Buddha in Polonnaruwa temple
Buddha in Polonnaruwa temple

Archaeological Tours

Sri Lanka: Shrines and Serendipity

16 days From $5,320

January 26 2021

While Sri Lanka may have sandy beaches and verdant mountain landscapes, it is so much more than just that. The ‘Resplendent Isle’ is also home to some of the finest UNESCO World Heritage Sites and ancient monuments in the world and the sprawling heritage, spanning 25 centuries is sure to inspire all those who travel here. Landmarks and ancient ruined cities that still stand in homage to the island’s past civilizations and cultures offer us their unique artifacts and archaeological treasures.

This 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. Our journey interweaves Sri Lanka’s vibrant tapestry of landscapes, wildlife parks that shelter elephants, sloth bears, and countless colorful religious traditions and rituals.

What's included?

  •  Expert Scholar & Tour Manager
  •  Accommodation
  •  Local Transport & private transfer to/from airport and group hotel
  •  Entries & Tips
  •  Meals - as per the itinerary
  •  Four enlightening evening lectures from your expert scholar
  •  A name badge, luggage strap and bag tag
  •  A study guide, reading list, and other useful tour documentation compiled by your expert scholar and your Archaeological Tours team

Led by...

Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi

Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi

Dr Mehreen Chida-Razvi is a Research Associate in the Department of the History of Art & Archaeology at SOAS, University of London, and Assistant Editor for the International Journal of Islamic Architecture. She specializes in ancient Indian history

Book Now $5,320

Deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $1,150

Tour highlights:

  • Discover 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 local elephants as we make our ways along Sri Lanka’s highways
  • Witness a magical evening puja ceremony at Kandy’s world-famous Temple of the Tooth, home to the relic of a tooth of Buddha
  • Enjoy ample leisure time for your own exploring on a well-balanced and contrast-filled itinerary

Tour details

Dates January 26 2021 - February 10 2021
Duration 16 days
Cost $5,320 Deposit: $1,250 Single supplement: $1,150 Balance due by November 3 2020
Activity Level Easy-Going
Tour code A21SRI

Book Now or call 866-740-5130 if you have any questions

January 26 2021: Itinerary

Upon arrival in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, we transfer to our hotel. Th ere is some leisure time before we have our first dinner together.

Meals include: Dinner

After an introductory presentation, we head to the landmark Gothami Temple in nearby Borella. This site is famous for its frescos, created by the Sri Lankan artist George Keyt, that depict the life of Buddha. We also visit the ancient temple of Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya, said to have been visited by Buddha around 500 BCE. The murals here, painted by Solias Mendis, depict stories from the colorful history of Buddhism.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

We head north this morning to the ancient city of Anuradhapura. After lunch, we drive to the hillside archaeological site of Mihintale whose ruined temple complex is considered to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Th e legend goes that, here, in 247 BCE, while out hunting, King Devanampiya Tissa was approached by the son of the great Indian Buddhist emperor, Ashoka. After testing the king’s wisdom, Ashoka judged him a worthy disciple and converted him on the spot - the first of a long line of Buddhist monarchs.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Today, we journey to the ancient city of Anuradhapura, which was Sri Lanka’s capital from the 5th century BCE until Chola Tamils sacked and burned it in 993. This is an area known as Sri Lanka’s “Cultural Triangle” and, today, its vast crumbling ruins represent one of South Asia’s greatest archaeological and architectural sites, enriched by a legacy of 15 centuries of continuous occupation. Prepare to be awed by its three monumental dagobas and enormous water tanks. Moreover, the beguiling temples and monasteries with their moonstone thresholds and unique architecture are sure to inspire. Later on, we visit the site museum, displaying sculptures, bas-reliefs, and other artifacts from the site. The day ends at Habarana, our base for the next four nights.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

After breakfast, we visit the UNESCO-listed Sigiriya (“Lion Rock”). This colossal rock’s near-vertical sides soar over 600ft skywards to a flat-topped summit, home to the ruins of a fort and palace complex. Th is was the “last redoubt” of the short-lived kingdom (477 - 495 CE) of the parricidal Kasyapa, whose story is one of intrigue, murder, revenge, and suicide. Th e afternoon thereafter is open for leisure time.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

We spend today at Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka’s medieval capital. Long ago, Sinhalese kings ruled from here when the community was a thriving commercial and religious center and ‘garden-city’. Among them were far-sighted 11th and 12th century CE builders like Vijayabahu I (creator of the first Temple of the Tooth) and the great Parakramabahu I (who constructed dams, reservoirs and canals). Our day ends at the site museum before we return to our hotel.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

