Tissamaharama Sri Lanka is a nice holiday spot in Sri Lanka !
Tissamaharama, better known by the diminutive “Tissa”, is a little town surrounded by paddy fields and waterways. The pastoral landscape around Tissa is dominated by the white dome of the Tissa Maharama Mahathupa (also known as the Tissamaharama Vihara).
Situated some 150 km southeast of Galle, Tissa is also the starting point for excursions into the Yala National Park. At Tissa, you can sit back and enjoy the morning peace or join birdwatching enthusiasts on the shores of Lake Tissa, unsafe to swim in due to the presence of crocodiles.
How to get to Tissamaharama and how to move in and around
Tissa can only be reached by road. Buses depart regularly from Mattala International Airport (Rs.60 for a one-hour journey). From Galle, it takes about 4-5 hours to reach Tissa. If you are travelling from the north, buses do not take you directly to Tissa but to Panigamo junction. From here, you can take a tuk-tuk to Tissa for around Rs.250.
Accommodation is never a problem here as there are plenty of tourist-friendly establishments that welcome travellers all year round. At the bus stop, many locals will try to direct you to certain ones but this comes at a cost as most hotels have to pay a commission to intermediaries meaning it is you who will fork this out indirectly. So, it is better book your hotel before arrival.
Staying in one of the numerous pilgrim rest houses in Kataragama, each belonging to one of the main religions, can be an alternate and cheaper option.
Top tourist attractions in Tissamaharama
Tissa Dagoba / Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara
The Tissa Dagoba is the principal dome of the Tissamaharama Raja Maha Vihara. Thought to have been built sometime in the 2nd century BC, this white dagoba that dominates majestically the surrounding lush pastures and paddy fields has a particular silhouette sure to remain in your minds for long.
Almost 550 feet wide and 186 feet high, it can be seen from any part of Tissa town. It can even be seen at night, when it is lit up and looks completely different.
Constructed by Kavantissa, a Ruhunu king, it once held a sacred tooth and a sacred bone relic of the Buddha. Buddhists believe that Lord Buddha himself meditated here with 500 of his disciples and hence regard it as a sacred spot.
The Dagoba is quite peaceful as there are only a few monks who perform their daily duties. Travellers can walk around freely in the buildings and gardens.
The Yatala Dagoba is another Buddhist sacred place in Tissa. It is named after the son of King Mahanaaga, Prince Yatalatissa. It is said that the king constructed the Dagoba for the birth of Yatalatissa in the 18th century.
Surrounded by lotus ponds, this dagoba is authentically charming. Like Tissa Dagoba, it is just a short walk from the centre of Tissa. The decorations here are mostly of elephant heads. There is a pillar here that shows signs of erosion on one side, caused by the tethering of elephants.
Inside the complex, the small museum contains historical artefacts that were excavated from this spot.
A place to simply walk around and absorb its peaceful beauty.
Tissa town was built around the Tissa Wewa, an artificial lake constructed for irrigation that has become the pride of the town due to the flocks of birds that come here regularly. The lake, constructed initially in the 3rd century BC, was completely restored in 1871. Today, numerous birdwatchers can be seen early in the morning admiring species like egrets and other birds.
On the southern edge of the Tissa Wewa, there is a new ‘Lakeside Walkway’ that is perfect for a stroll.
Tourist spots around Tissamaharama
Kataragama is one of the places in the world that is equally sacred for many religions. On your way to Kataragama (it is just 15 km northeast of Tissa), you will see pilgrims who make the trip by foot. If you wish to take a public transport, it costs less than Rs.20 to get there by bus from Tissa. Buses can get you here directly from Colombo as well. By train, you can reach Matara and then switch to a bus from the Matara bus stand.
As stated earlier, Kataragame attracts devotees of the Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist faith. The place is also regarded as sacred by indigenous Sri Lankan Veddas.
The history of the shrine dates back to the 2nd century BC during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. The Bo tree behind the Kataragama temple is said to be one of the eight saplings of the Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura. By the 16th century, the shrine of Kataragama Deviyo became associated with lord Skanda and attracted a large number of devotees.
