Small wonder that Sri Lanka is home to some of the finest World Heritage Sites, with landmark monuments and ancient ruined cities that still stand in homage to the island’s past civilizations and cultures, their unique artifacts and archaeological treasures.
In what was one of the earliest great Buddhist kingdoms, our specialist tour focuses on the fusion of the earliest forms of Buddhism with Hindu and Animist teachings, among ethereal temples, dagoba shrines and great carved Buddhas You’ll also enjoy fascinating glimpses of long-lost kingdoms whose rulers built improbably sophisticated irrigation systems – and even a resplendent palace with gardens and pools perched atop a 600-foot rock.
With all these, our journey interweaves encounters with Sri Lanka’s vibrant tapestry of landscapes, wildlife parks sheltering elephant and sloth bears, countless colorful religious festivals and rituals – and the echoes of a more recent colonial era of tea plantations and hill-stations.
- Discover no less than six awe-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- Climb up to Kasyapa’s citadel at Habarana to enjoy the unforgettable views and water garden terraces
- Share the road with the local elephants as we make our way along Sri Lanka’s highways
- Witness a unique and magical evening ‘puja’ ceremony at Kandy’s world-famous Temple of the Tooth
- • Enjoy ample leisure time for your own exploring on a well-balanced and contrast-filled itinerary
WHAT TO EXPECT
Led by Mehreen Chida-Razvi
Tuesday, February 5: ARRIVE IN COLOMBO
We arrive into Colombo and transfer to our first hotel where we will meet for dinner.
Wednesday, February 6: COLOMBO
After an opening lecture, touring begins at the Gotami Temple, which houses beautiful wall paintings. The day ends with a visit to the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, where, according to legend, the Buddha converted the earliest inhabitants of Lanka to Buddhism. The temple is also renowned for its richly decorated walls, including murals painted by two well-known modern artists, Solias Mendis and George Keyt.
Thursday, February 7: ANURADHAPURA
Today we leave Colombo arriving in Anduradhapura in time for lunch. This afternoon we will visit Mihintale, site of the island’s first Buddhist sermon and first conversion of a long line of kings and continue to our hotel for the night.
Friday, February 8: HABARANA
Our day begins at the ancient city of Anuradhapura, royal capital from the late 5th century BCE until it was sacked and burned by Chola Tamils in 993 and the power of the Sinhalese kings was transferred to Polonnaruwa. It will take us the full day to examine the remains of 15 centuries of continuous occupation. As we stroll among the ancient buildings we will be awed by the huge dimensions of the three dagobas of the oldest periods and charmed by the unique architecture and moonstone thresholds of its monasteries and temples. We will also visit the site museum, which displays the sculptures, bas-reliefs and other precious artifacts from the site.
Saturday, February 9: HABARANA
The story of King Kasyapa’s retreat to his palace, built 600 feet above the surrounding forest on the rock of Sigiriya, is filled with intrigue, murder, revenge and suicide. It took him seven years to build his citadel and its spectacular gardens, pools and pavilions, designed to blend with the natural landscape. This extraordinary complex is no less beautiful today than it was in the 5th century BCE. We shall climb Kasyapa’s citadel slowly, stopping to enjoy the water garden terraces, the famous “Sigiriya maidens” painted in a rock gallery, and the magnificent views. Sigiriya Museum too. We will have earned an afternoon at leisure before our BBQ dinner and traditional devil dance performance at a local residence.
Sunday, February 10: HABARANA
We will spend the full day at the medieval capital of Polonnaruwa. A series of great builders, including Vijayabahu I (1055-1110), builder of the first Temple of the Tooth, and Parakramabahu (1153-86), who built vast numbers of dams, reservoirs and canals, have provided us with a magnificent site with acres of unique architectural elements, delicately engraved columns and wonderful friezes. The new site museum will end this fabulous day.
Monday, February 11: HABARANA
This morning we will visit the huge Avukana Buddha and the massive 4th-century CE reservoir at Kala Wewa. We then continue to the great rock temple of Dambulla. The easy ascent rewards us with cave temples decorated with paintings and effigies carved out of the living rock. The afternoon will be at leisure. For those of us who have always wanted to try an elephant trek, our hotel will make the arrangements for this afternoon. An alternative option might be a guided walk in the nearby nature reserve to study medicinal plants and wildlife.
Tuesday, February 12: KANDY
En route to Kandy we will stop to visit Aluvihare, the site where the Buddhist doctrine Tripitaka was finally written down on talipot palm leaves. After viewing the cave temple’s graphic depictions of what awaits sinners, we have arranged an informal discussion about Sri Lankan Buddhism with the chief monk of this important temple. We will also visit a spice garden and stop for lunch at a charming restaurant created by a popular folk artist. Touring continues in Kandy at the Anglican Cathedral. This evening we will visit the Temple of the Tooth at the time of the puja, or prayer offerings.
Wednesday, February 13: KANDY
Touring today begins at three temples of the Kandyan era: Gadaladeniya Viharaya, with its strong southern Indian influences reminiscent of the Hindu art of Vijayanagar, Lankatilaka Viharaya, and Kataragama Devale, famed for its carved wooden pillars. We then continue to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the elephants’ favorite bathing hole. We return to Kandy with time to visit a batik workshop and have some free time in town.
Thursday, February 14: NUWARA ELIYA
Before leaving Kandy, we will visit the lovely Peradeniya Botanic Gardens, home to more than 4,000 species including orchids, palm trees and plants used for medicinal purposes. Our drive to Nuwara Eliya is along the edge of a lush highland landscape carpeted with verdant tea estates. We will stop to sample the famed Ceylon teas and learn the secrets of fermenting and processing the tea leaves. Tonight, will be spent in Nuwara Eliya, a former British hill station.
Friday, February 15: GALLE
En route to Galle we will stop at Mulkirigala Temple, an ancient Buddhist temple built on a 673 ft high natural rock. Afterwards, we will arrive in Galle and check into our lovely hotel.
Saturday, February 16: GALLE
This morning we will visit the Martin Wikramasinghe Folk Museum for an excellent overview of traditional life in Sri Lanka. We then tour the historical center of Galle, including its ramparts and fort, as well as the National Marine Museum and the Marine Archaeological Project.
Sunday, February 17: GALLE
This morning our touring will include the fishing village of Weligama to see a megalith carved with a figure identified as Kushta Raja, the “leper king,” and the Purvarama monastery, whose image house is considered to be one of the jewels of Buddhist painting. The remainder of the day will be at leisure before a private performance of the Kolam Dance.
Monday, February 18: COLOMBO
On our way back to Colombo, we stop at Ambalangoda, known for its wooden mask craftsmen, arriving into Colombo for lunch at the Mount Lavinia Hotel. You will have the afternoon at leisure to explore Colombo.
Tuesday, February 19: COLOMBO
We begin our day visiting the small collection of archaeological and ethnographic material in the National Museum. This evening we will dine in the former office of Architect Geoffrey Bawa, one of the most influential architects of his generation. The office has since been converted in to the most fashionable high-end restaurant in the city of Colombo. It will be a memorable farewell evening for the group, with wine and beer both being served.
Wednesday, February 20: DEPART COLOMBO
We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.