SRI LANKA - THE FOCAL POINT IN THE INDIAN OCEANSri Lanka’s importance in the “maritime silk road” is relevant to its geographical position in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka grows to bear more importance as a focal point amidst modern development in the Silk Route Economic Belt in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean contains 1/3 of the world’s population, 25% of the land mass, and 40% of the world’s oil and gas reserves. It is the entry point to the Asia Pacific region which is the world’s fastest growing region - i.e. Asia.
The Silk Road, a trade route originated from China’s Western Han Dynasty and
extended across China’s Xinxiang, Central Asia, Africa and Europe, is a historic route
of economic and cultural exchange between the East and the West.
Sri Lanka’s geographical location in the region combined with its historical involvement in maritime cooperation makes the island a strategic partner in China’s Maritime Silk Road. Sri Lanka has a cordial relationship with nearly all South Asian neighbors. It is the only country, apart from Maldives, that does not share land borders with other South Asian countries. Read More...
PRE- HISTORY OF SRI LANKA
Prehistory is the period of time in the past before people could write. There are three major periods of prehistory, the Paleolithic, the Mesolithic, and the Neolithic. The Paleolithic is the earliest period of the Stone Age. The three-age system is three consecutive time periods, named for their respective predominant toolmaking technologies: Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age.
Homo sapiens appeared very long ago in Sri Lanka, which some experts assert is the true “cradle of civilization”. The journey towards civilization lasted thousands of years and evidence of Paleolithic and Mesolithic cultures have been unearthed, establishing the existence of the stone age Balangoda culture around 5000 BC; this era of civilization is known as the stone age as only stone implements had been used by primitive man. Recent findings suggest that the domestication of plants may have surfaced as early as 10,000 BC or even earlier. Agriculture has always been the mainstay of this “granary of the east”. Cultivators were accorded the highest honour creating a bond between man and land.
BEACHES AND LAGOONS
Sri Lanka’s coastline is 1,338 km and there are 82 coastal lagoons which give life to this beautiful island on the Southern tip of the Indian sub-continent. These coastal lagoons are diverse in size, shape, configuration, and ecosystem. There are eight coastal zones, namely Northern, Northeastern, Eastern, Southeastern, Southern, Southwestern, Western, and Northwestern. Researchers have confirmed that the square area of all these lagoons are 1,520 km2. And the length of the lagoon shoreline is 2,791 km.
When the northeast monsoon winds blow from November to March you can enjoy the sunny, calm beaches of West and southern coastline. During the southwest monsoon season from April to October you can visit the beaches of east coast.
Mountains and peaks are located in the central and southern part of the country and are highly ecological and rich in bio diversity.
The highest peak in the island is Pidurutalagala at 2524 m (8,200 ft), located in the heart of the country in the Nuwaraeliya district. Kirigalpottha mountain is the second highest and 2395m in height located near Horton Plains in the Nuwaraeliya district. The third highest is Thotupolakanda located, again near Horton Plains in the Nuwaraeliya district. The Knuckles range is located in the Kandy and Matale district and expands to Hunnasgiriya, Rangala, Madugoda, Elkaduwa, Matale, Nalanda, Wagomuwa. Adam’s Peak is located in the Ratnapura district, and is 2300 m high. The Ritigala mountain and Mihintale mountains are located in the Anuradapura district.
The most famous and most visited peak is Adam’s Peak. Hiking and mountain bike trails that cross waterfalls and rivers are the attractions. Traveling through mountains is a rewarding experience. Read more under provinces.
NATIONAL PARKS IN SRI LANKA
Sri Lanka was the setting - Mihintale being the site - of the world’s first recorded (247 BC) wildlife and nature preserve, established by King Devanampiyatissa, a convert to conservationism preceded only by Noah in the annals of mankind: deeply influenced as he was by the inspirational message of the Buddha imparted to him by Arahat Mahinda. Further evidence of this deep-rooted concern for wildlife and the commitment to conservation is found in an inscription engraved on a stone slab at Anuradhapura’s majestic millennia - old Ruwanveli dagaba, attributed to the 12th Century King Kirthi Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa, forbidding the capture, killing or commercial trafficking of any animals, birds and fish within a radius of 7 gau from the city. References to royal protection and preservation of wildlife are extant throughout the Mahavamsa and this traditional care and concern for creatures of the wild continues to this day.
