The tale of the legendary Manning Market in Colombo

Legendary… why so?

The Manning Market is about a 150 years old! So why not use the term ‘legendary’, right?

No one knows the exact year of establishment but vendors who are carrying out businesses in the area say this is how old the market is. And as for its name, the market was inaugurated after British Governor William Manning (1918-1925). Initially it was referred to as ‘Manning food warehouse’ and then ‘Manning Market’ just became easier. Several attempts were made to rename the area as the “New Market” but people somehow could not forget the ‘Manning Market’!

From a warehouse to a grocery market…

Starting out in Pettah, the place where it all initially began was once a sugar warehouse during the British colonial era – according to vendors at Manning. The crumbling colonial architecture, cobblestones and large brickwork is proof that the structure is over a hundred years old and has gone through absolutely no refurbishment since then. About 3 acres in size, the warehouse is constructed with steel beams, hardy wood, cobblestone flooring and large brickwork.

Pettah – the commercial hub of Colombo…

Pettah is a trading zone in central Colombo where almost anything and everything can be found. Whether you are looking for currency exchange to second hand bookstores to textiles to stationers, the marketplace is sprawling with wholesale and retail dealers. And with the Manning Market being located in Pettah, practically everyone headed there for grocery shopping for many many years.

Once the epicenter in Colombo for suppliers and buyers, the popularity of Manning Market as a sole provider of fresh products has decreased.

Over the years, with the floating market coming up, the fish market being relocated to Peliyagoda, the establishment of more and more convenient supermarkets, the ever-expanding high rises in Colombo city pushing out older structures for space, the number of people visiting Pettah has been on the decline. Vendors at the Manning Market are now finding it difficult to provide for their families with just the profits made from selling groceries.

Shifting locations…

Colombo became really crowded as a result of the newer establishments, and busy marketplaces like the Manning Market were affected because there was no place for people to park and shop, and the preservation of the warehouse was absolutely neglected.

In 2016, the government decided to shift the Manning Market from Pettah to Peliyagoda.

According to vendors, whoever is buying up the old place will be lucky because everything could be repurposed and was significantly valuable.

Optimistic vendors are happy because they believe Peliyagoda will become the next developed commercial hub. Compared to the 3 acres in Pettah, the Manning Market relocation resulted in a 25 acre area being allocated for this purpose. Clients of the Manning who purchase wholesale products will still stick around and in fact will have better facilities such as a cleaner area, plenty of space and no stress for parking transportation vehicles. Furthermore, the UDA believes that this move will ease traffic congestion in the heart of Colombo.

Wild Coast Tented Lodge – Yala

Best New Luxury Hotel of the Year 2017 Award, at the first ever TTG luxury Travel Awards held in London

For travelers looking for extraordinary tented experience surrounded by the amazing wilderness overlooking the beautiful rugged beachside-Indian Ocean, Wild Coast Tented Lodge offers the epitome of luxury tented camp stay in Yala. The Five-star lodge is Resplendent Ceylon’s latest addition to their chain with a whole different feel and look to it, designed with eco friendly, 28 tents like cocoons. Boasting a blend of grandeur with bespoke services, Wild Coast Tented Lodge is the ideal residence for the discerning luxury traveler seeking a luxurious sanctuary in the infamous Yala jungle.

Accommodation

Designed in colonial expedition style, the cocoons like tents include 28 in total, 4 of each with a plunge pool that gives you privacy and peace you’re looking out for.

The eco-friendly, tents made in canvas with teak and leather furnishing. They are all inclusive of a free style copper tub that offers you the jungle view.

Luxury Hotel in Sri Lanka

Use of bamboo and teak throughout the property is also significantly remarkable. Especially walking into the room, a bamboo and clay pot offers you cool water to refresh your feet. This water is none other than the water that drain through the Air Conditioning in the cocoon, that is collected in the Clay pot and then used for this purpose. Eco Friendly in deed. 🙂

The perfect nature walks through gravel paths to tents is the rather interesting aspect one would enjoy with the benefit to enjoy nature, bump into a few animals near the watering holes, and listen to the sounds of birds chipping.

The cocoons nestle in the midst of small ponds like watering holes. You could sit out there at your tent every night at dusk, eagerly waiting for the animals to gather at the watering hole. Not to mention the Giant Elephant that might come to your plunge pools to have a sip of water. This is one brilliant idea as we gathered from the Wild Coast family; in times of draught, even animals that are typically predator and giant Elephants peacefully assess the drinking water.

