Head further into the cultural triangle and discover the fascinating ancient kingdom of Polonnaruwa, the Sigiriya Rock Fortress and the Dambulla Cave Temple. Polonnaruwa became Sri Lanka’s royal medieval capital in 1073 and remained Sri Lanka’s capital until the late 13C. Today, the ancient city’s ruins remain in remarkably good order. The most impressive are the ancient sculptures of Lord Buddha at the Gal Vihara cut into Granite stone dating back to the middle of the 12C. The entire sculpture consists of four colossal statues of Buddha - a Samadhi image in meditation posture, a seated Buddha image inside a cave, a standing Buddha image which is 23ft in height, and recumbent Buddha measuring 46ft, depicting the passing away. The Archaeological Museum short drive away gives an insight into the kingdom.
Rise early and climb the magnificent Sigiriya Rock, another of Sri Lanka's fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Sites. No matter how often you climb to the summit of this one-time fortress of the murderous, maverick, yet brilliant Sinhalese king, Kassapa, the pleasure barely diminishes. Many scholars believe that Kassapa sought to rule as a God-king. About two hours can happily be spent walking through its water gardens, and then up the steep steps - either hewn out of the rock or on circular iron staircases - past the frescoes. In the afternoon, take in Dambulla Cave Temple. A sacred pilgrimage site for 22 centuries, the Golden Temple, as it is also known, has five sanctuaries and is the largest, best-preserved cave-temple complex in Sri Lanka. The Buddhist mural paintings are of particular interest, as are the 157 statues.