It is believed that Lord Buddha during his third visit to Sri Lanka placed his footprint on the summit of this sacred mountain. So, the name Sri Pada the sacred footprint. This mountain is also known as Samantakuta, Sumanakuta, Samanalakanda, Samanela, Samangira, Medumhelaya etc. The Christians call the mountain Adam’s Peak, derived from the Portuguese Pico de Adam (Peak of Adam). It is 7,360 feet in height and is the forth highest mountain in the country and has several approaches, the main ones being through the Hatton town and Ratnapura District. Annually, during December April, devotees climb the mountain to pay obeisance.More »
Ambalangoda is a seaside town that during colonial times was much frequented by European residents, who appreciated the good accommodation, food, and bathing facilities. Today Ambalangoda retains its charm, the beautifully situated resthouse still stands (and there is an old Dutch church beside it), the fish remains excellent, and the sandy beach to the north of the town provides good bathing. There is also an interesting rocky islet – a sanctuary for seabirds - offshore of the town centre.
However, Ambalangoda is most famous for its mask carvers, whose workshops and sales outlets are concentrated at the northern end of the town. Those who wish to purchase Sri Lanka’s masks should be aware that quality varies. Modern masks painted in garish colours are made to cater to the tourist trade. Those decorated in natural dyes are more traditional. Best of all, seek genuine antique masks.
At the southern perimeter of the town there is a turn-off to the ancient Ambalangoda Maha Vihare, also known as Sunandaramaya, with its superb example of thorana, or archway, and rare mural of dancing girls.
Sri Lanka’s Premier ancient city Anuradhapura,situated in the dry zone,was the first Sinhalese capital of Sri Lanka.Its distance from Colombo is 206Km.
The awe some Ruwanweliseya,Abhayagiriya,Jethawanaramaya and Thuparamaya Dagobas are still venerated by Buddhists and these massive works along the large wevas (lakes)reveal the past glory of the city.The sacred Bo Tree (Sri Maha Bodhi)-considered the world’s oldest recorded surviving tree,the seated Samadhi statue of the meditating Buddha,Kuttam Pokuna(Twin Ponds),Manu temples and Isurumuniya are some of the attractions in Anuradhapura.There is an abundance of evidence of architecture dating to the third century B.C and earlier.
Eight Main Places(Athamasthana)
There are 8 main places of worship of known as Athamasthana.They are
Sri Maha Bodhiya
Anuradhapura, the main city of the North-Central province 128 miles away from Colombo, is the first capital of ancient Ceylon, initially found by Prince Wijaya and his crew. The city boasts a history of 1500 years of royalty, starting from 05th Century BC till 10th Century AD, during the period, where 123 kings are said to have been in rule. The inception of the city is accredited to three legends, of which the accepted is that a General of Prince Wijaya named Anuradha inaugurated the initial establishment of the city in a village scale, which grew and expanded its boundaries with time. Thus, the city was given the name Anuradhapura, to commemorate his act. Another legend depicts that ninety kings ruled the city, baptizing the city as Anu-raja-pura, meaning the city of ninety kings. The final legend applies beliefs in Astrology and auspicious times, as the foundation of the city is said to have been laid at the Anura auspicious time, leading the city to be named Anuradhapura. The first recorded king of Anuradhapura is King Pandukhabhaya who was also the first Sinhalese King. He is said to have restructured the former Anuradhagama and re–established it near Kadamba Nadee (present Malvatu Oya), completing it with amenities such as reservoirs, houses for citizens, hospitals, stupas, dwellings for priests and cemeteries etc.
The most noteworthy event in the history of Anuradhapura was the establishment of Budhhism in Ceylon, as Arihath Mahinda Thero and seven monks who accompanied him to Ceylon were met by King Devenampiyathissa during his hunting expedition in a full moon lit night in the month of June (Poson). Buddhism was acknowledged by the king himself and he took initiative to spread the religion among his people who were believers of non-existing gods, who said to have lived in the forests and caves. This great step taken in cultivating a civilization in the country was further endorsed by the arrival of Sanghamittha Thero, the sister of Arihath Mahinda Thero, who brought a sapling of the Bo tree that sheltered Lord Buddha during his enlightenment. This sapling was planted in Anuradhapura and the king was nominated as its rightful caretaker.