Restaurant and Bar

The Ten Tusks Restaurant

‘The Ten Tusks’ restaurant and ‘The Den’ bar is a sight to behold. Craftily detailed bamboo ceiling and a simple ground, filled up with dolomite stones are absolutely archi-loving. It is a perfect open air pavilion with natures complimenting tempting winds directed from the Indian Ocean. In deed very promising and quite the cozy space for dining while detoxing after a safari round enjoying your authentic Sri Lankan cuisine.

The view with the infinite pool by the bar, overlooking the beach is the perfect paradise in your eyes. When the sun sets and the kerosene oil lanterns light up one would simply feel the peace and serenity in a jungle by the beach.

Extras

Here’s a tip to all out there looking out for the best romantic dining experience in the jungle. Wild Coast offers you the best personalized dining experience where the moonlight reflects on the sea, the sound of rough waves that breaks against the giant rocks, lanterns that light up your night, the astounding stars right above your head, the smell of meat that grills in the BBQ, and if you are really lucky a loner elephant might happen to wander around ‘wildly’. All senses are awakened. What more completes a perfect dinner in a jungle?

Best Romantic Dining Experience

All about Adam’s Peak: An Ultimate Guide

From crimson to gold – beginning from the crack of dawn, and all the way up to sunrise, the sky changes colors every minute when you are at the summit of Adam’s Peak – Sri Lanka. And those few seconds where the sun is bringing itself out, you can literally see the golden ball of fire MOVING right before your eyes.

This is undoubtedly THE most beautiful sunrise in all of Asia. If you want to experience it, you will surely have to sweat it out to get there.

Getting there…

  • Dalhousie of Nallathanniya is the base town for Adam’s Peak. Several guesthouses, restaurants and shops selling essential items are available here.
  • You can reach Dalhousie by a direct bus from Colombo or Kandy if you are travelling during December – May (peak season). During off season, you have to get to get into three buses – with a stop at Hatton, Maskeliya and then Dalhousie.
  • Private transport offered by all tour agents in Sri Lanka is the best option for pickup from your doorstep and drop right at the base of Adam’s Peak.
  • Slightly Chilled and Hotel White Elephant are two recommended guesthouses if you want to stop over for a night after your tiring climb.
  • There is absolutely no entrance fee in climbing the Adam’s Peak. You might run into some monks at the entrance who will tie a string around your wrist and request for a donation – but it is totally up to you.

The Climb…

  • Climbing up the 5500 steps and then climbing down those very same steps is a murder for your calves and thighs. So be prepared for the challenge.
  • Ideal time to begin for those who are on average fitness levels would be between 1.00 to 2.00a.m. This will leave plenty of time to climb the last stretch and be at the summit just in time for sunrise.
  • Shoes are a must-have footwear. It doesn’t necessarily have to be hiking shoes but any kind of sports shoes with a good grip will suffice. If you have week knees, trekking poles are advised.
  • Beginning the hike too early might lead to reaching the summit way before sunrise and then you would have to wait too long in the cold weather.
  • In your backpack, be sure to carry a jacket, plenty of water and a headlamp (if climbing during the off season).
  • At the base, you will see a trail of sparkling lights ascending into the sky until they become similar to the twinkling starts. Assure yourself that this is the night you will reach that last light on the mountain.
  • The first half of the climb is quite easy with long walks and nicely carved out steps that are not so steep. The latter half gets narrower and steeper.
  • On the way to the summit, there are small shops at regular intervals selling roti, hot tea and water; most of which are open only during the season time.
  • Don’t be surprised if you come across local pilgrims chanting away in groups and climbing with bare feet – it is part of their pilgrimage.
  • Choose a Sunday night rather than Friday or Saturday night (during peak season) if you want to avoid the crowds (especially at the summit) and have a peaceful climb.

The Summit… The View…

  • The panoramic view at the summit of Adam’s Peak is one of the grandest in the world as there is no other mountain that present unobstructed views of land and sea as this one.
  • The best view for sunrise is just a few feet before the peak itself: there is a small platform to the left of the stairs (if you are facing the peak).
  • After sunrise, the view across the lakes, all the way to the Horton Plains and into the heart of Sri Lanka’s hill country is spectacular.
  • Notice the shadow of the entire mountain fall behind you and imagine yourself at the peak of that mountain shadow.
  • At sunrise, a small Buddhist ceremony takes place at the shrine where the footprint is treasured. Pilgrims then line up to enter the shrine and get a glimpse of the footprint.
  • Some of the beautiful things to be observed on your way back in the daylight are some carved motifs, viewpoints displaying stunning waterfalls, a Japanese peace pagoda, a wilderness sanctuary, a hydropower project and the Baghava Cave (with inscriptions).

