Category: Destinations

Discusses about travel destinations in Sri Lanka

Colombo

Colombo is a colorful multi-ethnic contrast town. According to US broadcaster CNN, the cultural and commercial capital of Sri Lanka is the fastest growing tourist town in the world, with an increase of 21 percent in 2015, while six of the top ten are also in Asia.

A wealthy combination of land and water, Colombo city boasts a network of canals linked to the surrounding river Kelani, which joins the ocean just south of the town and for centuries has been a crucial business and defensive waterway.
From here, the historic Hamilton Canal which recently benefited from a multi-million dollar facelift, runs north 35 km to Negombo, a famous beach resort through a wetland nature reserve. And head south to Pettah, a vibrant and colourful district of tiny stores and roadside stalls selling everything from food to clothing to the recent advanced electronic equipment, for an authentic Colombo shopping experience. This could not be a higher contrast to the gentrification of the historic Fort region and adjacent Galle Face Green, a lovely open space ribbon next to the Indian Ocean shore, and an increasingly famous resident and tourist destination.
Other famous Colombo tour packages highlights include the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, an eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture, Viharamahadevi Park, next to the Colombo National Museum, and the 65-hectare Beira Lake, a landmark in Colombo that frequently hosts regattas, cultural activities, and theatrical entertainment. Colombo natural harbor has been making it a magnet for Indian, Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab and Chinese spice traders for over 2,000 years, who later made their homes on our island of paradise and added so much to our wealthy cultural endowment.

ATTRACTIONS IN COLOMBO


GANGARAMAYA BUDDHIST TEMPLE

Built on land reclaimed from Colombo city’s landmark Beira Lake, the Gangaramaya Temple complex includes the Simamalaka Shrine, designed by renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. It was originally intended to be, and still is, a place where people of all religious persuasions can find peace and solace, which is reflected in its somewhat eclectic mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Indian, and Chinese architecture. Thus Gangaramaya is not only as a place of Buddhist worship, but also an internationally recognized center of learning that has helped establish Buddhist temple throughout the world. The complex includes a museum, library, residential hall, three storeyed Pirivena, educational halls and an alms hall, and is closely involved in Buddhist welfare work including old peoples’ homes, a vocational school and an orphanage.


KELANIYA RAJAMAHA VIHARA

Just outside Colombo is one of the most sacred and historic Buddhist sites in the country, the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara or Kelaniya Temple. It is here that Lord Buddha made his third and last visit to Sri Lanka, and the Mahawansa records that the original stupa included a gem-studded throne on which the Buddha sat and preached. The temple is the focus of the traditional Duruthu Maha Perehera procession each January, and is renowned for its reclining Buddha and paintings by artist Solias Mendis depicting important events in the history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It has a chequered past. The original temple was destroyed by Indian invaders, restored and later destroyed again by the Portuguese, and finally restored to its present condition by the Dutch.


OLD PARLIAMENT BUILDING

Sri Lankan architectural historian Ismeth Raheem described the Old Parliament Building in Colombo city, an imposing monument to Sri Lanka’s imperial past, as a “masterpiece in stone”. Built by the British to house Ceylon’s Legislative Council, this striking neo-classical edifice is now occupied by the Presidential Secretariat and Executive President. With it colonnades and pediments, today the building is the venue for state functions and the presentation of credentials by incoming ambassadors and high commissioners. One of its most striking features is the use of rare brown granite from a quarry near Ruwanwella, 65km east of Colombo, which was transported in barges down the Kelani Ganga river and into the nearby Beira Lake via a specially built canal.


ALL SAINTS CHURCH

Colombo city is redolent with examples of its British, Portuguese and Dutch colonial past, a prime example of the latter being All Saints Church, perched atop what remains of the city’s old defensive wall. Featuring outstanding European-style Gothic architecture, it was built and consecrated in 1865, and retains nearly all of its original, richly carved furniture and wood-carving. A link with Colombo’s increasing modernity is one of the leading colonial families, the Bandaranaikes, who not only provided trustees for the church but also gave their name to Sri Lanka’s international airport. Though it is hidden among legal offices and the other ancient buildings, this church, with its 145-year history, is well worth seeking out.


