Sri Lanka is an island that is captivating both by its name – that means Land of Splendour – and by what it actually offers to the visitor. The attractions of Sri Lanka – known to the world by several names from ancient days – have been known through the centuries. While legend has it that this is the Lanka of the Ramayana, it is the name by which it has always been known to its own people.
The Romans called it Taprobane, marked on Ptolemy’s map of the world, derived from “Tambapanni” – land of copper coloured earth and lotuses given by the first known migrants from North India. The Arab traders of the past called in Serentivu and Serendib – island of delight, which gave birth to the English word Serendipity – the prospect of discovering pleasant surprises. The Portuguese corrupted this to Ceilao; the Dutch to Ceilan and the British called it Ceylon. But the people of the East, as distant as Indonesia, always knew the island by the name given by its own people – Sri Lanka.
Almost dangling like a pendant from the southern tip of India, Sri Lanka has been known as the Pearl of the Orient for its variety of attractions. It is not a mere tropical isle known for sun, sea and sands, although it has all this in plenty. In fact the island has over 1400 km of sunkissed beach. The warm waters of the Indian ocean that offers attractions for surfing, undersea diving, the fascination of coral reefs, and also for the more adventurous, the chance of exploring the wrecks from Portuguese galleons to British warships of World War 2. But its attractions are not limited to those of the sea and sunny beaches fringed by coconut palms.
Sri Lanka has much more to offer, and in a compact package too. Within four hours one could drive from the sunny coast to cool, cloud-kissed mountains, where the best tea in the world grows. For miles around one could see hills and valleys covered by an unending carpet of tea, and enjoy the aroma of the fresh tea leaves.
In this enchanting hill country of Sri Lanka is located Adam’s Peak, the only mountain in the world hallowed by the believers of the four major faiths – Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity. Buddhists believe that a depression on the summit of the peak is a footprint of the Buddha himself, placed there on one of his visits to the island.
Those of the Islamic faith believe it to be the footprint of Adam, the first man, who stood there on one leg for a year, in repentance after being banished from the Garden of Eden. To Hindus it is the footprint of the Lord Shiva, and they call it “Shivanadi Paadam”. Eastern Christians believe the depression to have been caused by the knee of St. Thomas, the Apostle of Christ who came to preach in India and the East, as he knelt down in repentance for his doubting the divinity of Christ. Nowhere in the world do the four major faiths mingle in this manner, and it is from the springs at Adam’s Peak or “Sri Paada” (the sacred footprint) as referred to by Buddhists, that the four main rivers of the country begin their flow to the sea, meandering through mountain and valley. Not without reason has Sri Lanka also been referred to by travel writers of the past as “this other Eden”.
Traveling down the mountain slopes one comes to Ratnapura – the City of Gems – known from ancient times and mentioned in the tales of the Sheherazade or Arabian Nights. It was to Ratnapura in Sri Lanka that Sinbad came to obtain sapphires, rubies, cat’s eyes and other gems of priceless value. It was from Sri Lanka and Ratnapura that King Solomon obtained the gems and other gifts such as peacocks and elephants to woo the Queen of Sheba. Ratnapura and its surrounds still abound in gems, much sought after by the world. Tradition has it, that the gems that are found in the riverbeds around Ratnapura, are in fact the crystallized tears of Adam & Eve as they wept after being banished from the real Eden to this other Eden.
Always a few hours driving distance away is the wildlife of Sri Lanka, given sanctuary in many national parks, and strict nature reserves. Here one can see the elephant and leopard roam in freedom, as do the sloth bear, the spotted deer and Sāmbhar. There are peacocks aplenty displaying the vibrant colours of their tails to attract mates, as well as many species of parrot, stork, swift, the Brahiminy Kite, the Fishing Eagle, the colourful Kingfishers and Woodpeckers, and the unique tailor birds and weavers to name only a few. The inviting warm tropical climate of Sri Lanka also brings in a large number of winged visitors from as far away as Siberia to escape the cold of the winter, the most colourful of these being the Siberian Flamingo. There are also plenty of tern and wild duck that come here during the winter adding to the island’s own 150 plus species of indigenous birds.
By far the biggest attraction of Sri Lanka is its people. The Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are all friendly by nature and the country has an unsullied record of hospitality over the centuries. It is a land of smiles and a warm welcome, observed by Anton Chekov, Bernard Shaw and Sir Arthur C. Clarke who has made Sri Lanka his home, and the inspiration for at least two of his books. It is known as a land of tolerance that has been tempered over the years by the teachings of the Buddha. Its overall Buddhist culture, with a lasting blend of Hindu influence has been the source of an ancient civilization, with masterpieces of sculpture, construction, and irrigation that have lasted to this day in the several ancient and medieval cities that bear testimony to Sri Lanka’s historic splendour. The huge irrigation tanks that dammed rivers and also harnessed the rain from the 1st Century BC are known as marvels of a unique hydraulic civilization and still provide the water for the rice field of today. At the beginning of a new millennium, Sri Lanka that has known much of history, still beckons as a land of splendour far beyond the limits of a tropical isle.
Sri Lanka is an island situated at the southern tip of india in the Indian Ocean. From North to South – 432 km From East to West – 224 km Total area – 65, 525 sq. km
The majority of Sri Lankans are Singhalese and Buddhists, but the total population is a mixture of Tamil, Moor, Burgher (people of european descent). Sinhala, Tamil and English are the national languages. English is spoken throughout the island.
The south-west monsoon brings rain to the western, southern and central regions from May to July, while the north-eastern monsoon occurs in the north and east in December and January. The weather is finest in the coastal regions and hill country of the south-west from October to March. The temperature in the lowlands averages 27 degrees Celsius. However, temperatures fall rapidly with altitude. In Kandy the temperature on average is around 20 degrees Celsius and in Nuwara Eliya it is often below 15 degrees Celsius.
Sri Lanka is +5 ½ Greenwich Mean Time.
Lightweight clothing is recommended. It is a good idea to be conservatively dressed on the streets and shorts are not permitted in places of worship. Footwear off in temples. A light sweater is recommended in the hill country. Bring rain proofs, avoid synthetics.
Card operated telephone booths and cyber cafes can be found in most towns. Cards can be obtained at the nearest shop or kiosk. Mobile telephone rentals are also freely available.
It is safer not to drink water from the tap though water in major towns are treated. Boiled water, bottled water and water and ice at reputed hotels are safe. Government run hospitals and a number of private hospitals are available in the event of an emergency. Most hospitals are well equipped with medical specialists on call at any time of day. Reputed hotels have a Doctor on call.
210-240 volts, 50Hz, Alternating Current / Plug sockets take round pins.
The currency in Sri Lanka is the Rupee. The value fluctuates with world market rates. All commercial banks are authorized to exchange money and so are most tourist class hotels. American Express, Master Card and Visa Card are also widely accepted.
Nationals of most countries may obtain visas on arrival, at the airport. It is best to check with your nearest Sri Lankan diplomatic mission or consulate. The visa that is issued at the point of entry is only valid for 30 days. Extensions can be obtained, if required, from the Department of Immigration & Emigration in Colombo.
Sri Lanka offers good bargains in ceramics, garments, leather goods, gems etc.
The general post office is situated in the city of Colombo. Other towns have central post offices. Privately run agency post offices, cyber cafes, communication centers also function throughout most of the country.
Photography and Video
Photography and video filming often require permits at historical and sacred sites- it is advisable to check with the officials at each place. Film rolls and videotape are freely available in all main cities.