Sri Lanka's charming heritage sites off the beaten track
Here is our Top 10 list of Sri Lanka's less well-known cultural destinations that are well worth a visit.
All of them are ancient heritage sites situated in a delightful natural surrounding far away from the crowds. Whoever is looking for some authentic travel experience without souvenir and softdrink stalls, will be glad to visit one or more of these Top 10 heritage sites not included in each and every round tour itinerary nor mentioned in all pocket guides.
Thiriyaya has the best-preserved typical Sinhalese round-temple from the Anuradhapura period, pleasantly situated on top of a hillock not far from the coastline. But there are remains of many more buildings of an ancient Buddhist monastery in Thiriyaya. Interestingly, Tamil Buddhists contributed to the history of this place at the end of the first millenium C.E.
Sithulpawwa is the best example of an ancient monastery with caves, image houses, dagobas, inscriptions in the areas of the southern kingdom of the island, once called Rohana in the Buddhist Pali language, or Ruhunu in today's Sinhala language. It's located in the wilderness of the world-famous Yala National Park.
Pilikuththuwa is not far away from Colombo, but it's a very tranquil and rarely visited forest monastey. Pilikuththuwa's natural caves are still inhabited by reclusive Buddhist monks. Combined with the nearby Maligathenna, the Pilikuththuwa range is one of the most scenic ancient sacred complexes in Sri Lanka, a perfect place for a hike.
Haththikuchchi has only recently been identified as the setting of one of the most famous stories about one of Sri Lanka's most beloved kings, the self-sacrife of King Sirisanghabo took place here, and the king was worshipped like a saint here in Haththikuchchi. The ancient monastery is pictursquely surrounded by hills and rock boulders.
Pidurangala is the "smaller brother" of neighbouring Sigiriya, Pidurangala was the main monastery built by Sigirya's King Kassapa. There are cave temples and remnants of a forest monastery. Main heritage attraction is a giant sleeping Buddha built of brick. The peak of the monadnock is one of the most spectacular panorama view points of Sri Lanka.
Kudumbigala is a monastery still inhabited by reclusive monks, too. It situated in a group of rock outcrops, with an ancient brick dagoba of unusual design on the very top. Because Kudumbigala is at the border of the Yala East and Kumana National Park, it is a wildlife are, for example visited by sloth bears regularly.
Thanthirimale is not far from Anuradhapura, at the border of Sri Lanka's largest national park, Wilpattu. Thanthirimale is believed to be the location of Sri Lanka's most famous love story, the local version of "Romeo and Juliette". A giant sleeping Buddha cut from the rock and a sitting Buddha very similar to the Polonnaruwa style and furthermore Sri Lanka's second most revered sacred Bodhi-Tree and rock paintings of prehistoric inhabitants of the island are Thanthirimale's most impressive attractions for visitors.
Kalupokuna is an idyllic complex of ruins in the middle of a nature reserve. This area in the intermediate zone is famous for birdlife and butterflies. Huge rock inscriptions prove that this was once an important Buddhist monastery supported by kings from Anuradhapura. Today's visitor will enjoy the silence of this ancient place.
Pahiyangala is one of Sri Lanka's most significant pregistoric sites, where remains of the remarkable Balangoda man have been found. Later on, Faxian, the famous Buddhist traveller and pilgrim and scholar from China, lived here before proceeding to Siri Pada. Pahiyangala is the largest "abri" (semi-cave under an overhanging rock) in South Asia, today adorned with a giant sleeping Buddha.
Dambadeniya became the capital of the island after the fall of Polonnaruwa in the 13th century. A palace was built on top of a monadnock and a tooth temple in the plains in front of it. Not much is to see here now from the original Dambadeniya period any more. Nevertheless, the temple at the place of the former tooth temple with lots of fascinating paintings in the Kandyan style and the magnificent view from the palace rock are still worth a visit.
If you are interested in visiting extraordinary places not included in normal tourist itineraries such as those mentioned above, please don't hesitate to contact us to work out a suitable itinerary showing you these or many other destinations off the beaten track, those places that will leave a more genuine impression of Sri Lanka's ancient culture than the modern tourist hubs.
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