it, that Alexander the Great visited in his search for paradise. Evidence to this claim are the giant chains of Metal and copper riveted into the hillside. It is a peak, set separate from the Central massif and its great environmental importance, is its surrounding peak wilderness. A climb for the fitter visitor with the promise of the view at dawn of the shadow of the Peak, falling over the western plains, rushing to meet the astonished visitors eyes. It is generally cold and warm clothing and plenty of water would be advisable!
The Lions Kingdom, is a hilly rainforest reserve with an incredible bio-diversity and was declared a UNESCO Bio-sphere site in 1978 and a UNESCO world heritage site in 1988. Its wild life is not evident due to its lush vegetation but, endemic monkey and other species can be observed but it is home to 20 of the islands 26 endemic species of birds, there are several endemic species of amphibian and reptiles with more being discovered every day. Its virgin rain forest is made up of several endemic species of plants and is renowned for several species of Orchids. It also has several invertebrate species, with beautiful butterflies a sure encounter. It is a world on its own! Make sure you keep an eye out for leeches!