Every so often during your daylight descent, simply stop and enjoy the breathtaking view of the surrounding natural beauty.

Migrant bird specialties at Bundala National Park

Located in the Southern Province – Hambantota disctrict, Bundala National Park is an important breeding ground for international migratory birds that are escaping the winters. Around November – April every year, the park sees an uprising in the overseas bird community. Sri Lanka is the preferred destination of choice for a variety of migrating birds – and these birds usually pick the same stop over site every year. Hence this is the peak season for bird lovers to explore the different species of birds at the park.

Studying bird migration

Bird lovers would understand how fascinating it is to observe bird migration. Every year, as the visiting season approaches, these overseas birds are attracted to Sri Lanka because of the geographical position of the island – lying just below the tip of the subcontinent of India. Sri Lanka seems to be the final destination of the birds’ long journey – escaping their northern homes in cold climates.

Mist nets

In April 2005, Sri Lanka launched the National Bird Ringing Program – a scientific study of bird migration patterns, at the Bundala National Park. 15kms east of Hambantota are the wetlands at Bundala – a paradise for migrant birds, and this is the base for the ringing program. Bird ringing is a delicate operation and usually takes place at dusk. Nets with small eye size holes – known as mist nets – are looped around the Bundala lagoon as a trap for birds. When birds get entangled to these nets, they are taken to the camp for recording of statistics. Every time a bird is brought to the camp, an individually numbered ring is attached to its legs which makes it easier to study their migration patterns.

Ringing operations

Four times a year this ringing exercise takes place – three during the migration season and one in July. The three operations that are conducted during the migration period take place as follows:

  • Beginning of winter – September to October
  • Mid of Winter – December to January
  • End of Winter – March to April

 

Migration patterns

The National Bird Ringing team observed that birds start arriving around mid August in Sri Lanka, which is much ahead of the winter in their native lands. They spend approximately six month in the island and return to their original breeding grounds towards the latter part of April the following year. From 492 bird species recorded in Sri Lanka, about 36% of these (169 species) are migrants. The bulk of migrating birds are from the waders, ducks, and coastal bird families.

Migrant birds wherever you go!

If you are a careful observer of birds and wildlife, you will be interested to know that it’s not just at Bundala National Park where you can see these beautiful species during your Sri Lanka round tour. Some common migrant birds visit home gardens, hotels, and populated urban areas such as Colombo city. So don’t be surprised if you look outside your hotel room and come across an Indian Pitta, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Brown Flycatcher, Barn Swallow or the Forest Wagtail!

In fact the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka – an affiliate of BirdLife International encourages bird lovers to observe and study migratory birds (MigrantWATCH). Some of them arrive in Sri Lanka in an exhausted state after their long journey. We, as humans and bird lovers should protect such birds if we see them in our gardens. If you think a bird is injured or troubled and needs expert help, do report to relevant authorities of the MigrantWATCH program.

Feel the Aluth Avurudu (New Year) in Sri Lanka

The Aluth Avurudu season has arrived in Sri Lanka! If you are on a tour of Sri Lanka during the month of April, here are a few things that will be the norm across the island.

Commercially

Busier than ever activity ranges from textile shops to tailors to sweet eats outlets to grocers to the humble roadside sellers of clayware.

People grumble about the cost of ordinary commodities – yet, as 12th April approaches, the frenzy will begin. New clothes are a must and so are exchanges of presents – which commonly include cash and clothing. Hence people will flock to vendors that sell saris, skirts, shirts, sarongs and other apparel for themselves and their family.

Domestically

Housewives will be running from one end to the other to grab groceries, buy clay pots for boiling milk, sew new costumes for their little Avurudu Kumaraya’s and Kumari’s (Prince and Princesses) to wear, and spring clean their houses for the New Year festivities. While some women prefer to prepare the traditional Avurudu eatables at home and fill the aroma of their houses with hot oil of Kavum and Kokis, some prefer to just buy the sweets off the shelves from shops. It’s been about two decades since bakeries and grocers began selling these eatables on their shelves. Previously, home cooking was the only option.

