Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayana used to be one of Doordarshan’s epic serials, bringing the whole country to a standstill on Sunday mornings in the 90s.
Two decades later as soon as our flight starts descending through the lush green cover in Sri Lanka we feel the same tinge of excitement overcoming.
The Ramayana trail starts in the northern part of the country where the Ram Sethu joins Sri Lanka with India.
The small island of Mannar, which is accessible from the Sri Lankan mainland by a causeway, looks like a town at the edge of the world.
Abandoned in most parts with a lighthouse overlooking the empty, rusty pier, you can view the remnants of the bridge in the form of sandbars extending into the Indian Ocean linking it to Dhansukodi and Rameshwaram in India from atop the Dutch fort.
The Ram Sethu was discovered to be man-made and paved a way for the Vanarsena to pass over onto Lanka.
The journey then moves to the Eastern part. Set in the low mountains just outside Kandalama in Dambulla, the ruins of Sigiriya are considered to be Ravana’s palace and can be accessed by a flight of stairs numbering more than a thousand.
Although just a few remnants of a huge rock citadel exist from 5th century, this ‘lion paw’-shaped fort has also been considered to be built by King Kasyapa.
While the walls feature quite a few paintings akin to the Gupta style paintings at the Ajanta caves, the museum near the bottom of the staircase showcases the beauty of royal architecture along with an ingenious hydraulic system that ferried water from the nearby ponds to the top of the mountain.
Dambulla also has two more temples that feature quite importantly in the story:
Manavari and Muneeshwaram. Legend has it that while Ram and his coterie were returning from Lanka, a Brahmadosh started following them as they had recently killed Ravana who was himself a pious Brahmin and an ardent supporter of Lord Shiva.
To get rid of this dosha, Rama stops here, prays to Shiva and establishes Shiv Lingas which have been recently completed into typical Dravidian style temples replete with a plethora of colours and statues within them.
A bit down south, the cool mountains of Nuwara Eliya may have been loved by the British settlers in the 18th century as they planted the world famous Ceylon tea and made enormous profits, but the hills are rumoured to be part of the beautiful Ashoka Vatika, where Ravana had kept Sita captive.
Although the marvelous gardens have turned to thick forests, the Hakgala Botanical Gardens offers the beauty of the Vatika in all its glory.
A trip to Nuwara Eliya cannot be complete without a visit to one of the famous tea factories. The Heritance Tea Factory is one unique hotel that has been built up from an erstwhile tea factory.
Not only does this indulge a typical colonial feel, it also features machines and devices from the 19th century, some of which are still working today.
The Seetha Amman temple also holds quite a significance in the story as it is supposed to be the place where Hanuman met Sita for the first time in AshokaVatika while reassuring her of his efforts to free him.
The temple, done up across two levels over the river is housed with golden-coloured statues of characters from the epic. On peering down from the lower level, you will be able to see the clearly demarcated footsteps of Lord Hanuman.
The site also gains importance from the fact that there is a mountain whose summit is in the shape of Hanuman.
The final destination on the Ramayana trail, being jointly promoted by Tourism Board of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan Airlines is near the capital city of Colombo.
Located just on the outskirts of Colombo the Vibhishana Palace is believed to have been gifted to Ravana’s brother after the defeat of Lanka by Ram.
Although it now stands as a Buddhist temple with multiple statues and paintings of Lord Buddha adorning the walls, it remains as one of the main attractions where thousands of tourists throng every year.