Sacred City of Anuradhapura, Lankarama Dagoba, Sri Lanka, Asia, panoramic photography by travel and panoramic photographer Matthew Williams-Ellis

The Sacred City of Anuradhapura

According to recorded history Anuradhapura is the first great capital of the Sinhala society, this extensive city still holds relics of architectural ruins of ancient kingdoms and Buddhist temples not witnessed in most parts of the world. Be prepared to embrace history the minute you step into this sacred city; Anuradhapura. It’s the base of ancient Buddhist civilization in Sri Lanka and an ancient city with a rich heritage in history, culture, politics and religion.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a deep insight into the life and times of Sri Lanka’s majestic kings and the engineering and architectural potential of the times. Anuradhapura is one of the three stunning locations in the Cultural Triangle.
The most famous monument is the ruins of the Brazen Palace and the Ruwanweliseya built by King Dutugemunu in 164 BCE. Anuradhapura is one of the three stunning locations in the Cultural Triangle.In the Mahamegha Uyana it houses the Sacred Bo-Tree or Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest authenticated sacred tree, which is said to date back to BCE and planted from a sapling from the holy tree under which The Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment.

Another magnificent sight is the Jetavanaramaya, considered the largest Dagoba in the world. The city is spread with ruins of ancient Dagobas and other sites of religious significance. Their complicated carvings and sculptures are remarkable and the ancient stones speaks of the days of yore when the city was ruled by brave kings presided over by Buddhist clergy. Pilgrims from around the world flock to Anuradhapura as it is regarded as a place where Buddhism is safeguarded for humanity.
It is so unfortunate that the city finally decline in importance due to foreign invasion and went into disorder as Polonnaruwa gained in prominence in the 10th century AD. A complete Archaeological Museum located in the city offers a greater understanding of the city’s unique monuments.
The city remained the capital for almost 1,000 years and during the height of its rise, commands tremendous respect and influence in the world. There is little to do in the city apart from visiting the ancient temples, monasteries and tanks. A visit to Anuradhapura leaves the visitor with a sense of wonder and history so deep that the experience lingers long after the visit.

The Medievl Capital of Polonnaruwa

Mahawamsa and Culavamsa speak of Pulasthipura; the early historical name of Polonnaruwa; a UNESCO world heritage site, has a great history of conquest and struggle behind it and rightfully forms the third element in the Cultural Triangle. Located about 140 kms north east from Kandy, Polonnaruwa offers hours of endless pleasure for history and culture lovers, as there are numerous sights of significance.

Polonnaruwa became the capital of Sri Lanka subsequent to the decline of Anuradhapura and witnessed the Sinhala Buddhist civilization reaching much greater heights. The vast irrigation network with reservoirs that looks like inland seas sustained such classic balance in rice cultivation, during the rule of King Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 AD) and Sri Lanka came to be known as the Granary of the Orient. The main attractions are the conserved ruins of glorious royal palaces, massive Buddhist temples, and unbroken monuments in colossal statues carved from sold rock boulders.

Polonnaruwa, with its conserved ruins and renovated ancient irrigation reservoirs is a “must visit” destination of Sri Lanka. As much as the conserved cultural monuments would enlighten the tourists, the wild life sanctuaries in the district of Polonnaruwa affords ample opportunities for the joy and fun in the close range of wild elephants, other mammals to the lovers of wildlife. At the city of Polonnaruwa the largest ancient irrigation reservoir called Parakrama Samudra (the Sea of Parakrama) which is always lovely, and with the excess of birdlife, it is seldom that there is not something interesting going on upon its shimmering expanses of waters.
Polonnaruwa is located in between Wildlife at Minneriya National Park, Wasgamuwa National Park, Kaudulla National Park and Eco Hotels at Kandalama & Habarana.