There are 21 national parks in Sri Lanka maintained by the Department of Wild Life Conservation.
1. Angammedilla National Park
2. Bundala National Park
3. Flood Plains National Park
4. Gal Oya National Park
5. Galway’s Land National Park
6. Hikkaduwa National Park
7. Horagolla National Park
8. Horton Plains National Park
9. Kaudulla National Park
10. Lahugala Kithulana National Park
11.Lunugamvehera National Park
12. Madura Oya National Park
13. Minneriya National Park
14. Pigeon Island National Park
15. Somawathiya Chaitiya National Park
16. Udawalawe National Park
17. Ussangoda National Park
18. Wasgomuwa National Park
19. Wilpattu National Park
20. Yala East National Park - Kumana
21. Yala National Park
An orphanage for elephants has been set up at Pinnawala, 90 km from Colombo (Kandy Road - A1) by the Department of National Zoological Gardens. Several animals brought here at its inception in 1975 are now mature enough for breeding, which is the ultimate aim of the institution.
The Pinnawala elephant orphanage has not only got the largest captive herd of elephants in the entire world, but it also has become the most successful elephant breeding centre, according to reports. It was established with seven orphans and today has a population of sixty-two. The elephant orphanage now boasts of its sixteenth birth and the second generation of births in captivity. It has become a major tourist attraction because of its uniqueness. This is an ideal site for photography, research and education on elephants as the visitor is able to observe a large herd comprised of week-old babies to sixty year olds.
The word Sinharaja means, lion (Sinha) king (Raja). The forest spreads over the districts of Ratnapura, Galle and Matara. The inaccessible wilderness of Sri Lanka’s rainforest of which the extent is perhaps over 100,000 ha. of the South Western hills and lowlands. The present reserve occupies a narrow strip of land 21 km in length and 3.7 km in width, covering 11187 ha. of undisturbed and logged forest, scrub and fern land.
In 1840, Sinharaja was named as a Crown Property under the Wasteland Ordinance, which declared all forest and unoccupied or uncultivated land in the country as crown land. In May 1875, under an amended ordinance aimed at regulating the felling and removal of timber from land, an area of 6,000 acres was declared as the reserved forest of “Sinharaja Mukalana”. It was declared an International Man and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978, then a National Wilderness Area in 1988 under the National Heritage Site in 1989.
RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
There are 103 rivers and streams with most flowing from the upcountry mountains of Sri Lanka. The longest is the Mahaweli. It starts its 333 km journey near Adam’s Peak and finds its way into the Indian Ocean at Koddiyar Bay at Trincomalee. It is the only perennial river to cross the dry Zone. Sri Lanka’s perennial rivers are called Ganga, and other streams are called Oya in Sinhala or Aru in Tamil. A number of rivers have now been developed both for irrigation and power. The Victoria power project on the Mahaweli Ganga is one of the largest hydro power projects in Asia. The other power projects are Kothmale, Rantambe and Randenigala on the Mahaweli river.
The Waterfalls of Sri Lanka are breathtaking and rich in beauty. Waterfalls are a magnificent gift of nature, which have attracted human beings since the beginning of time.
Sri Lanka has the largest number of waterfalls in comparison to its size of any given country. Waterfalls are most commonly found in the hill country, mainly closer to towns in the Central Province; Kandy, Hatton, Nuwaraeliya, Ramboda, Thalawakele and Kegalle. Ratnapura, Yatiyantota, Pelmadulla, Belihuloya, Kitulgala, Maliboda and Bulathkohupitiya in Sabaragamuwa Province. Wellawaya and Badulla in Uva Province, and Kalutara in Western Province.
NATIONAL ZOOLOGICAL GARDEN
Situated at Dehiwela 7 miles (11 km) from Colombo Fort, the Zoo has a fine collection of animals, birds, reptiles and fish from all over the world. One of the first to introduce the “open-air” concept in controlled animal habitat, it is considered Asia’s finest. The zoo’s aquarium is the only one of its kind in Asia and displays over 500 varieties of aquatic life. Also stroll through the walk-in Aviary, Reptile House and Butterfly Park. There are daily elephant performances at 5.15 p.m. Open daily between 8.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. Entrance fees: Rs 90/- per adult and Rs.45/- per child.