In most Sinhalese homes, ‘kiribath’ (milk rice) is the first meal cooked using the prescribed recipe, at the auspicious time, facing the correct direction. The mother gives each member of the house a piece of kiribath, usually beginning with her husband. Children bow down to elders and then ganu denu takes place. This is the exchanging of coins and notes wrapped in a betel leaf. Gifts of cash and kind are also exchanged at this time.

Celebrations

The Sinhala and Tamil New Year is a celebration of togetherness for families. Children go to their home towns to visit parents on or before the parana avurudu day (last day of the old year) and stay with them until the oil anointing and milk overflowing ceremonies are conducted at the auspicious times dictated by astrologers.

Temples will see a surge in devotees as religious activities are encouraged during the inauspicious period of the transition between the old and the New Year.  Container loads of delicious sweets made with rice flour and kitul treacle circle around the homes of many. These traditional avurudu goodies are laid on trays, covered with lace covers and sent to neighbors as a habit of shared friendship and co-living.

Games

  • Pancha Keliya – an indoor game involving five small sea shells as dice, a coconut shell and a chart. All players of pancha keliya are divided into two teams.
  • Porapol Gaheema – two teams of players: each take turns to throw coconuts until all the nuts in the basket have broken. The winning coconut is kept in the temple. It is believed that this game originated even before Buddhism came into being.
  • Ankeliya – is more of a religious ritual in which young boys are divided into two teams who meet at a tugging field. Both teams have a buffalo horn hooked to each other which has to be pulled and broken. The team whose horn breaks first is the loser of the game.
  • Pillow Fighting – two contestants fight against each other with pillows, but one hand is tied at the back onto a pole. The person who falls off loses and the next player takes his turn.
  • Tug O’ War – a popular game played in many school sports meets in Sri lanka. Two teams of players line up facing in opposite directions, alongside a long rope. The center of the rope is marked and when the whistle blows, both teams pull hard. Whichever team is dragged onto the opposing team’s direction will lose the game.
  • Olinda Keliya – women play this game with Olinda seeds and a stool that has two columns with seven holes in each row.
  • Onchili Padeema – swinging on a tyre that is positioned as a seat and strongly tied from two sides, on to a tree.
  • Raban contests – drumming competitions
  • Coconut scraping competitions.
  • Kanaa Alleema – a local version of “Blind man’s Bluff”.

These traditional games are designed to encourage making friends and enhance team spirit of people. Some of these activities also have a religious significance in honor of Sri Lanka’s deities.

During you holiday in Sri Lanka, you will most likely come across many of the traditional eatables and games being played at the hotels that you are staying. Do indulge in the sweet eats and take part in these fun filled games and have a more localized holiday experience!

It’s Christmas for Sri Lankans this April!

Yes, it is that time of the year where Sri Lankans go all out and empty their pockets to complete their yearlong shopping lists!

In our childhood, we as Sri Lankan kids wait impatiently during the New Year holidays for ‘nakath’ time when we can exchange gifts and see what others have got for us. Children in every household are impatiently lounging over the gift bags, peeking into them to get a glimpse of what awaits.

Today though, life is not so simple. Although shopping is a great deal of fun, expenses are soaring high and restrictions to the shopping list are many. Also, as adults, we are now on the opposite end of receiving gifts – having to get other people gifts.

The good part about a holiday in Sri Lanka at this time of the year is that you get to see almost all stores go on sale for Avurudu – the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year – shopping fest. For us Sri Lankan shopaholics, we consider ourselves extremely lucky to be able to shop on all-out sales twice a year – Christmas and Avurudu. What’s better than having the chance to buy your favorite brand at massive discounted rates?

Whether it is the local online shopping stores, local retail brands or high end international brands, every brand goes on sale for the Avurudu season. In fact there are dedicated shopping festivals held in exhibition halls and trade centers particularly for this festive season. Just two weeks ago, SLECC concluded a 3 day shopping festival that was organized for the 2nd consecutive year. This coming weekend is the last one before Avurudu to get your shopping done. So whether you are a local or a foreigner on tour, don’t miss out on the amazing deals.

Shopping can indeed be tiresome; particularly for men – whose job is to follow women around while they contemplate if the items in the basket are good enough or whether they should try out some more. Well, before you set out to shop, keep in mind 3 important tips so that you make sure you’ve visited all the ‘most wanted’ stores on your list and you do not come back home regretting what you did and did not buy.

Set out a budget

Decide how much money you have to treat yourself to a shopping spree. Do your expense calculations and set a figure aside. Make sure you stick to that amount because if not, you might end up having to borrow or not having enough to spend on something else.

