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The Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka

With its quiet tropical beaches, Buddhist temples, exuberant nature and heart-warming friendly locals, Sri Lanka is one of the most diverse destinations in Asia. The ‘Cultural Triangle’ offers a huge number of attractions. We highlight the following 3: the Sigiriya Cloud Maidens, the Buddha’s tooth in Kandy and the ancient temples of the Anuradhapura kingdom. But there are many more attractions – most visitors take around 3 days to explore the Cultural Triangle, but you can easily spend a week here.

For 3 decades, Sri Lanka was a no-go area: the government army was embroiled in a bloody battle against the Tamil Tigers. But peace has returned and travellers can once again safely visit the top attractions of this tear-shaped island. The Cultural Triangle extends from Kandy in the centre to Polonnaruwa in the east and Anuradhapura in the north: a region of approximately 10,000 square kilometres, packed with ancient royal cities, ornate palaces and magnificent temples, all World Heritage monuments.

Monks bring offerings to Buddha
Monks bring offerings to Buddha

Colombo

The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy

Kandy is Sri Lanka’s most important religious city, home to the holiest of shrines: the Temple of the Tooth. And yes, the temple features a 2500-year-old tooth of Buddha. 3 times a day, the relic is displayed to the public, albeit from a distance and wrapped in 7 gem-encrusted golden chests set on a throne. The worship is accompanied by a deafening sound of drummers, flutists and dancers – a fascinating display for those who seek to understand the importance of Buddhism in the lives of many Sri Lankans.

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Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka

The old capital: Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was the capital of Sri Lanka for 13 centuries. This was once the political and spiritual centre of the island, with a royal palace, numerous temples and gigantic stupas, the holy Bodhi tree that is the mother tree of all other Bodhi trees on the island, lush gardens, swimming pools and monasteries that housed up to 10,000 monks. Today, the city has become an enormous open-air museum with dilapidated ruins, stretching over an area of approximately 40 square kilometres.

The former capital, Anuradhapura
The prominent Lion Rock in Sigiriya

The Cloud Maidens of Sigiriya

Another former capital: the spectacular rock of Sigiriya towers 200 meters above the Sri Lankan landscape. Halfway up the 1,000 steps, you will find the Mirror Wall. After 16 centuries, the wall has turned orange but it hasn’t lost its mirror properties. A dizzying spiral stairway leads to the Cloud Maidens, the oldest rock carvings in Sri Lanka. Once there were 500 of these maidens, who according to Buddhist traditions bring flower offerings. Now only 22 carvings remain, of which 12 are on display to visitors. At the top of the rock stand the remains of King Kashyapa’s citadel, blessed with the most spectacular view.

The Cloud Maidens of Sigiriya

Photo credits

  • The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy: Sander Groen
  • The former capital, Anuradhapura: Sander Groen
  • The prominent Lion Rock in Sigiriya: Sander Groen
  • The Cloud Maidens of Sigiriya: Sander Groen