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Set in the Indian Ocean in South Asia, the tropical island nation of Sri Lanka has a history dating back to the birth of time. It is a place where the original soul of Buddhism still flourishes and where nature’s beauty remains abundant and unspoilt.
Few places in the world can offer the traveler such a remarkable combination of stunning landscapes, pristine beaches, captivating cultural heritage and unique experiences within such a compact location. Within a mere area of 65,610 kilometres lie 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 1,600 kilometres of coastline - much of it pristine beach - 15 national parks showcasing an abundance of wildlife, nearly 500,000 acres of lush tea estates, 250 acres of botanical gardens, 350 waterfalls, 25,000 water bodies, to a culture that extends back to over 2,500 years.
This is an island of magical proportions, once known as Serendib, Taprobane, the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, and Ceylon. Discover refreshingly Sri Lanka!
Official Name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Government Type: Republic
Location: Latitude 5° 55. to 9° 50. north, Longitude 79° 42. to 81° 52., 650km north of the equator
Dimensions: 430km North to South, 225km East to West
Currency (code): Sri Lankan Rupee (LKR)
Independence: 4 February 1948
Administrative Capital: Sri Jayewardenepura
Commercial Capital: Colombo
Administrative Divisions: Typically tropical, with a northeast monsoon (December to March) bringing unsettled weather to the north and east, and a southwest monsoon (June to October) bringing bad weather to the south and west
Terrain: Mostly low, flat to rolling plain; mountains in south-central interior
Highest Mountain: Pidurutalagala, 2,524m
Highest Waterfall: Bambarakanda, 263m
National Flower The Blue Water Lily (Nymphaea stellata).
National Bird Jungle Fowl
Population Growth Rate: 1.3%
Population Density: 309 people per sq km
Life Expectancy at Birth 74 female, 64 male
Literacy Rate : Female 87.9 Male 92.5
Ethnic Groups: Sinhalese 73.8%, Sri Lankan Moors 7.2%, Indian Tamil 4.6%, Sri Lankan Tamil 3.9%, other 0.5%, unspecified 10% (2001 census)
Languages: Sinhala (official and national language) 74%, Tamil (national language) 18%, other 8%
Note: English (a link language commonly) is used in government and spoken competently by about 10% of the population
Religion: Buddhist 69.1%, Muslim 7.6%, Hindu 7.1%, Christian 6.2%, unspecified 10% (2001 census)
Time Zone: Sri Lanka Standard Time is five and a half hours ahead of GMT. (Allowance should be made for summer-time changes in Europe.)
International Dialing: +94
Electricity: 230. 240 volts, 50 cycles AC. If you travel with a laptop computer bring a stabilizer
Economy: Sri Lanka's most dynamic sectors are food processing, textiles and apparel, food and beverages, port construction, telecommunications, insurance and banking. In 2006, plantation crops made up only 15% of exports (90% in 1970), while textiles and garments accounted for more than 60%. About 800,000 Sri Lankans work abroad, 90% of them in the Middle East. They send home more than US$1 billion a year.
Labour Force 34.3% of the labour population is employed in agriculture, 25.3% in industry and 40.4% in services: 40.4% (30 June 2006 est.) The unemployment rate is 5.7% (2007 est.)
Agriculture Products Rice, Sugarcane, Grains, Pulses, Oilseed, Spices, Tea, Rubber, Coconuts, milk, Eggs, Hides, Beef, Fish
Industries: Processing of rubber, tea, coconuts, tobacco and other agricultural commodities, telecommunications, insurance, banking; clothing, textiles, cement, petroleum refining.
