60 km from our HQ in Anuradhapura is the entrance to the Minneriya National Park, within which the 'Gathering' of wild elephants takes place. Said to be the largest in the world, up to 400 elephants gather here between July and October when water sources dry, and elephants migrate to the Minneriya Tank (a lake made in the 3rd C BC), to graze and drink. Elephants may be seen here year round, and up to 100 have been sighted in February.
The Adistanah Puja (my spelling), virtually unknown to western tourists, takes place each year at the Ruwanwelisaya and Thuperama Stupas, around a weekend on the August Poya day. The festival begins at 2pm on the Saturday, and finishes at 6am on the Sunday, so if you are staying for the night, bring a blanket to lie on. At l;east 300,000 pilgrims attend, and it involves 4 processions (or pera heras) from Thuperama to the Ruwanwelisaya, and the presentation of beautiful offerings to Buddah, including flowers, as well as milk rice, which is cooked all night in a special enclosure. The processions begin ('Sri Lankan time') at 14:30, 15:30, 19:00, 21:00, and 03:00. This really is a 'must see event', being quite unique in style and atmosphere.
Dates: 29th July - 8th August 2017
The Kandy Esala Perahera (the Esala procession of Kandy) is one of the grandest festivals in southern Asia, and takes over 10 days in July or August (check the dates online), with the number and styles of the dancers and elephants procession increasing in size over each successive day. If you'd like to go, we can arrange tickets for you, alternatively, you could simply turn up and watch from the sidewalk, and the closer you are to the Queen's hotel going down the road straight out of the Temple of the Tooth, the better. This historical procession is held annually to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha, which is housed at the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. A unique symbol of Sri Lanka, the procession consists of many traditional local dances such as fire-dances, whip-dances, Kandyan dances and various other cultural dances, in addition to the elephants who are usually adorned with lavish garments. The festival ends with the traditional diya-kepeema ritual, a water cutting ceremony which is held at the Mahaweli River at Getambe, Kandy.
Dates: 28th July - 23rd August 2017
One of the most important Hindu festivals in southern Asia, this vibrant 25 day festival attracts devotees from around the world. In 2016 the festival took place between 8th August - 3rd September, but the dates change each year in August and September.
The parade begins each night at about 15:45 when a chariot upon which a god is sat, (a different chariot and god each day) is welcomed by devotees and paraded around the inside of the temple, and then out through the main entrance and around the outside of the temple before going back in. The festival finishes each night at about 18:30 - 19:00. The final day of the festival in 2016 was attended by 300,000 devotees, and on this day, participant perform self-immolation. Ladies must have their shoulders and legs covered; men must have their legs covered, and within the temple itself, men have to be bare chested.
There are sights to see in Jaffna, including the Portugese fort, and some good places to eat (Mango, a vegetarian restaurant popular after the festival, is within a few minutes walk of the kovil (hindu temple) itself.
Dates: 5th June - 11th June
The Poson Festival takes place for 4-7 days over Poya (new moon) Day, when 1 .5 million Buddhist pilgrims come to Anuradhapura to celebrate the bringing of Buddhism to Sri Lanka at nearby Mihintale. Anuradhapura, the Scared city, and Mihintale are thronged with people, and on Mihintale itself, at dusk on poya day, lights are turned on illuminating the top of Mihintale's mountain and temples. There is a tradition of giving free food by organisations and families to the pilgrims, with long queues forming to participate.
(Date To Be Confirmed)
This is by far our favourite pera hera, which takes place in the heart of Colombo and centres on the Kotte Rajamaha Viharaya temple. Here, in some places, the streets are only 2 cars wide, which means that stood at the side of the road, you could reach out and touch the elephants. A marvellous procession of dancers old and young, each group performing different dances and wearing different costumes. The musicians too are varied, with some playing traditional Kandyan music, and others playing music you'd hear down Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Arrive by 5 to find a spot, and await the procession that starts at about 20:00 Sri Lanka time.
(Date To Be Confirmed)
The Wesak lantern festival is held across Sri Lanka on the poya (new moon) day. The people buy or make lanterns to hang outside their homes, which in Anuradhapura, remain in place until the following poya day, which is marked by the Poson Festival. In Anuradhpaura, the Wesak festival itself is marked by stories of Buddhism told through told through elaborate mechanised exhibits that are made and set up by local societies in the days preceding Wesak. Over the course of 3 days the locals flock to the area to see the displays, listen to music and watch traditional dancing. At this time, dansala (the giving of free food and drink) is conducted, and you may well be flagged down on the road by a happy group waving yellow flags and offering you a drink,and some toffee. Even timetabled buses (usually trying to be as quick as possible to the next stop to pick up passengers) stop, and the passengers get to take a drink before the bus continues its journey
(Dates To Be Confirmed)
This traditional pera hera is organised by the principal Buddhist nunnery in Anuradhapura, and the host nuns are joined by 800 other nuns from across Sri Lanka. The children (the nuns teach over one thousand each Sunday morning) perform dances in the, which also features elephants, other musicians and dancers.
See Blue, and Sperm Whales off the southern coast of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has the largest, and it is believed, only resident population of blue whales in the world, which are best seen off the southern coast between November and April, when the sea is calm. December and April are peak months due to whale migration, when blue and sperm whales may be seen together. Bryde's, fin, sei, sperm, and killer whales, along with spinner dolphins, flying fish, and manta rays may also be seen year. Whale/ dolphin watching excursions take place off the Southern, and Eastern coasts (October - March), with some operators going out all year. The ideal locations for whale watching on the southern and eastern coasts are Dondra Point (accessible from Galle, Hikkaduwa and Mirissa) while the sea off Kalpitiya to the east teems with an abundance of dolphins, and research is suggesting is the best place to see pods of sperm whales. On the west coast, Trincomalee is the best location to go out whale and dolphin watching from (May-August).