Do your research

As mentioned before, literally every store has got a deal. If you have a few brands in mind, look up their websites and see what they have on offer. You could also go through credit card websites to see which stores offer discounts for the cards you own. Apart from that, websites like promo.lk have a compiled list of promotions offered island wide. Plenty of information is available online. Just take some time and do your research and narrow down the stores that you want to visit.

Bargain with yourself

All stores that offer promotions have fixed prices and you cannot bargain with them for further discounts; unless you decide to shop at the Pettah market (Fort). Pettah is the trading hub of Colombo and all of Sri Lanka you can say. Most of the wholesale trade and island wide distribution originates from here. In this busy maze, retail stores for all items – ranging from textiles to stationery to toys to plastics to groceries, everything is available and bargaining is possible.

But apart from Pettah, bargaining with other retails vendors is just not possible. Hence you have to learn to bargain with yourself. Ask yourself if the items in your basket are very essential, are they worth the price, will you use it often, does it seem durable, will it look good on you or in your house, and do you really need it?

Budgeting, researching and bargaining are 3 simple steps to make your shopping experience, better and more worthwhile.

So while you are in Sri Lanka this April, experience Avurudu as Christmas season and fill up your shopping lists, or simply prepare in advance for Christmas 2018!

What makes Sri Lanka a three in one holiday destination?

Spend about two weeks in Sri Lanka and you will see why it can be classified as a three-in-one holiday destination. You can experience the historic and cultural attractions similar to those in Kyoto, safari tours such as those in Serengeti (Africa) and Amalfi (Italy) style beach vacations.

Here is a picture story taking you through beautiful seas to luscious tea country in Sri Lanka…

Beginning with the beaches

Tangalle, Weligama and Bentota in the south are some of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka in terms of beaches. Long stretches of sea are bordered by lively towns and fringed with welcoming coconut palms, not forgetting the traditional stilt fisherman who hang out in the waters off the coast of Weligama.

Stunning Beach View

Amanwella in Tangalle, Marriott Beach Resort in Weligama and Eden Resorts and Spa in Bentota are some high end luxury hotel options for your accommodation at these 3 stops. While you are on the southern coast, don’t forget to explore the historical town of Galle, its Dutch ruins amidst the modern colony of restaurants and cafes, and a beautiful atmosphere or colonial architecture.

Galle Fort Sri Lanka

Bentota, also known as the seaside capital of Sri Lanka, is where you can visit the private home of legendary architect Geoffrey Bawa – responsible for the stunning designs of many prosperous hotels in Sri Lanka today:

  • Blue Waters – Wadduwa
  • Triton Hotel – Ahungalla
  • Heritance Kandalama – Dambulla
  • The Kandy House
  • Jetwing Lighthouse – Galle

Bawa’s designs are solely recognized to display “Tropical modernism” – which is a style defined by strict simplicity while also infused with wealthy richness.

Luxury Hotels in Sri Lanka
His home – Number 11, is only open for visitors by prior appointment so don’t forget to make one. If you are a crazy fan of Sir Bawa, you can request your tour operator to book your accommodation at Number 11 to make your trip even more memorable!

Moving on to the cultural triangle

Located at the heart of the island, it is about 5 hours drive from Colombo. The 3 ancient cities that make up the triangle are Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura and Kandy; the latter being the main hub of the 3. Kandy is surrounded by a lake and bordered with sundry shops, alleys and cafes.

Kandy in Sri Lanka

Knuckles Mountain Range
The highlight in Kandy is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic that protects the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. A visit to this Temple also shows you around different historic and traditional rituals of Buddhists in Sri Lanka. While in Kandy, if you are in the mood for a picturesque trek, keep in mind the Knuckles Mountain Range – pictured here.
The other 2 cities – Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa – that make up the cultural triangle mostly exhibit historical ruins from the different Kingdoms that ruled in ancient Ceylon. The Cave Temples in Dambulla are also a highlighted attraction – mountain caves that were claimed as a holy site over 2000 years ago with an abundance of colorful Buddhist and Hindu scriptures.
Cave Temple in Dambulla

Wildlife indulgence

Now moving on to explore the wildlife in Sri Lanka, you could choose one of more of the following places (each of which are equipped with safari and camping facilities to add to your experience):

  • Minneriya National Park – Known for sighting massive herds of elephants at onceMinneriya National Park
  • Wilpattu National Park – Known for the existence of natural water basins filled with rain water: which animals use as their natural habitat
  • Wilpattu National Park

  • Yala National Park – Known for its unique species of fauna such a leopard, sloth bear, jackal, deer, and so on.Yala National Park

So there we have it – a mix of history and culture, exotic beaches and stunning wildlife, all entailed within this beautiful island nation – making it a one stop shop for all your holiday needs.

