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Ten interesting facts about Sri Lanka
1. Sri Lanka may be the tea capital of the world, but tea was introduced to it only in 1867.
2. Before Sri Lanka became famous for tea, it was famous for coffee – but the coffee fields of Sri Lanka were wiped out by leaf blight in the 1870s.
3. Sri Lankans had known about tea for nine years before they saw rubber for the first time, in 1876.
4. When Sri Lankans say yes, they don’t nod their heads up and down but rather waggle it from side to side, so it looks as if they are saying no instead.
5. At meals, Sri Lankan women usually serve the children and the men first before they themselves settle down to eat.
6. The very first female prime minister in the world is Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka. She first served in 1960 and held three terms: 1960–1965, 1970–1977, and 1994–2000.
7. Bandaranaike’s daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, was the first female president elected in Sri Lanka. She served for two consecutive terms.
8. Sri Lanka is mentioned in the famous ancient Indian epic, the Ramayana.
9. Sri Lanka achieved its independence from Britain in 1948 – the same year when Gandhi began his final fast, the Republic of Ireland was declared, and the country of Israel was formed.
10. Sri Lanka was called Ceylon until 1972. Until today, some organizations in Sri Lanka still have “Ceylon” in their names.
Where to go in Sri Lanka
Mirissa Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Sri Lanka. The small, crescent-shaped golden-sanded beach is a secluded tropical paradise that is most conducive to utmost relaxation.
To maintain the secluded atmosphere of the place, all guest houses are set back behind the palm trees fringing the island. Nothing here will disturb your quiet contemplation of the most stunning sunsets that you will ever see in Sri Lanka.
Surely, Marco Polo must have been thinking of Mirissa beach when he described Sri Lanka as “undoubtedly the finest island in the world.”
Kandy is one of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful cities, the last capital of the ancient Sri Lankan kings.
This hill city lies 465 meters above sea level. Here, you can find the Royal Palace, where King Sri Vikrama Rajasinha resided until the British came and overthrew him in 1815.
Today, the Royal Palace is known as the National Museum of Kandy. Within this same complex can be found the Temple of the Tooth, one of Buddhism’s most venerated temples, for it holds the tooth relic of Buddha himself.
It was part of Sri Lanka’s ancient tradition that whoever held the tooth relic in his possession also had claim to the Sri Lankan throne.
There are many other shrines and temples in Kandy. The area is also full of frescoes, stone and wood carvings, and rare paintings.
By virtue of all the history and culture that Kandy holds, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Galle Fort today is an open-air museum of historical Sri Lankan architecture.
This enclosure, built originally by the Portuguese on Sri Lanka’s southeast coast in 1588, was fortified by the Dutch in 1649. Some of the old buildings found within it are the now-ruined Franciscan chapel, built even before the fort itself, in 1541; the Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1640; the elite Amangalla hotel (now the New Oriental Hotel), from 1684; the clock tower, from 1707; the All Saints Anglican Church, from 1871; and the Meera Mosque, from 1904.
It is also the site of the Galle Fort lighthouse, the old Dutch government house, the National Maritime Museum, and the Great Warehouse, which was built in 1669 to store ship equipment, spices, and so forth.
Dambulla Cave Temple
Not far from the cities of Colombo and Kandy is the Dambulla Cave Temple, one of the largest and best-preserved cave temples in the world.
The area holds 80 known caves, but only three of these hold the main attractions.
In the first cave, the Cave of the Divine King, you will find a 14-meter statue of a reclining Buddha, which was carved directly from the cave rock.
In the second cave, the Cave of the Great Kings – the largest of the three caves – you will find 56 statues of Buddha, the gods Vishnu and Saman, and kings Vattagamani Abhaya and Nissanka Malla. From a crack in the ceiling drips water that is said to have healing powers.
The third cave, called the Great New Monastery, holds 50 Buddha statues and one statue of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha.
Anuradhapura, the sacred ancient city, was Sri Lanka’s first capital. It holds a treasure trove of ancient palaces and monasteries, for which it has gained the honor of being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of the most famous places to visit in Anuradhapura is the Sri Maha Bodhi tree, which was grown from a cutting taken from the tree under which the Buddha gained enlightenment.
Other attractions in Anuradhapura are the snowy white Ruwanweliseya Dagoba and its wall of elephant carvings. This is considered Anuradhapura’s greatest dagoba. It is so white, it can be painful to the eyes if you look at it in bright sunlight.
The Thuparama Dagoba is Sri Lanka’s oldest dagoba.
