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Yapahuwa

A 2 ½ hour - 3 hour drive north east from Colombo lies a city that has a stark resemblance to the Mayan city of Chichen Itza of Mexico. Yapahuwa is one of the few surviving cities in Sri Lanka that was not totally destroyed by the Indian invaders, still boasting of intricate sculptures, carvings, and structures, making it one of the best archaeological sites in the country.

Top Reason to Visit

Although one of the lesser known historical sites in the ‘Cultural Triangle’, the top reason to visit Yapahuwa or ‘Sundara Giri Pawwa’, as it was known in the 3rd century BC, is the well preserved rock fortress that serves as the center piece of the city, which is believed to have once housed the sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha.

While You're There

Striking similarities:

To the more eagle eyed viewer the entrance to the Royal Palace can be compared to historical sites from various parts of the world, most notably the Mayan cities in Mexico and the monuments of the cities belonging to imperial China. Its intricately sculptured stairway, along with the Chinese inspired guard stones certainly does make for an ‘other worldly’ experience. Moreover, the similarities to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress makes one ponder how advanced the local craftsmen were in creating impenetrable structures.

A nomadic period:

The Yapahuwa kingdom that existed during the 13th century, existed in a nomadic period when Sri Lankan kingdoms often shifted the primary seat of governance after a particular king’s reign ended. Under King Buvanekabahu I who reigned from 1272 - 1284 AC built the fortress for protection against foreign invaders. The museum of the archaeological site, just walking distance from the fortress, provides a detailed account of society, significant events, and lifestyle of the inhabitants that lived in the historical site.

Stairway to heaven:

Walking along and exploring the ornamental stairway caves makes it possible for one to reimagine the lost grandeur of the ruined fortress complex that held the sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, which is now housed in the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. The caves showcase a number of Buddha images and evidence of the habitation of ascetic monks before Yapahuwa was named as the capital. Moreover, the final flight of stairs that leads you to the former temple serves as the perfect vantage point to witness the untouched lush greenery of the surrounding vicinity.

Insider Advice

Travel: Travelling about the citadel is very simple, as the places of interest are in close proximity to one another, as such visiting the places are best done on foot.

Weather: Yapahuwa weather is generally quite mild during the months from May to December, however, being in the central part of the country the weather can change unexpectedly.

Money: You will most certainly need to carry cash in hand with small notes like LKR 20s, 50s and 100s to be on the safe side. This is because you will have to purchase a ticket to enter the fortress that will set you back USD 2 for children and USD 4 for adults.

Clothing: Casual / light wear is best when climbing up the ornamental stairways, make sure you carry something that would cover your legs and arms (preferably a sarong), as it is still considered a religious site to some.

Safety: Yapahuwa is an ancient city that does not have inhabitants and is mainly visited by tourists, so it is generally very safe.

Meals and refreshments: Yapahuwa itself does not have any eateries as the historical city is no longer inhabited. However, the neighbouring town of Maho has a few local eateries to satisfy hunger your pangs.

Although abandoned long ago and somewhat pillaged by Indian invaders, the rigours of time have been kind to the former capital, allowing travelers to learn a significant part of Sri Lankan history.

Title image by: Kithuni Katugampola
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