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Sri Lanka Holidays
Part of Sri Lanka's irresistible charm lies in the way it interweaves past and present. Whilst being forward-looking and progressive, this remains an island deeply imbued with a sense of pride in its traditions. Commuters and taxi drivers will stop on busy highways and queue at roadside temples to pay respects to their ancestors; businessmen will swap the comfort of their air-conditioned offices for an exhausting pilgrimage to the island’s most sacred sites; and the timing of even the simplest events is governed by ritual and religion.
It is perhaps not surprising that Sri Lanka's diverse ethnic groups have clung fiercely on to their traditions in the wake of centuries of invasion by foreign powers. The island’s early settlers migrated from India, establishing a 2500 year old Buddhist tradition that survives here as a potent symbol of the national identity, despite having long since faded in its native land. Hinduism, too, made its mark, proudly protected by Tamils across the nation. Arab traders brought Islam, while in later years the colonial powers of Europe fought over the island’s riches. Their legacy survives in the island’s tumble-down forts and creaking railways, tea plantations and passion for cricket.
Sri Lanka’s superb beaches lie all along its coastline and vary greatly in character, with sandy coves and estuaries and long palm-fringed stretches. However, most of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful and interesting sights are away from the coast. By venturing a few hours inland you can explore the island’s phenomenal ‘Cultural Triangle’, which encompasses no fewer than five UNESCO World Heritage Sites. At one point of the triangle is Kandy, the island’s last Buddhist capital and gateway to the highlands, while to the north are the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
Anuradhapura was the capital for 1500 years, its soaring dagobas (domes containing sacred relics) testament to the lofty ambitions of its kings, while an auspicious meeting at nearby Mihintale sealed the island’s conversion to Buddhism. Repeated invasions from India forced Anuradhapura’s abandonment for the less exposed site of Polonnaruwa, whose city walls today encircle the island’s most rewarding archaeological complex; its unmissable highlight is the serene rock-cut recumbent Buddha at the Gal Vihara. But some of the region’s most inspiring treasures lie outside the ancient capitals: the astonishing Lion’s Rock, atop which lie the remains of a fifth-century playboy’s palace, and the impressive paintings at the cave temple of Dambulla.
Places of interest in Sri Lanka
Anuradhapura is Sri Lanka’s most sacred city. Along with Mihintale – where King Tissa received the Emperor...
Kandy, Sri Lanka’s second largest city and cultural capital, is the home of the Temple of Lord Buddha’s Tooth and...
Polonnaruwa, the island’s medieval capital between the 11th and 13th century, is perhaps the most rewarding of the...