Mahavihara Mahavihara was the most important Vihara of Sri Lanka. It was founded in the 4th century BC by King Devanampiyatissa. The only remains of the magnificent buildings of the ancient monastery are the stone pillars that are scattered all over the large area.
Sri maha bodhiya Sri Maha bodhi, the oldest historical tree of the world. is found within the precincts of the Mahavihara. It is also the most sacred place in Sri Lanka and is found on the highest terrace, surrounded by a number of other Bodhi trees. The visitors can go only up to the middle terrace, as it is looked after very well observing all the traditions handed down from generation to generation. The Sri Maha Bodhi Viharaya is found on the lower terrace and adjacent to the terrace of the Sacred Bodhi Tree. These are enclosed by a parepet wall.
Ruwanweliseya Ruwanweliseya renovated during the last century, was originally built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd Century BC. This was also known as the Mahaseya, and is the most celebrated stupa in Sri Lanka. The remains of the ancient buildings and architecture include the statues of King Dutugemunu, his mother Vihara Maha Devi, stone pillars’ moon stones and many more.LovamahapayaLovamahapaya also known as the Brazen Palace, too was also constructed by king Dutugemunu. The formation was the assembly hall of the Mahavihara. The only remains of this massive hall are 1600 stone pillars standing in 40 rows.
Thuparamaya Thuparamaya was the first stupa built in Sri Lanka after Buddhism was introduced by Arahath Mahinda Thero. In the 07th Century BC it was in ruins and after it was restored, a WATADAGE was added. The concentric stone pillars standing right round the stupa are the remains of the old Watadage.
Jetawanaramaya Jetavanaramaya, built by Mahasena (275 – 301), is the highest Stupa in the world and the third highest building of the ancient world. The monastery of this ancient stupa is no more. The excavations and conservations of this monastety and its stupa are now being done under the Sri Lanka – Unesco Cultural Triangle Project by the Central Cultural Fund under the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
Abhayagiriya Abhayagiriya was founded in 89 BC by King Vatte Gamini Abhaya. Soon it became the seat of the heterodox, Mahayana doctrines, and a rival to the orthodox Mahavihara. Fa – Hsein (411-413) says that there were 5000 monks in residence at Abhayagiriya in this time. He describes the Stupa, the Buddha image and the tooth relic in procession. The monastery and its ancillary buildings are no more. Only the stupa remains in ruins. This monastery too is being excavated and conserved under the Sri Lanka UNESCO cultural Triangle Project.
Daladage Daladage is the site where the ancient Tooth Relic Temple was found. The Sacred Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka in the region of Sirimeghavanna (301 – 308). The king housed it in the DHAVIMAKAKKA VIHARA that had been built by King Devanampiyatissa (307 BC – 267 BC). Thereafter this came to be known by the name Daladage which has been identified by an inscription in situ by Mahinda (956 -972). The tall stone columns are the only remains of it.
Raja Maliga This was the site of the ancient Palace built by King Vijayabahu (1055 -1110).It was an unpretentious building and the king resided in it for a few months. After he shifted the capital to Polonnaruwa this might have been the Royal Palace whenever he visited the ancient capital. This has been conserved and the guard stones at the entrance to the main building are excellent.
Kuttampokuna Kuttam Pokuna or the Twin Ponds are a fine example of the landscape architecture in this ancient city. This is a massive stone structure with flights of steps on all four sides, leading to the water.
Samadhi Buddha Image This is one of the finest pieces of Sinhalese art. In the sculpture the Buddha is depicted in the state of mind explained in Pali by the term NIRODHA- SAMPATHTHI extinction of feeling and perception. It is a state in which all consciousness and mental activities are temporarily suspended. Therefore the explanations like “the Buddha in meditation” are not correct.
Tapowanaya Thapowanaya has a group of fourteen structures to the west of the city. These are now generally referred to by the name the Western Monasteries. This was the monastery where the forest monks lived. Some of these monks observed a rigid rule according to which they wore only those robes which are made of rags from corpses. These monks led a simple and ascetic life.
Mirisawetiya Stupa This was built by King Dutugamunu in gratitude for his victory over the Tamil invaders led by Elara. The King’s spear along with the Buddha’s relic is enshrined in this stupa. The extensive ruins around the stupa indicate some of the magnificent buildings of the ancient monastery which had been at this site. The stupa is now being restored.