Discover the ancient cities of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle and its treasure trove of archaeological sites is increasing in popularity amongst travelers – with its frolicking monkeys, massive statues of Buddha and ruins that are over 1500 years old, no one wants to miss out on exploring these!

  1. The rock at the heart of the triangle

One of the most magnificent archaeological sites is the soaring rock fortress of Sigiriya. In the late 5th century, this palace was built in the geographical heart of Sri Lanka – within the area known today as the cultural triangle. The cultural triangle itself is home to at least five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the Lion’s Rock is one of them.

In 1982, the Sri Lankan government launched the Cultural Triangle Project with an aim to restore, conserve and promote ancient ruins such as Sigiriya. However, in less than a year, this project came to a halt as the civil war erupted throughout the country. In 2009, this bloody war ended and consequently, tourism has expanded. Peak season kicks off in December and visitors flock to the Cultural Triangle. Many hotels have recently sprung up in Sigiriya and the rest of the triangle. According to a resident naturalist at Jetwing Vil Uyana, tourists come to Sigiriya because of the Lion’s Rock – which according to him is the main attraction in the region of the Cultural Triangle, and probably all of Sri Lanka.

  1. Sigiriya frescos

The legendary King Kasyapa built the fortress of Sigiriya on a natural rock that was 200 meters high – simply for defensive purposes. He had committed the murder of his father – Kind Dhatusena during the year 477 and had fled from the city of Anuradhapura. He had a fear of his brother avenging the killing and Mogallana (Kasyapa’s brother) did just that. 20 years after the crime, Mogallana returned from exile in India and came with an army to capture Sigiriya. Not only did Mogallana win over the fortress but he also gained ownership of the stunning frescos beautifully custom designed by Kasyapa. With deep color tones and fragmented borders, these frescos were believed to be the King’s favorite companions and were very different to the paintings of the Anuradhapura era.

  1. Photo bombing by monkeys

Central Sri Lanka has monkeys sprawled all over the place. Wherever you stop for a nice click, laugh at the sight of a macaque saying hi from the back! Among the monkey family, macaques are common. Although these are small, they can be very aggressive. They often do a good job at protecting belongings that tourists may leave unattended.

  1. Ancient water gardens

In Sigiriya, you will also find the oldest surviving gardens in Asia. At the center of these beautiful gardens are quadrilateral pools of water. Also known as char-bagh or four gardens, this Persian style attraction is built from limestone. These water gardens are connected to a channel at the bottom of the palace by means of a fully functioning 1500 year old underground conduit.

The cleanliness and preservation of artefacts in Sigiriya is exceptional. Archaeologists are constantly working on the site, making new discoveries every now and then. The most recent one being a 2000 year old clay pot found close to the water channel.

  1. The Lion’s Paw protected by Hornets

For some centuries, the ruins of Sigiriya were neglected and a thick jungle grew around the area. In 1890, a team from the Archaeology department performed backbreaking work in the scorching heat having to climb and descend the rock every single day. The hard work paid off indeed because the team discovered a massive lion’s head, legs and paws, located around the southern end of the rock. In the early 20th century, the legs and head of the lion collapsed but the paws remain until today.

Visiting this area is kind of tricky because just above the set of paws is a huge colony of hornet hives. These hornets become active in the afternoons, particularly during the dry season. As a result, authorities will temporarily close the site. The idea of removing the hives was discussed and ruled out because the hornets would simply build more hives there. Also, hornets scare away mosquitoes and other insects that come and chip away the 1500 year old paintings, thereby preserving the frescos.

  1. Watching over his Kingdom

Standing at the top of the rock, outside his enormous palace, King Kasyapa must have got the feeling of being the “King of the world”, beholding his kingdom. According to local guides at Sigiriya, the ponds or cisterns that you find at the top of the fortress were filled with water by conduits that were connected to the water gardens. The concern of how Sri Lankans managed to transport water so high without the use of pumps – still remains a mystery and is assumed to be a technology or industry that was lost and forgotten over the centuries.