The Jetavanarama Dagoba is a mighty brick structure that contains enough bricks to build a 3-meter-high wall that runs continuously from London to Edinburgh.
Sigiriya is another one of Sri Lanka’s World Heritage Sites. Its name literally translates to “lion’s rock.” It used to be an ancient rock fortress, monastery, and palace complex, with gardens, reservoirs, and ancient frescoes.
A centerpiece of the area is the Sigiriya Rock, a gigantic 370-meter-high igneous rock structure made from hardened magma that used to be contained in an ancient volcano. The volcano has long been eroded away, but the magma plug – the Sigiriya Rock – remains.
At the bottom slopes of the Sigiriya Rock lies a lower palace, as well as gardens and moats that extend a few hundred meters outward from the rock’s base. Some of the gardens are the water garden, full of moats and pools. The boulder garden is made up of several large boulders that are linked by pathways, while the terraced gardens are a series of rising terraces that lead from the boulder garden up to the Lion Gate.The Lion Gate and the mirror wall are located at the middle portion of the Sigiriya Rock. The mirror wall is a large porcelain wall that was once so shiny, the king could see himself in it.
At the top of the Sigiriya rock, on its flat surface, is the upper palace, whose splendor is still a sight to behold despite its age.
Minneriya National Park
Minneriya National Park is found in Sri Lanka’s North Central Province, 182 kilometers from Colombo.
It was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1938 and a national park in 1997 to protect the Minneriya tank, a historically important feature because it was built by Sri Lanka’s King Mahasen during the 3rd century.
Today, because of this tank, Minneriya has become a feeding ground for the elephants that come in large herds from the forests of Trincomalee, Polonnaruwa, and Matale, especially during the summer season.
This park is also home to two of Sri Lanka’s endemic monkeys – the purple-faced langur and the toque macaque – and rare mammal species such as the Sri Lankan leopard and the Sri Lankan sloth bear.Minneriya National Park is also one of Sri Lanka’s important bird areas. The Minneriya tank is an important habitat for the painted stork, the spot-billed pelican, many other endemic birds, and 11 bird species that are under threatened status.
Polonnaruwa is Sri Lanka’s second most ancient city and is arguably the best-planned archeological site in the country – a testament to the intelligence and foresight of Sri Lankan kings.
During Polonnaruwa’s Golden Age, King Parakramabahu I declared that not a single drop of rain should be wasted; all should be used in the development of the land.
As a result, he constructed an irrigation system so efficient, it is still used to this day to supply water to the paddies in the east of the country.
An important and awe-inspiring element of this irrigation system is the Parakrama Samudraya (“Sea of Parakrama”) – a water tank so huge, people who don’t know it is man-made often mistake it for the ocean.
It is, in fact, more of a giant moat, encircling the main city and nourishing it in times of peace, and protecting it from invaders in times of war.
In 1982, the Ancient City of Polonnaruwa was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In Monaragala district, you will find the Buduruwagala temple. This ancient Buddhist temple features a large rock on which are carved seven statues, including a 16-meter statue of Buddha, which is carved at the center.
The carvings are believed to have been made in the tenth century AD and were done following the Mahayana Buddhist school of thought – a form of Buddhism that is now extinct in Sri Lanka.
To the right of the gigantic central Buddha figure (your left, if you are facing the rock), you will find a roughly 12-meter statue flanked by two smaller figures. This central statue is believed to be Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, which according to Mahayana Buddhist teaching, is the physical manifestation of Buddha’s compassion. The figures on its right and left are thought to be the figure’s consort and his son.
On the other side of the central figure are another 12-meter-tall statue, thought to depict Maithri Bodhisattva, and two smaller statues on Maithri’s right and left sides.
Nuwara Eliya is the center of Sri Lanka’s tea production industry – and tea is one of Sri Lanka’s biggest exports. From this region come some of the finest Orange Pekoe teas you can find in the world.
If you want to learn more about the tea you drink, you can take a guided tour in Nuwara Eliya to see how the world’s best teas are made. Of course, you can also sample and purchase products during the tour. No tea can be fresher than the one you get right from the tea farms.
But Nuwara Eliya is not just about tea. It also holds the Horton Plains National Park, where you can find leopards and sambars, as well as endemic species such as the purple-faced langur and the Sri Lanka white-eye bird.
For bird lovers, especially, you can visit Victoria Park, a popular bird-watching site, where you can see the Indian blue robin, the Kashmir flycatcher, and the pied thrush.