JAMI UL-ALFAR MOSQUE

One of the oldest mosques in Colombo city, the striking-looking Jami-Ul-Alfar was reputedly built at the request of Muslim shopkeepers in the bustling Pettah Bazaar to make it easier to attend Friday prayers. A landmark building, with its red and white horizontal stripes, minarets and cupolas, it dominates one of the main streets of this north Colombo district, itself a major tourist attraction. Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque was completed in 1909, and in those days, before other taller and more notable landmarks were built, it was used as a navigational reference point by sailors approaching the nearby port.


OLD TOWN HALL

This charming and idiosyncratic building, tucked away in the heart of north Colombo’s bustling Pettah market, is regarded as something of a minor architectural masterpiece. Now a museum containing many equally charming and idiosyncratic not to say bizarre and extraordinary relics of Colombo’s colonial past, it fell into neglected disuse after the Colombo Municipal Council moved to the present Town Hall fronting Viharamahadevi Park in 1928. For 50 year, the old building unceremoniously discarded like an old dowager in her dotage served as a public market until it was reclaimed by the authorities in 1979. Among the museum’s electic exhibits are a steam roller and a steam lorry, Colombo’s first printing press, the first mobile library vehicle and one of the city’s first garbage trucks. Not to be missed.


SAMBODHI CHAITHYA

One of the most amazing sights in Colombo is the gleaming white Buddhist stupa built atop an arch just beside the Sri Lankan Navy base in the Fort area. Adjacent to the harbor, this bell-shaped landmark was created so that it would be visible to all ocean going ships, whether docking at the port or in transit to far-flung destinations around the world. Access to the arch is via a gantry at the top of a tower to the north, itself accessed by an open staircase, the ascent of which is not for the weak-limbed or faint-hearted! Next to the temple grounds, known as the Sambodhi Chaitya, is the Colombo Maritime Museum, housed in what used to be the old Dutch Prison, which is also well worth a visit.


COLOMBO LIGHTHOUSE

Sri Lanka’s seafaring tradition is a cornerstone of its history and culture, one that fostered its centuries-old trade in gems and spices throughout Asia, Arabia and the Far East. Today, the thousands of cargo ships that call at Colombo port every year from around the world rely on GPS and satellite navigation to tell them exactly where they are as they approach their destination. But back then, ships captains depended on rather less sophisticated navigational aids, including one that is now an iconic Colombo landmark—The Lighthouse. Built in 1952 after the Old Colombo Lighthouse was decommissioned, it was opened by D.S. Senanayake, the first prime minister of newly independent Sri Lanka. At its base is a battery of naval guns that are used to salute National Day, including two that were installed in 1952 to mark the visit of then Princess Elizabeth of Great Britain.


COLOMBO FORT RAILWAY STATION

Fort Railway Station, in the heart of Sri Lanka’s commercial capital of Colombo, was built by the British in 1917, and is strongly reminiscent of the celebrated Manchester Victoria station in the UK. The rapid development of pre-independence Ceylon’s rail infrastructure mirrors the export value of coffee, tea, coconut and rubber to our economic development. Built on land reclaimed from Beira Lake, the station is now the Colombo city terminus and connection point for all the main lines leading north, south and east, including the express link to the international airport. It is also a start point for visits to our many upcountry tourist destinations, providing train journeys that have been lauded as being among the most beautiful and scenic in the world.


VIHARAMAHADEVI PARK

This beautiful and historic green oasis—it was originally named Victoria Park by the British—is the oldest and biggest public open space in Colombo city. Apart from being a welcome refuge from the hustle and bustle, it also hosts the Cenotaph War Memorial, the public library, and the Vihara Maha Devi Park Open Air Stadium, a popular venue for concerts and public events. In the past, entrance to the park was restricted to three locations, but since nearly all of the fencing around the area has now been taken down, there is walk-in access from just about everywhere. Features include the long square pools in the center, an aquarium, and a host of ancient trees towering over the meticulously maintained grassy areas and paved pathways. As might be expected, during the evening and at night this most romantic of settings is a favorite for young courting couples.


