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What to Know When Visitting Bentota

Across the river from Aluthgama, you can find refuge in Bentota a gentle leafy sprawl of hotels and guest houses spread along the coast.

The sea is calm here, as are the waters of the river, the bentota Ganga, which is ideal for watersports and boat rides as far as 35km (23 miles) upstream. travel just 5km (3miles) up the lazy river in the noonday sun ( or take the Elpitiya road, south of the bridge) and explore the few remains of the Galapata Vihara, dating back to the 12th Century. This is no ordinary temple; legend claims it was built by a minister pf Parakramabahu the Great (AD 1153 -86) who was responsible for most of the wonders at the Medievel city of Polonnaruwa galapata temple is said to have been linked by a maze of subterranean tunnels with other temples in the area.

When the British discovered Bentota and built a rest house for their officers en route from Colombo to Galle, it was a peaceful place to escape to. That tranquillity however was some what shattered after a modern complex, the National Holiday Resort, was built. It comprises a shopping centre, post office several hotels and a marketplace where you can practise your bargaining skills to buy drums, masks and handmade lace.

Since being built to a design by Geoffrey Bawa in the 1970s, the Holiday Resort has been spruced up and expanded. The Bentota Beach Hotel, built on the site side and the sea on the other, has opened again after undergoing renovations, and hopes to recapture its former glory in the days when it was regarded as Sri lanka's premier beach hotel.

Challenging it is the new taj Exotica Resort perched atop a flattened bluff at the southern end of the main Bentota beach. Its ambience is international and somewhat intimidating, but it does have a glorious swimming pool overlooking the beach on both sides of the bluff.

Bentota caters for well-behaved tourists of all budgets with guest houses, such as the delightful Goldi just behind taj Exotica and the Susantha Hotel behind the railway station, for independent visitors. The Bentota Aida Ayurveda Hotel is a collection of Pavilions beside the river where ayurvedic herbal treatments add a new dimensions to Bentota's charm.

The Calm seas from November to April make it ideal for snorkelling diving sailing wind surfing, water-skiing, and deep -sea fishing from an outrigger canoe. The Waters and beach of bentota also attract a great number of turtles. The sea turtles Project ( open daily, 6am -6pm: entrance fee) at the southern tip of town, is one of the many turtle eggs until they hatch. Small tanks contain hundreds of one -to-three days-old turtles, as well as some larger ones, including an albino, kept for show.

Further south is Induruwa The secret of this small and peaceful Village will surely not last long. Flat basketware is the Village speciality and the market on Tuesday attracts buyers from Colombo, so stop and have a look before it all gets whisked away. In the Sri lankan Handicraft Centres (open daily) on the right of the Galle road as you leave Bentota heading south, you can see basket weavers at work and visit Papier mache workshops.

Sri Lanka's first and original turtle hatchery is 5km (3miles) south of Induruwa in Kosgoda reputedly the best beach for turtle-watching and signposted off the Galle Road. If you have not had your fill of baby turtles already, the Victor Hasselblad Turtle Hatchery stays open daily from 6am -6pm.

Southwards, visible on the inland side of the Galle Road, just north of Balapitiya is what looks like a Dutch church and a Buddhist temple but it was built in the time of the Dutch and so was influenced by their style of architecture. However, as many of the island's inhabitants will bear out, this cultural confusion does not make it any less Buddhist. The Sri Pushparama Vihara beside it houses some interesting murals. In Balapitiya itself, you will cross the Madu Ganga, along which you can take boat rides past a host of tiny islands, only a few of which are inhabited.
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