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The Sigiriya Rock Fortress

One should not miss the breath-taking experience of Sigiriya, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982. The rock of Sigiriya is located 22 kms North-East of Dambulla in the North Central Province. From the third century BCE, Buddhist monks occupied Sigiriya, but it said that it was only after King Kasyapa seizing the throne in 487 AD the palace and gardens were built and the rock fortified. (Debated)

Once you enter this Asia’s oldest landscape garden, you will see the well-kept balanced Water Gardens consisting of the remains of four L-shaped pools either side of the main walkway, which were once used for bathing, each one connected by underground channels. Surrounding them are four fountains, still active during the rainy season, which are fed by gravity from the moats and reveal the early sophistication of the design here. Other features you will pass on the way up are Octagonal Pond, Boulder Garden, Audience Hall, Cistern, the beautifully painted Sigiriya frescoes. There are 22 frescoes today out of the original 500 frescoes which have been protected in a depression in the rock from the wind and rain. The paintings are believed to be of Apsaras, heaven-dwelling nymphs. The Mirror Wall; It was once clearly covered with graffiti; their poems and thoughts written by visitors dating from the sixth century, though a lot has faded now and some of the wall has broken away. This has been very important for experts studying the development of the Sinhala language over the years. The huge lion’s claws through which there is a stone staircase to continue your climb, is possibly the most significant feature of Sigiriya, and gives the rock its name. From the summit you can observe the breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views of Pidurangala Rock, the Sigiriya Wewa and Mapagala Rock. On the summit lies the ruins of the Royal Palace built for the King Kasyapa. Although few ruins still remain such as a pool, an eastern, sunrise-facing throne constructed from solid rock, and remains of other buildings and royal gardens. It is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Sri Lanka and the world over. However this is how the colonial historians make up their story.

The Royal City of Kandy

The last capital of Sri Lanka, the history of Kandy evokes images of riches, marching elephants and much pomp and pageantry. Colombo, Kandy is amongst a hilly terrain and all eyes are drawn to the centre of the city, where the Kandy Lake forms a charming feature. It’s one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. Kandy was last home to the Kandyan Kings of yore in the 19th-century and a fountain for all the music, arts, crafts and culture in the country. Taking in a performance of Kandyan Dancers is rather like floating on an unending wave where rhythm and movement become one against the backdrop of the throbbing drums.

Kandy retains great religious significance for Sri Lanka. It is in this charming city that the Dalada Maligawa or ‘Sacred Temple of the Tooth’ lies well guarded since the attack on its building by terrorists. The best time to visit Kandy would be in July/August when you can experience the annual Kandy Esala Perahera, an unforgettable parade that reflects the pomp and pageantry of kings and more significantly, an occasion when a replica of the relic casket is paraded. Almost 100 elephants parade along the main streets of the city, bedecked with ceremonial gear and are accompanied by dancers and drummers for over 10 fascinating days.
Even if you miss this spectacle, there are many more sights and sounds in Kandy that will hold your attention. The Peradeniya Botanical Gardens invite visitors to a learning experience about flora and fauna and some majestic trees that can be traced back to centuries. A visit to the National Museum once again highlight the city’s royal past and is well worth a stop. The Malwatta and Asgiriya Monasteries house ancient manuscripts and other treasures from a bygone era.
Kandy is an exciting place for shopping and a well-known centre for elaborate brass, bronze and silver ware. Batiks, handlooms, ceramics, jewellery, reed ware and jewellery are other readily available items. This hill capital is at the heart of the island’s history and identity and no visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a stop-over in Kandy.
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The Cave Temples of Dambulla

Dambulla is also part of the Cultural Triangle and houses the Great Dambulla Cave Temple declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located 78 kms north of Kandy, the Dambulla caves date back to the 1st century BCE. Originally it was the refuge of King Valagambahu, and the caves were later converted into a rock temple. It houses beautiful frescoes and an imposing 15 metre-long reclining Buddha. Hindu deities are also represented in these caves. The caves are considered to be the finest storehouse of Sinhala art and sculpture.

