Sri Lanka packs a big punch in its small size. Few places can boast of the extraordinary variety of places to visit within such modest physical dimensions. Surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the coast is fringed with idyllic beaches, and the interiors have a range of wildlife rich jungles and mist-covered hills dotted with immaculate tea plantations. Add to these well-endowed picturesque locations, contributions of our human race and we have a country so wholesome that it’s hard not to fall in love with it.
While there are many reasons why it is a perfect getaway destination from India, here are a few to convince the ones who have looked far and beyond and missed this blessing right in their backyard.
1. CULTURAL HERITAGE
Sri Lanka, with its rich cultural heritage, has six archaeological World Heritage Sites identified by UNESCO. The sacred city of Anuradhapura and the ancient city of Polonnaruwa with their dagobas (dome-shaped structures) and ruins of the earlier civilization are reminiscent of the past.
The Golden Temple of Dambulla with it’s 30 meter high Buddha and hard to miss sensual frescoes of heavenly maidens at the palace in the ancient city of Sigiriya can all be experienced in a compact area called the Cultural Triangle.
Further ahead in the hill country is the former royal capital of Kandy, home to the sacred Temple of the Tooth housing the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. Down south one can experience the colonial heritage prevalent in the Old town of Galle. With a mid-17th c. Dutch fort, the best preserved in Asia and original Dutch bungalows, the city bustles with life. The seventh World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka is an ecological example, the Sinharaja Forest Reserve.
The island’s extensive coastline makes it an ideal location for all kinds of water sports including windsurfing, water-skiing, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling, banana-boating and more. Prime water-sports sites include Negombo, Wadduwa, Bentota amongst others. With over 100 hundred rivers and lagoons, there are opportunities galore for year-round kayaking and canoeing best combined with a camping trip.
Two popular locations are Kalu Ganga and Kelani Ganga. No shortage of forests, wildlife, and archaeological sites ensure excellent opportunities for trekking. Nature trails include the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, the cloud forests of Horton Plains, the Knuckles Mountain Range, and Hakgala Strict Natural Reserve.
Feel happy with the fun-loving elephants in Elephant Freedom Project or take an elephant ride at Pinnawala, Sigiriya, Minneriya, and Habarana areas. Whale and Dolphin watching is a major attraction in Sri Lanka as it is situated within International Whaling Commission’s protected zone in Indian Ocean. The children can have an educative tour of the Dehiwala Zoo located in the Colombo district. Be prepared as it can take take 8-10 hours to view all the animals, Aquarium, Butterfly Park, Elephant Show, Sea Lion show and the snake farm. Safari tours of the national parks will give a chance of encountering leopards, water buffaloes, extensive bird life and primates.
4. BEACHES & TEA PLANTATIONS
No shortage of beaches in Sri Lanka, where you can find long golden ones, ones with soft white sand, and some which are completely untrodden. Whether you are looking for lively party vibe or slow, calm, all by yourself feeling, you are sure to get it here.
As the world’s 4th largest producer of tea, a visit to a tea plantation is an enticing option for tea lovers. One can visit Uva Halpewatte Tea Factory, Hundungoda Tea Estate, Blue Field Tea Gardens.
Sri Lanka offers opportunities to pamper and rejuvenate by nourishing one’s mind and body. Having been the center of spiritual and physical healing for 2,000 years, it offers ayurvedic programs with herbal treatments and massages. Also on offer are cleansing and revitalization techniques like yoga, meditation and special diets. Sri Lanka has many world-class spas, which provide ayurveda and other eastern and western therapies.
The way to any man’s (or woman’s) heart is by way of good food and Sri Lanka offers a variety few can match. Past foreign influences and an assortment of rice, spices, vegetables and fruit make it an interesting medley. The staple diet consists of rice and colorful curries with contrasting flavors (coconut milk, chillies, curry leaves, cinnamon and Maldive-fish) cementing Sri Lanka’s status as one of the original spice islands. Other Sri Lankan staples include hoppers (a pancake-like snack), stringhoppers (steamed rice noodles) and pittu (a mixture of flour and coconut). Seafood lovers can indulge themselves and the vegetarians can too, with a wide variety of familiar and exotic fruits like mango, papaya, mangosteen, rambuttan and custard apple. The fiery curries can be had with a glass of ginger beer or local arrack.
Shopping in Sri Lanka is exciting where one can haggle with handicraft-sellers or check out the bargain-priced latest international fashions (Sri Lanka is a major garment exporter) in luxurious shopping centres in Colombo. Many traditional designs such as makara (a mythical animal, and lotus which are most evident in brass work (boxes, trays, lanterns, vases) and silverware make excellent souvenirs in addition to ritual masks, lacquer ware, batik, handloom textiles, and wood carvings. Sri Lanka is also known as ‘Island of Gems’ and one can see the widest variety of precious stones here.