Situated in what is known as Sri Lanka’s hill country, sits the sleepy little town of Ella. Although only a handful of shops and restaurants are located in the town, you will find abundant adventure in the outlying areas. A particularly interesting excursion comes with exploring the temples in, and around, Ella.
A small, cave temple standing just outside of the city centre, is located in a cleft of the mountain that rises to Ella rock. The temple is associated with the Ramayana story, one of two great Hindu epics. It is said to be where the king of Lanka lived before capturing Sita, the wife of Rama. Rama was an avatar of the Hindu-supreme god Vishnu. To locate this cave-temple, it may be best to request the assistance of a guide and be sure to have excellent walking or hiking shoes, as the track up to the cave can be slippery.
Located about 7 km from the city centre of Ella is the reputable Dow Temple. This charming temple’s highlight is the 4m-high Buddha carved into the face of the rock. Among this, you can head into the adjacent cave shrine that is covered with Sri Lankan-style Buddhist murals. The temple has a few legends surrounding it, including the one that King Valagamba. The King ruled over Anuradhapura for only five months before he was overthrown by a rebellion and invasion from South India. It is said that he took refuge here in the 1st century BC during his 14-year exile before later defeating the invaders and reclaiming the kingdom.
This little-visited cave temple, is located a bit outside of Ella, around 20 km or so. The outside of the temple is covered in Kandyan-era paintings, including that of a British Royal coat of arms. Though most of the exterior paintings are faded, those on the inside are in better condition and cover the entirety of the walls. The reclining Buddha is an exciting spectacle to see and on most days you will find little to no other visitors, so you will have a quiet atmosphere to take in the sights. On poya days, however, expect a bit more commotion, as this is when many monks and villagers come to meditate.
Located about 25 km from Ella, is this ancient Buddhist temple. Standing in the middle of Badulla, Sri Lanka, this temple’s history starts back around 19th-18th century BC and many have said that it came with Lord Buddha’s 3rd arrival to the island. Due to the legend of it being visited by Guatama Buddha, It is one of the 16 sacred places in Sri Lanka. There are six main attractions at the temple including the two image houses and the four Bo trees in the temple.
Also located in the town of Badulla, Kataragama Devale holds some rather fascinating statues of the gods Kataragama, Saman, and Vishnu. Another intriguing and unique veneration of this temple is the style in which it was constructed. Rather than being built in the South Indian Tamil style, it was constructed in Kandyan style complete with a long wooden shrine hall painted with murals.
The farthest temple from Ella, at 27 km, is the Adisham Monastery. This Benedictine monastery was once the beloved home of tea planter Sir Thomas Lester Villers. His English background brought forth lovely and enchanting English country-cottage gardens that remain a focal point for visitors. The living room and library are open for tours and the small shop at the monastery is the perfect place to obtain fresh produce from the monastery’s gardens and some homemade jams or preserves for your breakfast. Adisham is one of only 18 monasteries in the world that belong to the Sylvestrine Congregation of the Benedictine fraternity from the 13th century. This may be a bit of a drive to make from Ella, but a 30-minute drive allows you to see living history.
Temples are like a modern-day time machine taking you back to the places and ways of life of people long gone. Explore these temples and embrace the culture of the past and present of Sri Lanka. It’s an opportunity to imagine everyday life and the great battles that were fought in the very space you’re walking through. Regardless of which temples you visit in Ella—on purpose or accidentally—before you get lost in history (and maybe the jungle!) be sure you have an international travel insurance policy in your back pocket. You never know when you’ll need assistance and with Cover-More Travel Insurance you’ll have assistance, regardless of where in the world you are.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Michael Shehan Obeysek