Sri Lanka has an enormous range of Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Muslim festivals. The Kandy Esala Perahera (July/August) is the country’s most important and spectacular pageant, with 10 days of torchbearers, whip-crackers, dancers and drummers, not to mention elephants lit up like giant birthday cakes. It climaxes in a great procession honoring the Sacred Tooth Relic of Kandy. Second in importance is the Duruthu Perahera (January), held in Colombo, which celebrates a visit by Buddha to Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan Rupee (Rs) You’ll have no problem changing travelers’ cheques at most major banks. Banks will give you a slightly better rate for travelers’ cheques, but it’s convenient to have some cash for times when you can’t get to a bank (there are plenty of money changers in Colombo and Hikkaduwa). US dollars are best. ATMs are becoming common.
From December to April, pilgrims converge to climb the 2224 m Adam’s Peak. At the top is a huge ‘footprint’, claimed by Muslims to belong to Adam, who stood there in expiation of his sin in the Garden of Eden. But Buddhists believe it to be the mark of Buddha and Hindus hold the print to have been made by Lord Shiva. The view from the peak at dawn is enough to shock the most cynical agnostic into a state of reverie. It takes about four hours to climb to the top from the town of Dalhousie.
Once the favorite hill station of the British, Nuwara Eliya still retains the vestiges of Empire: a blend of Tudor and Georgian architecture, gabled roofs, immaculate lawns with rose bushes and moss-covered gravestones. Soak up the quaint atmosphere by visiting the Hill Club – there’s a golf course and tennis courts – or visit the botanic gardens and tea plantations in the surrounding hills. Buses going to Nuwara Eliya leave Colombo almost hourly, and from Kandy with regular frequency.
Sri Lanka’s first settlers were the nomadic Veddahs in the 6th century BC. A number of Sinhalese kingdoms, including Anuradhapura in the north, took root across the island during the 4th century BC. Buddhism was introduced by Mahinda, son of the Indian Mauryan emperor Ashoka, in the 3rd century BC, and it quickly became the established religion and the focus of a strong nationalism. Repeated invasions from southern India over the next 1000 years left Sri Lanka in an ongoing state of dynastic power struggle. The Portuguese arrived in Colombo in 1505 and gained a monopoly on the invaluable spice trade. By 1597, the colonisers had taken formal control of the island. However, they failed to dislodge the powerful Sinhalese kingdom in Kandy, which, in 1658, enlisted Dutch help to expel the Portuguese. The Dutch were more interested in trade and profits than religion or land, and only half-heartedly resisted when the British arrived in 1796. The Brits wore down Kandy’s sovereignty and in 1815 became the first European power to rule the entire island. Coffee, tea, cinnamon and coconut plantations (worked by Tamil laborers imported from southern India) sprang up and English was introduced as the national language.
Then known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka finally achieved full independence in 1948. The government adopted socialist policies, but promoted Sinhalese interests, making Sinhalese the national language and effectively reserving the best jobs for the Sinhalese, partly to address the imbalance of power between the majority Sinhalese and the English-speaking, Christian-educated elite. It prompted the Tamil Hindu minority to press for greater autonomy in the main Tamil areas in the north and east.
The country’s ethnic and religious conflicts escalated as competition for wealth and work intensified. When Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959 trying to reconcile the two communities, his widow, Sirimavo, became the world’s first female prime minister. She continued her husband’s socialist policies, but the economy went from bad to worse. A Maoist revolt in 1971 led to the death of thousands. One year later, the country became a republic and made Sri Lanka its official name.
In 1972 the constitution formally made Buddhism the state’s primary religion, and Tamil places at university were reduced. Subsequent civil unrest resulted in a state of emergency in Tamil areas. Sinhalese security forces faced off against young Tamils, who began the fight for an independent homeland. Junius Richard Jayewardene was elected in 1977 and promoted Tamil to the status of a ‘national language’ in Tamil areas. He also granted Tamils greater local government control, but violence escalated.
When Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) secessionists massacred an army patrol in 1983, Sinhalese mobs went on a two-day rampage, killing several thousand Tamils and burning and looting property. This marked the point of no return. Many Tamils moved north into Tamil-dominated areas, and Sinhalese began to leave the Jaffna area. Tamil secessionists claimed the northern third of the country and the eastern coast. They were clearly in the majority in the north but proportionately equal to the Sinhalese and Muslims in the east. Violence escalated, with both sides guilty of ethnic cleansing.
By 1985, there were 50,000 internal refugees, 100,000 Tamil exiles in India, no tourism, slumping tea prices and dwindling aid (because of human rights abuses). Government gains in 1987 led to Tamil unrest in India, prompting concerns of an Indian invasion. The two governments agreed that the Sri Lankan Army would retreat and an Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) would maintain order in the north and disarm the Tigers. The agreement led to Sinhalese and Muslim riots in the south over the government ‘sell-out’ and Indian ‘occupation’. Sri Lanka became a quagmire of inescapable violence.
A 1989 Sinhalese rebellion broke out in the south and the Marxist JVP orchestrated a series of strikes and political murders. The country was at a standstill. When the government’s talks with the JVP failed, it unleashed death squads that killed JVP suspects and dumped their bodies in rivers. A three-year reign of terror resulted in at least 30,000 deaths. The IPKF withdrew in 1990. The Tigers had agreed to a ceasefire but violence flared almost immediately when a breakaway Tamil group unilaterally declared an independent homeland. A Tamil suicide bomber assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Premadasa suffered the same fate in 1993. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga became prime minister in 1994, and president in 1995, and for the second time her mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike became prime minister.
In early 1995, the Tamils broke a truce and the government responded with a massive military operation that seemed to put Sri Lanka on the path to peace. But the Tigers regrouped and, by mid-1996, had launched damaging attacks on government troops stationed in northern Sri Lanka and terrorist strikes in Colombo.
The massacre in mid-October 2000 of 26 unarmed Tamil prisoners by a crowd of Sinhalese in the hill country town of Bandarawela resulted in violent demonstrations and retaliatory attacks.
Chandrika Kumaratunga won a second term in office in December 1999. Days before the vote, the president and People’s Alliance coalition leader were the target of a LTTE suicide bomb attack in which she lost the sight in one eye. In December 2001, Ranil Wickramasinghe, who lost the 1999 elections, became prime minister when the United National Party swept parliamentary elections. This could have led to deadlock between Parliament and the executive in dealing with high inflation, high unemployment, poor infrastructure and, of course, the 18-year-old civil war, but unexpectedly promising peace talks with the LTTE have facilitated cooperation in the political process. Peace talks brokered by a Norwegian delegation inspired a one-month cease-fire beginning 24 December 2001 (the first in seven years), renewed in January 2002. With the lifting of a seven-year-old embargo on LTTE-controlled territory, it seemed peace was not a pipe dream. But the peace process stalled in 2003, and fears that it may collapse entirely were raised in mid-2004 when a suicide bomber blew herself up in a government building in Colombo.
In elections held on 17 November 2005 Mahinda Rajapakse, the son of Don Alwin Rajapaksa, was elected President after defeating Ranil Wickremasinghe. He appointed Wickremanayake as Prime Minister and Mangala Samaraweera as Foreign Minister. Negotiations with the LTTE stalled and a low-intensity conflict began. The violence dropped off after talks in February but escalated again in April and the conflict continued until the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was shot dead while trying to flee Sri Lankan Army on May 18, 2009.
Sri Lanka’s blend of ethnicities has often produced friction and tragedy, but it makes for an interesting culture. Traditional art and architecture is predominantly Buddhist. The country is dotted with stupas and sculptures of the Serene One. Traditional dance is all about agility and symbolism. Food is often fiery hot. Woodcarving, weaving, pottery and metalwork are all highly developed crafts, and Sri Lanka is especially renowned for its gems. Ambalangoda is the best place to see Sri Lankan masks; Ratnapura is the center of Sri Lanka’s gem trade.