Dakkhina Vihara Dakkhina Vihara was found by Uttiya, a minister of Vattagamini Abhaya (BC 89-77), its stupa has been well conserved. This was built over the cremation site of King Dutugemunu. The Viharaya was endowed with a monastery, a refectory and other buildings necessary for a temple. Today only the remains of some of them are found.
Isurumuniya Isurumuniya has been identified as the ancient Megha Giri Viharaya where rain making ceremonies were carried out, some of the sculptures of this temple are the most beautiful works of art in Anuradhapura. The sculptures of a man and a horse and that of the lovers have been widely discussed by scholars.
Vessagiriya It was a monastery founded in the 03rd Century BC. The remains of the ancient monastery are scattered over an extensive area. This was considered a suitable dwelling place for the ascetic monks. The caves in this site were converted to dwellings for the priests. This is another fine example of landscaped architecture. According to the inscriptions available at the site, this site has now been identified as the lsurumuni Vihara of the Chronicles. As a result, Vessagiriya is yet to be identified.
Tholuwila Tholuwila is the present name of the city where the remains of an ancient monastery was found. The seated Buddha statue discovered here is now in the Colombo National Museum. This is considered as one of the greatest works of art. The site of this ancient monastery has been disturbed by works of modern civilization. The remains of the image house and many other buildings are scattered here and there.More »
Aukana the 1500-year-old Buddha colossus, carved out of living rock, this almost freestanding statue reaches high and beautiful 13 meters above its lotus decorated plinth, which has been separately sculptured and placed under the feet of the image. With the rays of the rising sun falling on the statue, the serenity of the exquisitely carved face and the gracefully carved robe is indeed a marvel of art of a by gone era.
Over the past several decades the Indonesian art of batik making has become firmly established in Sri Lanka. Indeed, it is now the most visible of the island’s crafts. Galleries and factories, large and small, have sprung up in many tourist areas. For instance, rows of small stalls selling batiks can be found all along Hikkaduwa’s Galle Road strip. Mahawewa, on the other hand, is famous for its batik factories.
Batticaloa, better known simply as Batti, is the regional centre of Sri Lanka’s southeast coastal area. The Portuguese were the first to erect a fort here in 1572. The Dutch claimed it in 1638, handed it over to the Kandyans in 1643, but reoccupied and modified it in 1665. In 1795 it was surrendered to the British, and it still stands today by the banks of the Batticaloa Lagoon. Although the interior is now an administrative office, the exterior is still in good condition with unbroken square walls, a bastion in each corner, and a moat that still holds water.
However, Batticaloa’s most celebrated attraction is not its fort but its singing fish. Between April and September, in particular on moonlit nights, strange sounds emanate from the waters of the lagoon. They have been described by some as being like the tuning up of a string orchestra, while others say they are more akin to musical chords or the vibrations of a wine-glass, when its rim is rubbed by a wet finger. To experience these sounds clearly it is best to take a boat into the middle of the lagoon, thrust a pole into the shallow, muddy bottom, and hold it to one’s ear. The source of these sounds has been the subject of much controversy. Some believe that they are caused by species of mollusc living in the lagoon, while others maintain that topsail catfish, which congregate in great numbers in the lagoon during the April-September period, are the cause. Still others suggest that the sounds are created by tidal water flowing through holes in rocks at the bottom of the lagoon.More »
You find Belihuloya on the way to Badulla from Colombo. Famous for it’s colonial times rest house and Natuaral Beauty Belihuloya is a great stop over on your way to National Parks of Udawalawe and Yala as well as Hortan Plains and bandarawela.More »
Bentota is 62km from Colombo and begins on the southern side of the Bentota River, which is also the border between the Western and Southern Provinces. In Sinhala, it is Bentara, and the river is the Ben Ganga. If you drive down to Bentota for the day, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief as you cross over the river by the road bridge. Why? Because the suburbs seem to slip away and the heavy concentration of houses and traffic along the Galle Road from Colombo thins out. At last you know you are beside the seaside.
Bentota is halfway between Colombo and Galle. The mouth of the river, which forms a long lagoon, is used for jet-skiing and banana-raft riding.
When the British built the railway along the coast (in 1877- 1890) beaches were not valued as a resource as they are today. The locals used them only for domestic purposes or for parking their handmade, palm wood, fishing boats. Foreigners, with their delicate complexions, shunned the sun and the closest they would get to the beach would be a shaded verandah for a sundowner. The British saw no reason to preserve the tranquillity beside the sea and so they laid the railway line along the beach’s edge.
That’s why hotels in Bentota today have to share the shore with the rail track, with the thunder of the occasional train from dawn to late evening competing with the splash of waves. By road, you cross the railway line that runs between Alutgama and Bentota stations, just before crossing the river. The railway line and the river are markers to watch for as they indicate that Bentota is beginning. Blink, and you’ve driven through it.
There is no real town at all, just a few shops given over to tourist knickknacks, the man-made lake awaiting its development as a tourist attraction, a couple of monstrous wayside park-and- eat joints, and then the road and the railway line meet again, and you have left Bentota and are driving through Induruwa with glimpses of the beach beyond palm groves. Go to Bentota for the day by the right train (Number 40 from Colombo Fort station at 0900, arrives Bentota at 1027) and you can alight at Bentota railway station. This has a single platform (with a guest house adjoining it) and a footbridge over the rail-way line to a picnic area beside the beach. There are two open-sided pavilions there for anyone to enjoy a party free of charge, and a shower and toilet facility.
The rest of the beach is walled off from the road by hotel premises.
On Sundays and holidays, locals enjoy the hotels’ lunch buffets, pools, and bars on a pay-for-the-day basis. Otherwise the beach is usually very sparsely populated as visitors loll in the hotel gardens or splash about in the hotel pools. The more energetic might stroll along the magnificent strand of golden sand that stretches for five kilometres from the river mouth in the north, where Alutgama swelters on the opposite bank of the lagoon, to the deserted sands beyond Induruwa. When Bentota’s potential for tourism was first recognised in the 1970s, a National Tourist resort was created there, embracing the beach frontage land for a structured 100-acre complex. The early commercial architecture of Geoffrey Bawa is in evidence as he created a shopping arcade (it still seems to be looking for customers), and a toy town square complete with bank, post office, police station, resort authority bungalow, and the railway station. Hotels sprung up on the shore, mostly built under Bawa’s influence with a preponderance of white avails and angular concrete frames, although the stark architecture has become softened over the years with luxuriant frangipani trees and a patina of age wrought by the sea’s breezes. The stolidity of its buildings helps to create Bentota’s aura of respectability. It seems to be a staid, middle level resort, with none of the hustle and hankypanky associated with its southern neighbour, Hikkaduwa, or skimpy beaches of Kalutara to its north. It has the best beach of them all. You can swim happily off Bentota’s beach, and there is a life guard hut alongside the picnic area. Red flags are flown when the sea is considered too rough. Non swimmers should beware of going too far out as the beach shelves rapidly and strong currents swirl.
Some 20 years ago, when tourism was in its youth, the beach used to be thronged with independent travellers who walked there from their inland guest houses. Beach vendors offered bananas, jelly nuts (thambili) to drink, sun hats and even cool drinks. Now you must bring your own.
Tourists on all inclusive packages who pack the Bentota hotels don’t have as much fun as the independent day trippers who explore the place. A river trip is easy to arrange, either in a local catamaran rowed energetically by its young owner, or by outboard motor launch to explore the byways of this magnificent river.
A whole day river cruise could include a visit to a village hideaway for a special rice and curry lunch, and even a local wedding ceremony performance. Crocodiles are rare now but there are plenty of water monitors and river birds. It is delightfully relaxing to cruise along the river, detached from the rest of Sri
Lanka, wallowing in one’s own -wonder at the magnificence of the riverine scenery.
Inland village life has changed for the best over the years, as residents find employment in the tourist industry to supplement their incomes from fishing and farming. Many smart guest houses and mini-hotels have sprung up, sometimes with sponsorship from tourist partners, others as an independent venture for guests who want a home-stay atmosphere instead of the buffets and bingo of the package-tourist resorts.
Miss Bentota and drive off the Galle Road at Alutgama inland through Dharga Town and you’ll discover Brief Garden. It was a 23-acre rubber estate before its transformation by Bevis Bawa (brother of Geoffrey) into an elaborate -whimsical fantasy combining European classicism with a lavish tropical layout.
