By Deepa Krishnan.
Sri Lanka is a land of pure beauty, bliss and an unhurried and tranquil lifestyle that calms your soul. And that’s incredible for a country that has been at civil war for 26 long years and finally found peace only as late as 2009.
The country has sprawling tea estates and sanctuaries in the east; stunning beaches and Dutch-Portugese architecture of the South to the fun and party beaches and shopping locales in the West. Sri Lanka has a diversity that boggles your mind given the tiny size of the island.
Top six must-visit places:
Galle Fort: Situated 119 kms. from Colombo; Galle was a Portuguese and Dutch colony. Galle Fort is a world heritage site and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers. The entire area that spans 16 sq kms. can be comfortably covered on foot in a couple of hours. Once in Galle; you can just walk around, rent a cycle and ride around town or just sit in one of the cafes and chat with the locals and tourists. The fort has a church, mosque and a lighthouse in its premises.
Mirissa – Whale watching: Mirissa is an ayurvedic resort and a quirky hostel on the beachfront. This is a pit stop where you can book a boat ride and go out into the ocean to watch whales. The day I booked my ride; it was raining and the sea was choppy. As we reached the spot where whales are likely to be spotted; the boat was riding the waves and tossing around so much that we could barely even sit steady; but the thrill of spotting these magnificent creatures as they surfaced and then dove into the depths of the ocean will always stay in my mind.
Sigiriya Fort – UNESCO Heritage site: Sigiriya is part of the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka that includes Dambulla and Anuradhapura. Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress that is dominated by a massive column of rock nearly 200 metres high. According to ancient Sri Lankan chronicles, this site was selected by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital. As you walk through the site which has remnants of ancient gardens, complete with fountains and an amazing drainage system you can`’t help but feel fascinated by the immaculate planning and craftsmanship. As you climb up the rock through a spiral staircase you get magnificent views of the lush green surroundings.
Dambulla Caves : The way to the caves involves a climb of 20 minutes. There are five caves in all that are open to the public, but the surrounding areas are purported have around 80 such caves. The caves are under a large rock that is carved with a drip line that keeps the caves dry. Stunning statues and paintings of the life of Gautama Buddha greet you inside the cave.
Nuwara Eliya: Located at an altitude of 6000 ft, it is the heart of tea production in Sri Lanka. A beautiful hill station, it is also called Little England owing to its colonial architecture, cobblestone paths and English styled homes. The area is full of picturesque tea estates where you can spend the day doing a round of the tea gardens and factories and sip on a hundred different types of teas while you soak in the breathtaking views and bite into delicious tea cakes.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: Started as a way to nurture and take care of abandoned or lost elephants, you get to feed elephants and have the babies drink milk out of bottles, watch them bathe, eat, go about their life in general. Along the way you can buy souvenirs and other artifacts made from elephant poop. It is a great example of a well-managed tourist spot with information provided at the right places, well maintained facilities and a general happy vibe in the air. (Economic Times)