Exports: Textiles and apparel; tea and spices; diamonds, emeralds, rubies; coconut products, rubber manufactures, fish
Imports: Main import commodities are textile fabrics, mineral products, petroleum, foodstuffs, machinery and transportation equipment: $10.61 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.). Percentage of main commodities from main import partners: India 19.6%, China 10.5%, Singapore 8.8%, Iran 5.7%, Malaysia 5.1%, Hong Kong 4.2%, Japan 4.1% (2006)
Gross Domestic Product (GDP): Purchasing power parity: $81.29 billion (2007 est.). Official exchange rate: $30.01 billion (2007 est.) Real growth rate: 6.3% (2007 est.) Per capita: $4,100 (2007 est.) composition by sector: Agriculture: 16.5% Industry: 26.9%
Gross National Product (GNP): Sri Lanka is placed in 76th place in GNP figures of the world’s nations with $22.8 billion (2005)
Flag Description: Yellow with two panels; the smaller hoist-side panel has two equal vertical bands of green (hoist side) and orange; the other panel is a large dark red rectangle with a yellow lion holding a sword, and there is a yellow bo leaf in each corner; the yellow field appears as a border around the entire flag and extends between the two panels.
According to recorded history Anuradhapura is the first great capital of the Sinhala society, this extensive city still holds relics of architectural ruins of ancient kingdoms and Buddhist temples not witnessed in most parts of the world. Be prepared to embrace history the minute you step into this sacred city; Anuradhapura. It’s the base of ancient Buddhist civilization in Sri Lanka and an ancient city with a rich heritage in history, culture, politics and religion.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site offers a deep insight into the life and times of Sri Lanka’s majestic kings and the engineering and architectural potential of the times. Anuradhapura is one of the three stunning locations in the Cultural Triangle.
The most famous monument is the ruins of the Brazen Palace and the Ruwanweliseya built by King Dutugemunu in 164 BCE. Anuradhapura is one of the three stunning locations in the Cultural Triangle.In the Mahamegha Uyana it houses the Sacred Bo-Tree or Sri Maha Bodhi, the oldest authenticated sacred tree, which is said to date back to BCE and planted from a sapling from the holy tree under which The Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment.
Another magnificent sight is the Jetavanaramaya, considered the largest Dagoba in the world. The city is spread with ruins of ancient Dagobas and other sites of religious significance. Their complicated carvings and sculptures are remarkable and the ancient stones speaks of the days of yore when the city was ruled by brave kings presided over by Buddhist clergy. Pilgrims from around the world flock to Anuradhapura as it is regarded as a place where Buddhism is safeguarded for humanity.
It is so unfortunate that the city finally decline in importance due to foreign invasion and went into disorder as Polonnaruwa gained in prominence in the 10th century AD. A complete Archaeological Museum located in the city offers a greater understanding of the city’s unique monuments.
The city remained the capital for almost 1,000 years and during the height of its rise, commands tremendous respect and influence in the world. There is little to do in the city apart from visiting the ancient temples, monasteries and tanks. A visit to Anuradhapura leaves the visitor with a sense of wonder and history so deep that the experience lingers long after the visit.
Mahawamsa and Culavamsa speak of Pulasthipura; the early historical name of Polonnaruwa; a UNESCO world heritage site, has a great history of conquest and struggle behind it and rightfully forms the third element in the Cultural Triangle. Located about 140 kms north east from Kandy, Polonnaruwa offers hours of endless pleasure for history and culture lovers, as there are numerous sights of significance.
Polonnaruwa became the capital of Sri Lanka subsequent to the decline of Anuradhapura and witnessed the Sinhala Buddhist civilization reaching much greater heights. The vast irrigation network with reservoirs that looks like inland seas sustained such classic balance in rice cultivation, during the rule of King Parakramabahu the Great (1153-1186 AD) and Sri Lanka came to be known as the Granary of the Orient. The main attractions are the conserved ruins of glorious royal palaces, massive Buddhist temples, and unbroken monuments in colossal statues carved from sold rock boulders.
Polonnaruwa, with its conserved ruins and renovated ancient irrigation reservoirs is a “must visit” destination of Sri Lanka. As much as the conserved cultural monuments would enlighten the tourists, the wild life sanctuaries in the district of Polonnaruwa affords ample opportunities for the joy and fun in the close range of wild elephants, other mammals to the lovers of wildlife. At the city of Polonnaruwa the largest ancient irrigation reservoir called Parakrama Samudra (the Sea of Parakrama) which is always lovely, and with the excess of birdlife, it is seldom that there is not something interesting going on upon its shimmering expanses of waters.
