Connect the dots

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Cultural Triangle

The heart of Sri Lanka's cultural heritage is located smack-dab in the center of the country. Here's the trip in historical chronological order:

From 4th century BC to the 11th century AD, this was the capital of Sri Lanka. But it wasn't until King Panukabhaya's son became ruler that Buddhism (around 200 BC) was first introduced to this island. When Buddhism came, the great building era came with it. Dagobas or stupas, monastic buildings and tanks or ponds are characteristic of this enormous site.

Rice bowl for the monks

As if the rock were not impressive enough, the grounds before you even reach the rock are a great preview of what's to come. The natural fountains seen only during heavy rains, natural boulder gardens, the ponds, and carefully maintained greens complete this rock fortress and palace reached only by climbing the 1600 or so steps to the summit. Even Alex (with no complaints!) hiked her little self up the rock for magnificent views of the lush green and giant standing Buddha below. But it's at the beginning of the ascent where you are immediately treated to some exquisite cave paintings of apsaras and their offerings.

Former entrance to the stairs leading to the palace

The gardens at the summit

On the way down

With Valentine's Day and the accomplishment of climbing Sigiriya as our excuse, we treated ourselves to a lunch at one of the most famous and striking of Bawa's hotels: Kandalama. This thoroughly minimal and modern hotel is tucked into the mountain side with the lake below and is practically swallowed by its jungle surroundings. Fully booked at an average of $300/night (and that's for a view of Dambulla), we settled for lunch. Marc then escaped from Alex and I for a relaxing and excellent massage at the spa.

Swim right into the lake

Appropriate Valentine's Day meal, huh? I call it the hunk of meat plate. For complete carnivore overload, there are two fillet mignons tucked under that cheese.

After the Cholas (the south Indian rulers) destroyed Anuradhapura, the capital was moved to Polonnaruwa. This was a time of great trade and agriculture. In addition, King Parakramabahu I, created irrigation systems that surpassed those of Anuradhapura and continue to provide water to cultivate the rice paddies today when water is scarce. The 4 sculptures of Buddha in standing, sitting and reclining positions carved out of one rock,  make you want to sit and just meditate.


This has to be on the top of my list for sites you cannot miss in the triangle. The enormous golden Buddha is surreal, the walk to the caves are entertaining (snake charmers, lotus flower sellers, climbing alternating concrete steps and granite faces) and the caves leave you ooh-ing and aah-ing with textile like ceilings and the life of Lord Buddha, in rich detail, told in beautiful paintings.


Here lies Sri Lanka's final kingdom and the home of (supposedly) Buddha's tooth, saved from the fire. We lined up with the rest of the crowd to offer our lotus flower (a second one, given to us after a monkey stole the first, right out of Alex's hands) and to see the gold casket housing the tooth relic. 

Take 1: the lotus offerings

Encased in shining gold: THE tooth

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