En route to Dambulla, we visit the great Aukana Buddha and the twin reservoir complex at Kala Wewa. The first, carved from a granite rock and over 40 feet high, is Sri Lanka’s tallest standing Buddha, while Kala Wewa represents a 4th century BCE engineering marvel almost 40 miles in circumference. Our highlight today is the Buddhist cave temples at Dambulla. Among South East Asia’s finest sites of religious art, the complex spreads over five caves decorated with Buddhist paintings and effigies carved from living rock. Leisure time follows, so why not take an elephant trek or walk in the nature reserve to learn about its medicinal plants and wildlife?

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Th is morning, on our drive south to Kandy, Sri Lanka’s cultural capital, we stop at Aluvihare Rock Cave Temple. Th is sacred shrine is over 2,000 years old and is where the Tripitaka (the teachings of the Buddha) was first transcribed into books made from talipot palm leaves. We will have the unique opportunity to learn more about Sri Lankan Buddhism during an informal discussion with the chief monk. After, we explore an exotic spice garden before lunch at a restaurant created by a popular folk artist. We visit the city’s splendidly out-of-place 19th century Anglican Cathedral and, in the evening, at the time of the “puja” (prayer off erings), we visit the golden-roofed Temple of the Tooth in the Royal Palace complex - housing Sri Lanka’s most treasured Buddhist relic: a tooth of the Buddha, contained in a golden casket.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Kandy is not only UNESCO-listed, but it is also a flourishing city that is teeming with tradition and history. We will be visiting three important temples here: the hilltop 14th century CE Gadaladeniya Viharaya, with strong southern Indian influences recalling the Hindu art of the Vijayanagara Empire; Lankatilaka Viharaya, even older and showcasing some of the best features of Sinhalese temple architecture and art; and Kataragama Devale, venerated by Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims alike and renown for its carved wooden pillars. Then, we return to Kandy in time to visit a traditional batik workshop and explore more of the bustling heart of the city.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

The Peradeniya Botanic Gardens is our first stop today. Its 147 acres were once the exclusive preserve of Kandyan royalty as they encompass a superb collection of over 4,000 species from Sri Lanka and the wider tropical world – including orchids, an avenue of royal palms, and a Javan fig tree. From Peradeniya, we begin a 50-mile drive into exhilarating highland verdant landscapes. We will make a stop at a plantation to learn the secrets of fermenting and processing tea leaves, and, of course, we get to sample the famous Ceylon teas as well! Finally, we reach Nuwara Eliya at an elevation of over 6000 ft.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Our journey south brings us to Mulkirigala, whose ancient Buddhist cave temples (built on a 673 ft high rock with splendid views) show many reclining Buddha statues and intriguing cave murals from the Kandyan Kingdom. We then drive down to Galle on Sri Lanka’s Indian Ocean coast where our hotel makes a perfect base for enjoying this colorful old city, now an up-and-coming coastal resort.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

We explore the Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial heritage of the exotic trading-port of Galle whose fortified UNESCO-listed old city, encircled by stone sea ramparts, was founded in the 16th century. After visiting the Martin Wikramasinghe Folk Museum for an informative overview of traditional Sri Lankan life, we enjoy a tour of Galle’s historic center, including its walls and fort, as well as the stunning old Dutch Reformed Church, the National Marine Museum, and Marine Archaeological Project.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Our morning is spent at leisure and, after lunch together overlooking the sea, we attend a very special private performance of Sri Lanka’s traditional masked Kolam Dance.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

On our drive back to Colombo, we stop at Ambalangoda, known for its wooden mask carvings, before a relaxed beach-front lunch stop at the colonial-style Mount Lavinia Hotel. We will be able to witness the annual Navam Perahera Festival at Gangaramaya temple on our final evening. A highlight of the event is the spectacular parade featuring fabulously decorated elephants, dancers, and musicians.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

Our morning features a visit to the Sri Lanka National Museum, with its archaeological and ethnographic material. Free time follows lunch and later we meet for a farewell dinner in the city.

Meals include: Breakfast, Lunch

We head to Colombo airport for our flights home or onward travel.

Meals include: Breakfast

January 26 2021: Additional Info

January 26 2021: Accommodation

January 26 2021: Enquiries

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