Polonnaruwa is located in between Wildlife at Minneriya National Park, Wasgamuwa National Park, Kaudulla National Park and Eco Hotels at Kandalama & Habarana.
One should not miss the breath-taking experience of Sigiriya, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982. The rock of Sigiriya is located 22 kms North-East of Dambulla in the North Central Province. From the third century BCE, Buddhist monks occupied Sigiriya, but it said that it was only after King Kasyapa seizing the throne in 487 AD the palace and gardens were built and the rock fortified.
Once you enter this Asia’s oldest landscape garden, you will see the well-kept balanced Water Gardens consisting of the remains of four L-shaped pools either side of the main walkway, which were once used for bathing, each one connected by underground channels. Surrounding them are four fountains, still active during the rainy season, which are fed by gravity from the moats and reveal the early sophistication of the design here. Other features you will pass on the way up are Octagonal Pond, Boulder Garden, Audience Hall, Cistern, the beautifully painted Sigiriya frescoes. There are 22 frescoes today out of the original 500 frescoes which have been protected in a depression in the rock from the wind and rain. The paintings are believed to be of Apsaras, heaven-dwelling nymphs.
The Mirror Wall; It was once clearly covered with graffiti; their poems and thoughts written by visitors dating from the sixth century, though a lot has faded now and some of the wall has broken away. This has been very important for experts studying the development of the Sinhala language over the years.
The huge lion’s claws through which there is a stone staircase to continue your climb, is possibly the most significant feature of Sigiriya, and gives the rock its name. From the summit you can observe the breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views of Pidurangala Rock, the Sigiriya Wewa and Mapagala Rock.
On the summit lies the ruins of the Royal Palace built for the King Kasyapa. Although few ruins still remain such as a pool, an eastern, sunrise-facing throne constructed from solid rock, and remains of other buildings and royal gardens. It is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Sri Lanka and the world over. However this is how the colonial historians make up their story.
Peak Wilderness sanctuary is the third largest natural reserve of the 50 reserves that are in Sri Lanka. Peak Wilderness sanctuary is a tropical rain forest that spreads over a land of 224 square kilometres around the Sri Pada (Adam's Peak) mountain. A huge forest area that belonged to the Peak Wilderness was cut down and cleared during the British colonial rule in Sri Lanka (1815-1948) to gain land for the massive tea estates which are still functioning in Nuwara Eliya district. The remaining portion of the Peak Wilderness was declared a wildlife sanctuary on October 25, 1940.
The contours of Peak Wilderness vary from 1000 to 7360 feet above sea level. Therefore, it possesses unusual geographical formations compared to the other natural reserves of the Island. Bena Samanala (6579 ft), Dotalugala, Detanagala, is some of the taller mountains in the Peak Wilderness. It is also the birthplace of Kelani, Kalu, Walawe rivers and many tributaries of the river Mahaweli which make waterfalls such as Dotalu Falls, Gerandi Falls, Galagama Falls (655 ft), and Mapanana Falls (330 ft) inside the sanctuary.
Out of the 3 access routes; Hatton, Kuruwita and Palabaddala routes, which Buddhist devotees and other tourists use to reach the Adam’s Peak, Kuruwita and Palabaddala routes go right across the Peak Wilderness sanctuary. This forest area is entirely under the control of Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Department. It does not maintain any lodge, bungalow or such type of facility for tourists inside Peak Wilderness sanctuary in order to safeguard the purity of this forest. Yet, there is no restriction for eco-tourists to enter the sanctuary after obtaining permission from Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Department. Entering the sanctuary during the rainy season is at the tourist’s own risk because of the unforeseen downpours and instant floods lead to life-risk situations.
It is located within the Sabaragamuwa mountain range in the Central hills. There are no specific boundaries for the Peak Wilderness sanctuary. Most boundaries are marked by plantations owned by the Government and the private sector. The eastern boundary is clear and connected to Pidurutalagala mountain region and Horton Plains National Park.