NATIONAL ZOOLOGICAL GARDENS OF SRI LANKA

The breeding and conservation programs at the National Zoological Gardens, better known as Colombo Zoo, are key parts of Sri Lanka’s commitment to developing and expanding eco-tourism on the island. The zoo exists ‘to create one of the world’s outstanding zoological institutions, that is a centre of the excellence for conservation, research and education’, with the ‘resourceful conservation of animals’. Its beautiful animal parks provide some of the few places where nature and a huge variety of animal life are able to co-exist with a busy and rapidly expanding urban landscape. Natural habitat are provided by dense tree coverage and small forest patches that are rich in rare plants, including valuable herbal species that contribute to Sri Lanka’s renowned tradition of natural medicine.


COLOMBO NATIONAL MUSEUM

A national museum can be more than just the memory of a nation, a collection of artifacts of historic and cultural significance. It can also hold the legacy of a nation’s journey to statehood. Colombo National Museum is no exception. It not only safeguards the ancient royal regalia, including the throne and crown of the Kandyan kings, it is also the national library. As such, by law, it holds a copy of every document printed in the country: over 12 million to date covering, amongst other subjects, the arts and humanities; natural sciences; and palm leaves inscribed in Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit, Burmese, Telugu and Tamil characters. The museum was constructed in Colombo city in 1877 by Wapchie Marikar, of the Sheiq Fareed family, which arrived in Ceylon in 1060 AD. Wapchi Marikar also built Colombo’s General Post Office, Old Town Hall in Pettah, Galle Face Hotel, Victoria Arcade, the Clock Tower, and many notable local landmarks still standing today.

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Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura, the ancient Kings ‘ sacred city, is full of history and mystery. Founded in the 6th century BC and venerated by the world’s Buddhists, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the core of the famous ‘ cultural triangle ‘ of Sri Lanka. As Sri Lanka’s old capital, Anuradhapura was not only the island’s early buddhist cradle, but also the driving force behind cultural and scientific developments aimed at improving the health and well-being of all those who resided there. It also includes the sacred Bo Tree 2,000-year-old. According to legend, a cutting from the tree in Bodh Gaya, India, under which Buddha himself achieved enlightenment, created this much-venerated symbol. Anuradhapura’s ancient metropolis is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, surrounded by monasteries occupying an area of more than sixteen square miles. It has also been one of the most stable centers of political power and urban life in South Asia for many decades.
Today, in the center of this iconic place, the town ruins are maintained with excellent care and attention to ancient and historical details. Most of them consist of three building classes: stupas, monastic houses, and ponds. Stupas are stone-built structures that contain Buddhist relics, including Buddhist monks ‘ ashes, as well as treasures and valuables. They conform to seven classic forms, vary in size from a few feet to a circumference of more than 1,100 ft (340 m), and are discovered throughout Anuradhapura. One of the most famous of the monastic structures is the Lovamahapaya, or Brazen Palace. Originally 150 feet elevated and backed by 1,600 pillars of stone, its roof was coated with bronze-copper plates. There were 1,000 rooms in the building, and corals and precious stones were covered.
Ponds are discovered everywhere, or stone-built pools used for bathing and drinking water. They include the Kalu Diya Pokuna, or Natural Black Water Pond, and are thought to have been component of an impressive network of rivers and irrigation channels. They are believed to have also created beautiful private formal gardens where the kings would relax and entertain. Sri Lanka possesses, according to historical records, the biggest quantity of Buddha’s relics that have so far been uncovered from any country. Due to the biggest amount of relics to be discovered there, Anuradhapura is considered the most important religious place.

