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Travel Image Colombo,the main city of Sri Lanka that we arrived on the 15th May with a great flight over by Sri Lankan airways. The ticket prices from Chennai were very reasonable, being cheaper than flying into New Delhi and so Marg and I went business class on this trip. Good service and friendly smiles. Through the new
International Airport at Chennai, which I must admit looks pretty good, and as this was still the time of the SARS scare, not too many travelers. We arrived over at Colombo about 3 pm so reasonable time to be picked and driven to the hotel. Wesak was being celebrated at this time, which is a big Buddhist celebration in Sri Lanka from 15th to 19th May. Wesak (Wesak decoration is below) is the festival which celebrates the birth, Enlightenment and Passing away of The Buddha and is celebrated in Sri Lanka, island wide in a very grand scale. The United Nations declared Wesak a UN Holiday at the 54th Session in 1999 and the celebrations this year also to served as the launching pad for establishing Sri Lanka as the prime destination for the Wesak Festival for both Buddhist and non-Buddhist international visitors with the theme being "Wesak Sri Lanka - a unique experience".
 
Travel Image The map above is of Sri Lanka and shows in red our travels. The green line was planned, but due to flooding in the area, was canceled and the coast road kept to. Marg and I are not group travelers, preferring to do things in our own time and to go where we want to go, instead of where we are told to go, so we had a car and driver arranged with the stops all worked out with the hotels booked and after three days looking around and staying in the Colombo Grand Oriental Hotel we were away. This hotel is not recommended by the way, although it has a great view of the harbour, it is only interested in the low budget group market with food to match! We had been once before to Sri Lanka,staying in the Inter-Continental Hotel, but apart from Colombo and Kandy we had not seen that much previously, as it was just a quick stop over. This time we went up the west coast to Puttalam and straight across to Anuradhapura where we spent a couple of days at the looking around the first capital city, in existence from the time of the Romans and Christ. A massive place with large man-made lakes scattered around and apparently supporting a population of around 25 million in those times, plus they were also self sufficient! More of each of the places is linked on the index side, so please check them out! Next, across the old front line between the Tamils and the Government on a very broken road to Trincomalee on the east coast, but the scenery was superb and well worth the trip across. Trincomalee has one of the best natural harbours in the world, miles of beaches, two hotels, still some incidents with the Tamils and not much else. The potential here is great if you are prepared to wait. Had a couple of dives here, but really nothing to talk about.
 
Travel Image We also went through Sigiriya, a fortress on top of a 220 meter rock (shown above left) that was very impressive, and of course I have to get to the top of it. Mind you, even I was shaky on some parts of it,especially when you are up 180 meters in the air and appear to be balancing on a 12 inch length of iron drilled into the wall with a shear drop down beside you! Polonnaruwa was next and this was the second major ancient Capital city of the Singhalese people, with the ruins here much more intact than, but not as extensive, as Anuradhapura. Why all this moving around of the capital? Because the people (Cholas) from South India used to keep invading and each time the Singhalese (north India / Aryan people) got too brassed off with this, they up and moved camp! There were also a couple of smaller capital sites, but they were not lived in for long and have no great value about them. Around this area is also some of the national parks,so while we did not see herds of wild elephants, this is a major tourist attraction in this area to do safari trips into the jungle. We did see plenty of birds and other wildlife though and some tremendous scenery was all around us. After a couple of days here staying in the worst hotel of the trip we ventured forth down to Kandy, the capital of the last King of Sri Lanka before the British deposed him in 1815. It was this King that created the lake here around which the British who came here later built their retreat houses from the heat of Colombo. (Kandy is at left with the lake and township). The Temple of the Tooth is also located here, the most important relic of the island, which is brought out once a year on a major procession and celebration. We actually saw the casket of the Tooth when it visited Burma about 8 years ago and so had a lot closer look at it than you can now in the actual temple. Now it is enclosed within caskets within caskets within rooms etc., so no viewing is possible. After three days here it was down to the tea country at Nuwara Eliya for a quick one night stay at the Grand Hotel (Governors Wing) before heading back to Colombo for a few days business. We cannot go on a trip like this for three weeks without at least a few days rest on the beach. If left to my own devices, I would troupe around at full steam for the whole three weeks and end up at the end of the holiday probably more tired than when I started, so Marg is the brake here and the voice of reason to take a few days rest. We ventured down to Unawatuna and had a few days here, taking in a trip further along the coast and seeing Galle and the Dutch fort here. Very nice and relaxing, but no diving as the sea was too rough, even though the weather was quite fine. Back to Colombo to the famous Mount Lavina hotel and then back to Chennai, where as soon as we were out of the terminal we were hit by a wave of 42 degree heat! You will find that the traditional way of greeting people in Sri Lanka is with the palms clasped together and a gentle bow of the head along with "Ayubovan" and the chances are you will be greeted this way,wherever you happen to go throughout the island. Marg and I found the peoples to be extremely pleasant, (except for one person from a shop who could not stop bothering us, but with all the soldiers around was finally scared off!) and by nature being Singhalese and Buddhist, this friendliness is a true part of their nature. Over all a very pleasant trip and well worth taking, we saw a good part of the island plus met some great people, so we would certainly encourage you to go there and have a look around. (Colombo City itself shown at right)
 