This fortified harbour city is a poetic blend of eastern architecture and another UNESCO World Heritage site. Galle was an ancient seaport, a centre for trade along the silk route, where possibly large shiploads of spices and silks were exchanged for precious gems and the rubies. As a strategically located ancient seaport, Galle has strong Chinese, Moor, Dutch, Portuguese and British influences. The town has an old-fashioned feeling and a stroll at leisure through the ramparts of the fortress area carry you back to another era as it were.
The city houses ancient churches, such as the Groote Kirk, the oldest Protestant church in the Island. Galle also houses Dutch-style old manors with complex lattice work; unique to Dutch architecture. A climb up the 18-metre high lighthouse is a rare treat for tourists. The Dutch entrance to the fort has its emblems adorned on it with ‘VOC 1669’ carved in the inner archway and is still in operation. Besides traders and entrepreneurs, there are records of visits by important historians such as Ibn Batuta,Fa Hein and Marco Polo.
Many locals were converted to Christianity by the foreign invaders and some of the Dutch and Portuguese cuisine has found its way into Sinhalese cuisine in the coastal areas. Interestingly, Baila music was first introduced in Galle and has become a part of the southern Sinhalese and their celebrations are not complete without the catchy tunes that find the young and old circling to the exciting beat. Galle can also prove to be a treasure trove for antique hunters and some interesting curios can be acquired here.
The multi-ethnic nature of the city attracts many tourists and the Galle Literary Festival held annually is an event that attracts literary personalities of international and local reputes as well as others who flock to the scenic city for a week’s literary pursuits. Galle is the capital of the Southern Province of Sri Lanka and lies in close proximity to popular beaches of Hikkaduwa and Bentota.
Galle provides an outstanding example of an urban ensemble which illustrates the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries. The most salient feature is the use of European models adapted by local manpower to the geological, climatic, historical, and cultural conditions of Sri Lanka. In the structure of the ramparts, coral is frequently used along with granite. In the ground layout all the measures of length, width and height conform to the regional metrology.
The wide streets, planted with grass and shaded by Suriya, are lined with houses, each with its own garden and an open veranda supported by columns, another sign of the acculturation of an architecture which is European only in its basic design.
The bay of Galle lies off the south-west coast of Sri Lanka, sheltered by a rocky peninsula. Mentioned as early as 545 in the cosmography of Cosmos Indicopleustes, it is one of the most ancient 'ports of call of the Levant'. When Ibn Batuta landed there in 1344, it was the principal port of Ceylon. Portuguese navigators settled there in 1505, two years before settling in Colombo. It seems that they preferred Colombo at first. In 1588, they decided to withdraw to Galle and they hastily constructed a rampart and three bastions to defend the peninsula on the northern landside. The seaward side was considered invulnerable and was not fortified.
Few vestiges subsist from a Franciscan chapel that was built in 1543. When the fortified town fell into the hands of the Dutch in 1640, they decided to replace the precarious Portuguese defences constituted partially of palisades and earth banks. They encircled the whole of the peninsula with a bastioned stone wall so as to render it impregnable against the English, French, Danish, Spanish and Portuguese fleets vying with Holland for the supremacy of the sea.
This fortified city, built by the Dutch, exists still, but with few changes. It has an area of 52 hectares inside the walls defended by 14 bastions. The majority of the curtain walls were built in 1663. The northern fortified gate, protected by a drawbridge and a ditch, bears the date 1669. Much of the city, laid out on a regular grid pattern adapted to the configuration of the terrain (north-south peripheral streets are parallel to the ramparts and not to the central traffic axes), dates from this period.
During the 18th century, protected by a sea wall finished in 1729, the city reached full development. It housed 500 families, and a large number of public administrations, trade establishments and warehouses were located there. A Protestant, Baroque-style church, the oldest in Sri Lanka, was constructed in 1775 for the European colonists and a few Christian converts from plans drawn up by Abraham Anthonisz. However, Galle remained essentially a stronghold. In the layout of the city the Commandant's residence, the arsenal and the powder house were prominent features. The forge, carpentry and rope-making workshops, the naval guardhouse, and barracks rounded out a system that closely linked prosperous trade to military security.
The fort of Galle was handed over to the English only on 23 February 1796, one week after the surrender of Colombo. As a British protectorate, Galle remained the administrative centre of the south of Ceylon. A number of unfortunate modifications were then made: ditches filled in, new blockhouses added, a gate put in between the Moon bastion and the Sun bastion, a lighthouse installed on the Utrecht bastion, and a tower erected for the jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1883. Other work was undertaken during the Second World War in order to restore the defensive function of the fortifications.
Taken together these alterations, few in number, as can be seen from the above, have not seriously modified the original city plan. Galle remains the best example of a fortified city built by Europeans in South and South-East Asia
The last capital of Sri Lanka, the history of Kandy evokes images of riches, marching elephants and much pomp and pageantry. Colombo, Kandy is amongst a hilly terrain and all eyes are drawn to the centre of the city, where the Kandy Lake forms a charming feature. It’s one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka. Kandy was last home to the Kandyan Kings of yore in the 19th-century and a fountain for all the music, arts, crafts and culture in the country. Taking in a performance of Kandyan Dancers is rather like floating on an unending wave where rhythm and movement become one against the backdrop of the throbbing drums.
Kandy retains great religious significance for Sri Lanka. It is in this charming city that the Dalada Maligawa or ‘Sacred Temple of the Tooth’ lies well guarded since the attack on its building by terrorists. The best time to visit Kandy would be in July/August when you can experience the annual Kandy Esala Perahera, an unforgettable parade that reflects the pomp and pageantry of kings and more significantly, an occasion when a replica of the relic casket is paraded. Almost 100 elephants parade along the main streets of the city, bedecked with ceremonial gear and are accompanied by dancers and drummers for over 10 fascinating days.
Even if you miss this spectacle, there are many more sights and sounds in Kandy that will hold your attention. The Peradeniya Botanical Gardens invite visitors to a learning experience about flora and fauna and some majestic trees that can be traced back to centuries. A visit to the National Museum once again highlight the city’s royal past and is well worth a stop. The Malwatta and Asgiriya Monasteries house ancient manuscripts and other treasures from a bygone era.
Kandy is an exciting place for shopping and a well-known centre for elaborate brass, bronze and silver ware. Batiks, handlooms, ceramics, jewellery, reed ware and jewellery are other readily available items. This hill capital is at the heart of the island’s history and identity and no visit to Sri Lanka is complete without a stop-over in Kandy.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve is a national park and a biodiversity hotspot in Sri Lanka. It is of international significance and has been designated a Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The hilly virgin rainforest, part of the Sri Lanka lowland rain forests eco region, was saved from the worst of commercial logging by its inaccessibility, and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a World Heritage Site in 1988. The reserve's name translates as Kingdom of the Lion. It is a treasure trove of endemic species, including trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Because of the dense vegetation, wildlife is not as easily seen as at dry-zone national parks such as Yala. There are about 3 elephants and the 15 or so leopards are rarely seen. The commonest larger mammal is the endemic Purple-faced Languor.
An interesting phenomenon is that birds tend to move in mixed feeding flocks, invariably led by the fearless Greater Racket-tailed Drongo and the noisy Orange-billed Babbler. Of Sri Lanka's 26 endemic birds, the 20 rainforest species all occur here, including the elusive Red-faced Malkoha, Green-billed Coucal and Sri Lanka Blue Magpie. Reptiles include the endemic Green pit viper and Hump-nosed vipers, and there are a large variety of amphibians, especially tree frogs. Invertebrates include the endemic Common Bird wing butterfly and the inevitable leeches.