While the area’s history has been overwhelmed, there are temples -with long pedigrees. The historic Galapatha Raja Maha Vihare (royal patronage temple) built from 600 to 900 years ago. It contains stone inscriptions, stone carvings, pillars, ponds and troughs from the medieval period. The Wanawasa Temple
is an ancient forest hermitage.
Bentota is not just for the meditative. There is action too. The Club Intersport, which is part of the Bentota Beach Hotel complex, has all kinds of water sports facilities available for the day visitor. There is a gym, a swimming pool, and squash and tennis courts. The hotel itself is popular for tourists coming to Get married on all-inclusive wedding/honeymoon packages. Its rooms have views of the sea or the magnificent lagoon where, close to the river mouth, the Ceysands Hotel enjoys the pretense of being on an island. Access to this popular resort is only by hotel ferry from a private jetty off a road behind the Alutgama Police Station.
You can arrange to have scuba diving lessons at the water sports centre of the Lihiniya Beach Hotel, a popular venue for locals having an enjoyable day out. The adjoining Serendib Hotel, built parallel to the horizon and with access through a meandering tropical garden straight on to Bentota’s famous strand
of sand, has long been a favourite of foreign tourists, many of whom become enthusiastic repeaters. With its simple lines, free of clutter, it has a beguiling charm.
More upmarket, and just beyond Bentota’s railway border, is Saman Villas with luxuriously furnished mini-villas and a swimming pool breathtakingly perched atop a cliff. Further south, on the headland at the other end of this section of the curving beach, astride the Galle Road at a prominent corner, stands the Induruwa Beach Hotel. Its atmosphere is over whelmingly holiday; it is the archetypical beach resort: few frills
and lots of fun.
Bentota is the home of the Bentota Aida Group, the enterprise of a local man, universally known as Aida, who started working life making jewellery. He is now chairman of a group that includes Aida Ayurveda and Holistic Health Resorts, specialising in natural rejuvenation therapy. One is on the bank of the Bentota River, and the other is a seaside ayurveda hotel by the 67km post on the Galle Road at Induruwa.
Opposite Aida’s Induniwa Hotel, is the Gimanhala Restaurant, which excels in food that is ‘simply Sri Lankan’ served speedily with a smile. For international cuisine in pavilions overlooking the river, try Aida’s Restaurant, which is behind Aida’s Gem & Jewellery emporium in Bentota. The restaurant is linked by a gallery to the brand new extension of Aida’s Bentota Hotel. This has bright, comfortable rooms in a lush, tropical setting right by the river.
Don’t be surprised to see an elephant lumbering along the Galle Road carrying its lunch of leaves under its trunk. Elephant rides are popular on the beach and horse riding is another pastime that’s beginning to catch on. Rural crafts can be seen too. On the river bank there is a coir (coconut fibre) yard. Look up at the right time of the year and you will see agile men bounding along ropes linking the tops of coconut trees to tap toddy. This is the sap of the coconut flower that makes an effervescent beverage, like nature’s
champagne. Distilled, it becomes Sri Lanka’s equivalent of France’s cognac, pure coconut arrack.
There are spice gardens by the Galle Road at Bentota, and thatched wayside kiosks where you can buy a king coconut to drink.
Gaudily-painted carved masks (from the devil dancer’s wardrobe) make unusual souvenirs. Old and reproduction furniture can be bought from the selection of period pieces in the vast showroom of De Silva Antiques. If it’s too big to carry on the plane, the company will have it shipped to your home.
There is a daily train that stops at Bentota (at 1350) on its way from Galle to Colombo, where it is supposed to arrive at 1730. Or there are plenty of minibuses that can be hired from the journey back to Colombo if you miss the train (expect to pay around Rs3,000). Or perhaps you’ll stay for another day. Some tourists do; they like Bentota so much they buy a house there and never so home!More »
Beruwala, known by the exotic name Barberyn in earlier times, is considered to be where Arab traders established the first Moorish settlement on the island around the 9th century AD. Even today Beruwala’s population features a large segment of Sri Lanka Moors, many of whom are gem dealers. Beruwala was once a small port that boasted a considerable coastal trade in locally produced coir and rope, which was shipped to Colombo and Galle. Indeed, the Sinhala meaning of Beruwala is the spot where the sail was lowered. Today, however, it is a thriving fishing village.More »