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Discover Sri Lanka with Timothy Tye ශ්‍රී ලංකාව

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Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, AnuradhapuraPilgrims at Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, Anuradhapura
© Timothy Tye (28 August 2005)

Sri Lanka (Sinhala: ශ්‍රී ලංකාව; Tamil: இலங்கை) is a country located almost at the southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent. Dangling like an emerald pendant, it is a dazzlingly beautiful country blessed with an ancient history that stretches for over two thousand years. This endows Sri Lanka with a multitude of ancient ruins, many of which today receive recognition from Unesco as World Heritage Sites.

As I explored the ancient Sri Lankan cities, I cannot help being amazed at the engineering feats of the Sri Lankan people a thousand years ago. From the low, arid country, we proceed to the highlands, to the tea country. At Nuwara Eliya, we enjoyed the lovely scenery and cool climate. We also had the good fortune of staying at the Tea Factory, a 5-star hotel that was once a tea processing plant, and which won a Unesco award for heritage conservation.

Travel Tips of Major Tourist Cities in Sri Lanka

  1. Colombo Travel Tips (capital)
  2. Anuradhapura Travel Tips - Most famous ancient city.
  3. Kandy Travel Tips - Last major kingdom of Sri Lanka.
  4. Polonnaruwa Travel Tips - Second ancient capital of Sri Lanka.
  5. Sigiriya Travel Tips - Site of ancient palace complex.

Major Destinations in Sri Lanka

  1. Aukana Buddha
  2. Dambulla Cave Temple
  3. Galle Fort
  4. Mihintale - Sacred site where Buddhism was first introduced into Sri Lanka.
  5. Negombo
  6. Nuwara Eliya - Major tea plantation highlands.
  7. Peradeniya Botanical Gardens
  8. Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

Murals, SigiriyaAncient murals of Sigiriya (29 August, 2005)

From the highlands, we proceeded southwards, to the southernmost major city of Sri Lanka, Galle, where we visited another World Heritage Site, Galle Fort. Along the way, we stopped over to look at the devastation caused by the tsunami of December 2004.

In any write-ups about Sri Lanka, it would be glaring not to mention the internal conflict that plagues the nation. It is an issue that concerns most people as they contemplate a trip there - is it worth the risk? From my experience with Sri Lanka, although the internal conflict between the primarily Sinhalese government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam often dents Sri Lanka's image as a tourist destination, in actual fact, most of the tourist destinations are free from attacks. And quite safe too.

Pinnawala Elephant OrphanagePinnawala Elephant Orphanage (28 August, 2005)

Having said that, I have to caution you to be prepared for tight security in Sri Lanka, especially in Colombo. In the downtown area of Fort, for example, I was forbidden from taking photographs. I saw soldiers all over the Fort district. This is due to the military installation nearby. Therefore, one of Colombo's most prominent landmarks, the lighthouse Clock Tower, is out of bounds for photography. Also, I learned that many of the major hotels have been bombed before, including the one where we were staying during out Sri Lankan trip, the 5-star Galadari Hotel.

Fortunately, the rest of Sri Lanka, outside of the troubled north, is still very safe and open. Not only that, the people are generally friendly and gracious, and makes every visitor feel welcome. On this website, I want to show you most of the major tourist sites, including the ancient cities, highland getaways, Sri Lankan culture and forts.

Kuttam PokunaView inside a pond at Kuttam Pokuna (29 August, 2005)

Sri Lanka Travel Information

  • Official Name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
  • Capital: Colombo (710,000, metropolitan area: 2,500,000)
  • Population of the Sri Lanka: 20,064,800; 74% Sinhalese, 18& Tamil, 7% Muslim of Arab and Indian Muslim descent
  • Religions: Buddhist (70%), Islam (26%), Hindu, others
  • Languages: Sinhala, Tamil, others
  • Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee
  • Time Zone: 6 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
  • International Dialing Code: 94
  • Electricity: 230-240V 50Hz; Most outlets use the three-pronged sockets. If travelling with a laptop, bring along a stabiliser in addition to adaptor, as power often fluctuates. (See details here:
  • Driving: On the left side of the road.

  • Size: 65,610 sq km (25,332 sq miles)
  • Region: Asia

Mihintale viewpointMihintale viewpoint (30 August 2005)

Cities and Sights on the West Coast of Sri Lanka

  1. Akurela Beach
  2. Aluthgama
  3. Ambagahapityia Welitara
  4. Ambalangoda
  5. Balapitiya
  6. Bentota
  7. Beruwala
  8. Brief
  9. Chilaw
  10. Dodunduwa
  11. Galagoda Temple
  12. Galapata Vihara
  13. Gangatilaka Vihara
  14. Hikkaduwa
  15. Induruwa
  16. Kachimalai Mosque
  17. Kalutara
  18. Kosgoda
  19. Madampe
  20. Mahawewa
  21. Marawila
  22. Moratuwa
  23. Munnesvaram
  24. Narigama
  25. Negombo
  26. Panadura
  27. Panduvasnuwara
  28. Puttalam
  29. Richmond Castle
  30. Sinharaja Rainforest
  31. Sri Janandarama Mahavihara
  32. Sri Pushparama Vihara
  33. Sunandaramaya Mahavihara
  34. Udappuwa
  35. Wewela
  36. Wilpattu National Park
  37. Cities and Sights of the South Coast of Sri Lanka

