As an island that is home to two major religions (Buddhism and Hinduism), and with over 3000 years of history, Sri Lanka is filled with historic monuments to explore. On this trip to my motherland, my goal was to learn about Lanka through the lens of a tourist. Being born in Jaffna during the Sri Lankan civil war, my ideas and historic knowledge are easily biased by my Tamil upbringing. But as a Sri Lankan, I had the urge to know more about my ethnic roots.
After a quick beachside stay in Negombo, a beach town closer to the airport than the capital city, Colombo, my friends and I hired a driver to take us on a road trip adventure for three days. This would be the most efficient way to see a lot of places in a shorter span of time. Travelling around Sri Lanka can be challenging since tourism is fairly new, but travel companies are popping up everywhere. Trains and buses are the most affordable way to go from city to city, but if there are few people travelling together, it is much more convenient to hire a driver with a car. Guesthouses also have a driver’s quarters built in so the driver always has a place to stay. The only extra cost would be if you want to pay for your driver’s meals, which we did a few times because it can be awkward to have your driver just sitting there, watching the tourists binge away!
We got lucky with a wonderful driver named Amal who would become our Sri Lankan uncle, taking care of us the entire time. We even got to meet his wife as he took us along to his home while he packed his bags to travel with us for a few days.
From Negombo we headed north, to the central province to visit the ancient capital of Pollonnaruwa, a UNESCO Heritage Site that was the capital from 11th – 13th century CE. Although Pollonnaruwa is the only the second most important ancient capital after Anuradhapura, is also considered to be more interesting, which was my reason for choosing this spot. After wandering through the ruins and taking photos, you do get ‘ruin’ed out pretty easily, no matter how interesting it may be, partly due to the scorching sun.
The true highlight for me was seeing the wild monkeys all over the place, and the beautifully lush landscapes of the central province. Our next stop was Dambulla, the closest town to Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress.
We headed to Sigiriya (about 20km from Dambulla) to catch the sunset. It takes about 1-2 hours to climb the rock to the top (200 meters), mostly stairs that are set on a path, single file. This rock was once a Buddhist monastery turned fortress to one of Sri Lanka’s most well known king, King Kashyapa (477 – 495 CE) who ruled from atop. The sunset views are stunning and it’s quite mystical to imagine how the king maintained a kingdom from way up top.
Dambulla is also known for it’s cave temple, a Buddhist temple made up of five caves of beautiful frescoes and statutes. After this circuit of ruins and temples in 3 days, we were ready for a change of pace and scenery. Next stop, living the beach life in Sri Lanka!