Was Sri Lanka on your travel bucket list when the pandemic struck? The island nation is yet to open its borders to international tourism. So why don’t you use this interval to draw up an itinerary to follow when travel restarts? Here is some of our favourite sights and sounds of Sri Lanka.
Seema Malakaya, Colombo
Part of the much venerated Gangaramaya Temple, the Seema Malakaya temple is not only a place to seek spiritual solace but also a lesson in architecture. The temple was designed by one of the country’s best architects, Geoffrey Bawa, in the middle of the Beira Lake, apparently when the older temple sank in the water. Although located in the heart of Colombo, the temple is far from the urban din. The low- height wall is covered with statues of the Buddha in many poses.
Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, Colombo
You cannot miss this candy-striped mosque in a corner of the famous Pettah Market lying to the east of the city centre. Built in 1908-09, the red-and-white mosque exhibits mixed style of architecture, ranging from Indo-Islamic to Gothic. It is not easy to resist an urge to take a selfie here. However, entry to the mosque requires permission.
Gal Vihar Rock Temple, Polonnaruwa
It is not known who carved the magnificent Buddha statues on the granite cliff face but they never fail to impress the visitors to Gal Vihara in Polonnaruwa (an ancient city with its many ruins inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Of the four statues, the 46-feet long statue of reclining Buddha is the most popular.
Dambulla Cave Temple
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cave temples of Dambulla are best visited early in the morning or in the evening, as they require a bit of a climb. Also, remember to get your entry tickets before starting to climb so that you are not turned away or sent back to buy tickets. A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, according to the UNESCO citation, this cave monastery, with its five sanctuaries, is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. Over 150 Buddha statues and the murals on the cave temples are the major attractions. Carry drinking water. As you have to walk barefoot in the temples, a pair of socks may come handy, especially if the surface is hot.
If you are making the nocturnal climb during pilgrim season, usually between November and May, you will have plenty of company. The steep climb notwithstanding, Adam’s Peak is revered by Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims with each one claiming the impression of a giant foot on the top of the hill to be part of their religious belief. Even if you do not have any religious inclinations, it is worth climbing to the top to catch the dawn breaking over the countryside (the best time for which also coincides with the pilgrim season). It is said that on a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of Colombo, which is otherwise 65km away by road from the base of the hill. For the most part of the climb, you have to follow the staircase, which is lit at night in the pilgrim season and has many tea stalls en route (Indian visitors may find it similar to ascending to Vaishno Devi hill temple). The sharp descent can be a strain on the knees so do not hesitate to carry a walking stick.
Temple of the Tooth Relic, Kandy
If you want to enter this temple which enshrines the sacred tooth relic of Gautama Buddha, you have to cover yourself appropriately (hint: no bare shoulders, no exposed knees and legs, etc.). Also known as the Sri Dalada Maligawa, it is located inside the palace complex which was once the seat of the former kingdom of Kandy (a historic city now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site). The silver casket containing the tooth relic is kept on public display twice a day. Ticketed entry. Some international visitors have complained about getting ripped off at the shoe counter or by unauthorised guides.
Looking for an escape after a historical overdose? Head to Ella, located bout 200km east of Colombo, known for its scenic hills, waterfalls, tea gardens, trekking trails and more. Do not miss the Ella Gap from where you can catch a sweeping view of the southern plains of Sri Lanka. The region is also known for its home-cooked meals served in the guest houses. Located between Ella and Demodara railway stations is the famous Nine Arch Bridge (a viaduct bridge) built in the early part of the 20th century.
A relatively uncrowded beach town, its golden sands washed by the mighty Indian Ocean, Mirrissa is also the place to be if you are want to go whale and dolphin watching. Usually in January, the southern sea of Sri Lanka, between Weligama and Mirrissa, is visited by Blue whales, Bryde’s whales, Sperm whales, Fin whales, bottle-nose dolphins, common dolphins and spinner dolphins and, according to local people, may be found within eight to ten nautical miles from the Mirrissa harbour. But as always, catching a glimpse of the wild creatures, is always a matter of luck. Also, veteran travellers have warned that many of the boats which take tourists for whale watching can be overcrowded.
Although little remains of the ancient citadel built atop the gigantic rock or the enormous gate built to resemble a lion, Sigiriya has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as an early example of urban planning. You may climb to the top with the help of dizzyingly steep staircases fixed to the rock wall.
While passing through the coastal region of Sri Lanka, watch out for the fishermen on stilts, a unique feature of the island nation. According to media reports, stilt fishing was introduced by some intrepid fishermen following food shortage during the Second World War. However, according to latest reports, it is a dying practice and many who are seen perching on the poles at dawn and dusk may not be actual fishermen but people who play to the gallery to earn a living from the camera-toting tourists.