The main event of the shrine is the annual Esala Festival held in July or August, a procession with fire-walkers, dancers, drummers and many religious rituals. The traditional ritual starts with a bath in the river Menik Ganga and ends in a walk to the temple bearing offerings of flowers and fruit. The Kataragama complex has several shrines inside.
The principal shrine in the Maha Devale is dedicated to Skanda described as a god with six faces and twelve arms. Two other shrines are dedicated to Vishnu and Ganesha. The Buddhist Kiri Vehera Dagoba is said to have been built by King Mahasena in the exact spot where the king met Lord Buddha on his third and last visit to the island and listened to his sermon. Being a multi-religious sacred town, there is also an Islamic mosque within the temple complex.
Visiting the Kataragama is a religious experience for some and a living testimony to religious harmony in Sri Lanka for the traveller.
Tissamaharama has great beaches close by!
Just 14 km from the Yala National Park, Kirinda Beach almost feels like the end of the world. From here, you can see the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean stretch into the horizon.
Kirinda is a small tourist-friendly town that is close enough to both the Yala and Bundala National Park. There is not much here by way of attractions, but it is a nice and quiet place to stay if you plan to head to the wildlife parks that are just a short distance away.
Kirinda is also famous for a mountain temple. The trail is mostly rocky, and you do not require a guide to reach the top. Locals will be happy to help you out. The small shrine is best visited early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are bearable. From the top, you can catch a beautiful view of the hills, the beach, the fields and ocean.
Some hotels at Kirinda offer to host special dinners on the beach on moonlit nights.
Where to admire wildlife near Tissamaharama, Sri Lanka
Lunugamvehera National Park
This park is located between the towns of Kataragama and Lunugamvehera on the northern side of Lunugamvehera Reservoir. The total area of the park is 23,498 hectares of which the Lunugamvehera Reservoir occupies 14 %. The park was closed at one point during the civil war but has now reopened. The climate here is characterizes by seasonal rainfall that annually averages about 1000 mm.
The park serves as a link between the Yala National Park to the east and the Uda Walawe National Park some 15 kilometres to the west and hence facilitates the crossing of elephants.
Other fauna to be seen here are a variety of amphibians, reptiles and over 180 species of birds depending on the season. Mammal species prevalent here include Wild Buffalo, Palm squirrel, Giant squirrel, Porcupine, Palm cat, Wild boar, Mouse deer and Spotted deer. Occasional sightings of Sloth bear and Leopard have also been reported.
Yala National Park
The largest and most renowned park in the country located on the southeast tip of the island. Yala is a great place to spot leopards and in the process, cover a very interesting natural terrain made of rocks and grass that these magnificent mammals like to call home.
Yala covers a very large area of plains, forests, swamps and savannah that is host to a large variety of flora and fauna.
This is probably the all-in-one national park where everybody gets an eyeful of everything one enjoys watching.
The animals that you can see here vary between elephants, spotted deer, barking deer, toque monkey, mongoose and crocodiles. Sloth bears can show up if you're lucky. Yala contains quite a large variety of water birds too.
Yala offers such a good of beach, nature and wildlife that it has become a top hit with tourists and ... gets a bit crowded at times. You can visit the park all year around.
Try to program your visit at dusk or early morning although dusk adds great colours to your photographs.
Bundala National Park
The Bundala National Park covers an area of about 62 sq.km. It is situated on the south coast of the island with the town of Hamabantota to its east and Yala to the west. Bundala was designated a wildlife sanctuary as early as 1969. In 1991, it was declared Sri Lanka's first wetland before becoming a national park in 1993.
In 2005 the park received international recognition, as it became the fourth biosphere reserve in Sri Lanka according to UNESCO standards.
Bundala is very famous for large flocks of Greater Flamingo that fly in here in at the end of the year. Numbers such as 2.000 have been reported here especially when food is aplenty for them. Bundala is also well known for migratory birds that arrive here in winter from regions as far as Siberia and the Rann of Kutch in India. The total count of bird species here reaches almost 200 out of which 60 are migratory species.
