Important Places to visit in Sri Lanka
Colombo is the commercial centre of Sri Lanka. In the 16th Century when the Portuguese arrived, Colombo was a small trading post. They immediately realised the important strategic value of Colombo in order to dominate the coastal region. Protected by an impressive fortress they developed the harbour and the town. From those fortifications nothing much its left.
The Dutch connected the lakes and lagoons around Colombo with canals like in Holland and laid out many more spice gardens, as they were very keen to increase the lucrative spice trade. Under the British rule the harbour was considerably enlarged and Colombo gained more and more in importance. After the opening of the Suez Canal the city became an important port for transit and catering between Europe and the Far East. Today Colombo has a population of more than one million, which is rapidly increasing as any people from the rural areas come daily to Colombo looking for work and employment in order to participate in the fame and wealth of the city.
From written records, Anuradhapura was made the royal capital by the king Panduk Anhaya in 380 BC. It remained residence and royal capital for 119 successive Singhalese kings till the year 1000 AD when it was abandoned and the capital was moved to Polonnaruwa. In the 3rd Century BC the missionary Mahinda son of the North-Indian emperor Asoka brought the teachings of Buddha to Anuradhapura, which has to this day influenced Buddhism in Sri Lanka in the form of the Theravada school. After the conversion of the kingdom to Buddhism an extraordinary age of cultural ascendancy and common wealth started.
As a Buddhist stronghold Anuradhapura became famous and was honoured far across the region, as result there were innumerable processions of pilgrims to the holy city. The reason of all these pilgrims for coming was the presence of the holy Bo-tree, which was grown form a branch of the very tree under which the Lord Buddha found enlightenment, as well as to visit the Thuparama dagoba which should contain as a relic the collarbone from the Lord Buddha.
The historical chronicles, like the Mahavamsa, written by monks, give us, a complete, and unbroken documentation of the rise and fall of the Singhalese (Buddhist) kingdom. The economic basis for the rise and the dominant role of the city were the many tanks and channels, which wise rulers, have built and became a blessing for the rice cultivation and production.
At its zenith the city's area was as large as Paris today with a population of more than half a million. At the boundaries of the old holy city, still venerated today, lays the new district town with only a population left of 40'000, a mere shadow of the old mother. Unfortunately the old monuments are not in a state of good preservation, as they were covered by thick jungle for many centuries and this
has had a devastating effect. The old Anuradhapura of today is scattered with erected stone pillars, remains of walls from palaces, monasteries, and temples etc., and between old trees imposing dagobas rise majestically into the sky.
Kandy has been founded at the end of the 15th Century by a nobleman of the Singhalese court. There exist numerous legends about the foundation of the city, but there is also much evidence that the area was populated long before this foundation. Kandy is and has always been the centre of Singhalese nationalism. As defiant fortress in the mountains she successfully resisted the Portuguese and the Dutch, and it took the English two decades to conquer Kandy, capturing the last Singhalese king and sending him to India into exile where he later died. All Ceylon was then British colony and Kandy lost its role as capital but became due to its situation on 500 m above sea level a popular resort town of the new rulers. Later Kandy was the centre of the coffee industry and after a fungus infection destroyed almost all coffee plantations, a centre of the tea industry. The holy tooth temple where as a relic a tooth of the Lord Buddha is kept and venerated is the holiest shrine of the Singhalese Buddhism. No newly elected president of the country, party leader or any other dignitary can neglect to go immediately after his election or inauguration to Kandy for a visit to the temple of the holy tooth. Today Kandy is a city with a population of 160'000. In the heart of the city, close to a lovely little lake, lies the holy tooth temple, which was the last palace of the Singhalese king. Kandy with its lake and nestled within green hills is a lovely place with a very special atmosphere.
Polonnaruwa is second of importance as royal city to Anuradhapura. In the 11th Century the capital was moved from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa, as it was hoped that this new residence in such a difficult accessible area would be better protected from the notorious raids from the Indian Sub-Continent. As a result Polonnaruwa became a splendid residence and capital. During the reigns of the kings Parakrama Bahu the Great (1153 - 1186) and his successor Nissanka Malla 1187 - 1196 the Singhalese kingdom reached its last golden age, of which the splendour of its buildings and palaces the impressive irrigation system with artificial lakes, tanks and channels give clear evidence.
As in Anuradhapura the monuments and ruins are situated in a lovely tropical area, surrounded by paddy fields and jungle. The buildings are less grandiose and imposing dagobas are missing, with the exception of the Gal Vihara, a group of monumental Buddha statues, belonging to the most famous periods of Singhalese sculptural achievements. But many of the buildings and constructions are in a much better sate of preservation than in Anuradhapura.
Kasyapa son of king Dhatusena (459 - 477 AD) had his father arrested and walled alive within his tomb. His brother Moggallana, who was the legitimate successor to the throne, was sent into exile abroad, and Kasyapa was named king. As he had the power, he was in constant fear of his life. For this reason, he left the capital city of Anuradhapura and went into the wilderness where he built on top of a huge monolith which, rises 200 m from the jungle into the sky, his palace. Around this rock he constructed impressive fortifications. From Sigiriya he ruled the kingdom for 18 years (479 - 497 AD) until such time his brother Moggallana returned from India with an army. Beaten in battle he committed suicide in his rock fortress.
At the base of the monolith was the capital city and on top the citadel and attraction for the visitors are the famous frescos which date back to the time of king Kasyapa. "The Heavenly Maidens" remnants of an enormous gallery which contained once five hundred frescos- cos. No one really knows whom the seductive beauties represent, but it is easy to believe that they are heaven dwelling nymphs from a realm of radiant light. The inscriptions (graffiti) on the so called mirror wall are the testimony of visitors from the 5th to the 13th Century AC, who were impressed by the beautiful heavenly beings. The graffiti are an important document of the development of the Singhalese language.
Nuwara Eliya is situated in the central mountains - 2'000 m above sea level. It is Sri Lanka's premier hill resort. Splendid scenery and fine bracing mountain climate. Temperature average 10° C. Nuwara Eliya is decidedly English in someway (houses, gardens and places names) and was actually planned to be an English village by Sir Samuel Baker, a pioneering Englishman, in the mid 19th Century. Heart of Sri Lanka's tea country, Nuwara Eliya teas are some of the country's best.
Many of Sri Lanka high mountain peaks including the highest Pidurutalagala (2524 m) are located in this district. Excellent walks and drives, exceptionally good golf on the 18 hole course, one of the best in Asia. Trout hatchery, gardens of flowers, fruits and vegetables, not commonly associated with Sri Lanka, Hakgala Botanical Gardens famous for its collection of roses and the rare fernery.
Negombo is the major beach resort on the coast north of Colombo. Here, in an old world atmosphere of 17th Century churches and forts; dozens and dozens of hotels, guest houses restaurants and bars have sprung up along the beach. Beside luxury hotels are small, very simple guests houses. What is left from the former fishing village, you can explore at the Negombo lagoon with its many outrigger canoes.
Negombo is situated 40 km north of Colombo, close to the international airport. Long, palm-fringed, wide, sandy beaches are inviting for long walks and especially for sea bathing. With its many shops, restaurant and bars the centre of Negombo offers to the visitor many distractions. It is worthwhile to go on a boat trip to the lagoon or one of the old canals dating back to the Dutch colonisation.