The Pearl of the Indian Ocean: An Overview
The famed land Sinbad the Sailor visited on his sixth voyage, Sri Lanka has provided the scenic yet mysterious backdrop for a variety of situations, ranging from historic epics, sanguinary wars, romantic movies, exhilarating adventures, mysterious quests, and breathtakingly beautiful holidays.
The Many Names of Sri Lanka
‘The Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, as it is fondly known, has piqued the interest of many since ancient times where Indian lore suggests that Queen Sita was held captive in the mystical mountains of Lanka by the villainous Ravana. History tells us magnificent tales of how the exiled Prince Vijaya landed on the lustrous copper soil of the island and aptly christened it ‘Thambapanni’ meaning ‘Copper Earth’. This island was referred to by many names, at various times by various people. ‘Taprobane’ also meaning Copper Earth, by the Greek; ‘Serendib’ by the Arabs, ‘Ceilao’ by the Portuguese, which was later adapted into ‘Ceylon’ by the British Colonisers, before finally being renamed Sri Lanka.
Why Choose This Island?
The reasons for an island as minuscule as this to hold so much to its name are many. It lies along the coveted trade route that connected the East and the West even in the days of yore, and the natural harbours along its coasts were a draw to all those who were merchants and seafarers. Owing to its distance from the equator, Sri Lanka boasts of diverse topography and climates all year round, unlike most other countries where the landscape at any given time relies on the prevailing season. Eons of conquests, invasions, reigning and falling kingdoms, colonisation, and rebellion contribute to the island’s rich and colourful cultural heritage, which in combination with the enchanting terrain coexisting with the developing infrastructure that gives way to modern high rise buildings, makes Sri Lanka a land unmatched, and a must visit to all those who travel.
In line with the physical and visual appeal of the country, the people of Sri Lanka are amongst the most welcoming one could ever hope to come across. This multiracial nation with a colourful hodgepodge consisting mainly of Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and Hindus, alongside other minorities, is also home to many expatriates from all over the globe who chose Sri Lanka to be their new home. It is never a surprise to the household when one member brings home a chance met traveller for a home cooked meal, or when a local voluntarily veers from their daily life to provide assistance to a tourist with directions, or better yet act as a friendly guide throughout the day.
When and Where to be
Sri Lanka is a mine of jewels for the ardent traveller, some well-known and seasoned sites such as the oft-frequented places of Galle, Hambantota, Jaffna, Trincomalee, Kandy, Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Arugam Bay, Kalpitiya, Ratnapura, and more; and lesser known and the somewhat elusive hidden gems within these places. Like any other country, Sri Lanka too has peak seasons for travel and tourism, but unlike other nations, this does not collectively apply to the entire island. Where tourist activity may be off peak for one location, it may thrive in another during the same time period. This acts as a blessing for the citizens of Sri Lanka as it allows them to take off on holiday as and when they wish and responsibilities and time permits, as well as the tourism industry which is one of the key contributors to the country’s financial development. In short, anyone visiting Sri Lanka, whatever their purpose of the visit may be will always have something to look forward to, and will not be disappointed due to peak seasons, unless they arrived at the wrong time seeking a particular activity.
What to do once you arrive
One will never come to face a lack of activities to take part and indulge in, on visiting Sri Lanka for however short or long the stay might be. The most obvious would be sightseeing around the cities of Colombo, Galle, Kandy, and Jaffna to name a few. Stepping out of the cities, one can choose to hike the trails of the Knuckles Range, or surf the shores of Arugam Bay, or dive deep into the seas at Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa to witness the splendour of the coral reef. Tea connoisseurs may indulge in the plethora of world class tea factories in the hills of the Central Province, and seafood enthusiasts would enjoy partaking in the delicacies made fresh available throughout the coastal areas, specially Negombo. Whale watching in Mirissa, bird watching in Kandalama, dolphin watching in Kalpitiya and visiting the elephant orphanage in Pinnawala are prime ways to have fun, and as are safaris in Yala and white water rafting in Kitulgala. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, and there are more ways to pass time and relax, according to preference.
The First Leg of the Journey in Sri Lanka
Anyone traveling to Sri Lanka would usually find themselves in Colombo as the first step of their journey, and unless they plan to rush through it to the next step, Colombo has its own charm and allure that draws in people from the first time they set foot on its soil. The journey from the Bandaranayake International Airport to the thriving city of Colombo, which is more of a cruising whilst sightseeing experience, will be the traveller’s first glimpse into the wonderful array of experiences this serendipitous island in its entirety has in store.
As the landscapes evolve and merge into one another, they can take on a surreal appearance, or become humbly picturesque according to the time of the day and prevalent weather. The Katunayake Colombo Expressway trails through the Muthurajawala Marshlands, allowing for marshy plains and grasslands amidst all the drenched foliage. The Old Dutch Canal cutting through the marshes too forms part of the scenery, connecting with the gently rippling expanse of the Negombo Lagoon. Come evening, and the setting takes on an ethereal glow, with the receding sun painting the Lagoon in rich hues. Dawn, dusk or any time in between, the scenic backdrop with the occasional airplane rising into the sky and fishermen at work creates the prospect for picture perfect – or Instagram worthy if you will have it – moments.
Beginning here, one is free to branch out and explore this beautiful country at leisure to the heart’s content, in every way possible, as it has provisions for the soul hungry, and the soul weary, for the business tycoon, and the languid vacationer, for the energetic youth and the relaxing retirees, for the seekers of knowledge, and those looking for a moment’s reprieve from the hectic lives they usually spend. And once the adventure comes to an end and it is time to say goodbye, the heart will yearn for a return even before you leave, just as Sinbad did return to visit the plentiful land of Serendib despite having grown tired of voyaging by then.
Throughout the series of the blog posts which are to come, you will be taken across this petite multicultural island, which has an abundance of experience to offer. For a simplistic experience the posts will be separated into certain categories, such as ‘Ancient Historical Sites’, ‘Religious and Cultural Attractions’, ‘Coastal Areas’, ‘Adventurous Activities’, ‘Nature and Wildlife’, and ‘Hill Country’ to name a few, simply to make perusing them easier, though they may not follow any particular sequence.
 Visit the BIA webpage and the Sri Lanka Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) webpage for more information on how to get to Sri Lanka.