  1. The walls of the palace

Drive about 55kms east from Sigiriya and you will reach the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Originated in the 12th Century, Polonnaruwa is the second oldest Kingdom of Sri Lanka and has become one of the best planned archaeological sites in the entire nation. A wee bit north of the modern day town of Polonnaruwa is a sprawling complex of eight stunning archaeological sites comprising thousands of statues, temples, ramparts, tombs, rotundas, artefacts and stupas.

One amazing example is the royal palace constructed by King Parakramabahu the Great who was an architect in ancient Polonnaruwa. Today, only 3 stories of the palace remain but during its peak of success, it had seven stories and over 1000 chambers. The sockets and crevices on the thick brick walls prove that large wooden beams were held there and the ceiling was made up of terracotta tiles. According to archaeologists, there is evidence that the palace was destroyed by fire and then abandoned.

  1. Tomb raiders

Another structure in Polonnaruwa is the Thuparama Gedige temple, found within the Sacred Quadrangle of Polonnaruwa. This is one of the only temples in the ancient city that still has its roof intact. Most of the Buddha statues here are decapitated. Some of the heads are seen at the museum in Polonnaruwa while some made their way to private collections – by means of black market for stolen antiques.

  1. Moonwalking!

When entering some of the structures in Polonnaruwa, visitors will see doormats that are made from moonstones and designed with intricate carvings of elephants, monkeys, buffalos and lions. All tourists are requested to enter barefoot because these attractions still serve as Buddhist shrines today. As tourism grows and there is constant pounding of feet with or without shoes, the carvings in these moonstones will gradually wear away.

  1. Dome of the rock

In Polonnaruwa, Parakramabahu’s successor – King Nissankamalla built an enormous 55m high stupa and named it Rankot Vihara. The dome of this stupa has a peculiar egg shape, is made of brick mantle and plaster and is surrounded by mini brick shrines. Mid-morning is a good time to visit Rankot Vihara if you want to avoid the crowds.

  1. Impossible to take selfies

Gal Vihara is a collection of four giant Buddha statues, carved into a hard granite cliff. Located at the north end of Polonnaruwa, this attraction is the holiest place in the park. Visitors should approach the statues barefoot and are not allowed to turn their back towards the statue – hence making it impossible to take selfies!

The giant statues of Lord Buddha resting in different positions are indeed remarkable. One of the largest sculptures in Asia is amongst these – the 14m long reclining Buddha statue. This statue of Lord Buddha has his left foot slightly withdrawn, indicating that Buddha is not sleeping or resting but has obtained nirvana-after-death. One of the other four statues is a 7m tall standing Buddha while the other two are of Buddha in a sitting position. Recently, authorities covered these statues with scaffolding to protect them from damage from the sun – thereby making photography slightly difficult.

  1. Smile – one for the camera

During your cultural tour of Sri Lanka, Don’t be surprised if you come across Sri Lankan newlyweds in historical costumes – posing for photos in front of these archaeological and religious ruins on their special day. About a quarter of the Lankan 21 million population is aged 15-25 – making weddings a big business in the country.

Illustrations of Buddhist heritage tourism in Sri Lanka

It is believed that Buddha was born in Nepal and lived in India. But it was in Sri Lanka that Buddhism flourished incredibly in its purest form.

According to the historical chronicles of Sri Lanka, Buddha visited the country 3 times.

During the 3rd century BC, the Indian Emperor Asoka sent his own son to Sri Lanka with the sole purpose of introducing Budhhism while King Devanampiyatissa was reigning the country. Mihintale in the Central Province is where the two met. This area was then declared as a wildlife sanctuary and was the first of its kind in the world. Son of Emperor Asoka also planted the Sacred Bo tree that was brought in by his sister from India. The original Bo Tree disappeared in India but the one that is in Anuradhapura – Sri Maha Bodhi, continues to grow and is recorded as the world’s oldest tree.

In 84BC, the Matale Aluvihara Temple recorded the first teachings of Buddha.

During the 4th century, Sri Lanka obtained possession of the Tooth Relic, which is a symbol of kingship for the nation. Today the Sacred Tooth Relic is enshrined at Sri Dalada Maligawa – a Temple dedicated to protect this Tooth Relic in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

From the 4th to 11th century BC, the city of Anuradhapura ruled the country and Buddhism flourished with royal patronage. Within this period, many large Buddhist statues, pagodas, and monasteries were built. After almost 2000 years, most of these Buddhist ruins still remain intact in Anuradhapura.