Travel Image On this trip we stayed at the Grand Oriental Hotel in Colombo, the Miridiya Hotel in Anuradhapura, up at the Club Oceanic Hotel in Trincomalee. From there onto the Hotel Sudu Araliya in Polonanaruwa and the Hotel Topaz in Kandy with a night at the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya. We then stayed at the Giladari Hotel in Colombo before traveling down to Unawatuna Beach Resort for a few nights and back to Mount Lavina hotel for the last night.
 
Travel Image Sri Lanka has an amazing array of scenery, as the island is quite neatly divided into two, not the north and south as most people think,but east and west, depending on where the rains are falling at the time. When it is raining in Colombo, it is dry to the east and vice versa.The eastern side is actually the dryer, with the hills in the middle being quite cool and wet, - ideal for growing tea! What may strike you most about Sri Lanka is its amazing diversity of scenery. It is possible to pass brilliant green paddy fields, sun-bronzed beaches,ruined cities, small lively villages, near desert regions, sanctuaries for wildlife in tropical jungles, and hill country tea plantations,literally within hours of each other. With western commercial influence, rice has given way to tea, which is now the basis of the economy, while rice is being imported once again! The new thrust for the economy is on export-leading industries with agriculture being strongly revived. Nontraditional exports such as garments, seafood,foliage, cut flowers and tropical fish and value added agro-industries have in recent years contributed to the economic advance of Sri Lanka.The country was also the first in South Asia to move away from a State-centered economic structure and embrace a private sector led market oriented economy. The opportunities are many for foreign investment, with almost all exchange controls relaxed and many incentives given for foreign investment. (Restored Dutch era house just outside Colombo city at left).
 
Travel Image Sri Lanka is one of those places where history seems to fade into the mists of legend. There is Adams Peak which is said to be the very place where Adam set foot on earth after having been cast out of heaven with his footprint squarely on top of the mountain to prove it. Then again it is the Buddhas footprint on Sri Pada, taking a giant step halfway to paradise. Adam Bridge, which is the chain of islands linking Sri Lanka to India, is meant to be the stepping stones that Rama skipped across to rescue Sire from the clutches of the evil demon Rawana, King of Lanka in the epic Ramayana. It is probable that the story of the Ramayana actually does have some basis in reality, for Sri Lankas history recounts many invasions from southern India, being a story that is recounted over and over again all around Asia.
 
Travel Image On the scale of a world map, Sri Lanka, previously known as Ceylon, appears to hang like a tiny teardrop over the Indian Ocean. In reality though, this tropical isle is certainly no drop in the ocean. From north to south it has a maximum length of 435 km and at its widest point it measures 225 km, giving it a land area of 65,600 sq. km. At tropical beach level the thermometer soars around the 29 C mark but within four hours journey by road or very scenic rail journeys you can find the breathtaking hill country where the temperature drops to about 10 C. As quickly as the climate changes, so does the dramatic scenery.An equally short journey will bring you to the ruined cities of Sri Lankas ancient civilization. The scenery changes quite dramatically,with forests, beaches, coconut and rubber plantations, tea estates and grassy plains all interweaving throughout the journey. (Beach scene at Dikwalla beach shown above).

The people of Sri Lanka are of diverse races and faiths, with the first Sinhalese people probably coming from North India and are of the Aryan race. They arrived in Sri Lanka around the 5th or 6th century BC, gradually replacing the prior inhabitants called the Wanniyala-aetto or Veddahs.The majority of the population today is still the Sinhalese who are mainly Buddhist, while among the rest the Tamils who are mainly Hindus are next in number, followed by the Islamic Moors and a sharply declining number of Burghers, descended from the Portuguese and Dutch,who are Christians. There is also a considerable population of Christians among the Sinhalese and Tamils.

Recorded history began for Sri Lanka when Buddhism gave birth to a cultural revolution more than 2000 years ago. There then followed an era of unsurpassed achievements which fashioned lifestyles, fostered the arts and inspired the creation of dagobas, temples, monasteries,statues, vast manmade reservoirs and irrigation systems, which even today defy engineering interpretation. Almost 25 centuries later,Buddhism is still preserved in its purest form. Its doctrine of peace and tolerance has left its gentle mark on the land and her people.Different religions and ethnic groups live side by side in total harmony in a democratic society.