Sri Lanka is an island nation that has come into vogue in recent years and is much revered for its spectacular beaches, the surf culture and the locations where the SPF 30 plus is as much a requirement as a passport is to enter the country. But from anywhere on the island’s coast you can head inland and aim roughly for the middle or just north of there and find a find a huge amount of historical, cultural and natural sights and experiences
In this article, I will share with you my top experiences form the North and Central region of Sri Lanka touching on each of these areas. History, culture, and nature. This is a visit to the top three sites in Central and Northern Sri Lanka.
Let’s start with cultural and the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa. A visit here will take about half a day and is one of the many cultural draw cards in and around Anuradhapura a major city in Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura is the capital city of North Central Province and the capital of Anuradhapura District. It is serviced by buses from Colombo. The journey will take six to eight hours and is likely to be standing room if you don’t secure your seat as one of the first on the bus before it leaves the terminal in Colombo. The cost for the bus runs at about $2. The other option is to hire a private taxi, this will only take about two to three hours and will be about $50. The difference in price is a direct reflection on the difference in comfort. I have done both so I am writing this with some confidence.
Ruwanwelisaya Stupa is not far from the center of Anuradhapura and can be reached by tuk-tuk. Arriving in the car park the Stupa is an amazing and imposing structure. It is 300 meters high and was built in the third century BC. It is one of the holiest places in Sri Lanka. Flower or candle vendors will sell you offerings to present to any one of the numerous Buddhas around the massive stupa. The huge white dome crested with a white spire topped in gold is bound by a red band which measures meters in width and hundred of meters long at the base. Simply walking around the stupa inspires awe. The sheer scale against the sky reduces the figures of the devout circling it at ground level to tiny specks in comparison. The simple, huge, white, flawless dome is contrasted by highly detailed sculptural work all around the grounds, some of the most memorable being the rows of the elephants that form a seemingly never-ending boundary.
From Ruwanwelisaya Stupa I had my tuk-tuk driver drop me off in Sigiriya for the next part of my trip in central Sri Lanka. This journey took about two hours. As a solo traveler my other option was to take a taxi. The tuk-tuk for the entire day with sightseeing and hotel pick up and drop offs was about $50 in total. Some parts of Sri Lanka are not very well serviced by public transport and taxis, tuk-tuks and hire cars are the only option. There are some great platforms to get onto and connect with other travelers to share costs, check out the facebook group Sri Lanka Taxi Share
My first day in the Sigiriya area I arrive in the afternoon so after I settled into my Airbnb I chose to climb Pidurangula Rock. This is a moderate climb that takes you to the top of the rock and provides spectacular panoramic views. The hike late in the afternoon meant I was able to catch the sunset. Pidurangula rock is free to climb and starts off in a small Buddhist temple rock garden before ascending fairly steeply upwards on a mostly man-made path. Reasonable fitness is required and expect some maneuvering and around the boulders when you get to the top. The hike up and back can be completed in under two hours, so ask your driver to pick you up at a pre-arranged time taking this into account. I would recommend give yourself an extra hour to just relax and take in the views at the top of Pidurangula. From there you can see Sigiriya, which was to be my climb the next day and you are likely to meet some other travelers who can trade stories on their experience of Sigiriya and other amazing Sri Lanka destinations. The story behind Pidurangula Rock is that the King at the time, when scoping out locations to build his palace – which ended up on Sigiriya asked the Buddhist monks who were on Sigiriya first to shift out. He found them the digs at Piduragula which is now a very sacred and significant monument. At the top, I caught my breath and observed the Sigiriya climbers ascending the rock that I would go up the next day.
My final day in the Central Sri Lanka region was set aside to explore Sigiriya. Climbing the rock forms the physical part of the visit, but when you come here you are actually exploring an entire ancient city. It is a huge grounds surrounded be several kilometers of moats which are fabled to once have homed crocodiles to protect the city. Visitors can wander through the grounds where the gardens and ponds have been maintained and kept in their original footprint according to the plans of the ancient 5th-century city. Sigiriya, also known as Lion Rock is a towering fortress made accessible to tourists and history seekers by lots of very steep stairs. Despite already traversing stairs and bridges the real climb starts when you reach the staircase straddled by two enormous lion paws, lending itself to the name Lion Rock. Not as challenging at Pidurangula, and the actual climbing portion being shorter anyone with reasonable fitness will have no problem negotiating their way to the top of Sigiriya Rock. On the way to the peak and the remains of the fortress, walkers pass over walking bridges allowing viewing of the beautiful frescos, which again are shrouded in mystery.
Sigiriya is possibly the most costly of sightseeing destinations in Sri Lanka with a ticket price of about $50. The cost can be countered by the claim of being a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a 200 meter tall rock with ruins at the peak which no one is actually sure of what the origin is. There are some different theories on the origin of the fortress. There is evidence of a monastery and monks living there and there is also the story of King Kashyapa who killed his father after he was not allowed to take over the kingdom and moved the capital from Anuradhapura to the rock fortress of Sigiriya before committing suicide wracked in guilt and defending the kingdom from being taken over by his stepbrother. Left abandoned for over 1000 years it was found and discovered and resurrected as a significant archaelogical site in the early 20th century. It is an amazing and entertaining story futher adding to the fascination surrounding this historical destination.
So with these three sites, over three days at a relaxed pace travellers get some of the best cultural, historical and natural experiences Sri Lanka has to offer.