Na­ture’s Won­ders

Southasia - - CONTENTS -

Sri Lanka has be­come syn­ony­mous with end­less beaches, de­li­cious food,

ex­otic teas and the ele­phants.

Men­tion Sri Lanka and the first thing that comes to the mind is end­less beaches, de­li­cious food, ex­otic teas and, of course, the ele­phants. But per­haps not many tourists know that Sri Lanka is also fa­mous for its time­less ru­ins, some of which are also listed as world her­itage sites by UNESCO.

This is hardly sur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing the rich his­tory of the coun­try that dates back to pre-his­toric times – hu­man set­tle­ments as old as 125,000 years have been dis­cov­ered in Sri Lanka. In fact, leg­ends and his­tory are deeply in­ter­twined in the early ac­counts of this is­land coun­try. Some say it was Bud­dha who left his foot­print on Adam’s Peak (also known as Sri Pada) while oth­ers say the foot­print be­longs to Adam him­self when he was tak­ing a last look at Eden. What­ever the re­al­ity, Sri Lanka is re­plete with an­cient sites that re­main a source of fascination for his­tory buffs.

Top­ping the list is Sri Dal­ada Mali­gawa (Tem­ple of the Tooth) lo­cated in Kandy. As the name sug­gests, the tem­ple was built within the royal palace com­plex that holds in its com­pounds the tooth relic of Bud­dha. A sa­cred ar­ti­fact, this relic is revered by Bud­dhists around the world and has played a sig­nif­i­cant role in lo­cal pol­i­tics for thou­sands of years.

Legend has it that who­ever has the relic holds the gov­er­nance which is why an­cient rulers went to great lengths to pro­tect and take con­trol of it. Kandy re­mained the cap­i­tal of Sin­halese kings from 1592 to 1815 and the city has been de­clared a world her­itage site by UNESCO, thanks to the tem­ple. To this day, Bud­dhist monks con­duct rit­ual wor­ship in the in­ner cham­ber of the tem­ple. Ev­ery Wed­nes­day, the relic is given a sa­cred bath with a herbal con­coc­tion made from scented wa­ter and fra­grant flow­ers. Un­for­tu­nately, the tem­ple sus­tained con­sid­er­able dam­age from mul­ti­ple bomb­ings by ter­ror­ists in the past but was fully re­stored each time.

Si­giriya is the place that is also con­sid­ered to be the eighth won­der of the world. This is an an­cient cas­tle used by King Kasyapa in the fifth cen­tury AD. The site con­sists of the re­mains of the Sky Palace that was built on the flat top of a rock, a ter­race that has the Lion Gate, the Mir­ror Wall and the well-known Si­giriya fres­coes. Other unique fea­tures of the site in­clude beau­ti­ful gar­dens, moats and cis­terns that hold wa­ter to this day.

Close on the heels of the Si­giriya is the Dam­bulla Cavekovil, pop­u­larly known as the Golden Tem­ple of Dam­bulla. Lo­cated in cen­tral Sri Lanka, it is the largest and prob­a­bly one of the best pre­served tem­ple com­plexes in the coun­try. Tow­er­ing a good 160 me­ters over the sur­round­ing plains, the com­plex is spread over five caves which con­tain stat­ues and paint­ings per­tain­ing to Bud­dha’s teach­ings and his life. Other stat­ues in­clude de­pic­tions of the Hindu gods Vishnu and Ganesh and an­cient Sri Lankan kings. Ex­pan­sive mu­rals are found through­out the caves, cov­er­ing an area of around 2,100 square me­ters and rep­re­sent Bud­dha’s temp­ta­tions by the de­mon Mara and his first ser­mon.

Of course, the world her­itage sites in Sri Lanka aren’t just limited to an­cient tem­ples and palaces. The Sin­haraja

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