Friday, December 23, 2016

North Central Sri Lankan Holiday: An Itinerary full of culture, history, wildlife, adventure and lots of local connections!

It is that time of the year when we are all busy planning our holidays. Winter has been pretty harsh this year and tropical island destinations have never seemed more appealing. While India is surrounded by a lot of tropical paradise destinations (Thailand, Maldives, Malaysia, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep Islands), I prefer Sri Lanka for its proximity, cheaper flight options, diverse holiday itinerary that can be covered with minimal travel  and the fact that it caters to travelers with all kinds of budgets.

While each part of Sri Lanka offers a unique experience (West – the capital, cities and beaches, South – wildlife and beaches, Central – culture, rainforests, tea estates and wildlife, East – off beat beaches, quieter part of the country, North – lots of cultural trails, wildlife and a rich Buddhist heritage), I have a special place in my heart for the North-Central region. This north-central part of Sri Lanka offers a heady mix of UNESCO World heritage sites, ancient roots of Buddhism, innumerable cultural trails, rich wildlife and a true countryside experience.

Anuradhapura's Jetavana - third largest structure of the ancient world after the Great Pyramids at Giza

If you are planning on exploring this North-Central cultural corridor of Sri Lanka or need some inspiring holiday ideas for your tropical holiday this winter, you might be interested in these seven special Srilankan experiences.

The Ancient City of Sigriya

The lion's rock of Sigriya, Srilanka

This million year rock is famous for its ancient civilization with water gardens, reservoirs and ancient paintings. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Sigriya is that kind of place that will appeal to all kinds of travelers. Whether you are climbing to the top to catch a glimpse of sunrise, whether you love prehistoric art, whether you love history or whether you simply wish to stand on the top of a million year rock, soak in the views and feel the wind in your hair, this excellent example of ancient urban planning will definitely blow your mind away. Do remember that the steep flight of narrow stairs are sure to send your heart racing.

Cave Temple, Cricket Stadium and Elephants of Dambulla

Beautiful Cave Murals and the maze of Buddha statues inside Dambulla Rock Temple, Srilanka

Home to the largest and the best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka, Dambulla’s history can be traced to as early as the 7th century BC. The cave temple with its frescoes, statues and deep Buddhist connection is definitely the highlight and will make for a great experience along with a knowledgeable guide. If there is an international cricket match taking place in this town, do head to the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium even if only for a brief bit. And whenever you are driving in and around Dambulla, do keep an eye out for elephant herds. The elephant has right of way here.

Sunset at Pidurangala Rock
A Sigriya sunset view as seen from the top of Pidirangala Rock, Srilanka

A little bit of adventure and trekking and you will be treated to a spectacular sunrise or sunset view of the Sigriya Rock. That is the speciality of Pidurangala, a rock that overlooks Sigriya and one that has a small Buddhist temple, some ruins and frescoes of its own. The Pidurangala rock offers a more off-beat trail for someone who wishes for some hiking and has keen interest in photographing the Sigriya rock from a different vantage point.

Massive Elephant Congregations at Minneriya National Park

An elephant crossing at Minneriya National Park, Srilanka

Too much of culture, heritage and history can sometimes get to you and that is where I absolutely love an option like Minneriya National Park, which offers you the opportunity to get in close quarters with Srilanka’s wild side. A jeep safari into Minneriya National Park might allow you to see the largest group of wild elephants in Sri Lanka. While this happens mostly during the dry season, a wild elephant sighting is almost guaranteed during each jeep safari. In addition to the wild pachyderms, this part of Sri Lanka is home to a lot of migratory and terrestrial birds and many other wildlife species.

Mihintale – Anuradhapura’s Best Sunset Point

Even the lady monk can't resist to capture the gorgeous Mihinthale sunset shot

Considered as the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, Mihinthale is all about peace and tranquillity right from the time you start climbing the broad flight of stairs surrounded by flowering trees. Whether you are standing on the Maha Stupa or the Aradhana Gala rock, you will definitely connect with the spiritual realm here. And personally, I think Mihintale is Anuradhapura’s best sunset point. If you are interested in ruins and history, there are a lot of archaeological sites and ruins spread all across this region.

Anuradhapura – Cultural Highlight of Sri Lanka

Lush green Srilankan landscape seen from the top of Isurumuniya Vihara, Anuradhapura

Definitely, one of the top attractions of North-Central Sri Lanka, this ancient capital is full of mighty pagodas and well preserved ruins. As per wikipedia, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and one of the eight world heritage sites of Sri Lanka. But, the way I see it, this laidback part of Sri Lanka has some of the largest structures of the ancient world, is deeply rooted to the belief systems of Theravada Buddhism and is a historian and archaeologist’s delight. The Bodhi Tree Temple, Isurumuniya Vihara, Jetavana, Ruwanwelisaya and the citadel are some places that you should not miss. The best way to experience the charms of Anuradhapura is on a bicycle as you slowly pedal from attraction to attraction and from ruin to ruin while connecting with the extremely friendly local people.

Habarana Lake – Rustic Sri Lankan Experience

Birding at Habarana Lake, Sri Lanka

A pristine lake with lotus, water lilies and rich birdlife, a true Sri Lankan rustic experience, a walk through the paddy fields and riding a tractor through the red dirt tracks, the Habarana lake and village experience holds a special place in my heart. In fact, such was my local connection at this place that I would love to experience all of this again and again. Be it grating fresh coconuts and cooking with them, working in the farm with them or simply enjoying the rustic life, Habarana village has it all.

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