Attractions In Anuradhapura

RUWANWELISEYA DAGABA

Ruwanweliseya, this tallest and probably the most wonderful stupa of Anuradhapura, is revered by the world’s Buddhists and considered by both believers and non-believers as an architectural wonder. Built in 140 BC by Gamini Abhaya, who governed Sri Lanka in fight after defeating Chola King Elara, this most iconic stupa in Anuradhapura, history was constructed to stringent norms and attention to detail. According to a contemporary report, ‘fine clay was brought from the Himalayas, bricks laid over the clay, rough plaster over the bricks, quartz over the plaster, a network of iron over the quartz, fragrant clay over the network of iron, white stones over the fragrant clay, rock-crystal over the white stones, and slabs of stones over the rock-crystal.


JAYA SRI MAHA BODHI

Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi in the Anuradhapura Mahamewna Gardens is a sacred fig tree. It is said to be the southern branch of the historic Sri Maha Bodhi at Buddha Gaya in India under which Lord Buddha’s Enlightenment was achieved. It was planted in 288 BC and with a known planting date it is the oldest living human-planted tree in the world. Today, it is one of the Buddhist’s most sacred relics in Sri Lanka and is respected throughout the world by Buddhists. The other fig trees surrounding the sacred tree safeguard it against storms and animals like monkeys, bats, etc.
The government prohibited all construction within 500 meters of the tree in April 2014. Only construction will be permitted which will obviously not harm the tree.
Sangamitta Theri, Emperor Asoka’s daughter and founder of an order of Buddhist nuns in Sri Lanka brought it to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC. King Devanampiya Tissa planted it in 288 BC on a high terrace about 6.5 m (21.3 feet) above ground in the Anuradhapura Mahamevnawa Park.


SAMADHI STATUE

The Samadhi Statue is a statue located in Anuradhapura, at Mahamevnawa Park. In the place of the Dhyana Mudra, the place of meditation connected with his first Enlightenment, the Buddha is portrayed. Whether the Buddha’s Enlightenment was the technically called samadhi experience, or some other phenomenon, may rely on the believer’s philosophical loyalty. The Buddha sits cross-legged in the Dhyana Mudra with his upturned palms positioned on his lap one over the other.
This stance is widely recognized throughout the Buddhist globe, and therefore this statue is one of Buddhist sculpture’s most typical parts. It is not to be confused with the very comparable “Earth-Touching Mudra,” which portrays the easy action taken by the Buddha to fend off the illusions projected by Mara, who was desperate to avoid the Buddha from realizing that his predictions, Mara’s, and with them the whole world, are an illusion. This statue is 8 feet tall and granite sculpted.


MIRISAWETI STUPA

The Mirisaweti Stupa is located in the ancient town of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. After defeating King Elara, King Dutugamunu (161 BC to 137 BC) constructed the Mirisaveti Stupa. He had gone to Tissa Wewa for a bath leaving the sceptre after putting the Buddha relics in the sceptre. He returned to the place where the sceptre was placed after the bath, and it’s said he couldn’t move it. In the location where the sceptre stood, the stupa was constructed. It’s also said that he remembered that without offering it to the sangha, he partook a chilly curry. He built the Mirisavetiya Dagaba to punish himself. This property has an area of approximately 50 acres (20 ha). Although this has been renovated by King Kasyapa I and Kasyapa V, it has been dilapidated from time to time.


ABHAYAGIRI VIHARA

Abhayagiri Vihara was located in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, a significant monastery site of Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana Buddhism. It is one of the world’s largest ruins and one of the nation’s most sacred pilgrimage Buddhist towns. Historically it was both a huge monastic center and a royal capital, with splendid monasteries rising to many tales, covered with golden bronze or burnt clay tiles covered in brilliant colors.
To the south of the town was “Abhayagiri,” one of seventeen such religious units in Anuradhapura and the biggest of its five main viharas, surrounded by large walls and containing elaborate bathing pools, sculpted balustrades and moonstones. One of the complex’s focal points is an ancient stupa, the Dagaba Abhayagiri. Abhayagiri Vihara was a Northern Monastery seat around the humped dagaba, or Uttara Vihara and the island’s initial custodian of the Tooth relic.
The word “Abhayagiri Vihara” implies not only a complex of monastic structures, but also a brotherhood of Buddhist monks, or Sangha, who maintain their own historical documents, traditions and lifestyles. Founded in the 2nd century BC, by the 1st century AD it had become an international institution, attracting scientists from all over the globe and embracing all shades of Buddhist philosophy. Its impact can be traced through branches formed elsewhere to other areas of the globe. Thus, the Abhayagiri Vihara developed in the ancient Sri Lankan capital of Anuradhapura as a great institution vis-à-vis the Mahavihara and the Jetavana Buddhist monastic sects.


