Sri Lanka - opens up as a potpourri of diversity

Published: Thursday, January 5, 2017

Tucked in the Indian Ocean near the southern tip of India, the pearl-shaped island-nation of Sri Lanka is perhaps best summed up as a potpourri of diversity.

Known as Ceylon until 1972, Sri Lanka is home to a multitude of races and cultures and a diversified natural environment that will amaze even the most discerning travelers.

With nearly 1,600-kilometer long palm fringed coastline with scenic sandbars, Sri Lanka offers some of the best beaches in the world, ideal for windsurfing, kayaking, yachting, water skiing, scuba diving or just bumming around in an idyllic location.

The Arugam Bay is among the most popular of its beaches but other sites are slowly being discovered as the nation opens up for more opportunities after decades-long bloody civil war that killed over 100,000 people between 1982-2009.

Believed to be the place where the original soul of Buddhism flourished, Sri Lanka is known for its eclectic mix of people, unspoiled natural beauty, magnificent beaches, eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 15 national parks showcasing an abundant wildlife that includes elephants, leopards and more, and nearly 500,000 acres of lush tea estates.

Indeed, at the dawn of peace, Sri Lanka is once again enchanting travelers.

Amazing Diversity

Though small in size, Sri Lanka boasts of many amazing places to see and things to experience and explore.

Here you will find elephants, sloth bear, leopards, sambar and wild buffaloes. It also boasts of the red slender Loris, Toque Macaque, and Purple-faced Langur, who according to IUCN clarifications are endangered due to habitat loss.

The ocean around Sri Lanka is home to large families of cetaceans, including the mighty blue whales, sperm whales and lively dolphins, making it one of the best locations to visit.

For bird enthusiasts, the country offers plenty with 433 bird species, including 20 endemic ones.

Its hinterlands are filled with picturesque view of lush green tea gardens, some are world renowned for their flavors.

Its mountains are covered with lush tropical forests, some with treasured heritage like ancient palaces and giant statues of Buddha. Further north are colorful ancient Hindu temples.

Charming Colombo

Colombo, the business capital of Sri Lanka is now teeming with high-end hotels and casinos largely funded by Chinese investors, proof of its reinvigorated tourism- led economy.

With more than 3 million Sri Lankans working overseas, including some 300,000 in the UAE, who collectively remit about $1 billion annually to the country’s economy, Colombo also exudes modernity blended with its ancient colonial past.

Here you will find Ganesha Kovil, the oldest and largest Hindu temple in town and the Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple, revered among Buddhists all over the world seeking comfort and solutions for their health and other troubles as well as Sri Lankan monks seeking wisdom and further learning.

Monks at this temple are friendly and willing to talk to strangers. They may even gift you with a blessed Buddha beads for good luck if you ask for one.

Colombo is also home to a number of museums and historical sites dotted across its neighborhoods made of mostly Colonial buildings.

Some places worth seeing are the Old Parliament Building at Galle Face Green, the 1950’s Lighthouse overlooking Colombo, the Dutch Hospital Shopping Precinct where one can buy some of the best souvenirs and explore nearby shops.

Head to the busy Pettah Open Market where the Dutch Period Museum is also located if you want some cheap souvenirs. Here, you will have the chance to see a variety of local goods sold from all sorts of merchants at a fraction of what you would pay for them at high-end stores.

While in Colombo, don’t forget to stop by at Ape Gama, Sri Lanka’s traditional folklore center and crafts village. Here, you can also find good souvenirs, including brass bells and other art pieces, for reasonable prices.

Sri Lankan flavors won’t disappoint you either. Though generally spicy, its cuisines with rich natural flavors are worth trying.