For a small tropical island in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka packs in quite a punch. Serene Buddhist temples and monasteries, UNESCO World Heritage sites, strips of golden sand that are rarely legged, cool tea-plantation draped hills and waves worthy to surf on – the country demands that you spend at least two weeks and then come back for some more. Not to mention, Yala National Park, where the dense green jungle is the pick for the elusive leopards to hide in its folds. With a diverse historic legacy, Sri Lanka offers more than just wonders for the eye. It’s a complete package for the mind, body and soul. Many chic, boutique accommodations have found off-the-grid addresses to lure the traveller. Here’s a list of ten experiences that’ll give you a legit ‘been there, done that’ stamp of approval.
A freestanding rock crowned by the ruins of a 5th-century palace, Sigiriya lies near Dambulla in the northern district of Matale. The 660-feet high pale brown rock is ideal for hikers. The history of the structure goes back in time to 477CE, when it was chosen by King Kasyapa as his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and used intricate frescoes to decorate. Remnants of these can still be seen. Start early morning to climb the near vertical walls through a series of rough steps, then railings on the sides to reach the top. The views from here are dramatic.
Hit by Civil War for over two decades, Jaffna is just about emerging from the strife and is the hot-new destination on the minds of offbeat travellers. If final frontiers excite you, take a bus to Point Pedro, the country’s northern most point. Here, a small beach marks the edge of the country. The rest of Jaffna is dotted with temples – Nallur and Nagapoosani are two of the popular ones. Easy paced life, poignant remnants of war and strolling past simple hamlets are the order of the day. The Jaffna library and Fort are other noted buildings to keep in mind.
The capital, Colombo, mirrors a western culture of pubs and dancing and has surprisingly good line-ups for live gigs. The city is one of the most vibrant in Southeast Asia where nightlife is concerned. Rooftop bars, karaoke bars, breweries, casinos, clubs to dance in and low-key bars are part of the robust milieu of Colombo. One thing is for sure – there is never a slow night in Colombo
KANDY’S TEMPLE OF SACRED TOOTH RELIC
Sri Lanka’s most significant Buddhist relic is housed in Kandy’s temple. It is the tooth of Gautum Buddh himself. Though open to visitors, the tooth is heavily guarded and encased in a gold casket. Be ready to jostle for space as your walk the temple grounds, as this is a spiritual spot that sees many nationalities come in for a peek. The vast complex also has other smaller shrines and temples.
HITTING THE WAVES
Savour the sunshine and beaches in Sri Lanka, especially if you’re there to hit the waves for surfing. The eastern edge of the country is especially popular with surfers from across the world. On this stretch, local shacks and guesthouses are prepped for arranging accommodation, transfers, point you to secret reefs and instructors. Enjoy surf breaks between October to May for consistent swells and uncrowded beaches.
YALA NATIONAL PARK
Spread over 1268 sq km of scrub, mixed tropical forest, grasslands and brackish lagoons, the Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s go –to wildlife destination. Early morning jeep safaris award better sighting chances of a large variety of birds and animals. The elusive leopard is high on the list of many travellers. Several high-end camps and jungle lodges are located on the fringes of the park. Some choose to base themselves in Galle and visit from there. If not for the animals, the soothing company of greens is refreshing.
Comfy shoes, a good sunscreen and a hat are essential companions when discovering this World Heritage Site – a small-fortified town with cobblestone streets and a colonial charm. There is no better way to explore Galle, than on foot. Kitschy cafes and boutiques are souvenir- beacons for travellers in the small town. For those interested in Dutch colonial history, do not miss the walking tours. The cliff-jumpers of Galle are another famous attraction. These are local boys who jump from the rampant of the fort, straight into the sea, but flat on their chests.
Sri Lanka is synonymous to its pachyderm occupants, especially places like Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage that offers an opportunity to interact with the animals. If you do not want to get too close, the march of the herd to the adjoining river and back is best seen from cafés that flank the slim road that they walk on. It was established in 1975 and has now become an orphanage, nursery and captive breeding ground for wild Asian elephants – possibly the largest in the world.
HORTON PLAINS NATIONAL PARK
If you ever wanted to walk to the end of the world – this might be the closest that you can come to. This is a stunning highland plateau covered in montane grasslands, a popular spot for hikers. Several endemic plants, animals and avian life makes it a veritable outdoor and wildlife spot. The most dramatic parts are World’s End and Baker’s Falls that lie right at the edge of a mountain.
GOLDEN TEMPLE OF DAMBULLA
Maneuver monkey gangs and other tourists to climb to this sacred pilgrimage site. The monastery has been around for 22 centuries and is still very well preserved. The cave complexes are decorated with fine murals and over 150 statues. These go back in time to 1st century BC. Dambulla is also well known for the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium, famed for having been built in only 167 days.
Top Tip: When visiting Sri Lanka, make sure you cover up any Buddhist tattoos you may have or risk being arrested and deported.
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