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Separated from the Indian continent by the narrow Palk Strait, this tear-drop shaped island is popularly referred to as the "pearl" of the Indian Ocean. The largely rolling countryside, the exotic palm fringed beaches and the tropical sun makes it one of the most sought after locales for Western tourists. Its mountainous south central locations support sub tropical evergreen forests wherever tea plantations have not been laid.
Sri Lanka's capital city Colombo is located on the island's west coast and can be used as a base to travel to the island's tourist attractions. The Elephant Orphanage at 85 km, Kandy at 120 kms, Sigriya at 161 kms and Anuradhapuura at 205 kms are within motor able distance from Colombo.
Sri Lanka tour round the year. If you're planning a trip to the east coast, the months between May and September are dry, while the west coast and the hills are more suitable for a trip between December and March.
As you travel through Sri Lanka, you'll feel the powerful presence of Lord Buddha in all its monuments, shrines, and rock carvings. A largely Buddhist state, it also has a sizeable Hindu, Christian and Muslim populace. Sinhalese and Tamil are official languages, and English is widely spoken.
Sri Lanka's heritage goes back to centuries before the birth of Christ where a civilization thrived. Archeological excavations have revealed the remains of ancient cities and palaces, reservoirs, parks and temples.
The monolith at Sigriya has been the symbol of Sri Lanka's eventful past, rising above the central plains to tell a tale of war and deceit. The Lion Rock encloses a stone stairway that leads to the palace, the passage representing a lion's mouth and throne.
12 miles further south west is the Dambulla Cave Temple, with the largest cave seating 48 statues of Lord Buddha, and a few of the Hindu Gods Vishnu and Saman. Kataragama is sacred to Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, and houses a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Kartik.
The Dalida Maligawa in Kandy is the holiest of Buddhist shrines, preserving the tooth relic of Lord Buddha since the 4th century BC. The Esala Perahera is a 10 day annual festival held in July-August held to honor the holy relic.
Anuradhapura has a rich past and was Sri Lanka's ancient political and religious capital till 993 AD. 1,600 year old marble carvings at the Jethawanaramaya Dagaba, the Buddha Samadhi statue and the 6th century Isurumuniya carvings are some of the attractions at this heritage site.
Eight miles further east is the holy site of Mihintale where Mahinda enunciated King Devanampiyatissa into the Buddhist religion, and the Kaludiya Pokuna rock stands out amidst the flat and dry landscape. A flight of 1,840 steps takes you to the Amabasthala Dagoba, and is said to be the repository of the relics of Mahinda.
Polonnaruwa, another World Heritage site was a walled city enclosing the royal palace, a monastic complex, religious and commercial centres. Evidence of a craft centre on the outskirts of the city has also been found. The royal palace was flanked by seven storied administrative buildings with almost a thousand chambers. Fine examples of Buddhist sculpture can be viewed at the Galvihara Rock Monastery in Polonnaruwa.
Galle is a historic trading city with monuments representing its Dutch and Portuguese influence. Sri Pada or Adam's Peak is revered by Buddhists and believed to have Lord Buddha's footprint.
With a 1,600 km coastline, Sri Lanka has splendid beaches for water lovers. Swimming apart, there are great spots for scuba diving, snorkeling and surfing on the Negombo, Unawatuna, Hikkaduwa, Mirissa and Arugam Bay beaches. The Bentota River is a favourite amongst sailors, windsurfers and water skiers.
For trekkers, the Adam's Peak promises adventure, and for wild life lovers, the Ruhunu National Park and the Wilpattu National Park can be visited to observe the herds of elephant, deer, peacocks and shoals of water birds. The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage near Kandy is where injured and abused elephants are nursed back to health and definitely worth a visit.
At Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka's tea capital and a charming hill resort in the Hill Country, visit the tea plantations, ride a horse, or tee off at the golf courses.
And, of course, go shopping for some semi precious stones and filigree jewellery which this island of gems is so famous for!