|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Teardrop of India
Sri Lanka is a small island separated from India by the 50 km wide Pouk Strait. Shaped like a giant teardrop falling from the southern tip of the Indian continent, Sri Lanka is one of the largest islands in the Indian Ocean. Only 350 km long and 180 km wide Sri Lanka was known by many names in the past.
It has been called the Island of Dharma, the Teardrop of India, Resplendent Islane, Pearl of the Orient and the British called it Ceylon. Sri Lanka achieved full independence as a dominion within the British Commonwealth in 1948.
Sri Lanka is filled with cultural and natural treasures. Indians, Portuguese, Dutch and British have all left their marks here, making for a delightful mix of ancient cities, monuments and atmospheric colonial architecture. At the same time, palm-fringed beaches are never far away and lush mountainous greenery beckons inland. It's clear to see why Marco Polo proclaimed Sri Lanka to be one of the best islands in the world.
The country was devastated by the 2004 tsunami, which killed more than 30,000 Sri Lankans and wiped out many coastal communities. While many tourists have been discouraged by the troubles, tourism is a healing force in this hard-hit country, and visitors will be guaranteed a warm welcome.
The official languages are Sinhala and Tamil (the latter used in northern and eastern regions), Buddhism is widely practised and Hindu mainly by the Tamil population and Islam Christianity are other major religions.
The southern half of the country is dominated by beautiful, rugged hills, while the north is for the most part a large plain from the edge of the hill country to the Jaffna peninsula.
The best beaches are to be found on south west, south and south east coasts and the dense south west tropical rain forests are home to ebony, teak, silk wood, and spectacular orchids. In the cool highlands harsh grasslands, rhododendrons and stunted forests predominate. The northern third of Sri Lanka and the eastern coast are highly dangerous and off-limits to tourists.
Spare a little time to visit with us some of the delights of this beautiful island, The Pearl of the Orient.
Colombo, the capital, is attractive and easily navigated and has lots of open spaces. The Fort district in the north is the business centre, President's residence, has the clock tower and gracious colonial buildings which lend the district the feeling of a bygone empire.
Ramble around the ramparts and the atmospheric streets of the striking Dutch fort of the southern port of Galle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 300 year old Dutch atmosphere is very much alive around the fort and amidst its many historical buildings.
Galle is also a centre for crafts that include lace-making, ebony-carving and gem-polishing. Negombo is Sri Lanka's oldest fishing village and stands on a strand separating the sea from the lagoon, the seafood here is superb.
Spy on Sri Lanka's abundant wildlife in the various sanctuaries and national parks. Yala National Park, on the southeast coast, is home to the world's highest density of leopards, as well as elephants, deer, bears, wild boar, dugong and monkeys. Flamingos and other migrating birds flock to the lagoons, wetlands and bird sanctuaries during the northern winter.
Wasgamuwa National park stands unique among the most of national parks in Sri Lanka and the only national park in the Central province where one could see elephants in their natural habitats.
Wonder at the extraordinary civilisation that ruled from the ancient capital of Anuradhapura thousands of years ago. Its majestic remains testify to an advanced city carefully planned and filled with beautiful palaces, temples and giant stupas.
The best known being the sacred Bo-Tree, the city's holiest site, grown from a sapling of the tree under which Buddha achieved enlighten. The Thurparama Dagaba is believed to contain the right collarbone of Buddha, Ruvan, the oldest historically documented tree in the world, and the Jetawana Dagaba, which once housed up to 3,000 monks.
At another ancient capital, Polonnaruwa, marvel at the huge reclining Buddha, the Galpotha, a stone book with medieval inscriptions, and the Vatadage, a circular relic chamber. Be amazed at the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, the stunning fifth century fortified palace of King Kasyapa, perched atop a towering rock outcrop above the plains in the country's centre. Tamil Guerrillas still control the areas around the town though there have not been any reports of clashes.
Trail your morning tea to its source in the Highlands and inhale the delicious aromas of Victorian-era tea factories and drink their finest. Situated at around 2000m above sea level and surrounded by lush tea plantations Nuwara Eliya is the main hill resort of Sri Lanka and the heart of the tea industry. Once a pleasure retreat of the European planters the town is still very much an English town with many English style bungalows and buildings.
Kandy is the laid-back centre of the hill country, built around a peaceful lake and surrounded by picturesque hills 116 km from Colombo. This was the last capital of the Singhala Kings before the island was taken over by the British.
The sacred tooth relic of the Buddha is preserved here at the Temple of the Tooth and daily ceremonies attract white-clad pilgrims carrying lotus blossoms and frangipani. The Peradenuya Botanic Gardens has a spreading Javan fig tree the size of a small cricket field.
En route to Kandy stop off at Pinnawala and around 60 or so orphan baby elephants wondering around their foster home, and near Mauvanella are Sri Lanka's famed spice groves. Kithulgala, about 100 km from Colombo, is where the bridge for the film Bridge over the River Kwai was built and this beautiful tributary of the Kelani River still attracts fan today.
Sabaragamuwa is the gem-mining centre of Sri Lanka and is also a major crossroad between southern plains and the hill country to the east. A bustling market city servicing most of the surrounding towns, many of the prominent gem dealers in Sri Lanka operate from this town.
From Dec-April devotees climb the 2,224 meter Adam's Peak near the town of Maskeliya which has been a place of pilgrimage for more than 1,000 years. At the top, apart from the spectacular views, is a huge footprint claimed by Muslims to belong to Adam. Buddhists believe it to be the mark of Buddha and Hindus hold the print to have been made by Lord Shiva.
Traditional Sri Lankan food is dominated by rice and curry and is usually very hot and spicy. Hoppers is a snack similar to pancake served either with egg or honey and yogurt. Fish, especially tuna, is excellent in coastal towns and there is an abundance of tropical fruit.
Traditions, legends and tales abound all over Sri Lanka Although 125 years have passed since the execution of Utuwankane Saradiel, The Robin Hood of Lanka, his name as a legendary daredevil robber continues, Mahasona, the Demon Dog, people claim to see a Black Dog when the influence of the Demon occurs.
A charming legend concerns Unawatuna. Hanuman, the monkey god was sent to the Himalayas to find some special medicinal herbs but he forgot which herbs he needed and in desperation took with him, twisted in his tail, a chunk of the mountains. On his way back he dropped a piece at Unawatuna forming this hillock. That's why the village name means fell down.
In Colombo you can witness the ritualistic exorcism of a devil dancing, Sri Lankan folklore is recreated in theatre using the masked drama, drumming and exorcism rituals.
Oral traditions still current in Lanka tell of hidden gateways situated island wide through which yogis and siddhas, including Lord Buddha and His assembly of arahats, could travel to distant places or even to other lokas or worlds in the blink of an eye, reputedly through sheer comprehension alone.
At Kandy Perahere is the temple of the tooth where Buddha's tooth is kept. Each year year is a pageant of the golden caskets. More than 50 elephants parade the city with drummers, dancers and chieftains.
This is just a taste of Sri Lanka to whet your appetite so that you visit and maybe purchase a tea plantation, spice grove or beautiful villa by the sea. Whatever you decide you will be enthralled by this gorgeous country, the hospitable people, beautiful beaches, traditions and legends.