Sri Lanka Multi Centre Tour - Part 2

Sarah Freeman on 10 December 2021
The next day we headed south to Kandy which is at an altitude of 500m and is the cultural centre of Sri Lanka. En-route we stopped at Dambulla Royal Cave Temple and Golden Temple. A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, this cave monastery consisting of 5 giant caves is the best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the top, there are paths but they are very steep before plateauing out. Standing on a rock mass at 350ft the series of caves were turned into a magnificent rock temple by King Valagambhau. The highlight was the 47ft long Buddha cut out from the rock, hundreds of deities on the walls and ceilings dating back to the 15th century and no less than 150 life size statues of gods. Truly impressive!

After Dambulla we continued on to Kandy, the capital of the last Singhalese Kingdom and a relaxed hill station that was once captured by the British. The town is dominated by a huge lake and the royal palace complex which runs alongside. Security was very tight here and we had to go through scanners and show passports as it attracts a lot of important military and political leaders. Its home to the infamous Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (brought from India around 310 AD, the tooth is the symbol of Sri Lankan Kings and preciously guarded in a special shrine within the royal palace). The temple is stunning and adorned with intricate carvings of silver, gold and ivory, it attracts thousands of visitors every day and we timed it perfectly to watch the traditional drummers announce the opening of the shrine and devotees carry out a pooja ceremony.

Our hotel for the next couple of days was the beautiful Amaya Hills Kandy, right at the top of one of the mountainous switchback roads it offered stunning views over Kandy and the surrounding area. The service here was unbeatable with a glorious welcome ceremony and amazing food.

For our second day we decided to go shopping and I think my credit card wished I’d stayed by the pool. Kandy offers everything you can desire, we picked up beautiful wooden handicrafts and masks, the brightest batik work and gold jewellery adorned with sapphires (Sri Lanka is known to have the highest quality in the world).

Our final destination was Kalutara, a 4 hour drive away and a major city sited just south of Colombo. It’s one of the most popular holiday resorts in Sri Lanka and is known for its picturesque beaches and historic buildings. Most of our time here was spent relaxing by one of the two pool at our gorgeous hotel, Anantara Kalutara and being waited on hand and foot. The grounds of the hotel are extensive with the lagoon on one side and the ocean on the other, there’s activities to do on site including a zip line, watersports and a giant chess set and the rooms were fabulous – ours was one of the largest rooms I’ve ever stayed overlooking the ocean and the secluded beach.

We did enjoy one day trip out as I wanted to see a little more of the south coast. We started off driving to Galle, which is an old fortified city founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century and known for its fort, lighthouse, Dutch church and lovely boutique shops and restaurants. Then we headed off to pay a visit one of the local turtle sanctuaries where they protect the eggs and allow them to hatch before releasing the baby turtles into the sea. Turtles are caught by local fisherman to be sold for eating, so the sanctuaries pay the fishermen over the asking price, tend any injuries and then release the turtles back. Our final stop of the day was Ambalangoda, a small town famous for its ancient devil dancers and traditional wooden mask artisans. There’s a really cute little museum here, where the 5th generation owner takes you through the history of mask making and you can even have a little go at wood carving in one of their workshops.

Then all too soon it was time to head back to Colombo Airport for our flight to the UK.