The 11th to 13th century BC is when the city of Polonnaruwa ruled Sri Lanka. During this period, some significant Buddhist heritage sites are:

  • Jetavanaramaya Stupa in Anuradhapura – 2nd tallest non-pyramidal building. The structure is 122m in height and has a base of 233,000 square meters. For the construction of this Pagoda, about 93.3 million baked bricks were used.
  • Aukana Buddha Statue – tallest Buddha statue in existence today. This stunning structure is 11.84 meters in height (without pedestal) and was carved from one single rock.
  • Alahena Parivena in Polonnaruwa – a monastic hospital. This is the only hospital in the world that uses a range of precision surgical instruments and medical equipment. For example, to apply medicine to sensitive points such as nostrils and eyelids, they use different sizes of bronze probes.

Today, these ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Kandy and Polonnarywa are UNESCO World Heritage sites along with the Dambulla Cave Temple that was built in the 1st century BC.

The southern coast of Sri Lanka also has traces of Buddhist temples that are 200 years old. When you visit these temples during your Sri Lanka tailor made tour, you will be amazed at the southern traditional Buddhist art which also has a touch of European contemporary architecture.

Buddhist festivals of Sri Lanka

  • Vesak – full moon day in the month of May. This is the most important Buddhist festival where devotees at temples make offerings and meditate. Public places and homes are decorated with brightly colored lanterns and pandals. Free food and non-alcoholic beverages are offered to public who are strolling on the streets to see Vesak decorations.
  • Esala Perahera in Kandy – held in July/August every year. This is a grand procession also known as the Festival of the Tooth and pays homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic enshrined at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa). This two week long procession includes hundreds of costumed elephants, traditional dancers, drummers, stilt walkers and more.

With over 12,000 Buddhist heritage sites spread across the island nation and several Buddhist festivals throughout the year, there is certainly no doubt that in terms of Buddhist heritage, Sri Lanka is second to none.

Sri Lanka state of emergency is NOT a threat to tourists

Recently there has been a communal conflict in Sri Lanka which has stirred the thoughts of travelers and got them re-directing their travel plans elsewhere. And those who are already in the country are reluctant to visit sacred Buddhist sites, peaceful beaches and Ceylon tea moments. However, with careful planning and heightened awareness levels, dream trips to the beautiful Southeast Asia island nation – Sri Lanka is still possible.

On Wednesday 7th March 2018, some tension arose between the Sinhalese and Muslim communities in Kandy (Central Province), following which the Sri Lankan government announced a countrywide state of emergency. Most of the unrest is focused in Kandy and the neighboring towns but no violence had spread to other parts of the country. With Kandy being the cultural hub of the country and a major tourist attraction, international security experts and tour operators are continuously monitoring the situation.

According to the head of information at International SOS, there is a decline in the level of unrest – which is a risk assessment for business travelers.

In response to this situation, the U.S. State Department alerted Americans regarding curfews in Kandy and informed them to avoid areas of unrest, be cautious at large gatherings, maintain a low profile, and follow local media for updates.

International tour operators such as Audley Travel from Boston mentioned that their guests in Sri Lanka are travelling successfully and do not plan to curtail their trip. Other international industry leaders such as Intrepid Travel and On the Go Tours also have not canceled any upcoming tours and neither have they made any changes to itineraries. Popular tourist destinations such as Colombo – the commercial capital, Anuradhapura – the ancient city, and the beaches of the southern, western and eastern coasts remain safe. Tour companies are consistently on the lookout and are tracking developments through in-country experts as well as official government organizations. These experts state that the situation is ‘looking really positive’.

The government of Sri Lanka has lifted the curfew in Kandy so it is safe to move about. At the same time, it is best for travelers to follow all enforced rules during the 10 day state of emergency period. For best safety measures in Kandy, travelers are advised to go directly to their destination without choosing any detours. Hotel shuttles should be used for transportation. Hotels will not transport people and put their business at risk unless it is completely safe. Hence by using hotel shuttles, you are making sure to hire a secured escort. Also, if you have hired private transport for your entire Sri Lanka round tour, don’t worry too much because most local drivers are well experienced in handling heated environments throughout the country.

As further safety measures, travelers are advised to purchase flexible air tickets and choose accommodation that is away from the affected strife areas. Most importantly, travelers should stay informed and understand how the situation changes. Regularly keep a check on local news sources and strictly do not rely on social media because unofficial sources tend to post inflated reports.