#SETRAVELS: Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle (Dambulla, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa)

I arrived in Colombo shortly before midnight and wanted to hit the road running, so I planned to take the train the next morning to their cultural triangle (Sigiriya, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa), basing ourselves in Sigiriya. The train was scheduled to depart at 6:05 am from Colombo Fort Railway station to Habarana (although the ticket says Galoya) and from there we would take a tuktuk to Sigiriya ($6 for a 1st class train ticket and $10 for the tuktuk). We booked a first class ticket because it had guaranteed and reserved seating (where as third class is first come first serve and if unlucky, you may be stuck in standing room for the entire trip). The train journey was pretty seamless and offered stunning views of the countryside.

Sri Lanka Railway

Once in Sigiriya we settled ourselves into a homestay, which is essentially a Sri Lankan AirBNB and offers some insight into local life. On the property, we had access to a beautiful garden and fresh fruit picked straight off the trees. While we based ourselves in Sigiriya, we took day trips to Dambulla to visit the cave temple and Polonnaruwa to visit the ancient ruins.

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Sigiriya is home to the infamous Sigiriya Lions’ Rock, a former kingdom built on an impeding rock plateau that is 200 meters higher than the surrounding jungle area. Right next to the Lions’ Rock, and a stop that shouldn’t be missed, is the neighbouring Pidurangala rock. Although less famous than Sigiriya, it is home to an ancient Buddhist temple, and offers an unobstructed view of Sigiriya.

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From Sigiriya, Dambulla is just a 30 minute tuktuk ride away (about $20 RT). We spent our afternoon wamdering the cave temple. There are five caves within the temple complex and over 150 Buddha statues can be found within them in various shapes and sizes. It’s hard to believe these caves were built in the third and second centuries BC because they are so well preserved. We definitely spent a few hours admiring the many statues and frescoes lining the interiors.

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Due to time constraints we had to choose between one of the two ancient cities: Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa. Anuradhapura was the ancient capital for 1,200 years before it was shifted to Polonnaruwa, where it was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura. As Polonnaruwa was closer in proximity and better preserved than Anuradhapura, we decided on this option.

The ruins of Polonnaruwa are quite spread apart so ideally you would visit the sites with a tuktuk ($60 RT from Sigiriya), although some people prefer to go by bicycle or car. Polonnaruwa can be visited in a day or two depending on your time and energy levels. .

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Many of the sites are extraordinary in size and detail, while other temples are still being used to this day. As you visit each site, you’re transported back in time and have a glimpse of what this ancient city was is all its glory. If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka, don’t skip these beautiful ruins, they should a must-see part of your itinerary.

– Chenessa Lam

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