Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle spans across many cities in the centre of the island. Of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites Sri Lanka is home to 8 of them. Of these 8 sites, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Kandy are found in its cultural triangle. The triangle is a region that shouldn’t be skipped, particularly if you are visiting the island for the first time.
The ancient capital of Anuradhapura is one of the country’s most sacred locations. It is a living heritage site and considered a Buddhist pilgrimage destination for practitioners of the philosophy around the world. Those who desire to visit Anuradhurapura usually choose to do so given the site is best known for being established around the famed branch of Lord Buddha’s fig tree. The sacred city has flourished for more than 13 centuries. However, it was eventually abandoned after an invasion which led to the capital shifting to Polonnaruwa. The site today comprises of palaces, temples and monasteries, all of which can be explored in a day.
Home to the rock citadel of Sigiriya Sri Lanka is an island steeped in culture and history. The designated UNESCO World Heritage Site is also an ancient palace. It is commonly referred to as the “Lion Rock” and is approximately a 3 hour-drive from Colombo. It consists of the ancient Sky Palace that is located atop a humungous 200-metre-tall rock, a mid-level terrace that includes the Lion Gate and is surrounded by picturesque gardens and moats lower down. It is a wonderful place for travellers to stay for a night or two given the town can easily be used as a base for daytime excursions to Polonnaruwa ( an hour away), Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks (30 minutes to an hour away), and the Dambulla Cave temples (20 minutes away).
The ancient city of Polonnaruwa served as the country’s capital city for almost two years between the 11th and 13th centuries AD. To this day, it remains a legendary destination for history buffs and nature enthusiasts to visit with its ruins and variety of indigenous flora and fauna. Its remains are well preserved with its royal palace complex that sits in the central citadel. Here, the city’s walls have been restored heavily in order to encompass the imposing base of the Council Chamber and the Royal Baths. All of these are surrounded by encroaching vegetation. Alahana Pirivena, the Monastery of the Cremation Grounds, sits at the North of the citadel and is home to some of the city’s finest ruins. The chief among these is the Lankatilaka temple whose towering brick walls stand at a height of 17 metres.
Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park
Asian elephants of Minneriya and Kaudulla National Parks are known to congregate for what is referred to as “The Gathering”. The two parks are adjacent each other and separated by the “elephant corridor” jungle between them. The elephant population in this region tends to shift between the two parks. “The Gathering” might well be the most significant gathering of Asian elephants in the world. It occurs during the dry season from June/July to September where the elephants are compelled to travel to large reservoirs in the Minneriya and Kaudulla region to bathe, graze on fresh grass and drink clean water.
Dambulla Cave Temple
The Dambulla Cave Temple has been a sacred pilgrimage site for around 22 centuries. This cave temple complex comprises of 5 caves featuring Buddhist mural paintings and houses more than 150 statues. The location, also referred to as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, is a living temple. This means that Buddhists from Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the world travel to the site to pray and worship and pray here. Travellers to the region residing at nearby hotels such as the Cinnamon Lodge Habarana can explore the many caves at the site and appreciate its paintings’ rich details, within a day. The temple is located just 20-30 minutes away from Sigiriya Rock.
Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy
The landscape of Kandy is in stark contrast to the arid ones of Anuradhapura and Sigiriya. Kandy is situated in verdant hill country and boasts of lush mountain ranges, lakes and waterfalls. The sacred city is perhaps best known for being the home of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth- a staple in many Kandy tours. The temple houses the tooth of Lord Buddha that was brought down to Sri Lanka in the 16th century. It is often packed with travellers to the region who visit it to worship, pray and carry out rituals on a daily basis. Many luxury hotels such as the Cinnamon Citadel Kandy have since opened up in close proximity to the temple, making it possible for travellers embarking on Kandy tours to do so while being in the lap of luxury.