  38. Bundala Bird Sanctuary
  39. Count de Maunay's Island
  40. Dikwella
  41. Dondra
  42. Galle
  43. Galle Cultural Museum
  44. Groote Kerk
  45. Hambantota
  46. Hoo-aaniya Blowhole
  47. Kataluwa Temple
  48. Kataragama
  49. Koggala
  50. Koggala Lake
  51. Kottuwa Rainforest
  52. Maha Vishnu Devala
  53. Martin Wickramasinghe Folk Art Museum
  54. Matara
  55. Matara Fort
  56. Mulgirigalla
  57. Museum of Ancient Paintings
  58. National Maritime Museum
  59. Polhena
  60. Tangalla Bay
  61. Tissamaharama
  62. Uda Walawe National Park
  63. Unawatuna Bay
  64. Weligama
  65. Wewurukannala Vihara
  66. Yala National Park
  67. Cities and Sights of the Cultural Heart of Sri Lanka

  68. Aluvihara
  69. Buduruvalagala
  70. Dambadeniya
  71. Dimbulaga
  72. Gadaladeniya
  73. Habarana
  74. Kurunegala
  75. Lankatilaku
  76. Mahiyangana
  77. Medirigiriya
  78. Nalanda Gedige
  79. Panduvasnuwara
  80. Ridigama
  81. Sasseruwa
  82. Somawathie Dagoba
  83. Yapahuwa
  84. Cities and Sights on the East Coast of Sri Lanka

  85. Arugam Bay
  86. Batticaloa
  87. Bundala
  88. Fort Frederick
  89. Kalkudah Bay
  90. Kanniyai
  91. Koddiyar Bay
  92. Kokkilai
  93. Mutur
  94. Nilaveli
  95. Passekudah Bay
  96. Pigeon Island
  97. Seruwawila
  98. Swami Rock
  99. Toppur
  100. Trincomalee
  101. Uppuveli

Pilgrims encircling the Ruwanweliseya DagobaPilgrims encircling the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba (29 August, 2005)

How to enter Sri Lanka

The Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) located north of Colombo is the main gateway into Sri Lanka. It is the base for national flag carrier Sri Lankan Airlines. Upon arriving at the airport, you can catch a taxi or a three-wheeler to the city.

Sri Lanka Public Holidays

Sri Lanka observed plenty of public holidays. The three with a fixed date are:
  1. National Day: 4 February
  2. May Day: 1 May
  3. Christmas Day: 25 December
The following Muslim festive days are public holidays. They occur at different times of the year according to the Muslim calendar:
  1. Id-Ul-Fitr: Ramazan Festival Day
  2. Id-Ul-Allh: Hajji Festival Day
  3. Milad-Un-Nabi: Birthday of the Propher Muhammad
The following Buddhist and Tamil festive days are public holidays that vary from year to year, but observe specific seasonal period. Poya, or Full Moon Day, is a public holiday as well.
  1. Tamil Thai Pongal: January
  2. Durutu Poya: January
  3. Navan Poya: February
  4. Mahasivarathri: March
  5. Medin Poya: March
  6. Good Friday: March/April
  7. Eve of the Sinhala/Tamil New Year: April
  8. Sinhala/Tamil New Year: April
  9. Bak Poya: April
  10. Vesak Poya: May
  11. Day after Vesak Poya: May
  12. Poson Poya: June
  13. Esala Poya: July
  14. Nikini Poya: August
  15. Binara Poya: September
  16. Vap Poya: October
  17. Deepavali Poya: October/November
  18. Il Poya: November
  19. Unduvap Poya: December

Satmahal PrasadaStaircase going up Satmahal Prasada (29 August, 2005)

History of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a long history that goes back to the dawn of time. The history of the Sinhala people began with the arrival of an Indian prince named Vijaya. On the island of Lanka (the ancient name for Sri Lanka), Vijaya discovered that it was already inhabited, by a people called Yaksha. He took as his wife the queen of the Yakshas. Later, Vijaya took another wife, a Pandyan princess from South India, and he also brought women from there to be wives of his followers. They were regarded as the earliest settlers of Lanka.

Buddhism was introduced to Lanka in the 3rd century BC. It came about when a Buddhist missionary, Bhikkhu Mahinda, who is the brother of the Buddhist Emperor Asoka of India, arrived in Lanka, and succeeded in converting the Sinhalese King Devanampiyatissa at Mihintale.

The base of Rankot ViharaThe base of Rankot Vihara (29 August, 2005)

The first ancient capital of Lanka was the city of Anuradhapura. Next came Polonnaruwa. There were a succession of other cities that served as capital. Throughout history, there was repeated invasions by armies from South India, resulting in the shifting of the capital.

Colonial powers arrived in Sri Lanka in 1505, when the Portuguese landed. At that time there were three kingdoms on the island, namely Yarlpanam (Anglicised Jaffna) in the north, Kandy in the central hills and Kotte at the Western coast. In 1956, the Dutch defeated the Portuguese and became the second colonial power in Sri Lanka. As the Portuguese and Dutch were mainly interested in the spice trade, and so concentrated only on the coastal areas. The hilly region remained independent, allowing the Kingdom of Kandy to continue flourishing uninterrupted, until the arrival of the British.

The Indian Ocean at GalleThe Indian Ocean at Galle (2 September, 2005)

Great Britain replaced the Dutch in 1796 - at a time when the Netherlands were weakened by the Napoleon invasion back home. The coastal areas became a crown colony in 1802. The kingdom of Kandy fell in 1815, setting in motion the unification of the entire island under a single administration, which happened in 1818.

A struggle for independence started in the 1930s, and Sri Lanka won its independence in 1948, becoming a member of the British Commonwealth. Under British rule, it was known as Ceylon, a name that it held until 1972, when it changed its name to Sri Lanka. The name Sri Lanka, which has its origin in Sanskrit, means "venerable Lanka". Lanka is a name that has long been associated with the island since ancient times.

Seated Buddha statues, Dambulla CaveSeated Buddha statues, Dambulla Cave (30 August, 2005)

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