THUPARAMAYA

Thuparamaya is Sri Lanka’s first Buddhist temple. The Thuparamaya Stupa is the oldest Dagoba to be built on the island in the sacred region of Mahamewna Park, dating back to King Devanampiya Tissa’s reign (247-207 BC). The temple was officially recognized as an archeological site in Sri Lanka by the government. Mahinda Thera, an envoy sent by King Ashoka himself, brought the Buddhism of Theravada and Chaitya to Sri Lanka as well. King Devanampiya Tissa built Thuparamaya at his request in which he consecrated the Buddha’s right collar-bone. It is regarded to be the first dagaba to be constructed in Sri Lanka after Buddhism was introduced and also the oldest monument to be chronicled in its development. The name Thuparamaya comes from a housing complex for monks called “stupa” and “aramaya.”

ISURUMUNIYA ROCK TEMPLE

Isurumuniya is a Buddhist temple located close the Tissa Wewa (Tisa tank) in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka. This Vihara has four sculptures of unique concern. They are the lovers of Isurumuniya, the Elephant Pond and the Royal Family.
This is where Pulasthi Rishi lived and where King Ravana was born. This site has written about 5000 years of history. This location is also one of the world’s 3 star gates. King Devanampiya Tissa (307 BC to 267 BC) ruled the temple in Anuradhapura’s ancient capital of Sri Lanka. Isurumuniya was constructed for them to live after 500 high caste kids were ordained.


VESSAGIRIYA

Vessagiri is an ancient Buddhist forest monastery that is part of the ruins of Anuradhapura, one of Sri Lanka’s ancient capitals. It is located among the boulders about half a mile south of Isurumuniya. Started in King Devanampiya Tissa’s reign (mid-3rd century BC), during King Kasyapa’s reign (473-491 AD) the site was extended to become home to about five hundred monks. The Vessagiri monks lived in rock shelters built from local materials by quarrying. The visitor of today sees only the bare stones-and not all of them, as much of the rock was later carted away and reused elsewhere. But the dwellings were completed with wood and other perishable materials when they were occupied.


SANDAKADA PAHANA

Sandakada pahana, also known as Moon-stone, is a distinctive characteristic of ancient Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese architecture. It is an elaborately sculpted semi-circular slab of stone, generally at the bottom of staircases and entrances. The sandakada pahana first seen in the latter phase of the Anuradhapura period developed through the era of Polonnaruwa, Gampola and Kandy. According to scholars, in Buddhism, the sandakada pahana symbolizes the cycle of Sansara.


GUARDSTONE (MURAGALA)

Guardstones, discovered at the entrances of all the historic houses and palaces of Anuradhapura, were originally meant to encourage mystery, awe and respect. They also symbolized fertility, wealth, and prosperity, and developed from simple stone slabs to extremely decorated — and somewhat intimidating— stone bastions, excellent instances of which are those discovered in King Wijayabahu’s palace in Anuradhapura. They feature two Bahiravas, Kuvera’s servants, the god of riches, vital embellishments including Cobra depictions, a sacred symbol best seen on guardstones in Minneriya and Mihintale in Sri Lanka’s Buddhist culture. The guardstones, together with a heavily decorated flight of stairs and elaborately sculpted moonstones, are essential to Anuradhapura’s history and are considered by early Sri Lankan artists as some of the finest sculptures ever created.

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