Sri Lanka: Where natural beauty, cultural uniqueness blend
@ The Jakarta Post / 23 Oct 2005
The Jakarta Post's Bambang Nurbianto was invited by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board to spend eight days touring some of the country's tourist destinations. The following is his travel report.
Alessandro, 25, and his wife, an Italian couple, appeared exhausted about half-way to the top of Sigiriya -- the site of an ancient palace built on the top of a sheer 200 meter-high rock in Sri Lanka's North Central province.
"I wonder how they built this place in the fifth century? What technology they had? My wife and I must reach the top. It will be an unforgettable experience," said Alessandro, who was on his honeymoon.
Also known as the Lion Rock, Sigiriya is considered Asia's best preserved city dating back to the fifth century. It was designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations Education, Science, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1982.
It is a perfect place to visit for those who love a blend of cultural uniqueness and natural beauty.
Located some 180 kilometers south of the nation's capital of Colombo, Sigiriya is close to many other historical sites and eco-tourist destinations, such as the Temple Sacred of the Tooth Relic and the Paradeniya Botanical Garden in Kandy, the Golden Temple and its five rock temples in Dambulla, and a national park in Minneriya.
After hiking up the steep rock, passing along thousands of stone and iron steps, visitors will find the ruins of the ancient palace, which is the central point of Sigiriya city.
From the top of the rock, visitors will enjoy a green view all around as the rock is surrounded by jungle.
About 500 tourists climb the rock each day and that number doubles or triples during the country's tourist peak season from October to February.
Amid the ruins of the ancient city, tourists see lines of moats, ramparts and water gardens stretching across the rock.
The city stretches three kilometers from east to west, and one kilometer from north to south.
The water gardens, laid out to the east and west of the rock, are perfectly aligned with the palace, and the whole complex is surrounded by three ramparts and two moats.
Another interesting destination is the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic in the hilly city of Kandy. One of Buddhism's most sacred temples, it draws Buddhists from all over the world every year.
The tooth itself is never seen as it is locked up in a series of caskets that are closely guarded.
The annual Esala Parahera festival, in which a replica of the tooth is paraded through the streets of Kandy, is a very colorful festival. During the festival, according to locals, all the hotels in the city are fully booked, forcing many visitors to sleep in the surrounding towns.
Next to the temple is the royal complex, which consists of the King's Palace, the Queen's Palace, the Audience Hall, the Royal Boathouse and the Royal Summer House. All are magnificently designed and are now considered among the best achievements of local architecture.
Just six kilometers from Kandy, tourists can enjoy the Paradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens, which are home to 170 plant and flower species, including 75 endemic ones.
The gardens, covering 62 hectares, feature all types of flora growing in Sri Lanka and other species from tropical countries. In the 18th century, only members of the royal family were allowed into the gardens.
A one-hour drive from Kandy to the north is Dambulla, the location of Sri Lanka's famous cave temple complex. The Golden Temple of Dambulla has been a center of pilgrimage for Hindus and Buddhists for 22 centuries.
There are five large caverns in the complex with the largest measuring some 50 meters deep and six meters high. Inside the caverns are sitting, standing and reclining Buddha images, as well as Hindu gods. Each cave is decorated with murals of scenes from the Buddha's life.
The first temples are said to have been built in 104-76 BC, by one of the kings of Anuradhapura, who was driven from his throne by south Indian invaders during the first century BC. He took shelter here, and after regaining power had a rock temple built to thank the gods.
This cave complex built on the top of a rock is Sri Lanka's most popular historic site and home to 157 statues of Buddha in various sizes and poses.
From the top of the rock, people can see Sigiriya, which is about 20 kilometers away.
About a one-hour drive from Sigiriya is Minneriya National Park, where visitors can take a jeep to view hundreds of wild elephants.
Located in the North Central province, the park is best visited between June and October, because during this period the elephants will go down to Lake Minneriya to look for water and young grass, which grows around the lake as the water recedes during the dry season.
During this period, sometime more than 300 elephants will converge on the lake, providing a spectacular view for visitors.