Kings ruled the central plains of Sri Lanka from Polonnaruwa 800 years ago, when it was a thriving commercial and religious centre. From here, free-marketeers haggled for rare goods and the pious prayed at any one of its numerous temples. The glories of that age can be found in archaeological treasures which give a pretty good idea of how the city looked in its heyday.
This somnolent village and temple complex, 13km east of Anuradhapura, holds a special place in the annals of Sri Lankan lore. In 247 BC King Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura was hunting a stag on Mihintale Hill when he was approached by Mahinda, son of the great Indian Buddhist emperor, Ashoka.
Sheltered in the foothills 15km northeast of Tissa is Kataragama. This most holy of towns is a compelling mix of pomp and procession, piety and religious extravagance. Along with Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada), this is the most important religious pilgrimage site in Sri Lanka and is a holy place for Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus alike.