The Knuckles Mountain Range lies in central Sri Lanka, in the Districts of Matale and Kandy. The range takes its name from a series of recumbent folds and peaks in the west of the massif which resemble the knuckles of clenched fist when viewed from certain locations in the Kandy District. Whilst this name was assigned by early British surveyors, the Sinhalese residents have traditionally referred to the area as Dumbara Kanduvetiya meaning mist-laden mountain range (Cooray, 1984). The entire area is characterised by its striking landscapes often robed in thick layers of cloud but in addition to its aesthetic value the range is of great scientific interest. It is a climatic microcosm of the rest of Sri Lanka. The conditions of all the climatic zones in the country are exhibited in the massif. At higher elevations there is a series of isolated cloud forests, harbouring a variety of flora and fauna, some of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Although the range constitutes approximately 0.03% of the island’s total area it is home to a significantly higher proportion of the country’s biodiversity.
Dambulla is also part of the Cultural Triangle and houses the Great Dambulla Cave Temple declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located 78 kms north of Kandy, the Dambulla caves date back to the 1st century BCE. Originally it was the refuge of King Valagambahu, and the caves were later converted into a rock temple. It houses beautiful frescoes and an imposing 15 metre-long reclining Buddha. Hindu deities are also represented in these caves. The caves are considered to be the finest storehouse of Sinhala art and sculpture.
Dating back to the 1st Century BCE; is the most impressive cave temple in Sri Lanka. It has five caves under a vast overhanging rock, carved with a drip ledge to keep the interiors dry. In 1938 the architecture was inflated with arched walkways. Inside the caves, the ceilings are painted with intricate patterns of religious images following the contours of the rock. There are images of the Lord Buddha and Bodhisattvas, as well as various gods and goddesses. The temple is composed of five caves converted to shrine rooms. The caves, built at the base of a 150 metre high rock during the Anuradhapura (1st Century BCE to 993 AD) and Polonnaruwa times (1073 to 1250), are the most impressive of the many cave temples in Sri Lanka.
Access is along the gentle slope of the Dambulla Rock, offering a panoramic view of the surrounding flat lands, which includes the rock fortress Sigiriya, 19 kilometres away. Families of friendly monkeys make the climb even more interesting. Dusk brings hundreds of swooping swallows to the cave entrance. The largest cave measures about 52 metres from east to west, and 23 metres from the entrance to the back, this spectacular cave is 7 metres tall at its highest point. Hindu deities are also represented here, and the kings Valagamba, Nissankamalla, and Arhant Ananda - the Buddha's most devoted disciple.
Within these shrine rooms is housed a collection of one hundred and fifty statues of the Buddhist Order and the country's history. These statues and paintings represent of many eras of Sinhala art and sculpture. The Buddha statues are in varying sizes and attitudes - the largest is 15 metres long. One cave has over 1,500 paintings of Buddha covering the ceiling.
The Dambulla cave monastery is still functional and remains the best-preserved ancient structure in Sri Lanka. This complex dates from the 3rd and 2nd Centuries BCE; it was established as one of the largest and most important monasteries. King Valagambahu converted the caves into a temple in the 1st century BCE. Exiled from Anuradhapura, he sought refuge here from South Indian usurpers for 15 years. After reclaiming his capital, the King built a temple in thankful worship. Many other kings added to it later and by the 11th century, the caves had become a major religious centre. King Nissankamalla gilded the caves and added about 70 Buddha statues in 1190 AD. During the 18th century, the caves were restored and painted by the Kandyan Kings.
A hike to the highest Rose Quartz Mountain Range in South Asia offers the pleasure of a striking view of the neighbouring area for miles around. With a history spanning over 1,000 years, the Jathika Namal Uyana, also known as the Ironwood Forest, offers a fascinating trek through a deep jungle comprising of the Sri Lankan national tree, the Ñá Tree. The forest is of important ecological enormity and is the focus of studies by ecologists and students of nature.
The Dambulla Rock offers a scenic view of the surrounding area, including the rock fortress of Sigiriya which is 19 kilometres away. Visiting Dambulla can be combined with Sigiriya as the two sites lie in close proximity to each other and tourists can avail of some world-class hotels well located near these sites.