The Cultural Triangle the heart of Sri Lanka. A five-hour train ride from Colombo (although it took us eight) and you are in Habarana. We used Dambulla as our base for what we’d intended to be a two stay. With so much to see we ended up extending our stay and staying an extra night. This area alone is home to four of the eight UNESCO sites in the country.
GOLDEN TEMPLE OF DAMBULLA
We set aside half a day for the Golden Temple, but upon check-in to our hotel we were told we’d be able to do it in a couple of hours. After settling in to our room we headed off down the road to check out the temple around 4pm (it closes at 6pm). This turned out to be the perfect time to visit, as the tourist buses had long gone and temperature had cooled a little. The temple itself is the largest cave temple in Sri Lanka. Made up of five separate caves each containing stunning Buddhist statues and paintings which are believed to have first been created over 2,000 years ago. I would recommend visiting the caves in reverse order starting at 5 as the last two caves are in my opinion the most impressive.
LIONS ROCK, SIGIRIYA
Lions rock was the most expensive sight we visited during out time in Sri Lanka, costing around 30 USD each for foreigners. We arrived at the rock around 9am swiftly followed by the packed tour busses we’d been trying to hard to avoid. Surprisingly, I was thankful. Being super unfit, I was glad to join the end of a queue with a steady pace up the 1,200 steps. At the top of the rock lay the ruins of an ancient palace complex, built during the reign of King Kasyapa (477AD – 495 AD) and surrounding rock is the Royal Garden.
THE ANCIENT CITY OF POLONNARUWA
After spending the morning in Sigiriya we hired a driver to take us to Polonnaruwa for the afternoon. The Ancient City is a lot bigger than I had expected and spread out over several sites. History buffs could easily spend a whole day here. For us, just knowing the main facts and absorbing the surroundings was enough, so half a day was fine.
Polonnaruwa was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu, who defeated the Chola invaders in 1070 to reunite the country once more under a local leader. At the heart of the city lies the royal palace complex, to the north are the city’s most important cluster of religious buildings, the so-called Quadrangle, containing the finest group of remains in the city. The largest monuments are found in the northern part of the city, comprising the buildings of the Rankot Vihara, Menik Vihara, Alahana Pirivena and Jetavana monasteries, including the famous Buddha statues of the Gal Vihara and the Lankatilaka shrine. To the west of the city lies the great artificial lake, the Parakrama Samudra.
KAUDULLA NATIONAL PARK
We’d never intended to do Safari in Kaudulla National Park but, after hearing November was a great time to visit for elephants we quickly booked a jeep via our hotel. It wasn’t long in to the safari before we spotted a lone bull elephant trampling through some bushes. I assumed the whole trip would just be spotting the occasional elephant, and I was more than happy with that. But once the lake came in to view, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Hundreds of elephants, big and small, grazing together and playing in the water. All the jeeps were very respectful and kept their distance. However, the ground was very wet and the number of jeeps that must go out daily have sadly turned areas of the park in to a quagmire. As tourists, it’s important for us to consider the effect we have on animals and the environment. If you good on a safari and the driver is getting too close or driving fast, don’t be afraid to speak up.
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