The best time to visit the park is between August and April when migratory birds settle here for the season.
South of the park, the coastal stretch of about 20 kilometres offers an interesting terrain made of scrub jungles, sand dunes, narrow beaches and rocky lagoons. The beaches serve as nesting grounds for four of Sri Lanka's five species of marine turtles. Between October and January, groups of Olive Ridley turtles, Green turtles, Leatherback turtles and Loggerhead turtles nest in the sands here.
The park office and entrance is on the road to Bundala village off the A2 highway. As in most parks, guides and drivers are available at the entrance.
If you are not keen on visiting the park but are staying close by, check at your hotel or guesthouse if they can provide you with a bicycle. A bicycle tour around the park can be very rewarding. The surroundings are green and serene, the terrain is flat and there are numerous little paths around paddy fields that offer alternative scenic routes. Over and above, you are sure to get welcomed by locals for tea and get stared at by monkeys perched on fences!
If you are on the A2, stop by the numerous stalls all along the A2 to check out the local curd sold there.
Bundala is home to civets, giant squirrels and crocodiles. The reptile population here is quite varied and includes a sizeable number of snakes like pythons, rat snakes, cat snakes, whip snakes, etc. But the only reptiles you are really likely to come across are the larger ones like Mugger crocodiles, Estuarine crocodile and monitors.
Interesting activities for children in Tissamaharama
Built in 2008, the Kataragama Museum, just a 30-minute ride away from Tissamaharama, is a small but very valuable museum containing archaeological excavations. It is especially worth a visit considering the unique and diverse past of Kataragama. As this site is equally holy for Hindus, Sinhalese Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and the indigenous Vedda population, the cultural significance of the items in the museum is of interest.
Entry to the museum is right next to the Maha Devale shrine, and costs Rs.650. It is generally open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Offering ceremonies (Pujas)
“Pujas” or offering ceremonies at Kataragama are times when the Kataragama shrine comes alive. The ‘puja’ times are early morning (5 am), mid-morning (11 am) and in the evening (7 pm, also the most colourful ceremony). The ceremonies offer great insights for both young and old into Sri Lankan life, culture and the religious rites. The sound of bells, horns, trumpets, drums and other instruments plus the smell of oil lamps and the sight of the colourful dresses and offerings are sure to leave an imprint in your mind.
Added to this is the sight of some pilgrims performing the traditional ‘kavadi’ or peacock dance that involves a lot of spinning with peacock feather accessories.
A truly authentic Sri Lankan experience!
Thing of interest in Tissamaharama
Shopping for wooden sculptures
One of the best places on to buy quality wooden sculptures are the small boutiques that are located on the road between Tissa and Kataragama. The sculptures here are quite nicely crafted compared to what you get from most tourist-oriented shops elsewhere in the country. If you go for the bulkier ones, be sure the estimates given by the shops for shipping them home are realistic.
Kataragama Esala festival
The Kataragama Esala Festival is an annual event held at the Kataragama shine between June and August depending on the lunar calendar. It is best to consult an official website to make sure you can attend it during your trip.
Held on the first new moon of the Esala Month, the Kataragama Perahara is important for both Hindus and Buddhists. You can interpret this festival as a celebration of the marriage of Skanda to his consort, Valli Matha. Skanda, an avatar of the Hindu God Murugan, is worshipped by Buddhists as the Kataragama-Deviyo.
Devotees believe that when Skanda reached Sri Lanka, he was presented with his beautiful bride, Valli Matha. The union between the two is celebrated during a week-long festival where processions are a daily affair. Colourfully dressed dancers accompanied by decorated elephants parade the streets to the sounds of horns and drums. The scent of a thousand flowers and incense sticks fills the air as pilgrims participate in an evening procession carrying the yantra talisman from the temple of Skanda to the temple of Valli Matha.
Hindu devotees can also be seen performing self-penance by walking on embers or by piercing their bodies with needles and hooks. Some of the practices such as being suspended by hooks that are attached to the back of devotees can be impressive or even disturbing.