Dating back to the 1st Century BCE; is the most impressive cave temple in Sri Lanka. It has five caves under a vast overhanging rock, carved with a drip ledge to keep the interiors dry. In 1938 the architecture was inflated with arched walkways. Inside the caves, the ceilings are painted with intricate patterns of religious images following the contours of the rock. There are images of the Lord Buddha and Bodhisattvas, as well as various gods and goddesses. The temple is composed of five caves converted to shrine rooms. The caves, built at the base of a 150 metre high rock during the Anuradhapura (1st Century BCE to 993 AD) and Polonnaruwa times (1073 to 1250), are the most impressive of the many cave temples in Sri Lanka.
Access is along the gentle slope of the Dambulla Rock, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding flat lands, which includes the rock fortress Sigiriya, 19 kilometres away. Families of friendly monkeys make the climb even more interesting. Dusk brings hundreds of swooping swallows to the cave entrance. The largest cave measures about 52 metres from east to west, and 23 metres from the entrance to the back, this spectacular cave is 7 metres tall at its highest point. Hindu deities are also represented here, and the kings Valagamba, Nissankamalla, and Arhant Ananda – the Buddha’s most devoted disciple.
Within these shrine rooms is housed a collection of one hundred and fifty statues of the Buddhist Order and the country’s history. These statues and paintings represent of many eras of Sinhala art and sculpture. The Buddha statues are in varying sizes and attitudes – the largest is 15 metres long. One cave has over 1,500 paintings of Buddha covering the ceiling.
The Dambulla cave monastery is still functional and remains the best-preserved ancient structure in Sri Lanka. This complex dates from the 3rd and 2nd Centuries BCE; it was established as one of the largest and most important monasteries. King Valagambahu converted the caves into a temple in the 1st century BCE. Exiled from Anuradhapura, he sought refuge here from South Indian usurpers for 15 years. After reclaiming his capital, the King built a temple in thankful worship. Many other kings added to it later and by the 11th century, the caves had become a major religious centre. King Nissankamalla gilded the caves and added about 70 Buddha statues in 1190 AD. During the 18th century, the caves were restored and painted by the Kandyan Kings.
A hike to the highest Rose Quartz Mountain Range in South Asia offers the pleasure of a striking view of the neighbouring area for miles around. With a history spanning over 1,000 years, the Jathika Namal Uyana, also known as the Ironwood Forest, offers a fascinating trek through a deep jungle comprising of the Sri Lankan national tree, the Ñá Tree. The forest is of important ecological enormity and is the focus of studies by ecologists and students of nature.
The Dambulla Rock offers a scenic view of the surrounding area, including the rock fortress of Sigiriya which is 19 kilometres away. Visiting Dambulla can be combined with Sigiriya as the two sites lie in close proximity to each other and tourists can avail of some world-class hotels well located near these sites.

The Dutch Fortifications at Galle

This fortified harbour city is a poetic blend of eastern architecture and another UNESCO World Heritage site. Galle was an ancient seaport, a centre for trade along the silk route, where possibly large shiploads of spices and silks were exchanged for precious gems and the rubies. As a strategically located ancient seaport, Galle has strong Chinese, Moor, Dutch, Portuguese and British influences. The town has an old-fashioned feeling and a stroll at leisure through the ramparts of the fortress area carry you back to another era as it were.

