Wildlife & Cultural Highlights of Sri Lanka
A few kilometres to the west of Yala National Park is the small, bustling but easy-going town of Tissamaharama - often conveniently shortened to 'Tissa' by locals and travellers alike. Aqua-Firma often use this town as a base for visits to Yala and Bundala National Parks, because the town itself and the area directly surrounding it also have their attractions.
Surrounding Tissa to the North, East and West are a series of natural and artificial lakes, sometimes called 'tanks'. It's a beautiful area to watch birds in the wetlands surrounding these important water resources, or take a slow paddle in a canoe out into the middle of the lake (in the Wirawila Lake and Bird Sanctuary). The best time to visit the lakes is usually in the early morning or late afternoon, when birds and wildlife are at their most active, and before the roasting heat of the middle of the day sets in! This is a great area to observe water birds you might see deeper into the National Parks of Yala and Bundala.
Many species of herons, egrets and bitterns can often be observed from the North of town, on the Tissa Lake, a lovely backdrop to the town itself. The Tissa Lake is a living testament to the ingenuity of the founders of the town once known as Mahagama. After the town's initial founding, it become an important centre of power for the Sinhalese people under King Kavantissa. Walk northwards, away from the town centre from the northern end of Tissa Lake and you reach, through a landscape of rice paddies and trees, a second artificial lake - the smaller Deberawewa reservoir. A pleasant, relaxing spot, again great for birdwatching, the lake is often almost completely covered with waterlilies. The green, lovely landscape around here, small forested area, lush green rice paddies inter-woven with forests, is also a good area to observe the comings and goings of Sri Lankan rural life.
Some of the bird species to watch out for in the area include the Black-winged Stilt, Grey Heron, Common Kingfisher and Painted Stork. Many ducks are also seen on the lakes, including the Gargany and Pintal ducks, Spot-billed Pelicans and Little Cormorants.
Apart from its relaxed atmosphere, great location and great birdwatching opportunities, another attraction of the Tissamaharama area are the remarkable historic monuments that dominate the area, bringing the small town's great age and significance into context. Of these ancient historical moments, the most famous and impressive is the Tissa maha Dagoba (Tissa great stupa), standing 55.8 meters high and with a circumference of 165m. The temple, which stands between the town centre and the Tissa tank, is said to be more than 2200 years old, built by King Kavantissa during his reign over the city. The huge Buddhist monument was for a long time also the island's largest; but of course it's not size that makes this place so remarkable. The Stupa is also considered one of the sixteen most sacred sites in the country, much visited by pilgrims due to the belief that the temple holds a tooth and a forehead bone from the Buddha himself. The entire stupa has recently been restored. Another smaller more ancient temple structure, the Sandagiri dagoba is sited close by, with sections again being restored. Much of the Sandagiri dagoba outer temples have fallen into ruin. Wandering this area close to the tank you often come across remains of these ancient temples.
Tissamaharama is a lovely spot to include on Aqua-Firma journeys into the Yala & Bundala National Parks, whilst adding a taste of Sri Lanka's historic wealth and birdlife around its widespread lakes and wetlands.
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