Rice and curry – often fiery hot – dominate meal times and usually include small side dishes of vegetables, meat and fish. Indian curries such as vegetarian thali, delicately flavored biriyani and kool, a boiled, fried and dried-in-the-sun vegetable combo, are also available. Hoppers are a unique Sri Lankan snack, similar to a pancake, served with egg or honey and yogurt.
Sinhalese dancing is similar to Indian dance but relies on acrobatics, nimbleness and symbolism to unfold its narratives. Kandy is a good place to see ‘up-country dancing’, but Colombo or Ambalangoda are the places to witness the ritualistic exorcism of ‘devil dancing’.
Sri Lanka is shaped like a giant teardrop falling from the southern tip of the vast Indian subcontinent. It is separated from India by the 50km (wide Palk Strait, although there is a series of stepping-stone coral islets known as Adam’s Bridge that almost form a land bridge between the two countries. The island is just 350 km long and only 180 km wide at its broadest. The southern half of the island is dominated by beautiful and rugged hill country. The entire northern half comprises a large plain extending from the edge of the hill country to the Jaffna peninsula. The highest mountain is the 2524 m Mt Pidurutalagala near Nuwara Eliya, and the longest river is the Mahaweli, which courses from the center and empties into the Indian Ocean at Trincomalee. The best beaches are on the southwestern, southern and southeastern coasts.
Ebony, teak, silkwood and spectacular orchids are found in the dense southwestern tropical rainforests. Hardy grasslands, rhododendrons and stunted forests predominate in the cool, damp highlands, and shrubs and grasslands survive in arid zones in the north. Animal life is profuse and includes the ubiquitous elephant, as well as leopards, deer, monkeys, sloth bears, wild boar, cobras, crocodiles, dugong and turtles. The island is an important seasonal home to migrating birds, including flamingoes. The best time to see birds is between January and April.
The only way to enter Sri Lanka is by flying. Colombo is the international gateway for direct flights from Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. There are cheap flights available between Colombo and Chennai, Trichy, Thiruvananthapuram and Bombay.
There are no domestic passenger flights in Sri Lanka, which leaves buses and trains as the dominant modes of transport. Buses, ranging from smoke-spewing monsters to modern private coaches, are cheap, plentiful and always overcrowded. Train travel, while slower, is infinitely more comfortable. Motorbike and self-drive car hire are becoming increasingly popular, though motorists often run an obstacle race around cows and dogs. It’s common to rent a car with a driver for a day trip or a few days’ tour of the island.
The driest and best seasons are from December to March on the west and south coasts and in the hill country, and from May to September on the east coast. December to March is also the time when most foreign tourists come, the majority of them escaping the European winter.
Maldives officially Republic of Maldives also referred to as the Maldive Islands, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean formed by a double chain of twenty-six atolls oriented north-south off India’s Lakshadweep Islands, between Minicoy Island and Chagos Archipelago. It stands in the Laccadive Sea, about 700 kilometres (430 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka and 400 kilometres (250 mi) south-west of India. The archipelago is located on top of the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean. Maldives also form a terrestrial ecoregion together with the Chagos and the Lakshadweep. The atolls of Maldives encompass a territory spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres (35,000 sq mi), making it one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries. Its population of 328,536 (2012) inhabits 200 of its 1,192 islands.
Maldives’ capital and largest city Male had a population of 103,693 in 2006.
Maldives is the smallest Asian country in both population and land area. With an average ground level of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the planet’s lowest country. It is also the country with the lowest natural highest point in the world.