The city houses ancient churches, such as the Groote Kirk, the oldest Protestant church in the Island. Galle also houses Dutch-style old manors with complex lattice work; unique to Dutch architecture. A climb up the 18-metre high lighthouse is a rare treat for tourists. The Dutch entrance to the fort has its emblems adorned on it with ‘VOC 1669’ carved in the inner archway and is still in operation. Besides traders and entrepreneurs, there are records of visits by important historians such as Ibn Batuta, Fa Hein and Marco Polo.
Many locals were converted to Christianity by the foreign invaders and some of the Dutch and Portuguese cuisine has found its way into Sinhalese cuisine in the coastal areas. Interestingly, Baila music was first introduced in Galle and has become a part of the southern Sinhalese and their celebrations are not complete without the catchy tunes that find the young and old circling to the exciting beat. Galle can also prove to be a treasure trove for antique hunters and some interesting curios can be acquired here.
The multi-ethnic nature of the city attracts many tourists and the Galle Literary Festival held annually is an event that attracts literary personalities of international and local reputes as well as others who flock to the scenic city for a week’s literary pursuits. Galle is the capital of the Southern Province of Sri Lanka and lies in close proximity to popular beaches of Hikkaduwa and Bentota.
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The Sinharaja Forest Reserve

Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park and a biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka. It is of international significance and has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The hilly virgin rainforest, part of the Sri Lanka lowland rain forests eco region, was saved from the worst of commercial logging by its inaccessibility, and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a World Heritage Site in 1988. The reserve’s name translates as Kingdom of the Lion. It is a treasure trove of endemic species, including trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Because of the dense vegetation, wildlife is not as easily seen as at dry-zone national parks such as Yala.

There are about 3 elephants and the 15 or so leopards are rarely seen. The commonest larger mammal is the endemic Purple-faced Languor.
An interesting phenomenon is that birds tend to move in mixed feeding flocks, invariably led by the fearless Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and the noisy Orange-billed Babbler. Of Sri Lanka’s 26 endemic birds, the 20 rainforest species all occur here, including the elusive Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie. Reptiles include the endemic Green pit viper and Hump-nosed vipers, and there are a large variety of amphibians, especially tree frogs. Invertebrates include the endemic Common Bird wing butterfly and the inevitable leeches. Peaks; Pinipitigala; Mulawella
Source: Sri Lanka Heritages Foundation

Central Highlands of Sri Lanka

Peak Wilderness sanctuary is the third largest natural reserve of the 50 reserves that are in Sri Lanka. Peak Wilderness sanctuary is a tropical rain forest that spreads over a land of 224 square kilometres around the Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) mountain. A huge forest area that belonged to the Peak Wilderness was cut down and cleared during the British colonial rule in Sri Lanka (1815-1948) to gain land for the massive tea estates which are still functioning in Nuwara Eliya district. The remaining portion of the Peak Wilderness was declared a wildlife sanctuary on October 25, 1940.

 

The contours of Peak Wilderness vary from 1000 to 7360 feet above sea level. Therefore, it possesses unusual geographical formations compared to the other natural reserves of the Island. Bena Samanala (6579 ft), Dotalugala, Detanagala, is some of the taller mountains in the Peak Wilderness. It is also the birthplace of Kelani, Kalu, Walawe rivers and many tributaries of the river Mahaweli which make waterfalls such as Dotalu Falls, Gerandi Falls, Galagama Falls (655 ft), and Mapanana Falls (330 ft) inside the sanctuary.
Out of the 3 access routes; Hatton, Kuruwita and Palabaddala routes, which Buddhist devotees and other tourists use to reach the Adam’s Peak, Kuruwita and Palabaddala routes go right across the Peak Wilderness sanctuary. This forest area is entirely under the control of Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Department. It does not maintain any lodge, bungalow or such type of facility for tourists inside Peak Wilderness sanctuary in order to safeguard the purity of this forest. Yet, there is no restriction for eco-tourists to enter the sanctuary after obtaining permission from Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Department. Entering the sanctuary during the rainy season is at the tourist’s own risk because of the unforeseen downpours and instant floods lead to life-risk situations.
It is located within the Sabaragamuwa mountain range in the Central hills. There are no specific boundaries for the Peak Wilderness sanctuary. Most boundaries are marked by plantations owned by the Government and the private sector. The eastern boundary is clear and connected to Pidurutalagala mountain region and Horton Plains National Park.
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