Sri Lanka has three beautiful Botanical Gardens worthy of inclusion in any itinerary.
Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya
Established in 1816 on 150 acres in a loop of the Mahaweli Ganga 6 km from Kandy on what was once a royal park and residence in the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasingha (1747-80), the Peradeniya Gardens at an elevation of 75 m contains healthy specimens of all known plants in Sri Lanka and of much of the tropical flora from around the world. Stroll or motor through the ever-changing vistas - perpetually pretty pink and yellow “Queen of Flowering Trees” (Amherstia nobilis); the avenue of Royal Palms and a profusion of the coconut’s cousins; magical glades and groves of myth and marvel; riverside reeds, rushes and thickets of giant Bamboo towering 40 m; trees heavy with flying fox suspended like fruit; a wealth of healing herbs; a spice garden; lily-topped lakes and ponds; a lane of Lianas; a rockery of ornamentals; cacti; orchids; a froth of ferns; the Octagon House or Conservatory and much more. The Mahaweli, Sri Lanka’s longest river surrounding it gives an added beauty to this garden.
The best attraction of the garden is the orchid House, which houses over 300 varieties of exquisite orchids. A spice garden gives you a first-hand introduction to the trees and plants used for traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
The Art Gallery at Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy Mawatha, Colombo 7 caters largely to conservative tastes.
The Lionel Wendt Art Gallery at Guildford Crescent, Colombo 7, displays contemporary paintings. Kalagaraya, the permanent art gallery of the Alliance Francaise de Colombo at 54 Ward Place, Colombo 7 displays a representative collection of contemporary art. The Sapumal Foundation Gallery at 32/4 Barnes Place, Colombo 7 is open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 1000 hrs.- 1300 hrs. It displays and sells Sri Lankan paintings from 1920 onwards.
It is a known fact that sport is essential to human development and also contributes to economic development, or is a potential catalyst for economic development. A physically active population is a healthier population, improving the productivity of the workforce and increasing economic output. Through sports it is easier to teach core skills essential for the workplace such as teamwork, leadership, discipline and the value of collective effort.
Sport can also be an engine for local economic development and job creation. Sports programs provide employment opportunities as well as stimulate demand for goods and services. Sport has considerable potential for initiating economic development. It is a proven fact that the potential links between sport and peace are also powerful. From international events to the grass roots, sport brings people together in a way that can cross boundaries and break down barriers, making the playing field a simple and often apolitical site for initiating contact between antagonistic groups. Consequently, sport can be an ideal forum for resuming social dialogue and bridging divides, highlighting the similarities between people and breaking down prejudice.
HEALTH AND WELLBEING
“Meditation is an organic psychosomatic and spiritual discipline. It is also a therapy, with potential to heal at all levels and more importantly to remain positively healthy. It is a way of using thought to relax body and mind and is able to open up awareness of different states of consciousness. To balance and normalize the organism and bring it into homeostasis of the mind and body.” -Prof. Anton Jayasuriya
Meditation helps people cope with stress and is good to alleviate anxiety and psychosomatic illnesses. Meditation has been practiced for over 4000 years. It is mentioned in the ancient Upanishads and the Vedas and is an integral part of yoga and Ayurveda. It is also important in certain religions, particularly in Buddhism.
CULTURAL SHOWS – DANCES
Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage includes a variety of dances; Kandyan, Low country, Sabaragamuwa, Kolam, Devil dancing, and various other dances especially performed at processions. Dances include fire dancing, drum dancing, sword dancing, mask dancing and Nai-andi dancing and Kulunatum. Visitors can watch all these traditional dances at one special event, the Kandy Esala Perahera in the month of August.
There are many traditional dancing groups that perform dances at tourist destinations as well as hotels when they organize cultural evenings. It is also notable that performing traditional dancing is part of the ceremonies at many public and other functions such as weddings.
Other than the authentic Sri Lankan food, Sri Lanka offers a wide range of food items varying from place to place and time to time, and ranging from Japanese food, Korean food, Indonesian food, South & North Indian food, Italian food, Chinese food, (mostly available in cities- some authentic and some localized dishes under the disguise of “Chinese” food) and Western style food.
Most Sri Lankans eat rice and vegetable as the staple and main food. Sri Lankan curries are known for their hot spicy flavors and a rich culinary heritage. The main communities namely Sinhala, Tamil, Muslims, and Malays have their own culinary heritage. Further, with the influence of Indian, Portuguese, Dutch, and British, the diversity of food is such that any person from any part of the world can find one or more for their own indulgence.
Lion Brewery has seven brands in its portfolio - Lion Lager, Carlsberg, Carlsberg Special Brew, Lion Stout, Strong Beer, Corona and Somersby. Usually beer has a 4.8% alcohol volume.
Arrack, the world’s only naturally fermented alcoholic beverage is manufactured out of toddy. The process involves tapping the flower of a coconut palm and obtaining drops of liquid from it. This is an age-old vocation, a tradition passed down from father to son, from generation to generation, collecting a few liters every 12 hours and proceeding to take it to a toddy bar or to the distiller to distill arrack. Coconut Arrack is said to be a pure spirit in that it contains not a trace of methanol. Therefore, it is as safe as any comparable international beverage.
GEM AND JEWELLERY
Sri Lanka is one of the largest sources of some of the finest gemstones in the world. Sri Lanka’s mineral rich soils have been yielding supplies of high quality precious and semi-precious gem stones such as Sapphires, Star Sapphire, Rubies, Star Rubies, Alexandrites, Cat’s eyes, Garnets, Zircons, Tourmalines and Spinels. Sri Lankan sapphires are universally renowned for their magnificent quality and large sizes. Ratnapura, the City of Gems is the main place for gems and you can see many gem museums all over the island.
SOLOSMASTHAANA (THE 16 PLACES OF WORSHIP)
According to the chronicles of Sri Lanka, there are 16 places hallowed by visits of the Buddha. Thousands of Buddhists visit these places to worship in groups.
1. Mahiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya (Badulla District)
The Mahiyangana stupa is said to have been built during the lifetime of Lord Buddha enshrining the lock of hair given by Him to God Saman when the Buddha first visited Sri Lanka and preached to the primitive people living there. It was the first ever stupa to be constructed in Sri Lanka.
2. Nagadipa Purana Vihara - Nainativu Island (Jaffna District)
This was constructed at the site where Buddha visited Sri Lanka for the second time, five years after attaining Enlightenment. He intervened and mediated in settling a dispute between warring Naga kings, Chulodara and Mahodara, over the possession of a gem-studded throne. This precious throne which was offered to the Buddha, was returned to the Naga Kings and was later enshrined in this stupa.
MADHU CHURCH IN MANNAR
The Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu is a Roman Catholic Marian shrine. This shrine is a center for pilgrimage and worship for Sri Lankan Catholics. Madhu Festival is the most famous festival among Catholics, they celebrate the fortnight-long festival of Our Lady of Madhu, culminating on July 2 with the Feast of the Visitation, at the jungle shrine of Madhu near Mannar - popular among pilgrims of all religions for its reputed healing powers. The fruit season is in full swing and markets and bazaars are fragrant with the scents of a cornucopia of exotic tropical fruits.
ST, ANTHONY’S CHURCH KOCHCHIKADE
St. Anthony’s Church Kochchikade in Colombo attracts thousands of people every day regardless of cast, creed, or race.
SANTA LUCIA CATHEDRAL
A huge Roman Catholic Cathedral in Kotahena begun in 1876 but completed only in 1910. The building has a classical façade with a large forecourt and is said to contain the tombs of three French Bishops.
This is a Hindu temple inside Fort Frederic attracting visitors and Hindu devotees. This is also known as the temple of a thousand pillars. It is recorded that when the Portuguese built the fort they demolished a part of this temple.
AATHI KONESHWARAM – THAMBALAGAMUWA
Aathi Koneshwaram temple is situated at Thambalagamuwa village, 24 km from Trincomalee. The temple was reconstructed in the 17th century after it was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1622. The primary deity of this temple is God Siva, while there are minor shrines dedicated to Pulleyar, Navagraha, Murukan, Valli and Tevayani.
The annual festival has peculiar features unique to this temple and takes place in the month of July. Tradition allocates various functions to be performed by the public from the surrounding countryside. The gate towers or Gopuram was built in 1953. These five storey high towers are among the tallest in the region.
HISTORICAL MOSQUES OF SRI LANKA
There are many historical mosques in Sri Lanka, mainly in the Western and Southern coasts where the earliest Arab settlements in the island were formed. Historical evidence indicates that Arab Muslims, mainly seafarers and merchants, were settled in the island in the 10th century, if not earlier.
ABRAR MOSQUE, MARADANA, BERUWALA
This is the oldest standing mosque in the island, dating to the year 920 AC. It was built by Arabian settlers on the south western coast. It still retains much of its traditional features despite some changes over the years such as Indo-Saracenic and Ottoman architecture added to enhance its beauty. The large pond in front of the mosque known as howl is one of the finest in the country.
SNORKELING AND SCUBA DIVING
Sri Lanka offers world-class scuba diving and snorkeling tours. A host of tropical fish including multi-coloured coral reefs and fascinating ship wrecks including those going back to the European colonial period can be explored at several locations off the south coast of Sri Lanka. Among the breathtaking snorkeling and scuba diving sites may be included Hikkaduwa, Weligama and Kirinda. Top spots include ‘Bar Reef’, Sri Lanka’s largest reef, easily accessible from the Puttalam district town of Kalpitiya and Pigeon Island, off Nilaveli beach just north of Trincomalee.
SURFINGSri Lanka is a year-round surfing destination with a wide range of excellent locations on both the east and southwest coast, each suitable at different times of year according to the monsoon seasons. Sri Lanka is today regarded as a surfing hotspot by the international surfing community with the east coast’s ARUGAM BAY hosting an annual international surfing competition and HIKKADUWA hosting the National Championship of the Japanese Pro Surfers Association. Among other surfing locations may be mentioned Galle, Midigama, Weligama and Mirissa on the southern coast and Negombo on the west coast.
BIRD SANCTUARIESThe sanctuaries at the East - Kumana 312 km from Colombo; South - Wirawila 261 km, Bundala 259 km and Kalametiya 224 km. Large flocks can be found here of both local and migrant birds. The best time to visit Bundala is from August to April, during this time almost 20,000 shore birds can be spotted. Kumana is located towards the northeast of Yala National Park and this is a perfect location for the world famous bird population, that includes flamingoes, ibis, herons and pheasants.
AYURVEDAAyurveda (Literally Science of life) is an ancient healing system which has been practiced for over 4000 years in India and Sri Lanka. Ayurveda uses medicines that are found in nature.
Ayurvedic knowledge derives from the writings of ancient Indian sages like Sushruta and Charaka who lived thousands of years ago. Ayurveda is not only a form of medication – it is a complete way of life known to generations of Sri Lankans for over 2,000 years. It is a gentle method of treating the root causes of illness in both mind and body. State Ayurvedic hospitals treat patients free of charge with a network of these hospitals across the country. These indigenous medicines are capable of curing many diseases without side effects. Ayurvedic medical professionals are the products of the Institute of Indigenous Medicine. There are also practitioners who belong to traditional families that have specialized in Ayurveda for generations.
MEDITATION“Meditation is an organic psychosomatic and spiritual discipline. It is also a therapy, with potential to heal at all levels and more importantly to remain positively healthy. It is a way of using thought to relax body and mind and is able to open up awareness of different states of consciousness. To balance and normalize the organism and bring it into homeostasis of the mind and body.” -Prof. Anton Jayasuriya
YOGAYoga is a practical, life enhancing science. It is not just for the person who wants to become fit and supple through doing the well-known physical postures. Yoga can affect one’s whole life and there are many different ways of applying it. It is not supposed to be only for the young and fit, and most importantly anyone can start at any time. Yoga has something for a truly wide range of people regardless of their state of mind and body. There are plenty of Yoga practicing venues which are either free of charge or for a fee.