This is a city in the Hill Country of Sri Lanka which is established in the 19th century by the British. Its temperate climate gives the city a very different feel from other parts of the country and, has earned it the name ‘Little England’ with the homes built in the architectural style of Georgian to Queen Anne. Situated at 2000 Mts above the sea level, the air and weather here is fresh cool and healthy. The perfect climate for Tea plantation has made Nuwara Eliya the heart of the tea country and the hub for the famous Ceylon Tea. Many tea plantations and factories surround the mountains in this small city.
The historical bastion of Buddhist power, Kandy is built around a peaceful lake and set in a picturesque bowl of hills. It has a distinctive architectural character thanks to its gently sloping tiled roofs and the town center is a delightful compendium of old shops, noise, buses, markets and hotels. Its standout attraction is the octagonal Dalada Maligawa, a temple that houses Sri Lanka’s most important religious relic – the sacred tooth of Buddha. There are daily ceremonies of homage to the Tooth Relic, each attracting white-clad pilgrims carrying lotus blossoms and frangipani.
During the frenetic Kandy Esala Perahera celebrations, a replica of the shrine is carried through the city on an elephant. Other sights include the small but excellent National Museum, the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens, and the Udawattakelle Sanctuary, a peaceful haven for birdlife. There are plenty of lovely scenic walks around Kandy, one of which leads to the Mahaweli, where you may see elephants being bathed.
The port of Galle, thought by some to be the Biblical city of Tarshish, splendidly illustrates the solidity of the Dutch presence in Sri Lanka. The 36-hectare Dutch Fort, built in 1663, has withstood the ravages of time. Its massive ramparts surround the promontory that forms the older part of Galle, and shelters within its walls sturdy Dutch houses, museums and churches. This area has a quiet, relaxed atmosphere that seems almost detached from the flow of history. The New Oriental Hotel, built for Dutch governors in 1684, is a colonial gem with a wonderfully atmospheric bar. Nearby is a tiny sliver of a beach suitable for a dip, though most travelers prefer to head along the coast to the fine beaches at Unuwatuna, Weligama and Tangalla.
This is a potent symbol of Sinhalese power, and the most extensive and important of Sri Lanka’s ancient cities. For over 1000 years Sinhalese kings ruled from this great city. Its impressive remains were ‘discovered’ in the early 19th century and have been in the process of restoration ever since. They lie to the west and north of the modern town of Anuradhapura. The Sacred Bo-Tree is the city’s holiest site, and was grown from the tree under which Buddha achieved enlightenment. The Thuparama Dagoba, the oldest of many temples in Anuradhapura, is believed to contain the right collarbone of Buddha. The Jetavanarama Dagoba is the largest remaining structure and may once have been over 100 m (328ft) in height and housed an estimated 3000 monks. There are also museums that invite exploration, marvelously restored twin ponds, which were used by monks as ritual baths, and immense tanks built to provide irrigation water for the growing of rice. The best way to explore the area is by bicycle.
While Sri Lanka’s capital and its largest city holds less obvious interest than many other parts of the island, it’s still a colorful enough place and worth a visit. It is a relatively easy city to find your way around. To the north is the Fort district, the country’s business center, which has department stores, bookshops, and airline offices and is the site of the Central Bank, which the Tamil Tigers blew up in January 1996. There are also ample sights such as the clock tower, a former lighthouse, the president’s residence and a cluster of colonial buildings, which lend the district an aura of bygone Empire.
Culture buffs shouldn’t miss the National Museum, which has a good collection of historical works; the Art Gallery, which focuses on portraiture and temporary exhibits by local artists, and the city’s many mosques and Buddhist and Hindu temples. After familiarizing yourself with Sri Lankan culture, check out the island’s fauna at the Dehiwala Zoo. The highlight here is an afternoon elephant show.
SRI LANKA TOURIST VISA/ETA REQUIREMENTS
For a Short Visit to Sri Lanka, travelers should obtain an ETA with effect from 1st of January 2012.
Valid passport for 6 months from date of return from Sri Lanka with minimum two blank pages.
Conformed return air ticket.
Visa Fees USD 10
Time: Same time as India
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz