Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is a tropical Indian Ocean island below the southern tip of India of approximately 65,000 square kilometres (26,000 square miles) in size with a surrounding broad continental shelf. The island has a length of 445 km and a breadth of 225 km and is located about 8° North of the equator and latitude 81° East. The central mountain region rises to a peak of 2550 metres (8,292 feet) above mean sea level. The remaining country of is flat or undulating with the coastal areas only a few metres above mean sea level. The Island is surrounded by the Indian Ocean on 3 sides and the Bay of Bengal on the East. The business and entertainment capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo, is located in the west coast.
Sri Lanka’s lowland climate is tropical. Parts of the hill country can be temperate and cool. Sri Lanka is affected by two monsoon weather systems – the North East monsoon and the South West monsoon. The South West monsoon deposits its rain between May and October – about 3,300mm per year (130 inches) with about 150 wet days. The North East monsoon brings rain to the rest of the island which is extensive but less rainy and can be a shorter period – about 1700mm (67 inches), sometimes limited to November, December and January. The rainfall pattern includes the April and November showers all over the island and makes the differentiation between the wet and the dry zones.
The Singhalese kings arrived in Sri Lanka in about the 6th century BC and built the city of Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s first capital (200BC to 1000AD). Buddhism was brought to Sri Lanka in about the 3rd century BC. Polonnaruwa became Sri Lanka’s second capital from 1070AD to 1200AD. The Portuguese occupied Sri Lanka in the 16th century, the Dutch in the 17th century and the British from 1796 to 1948 when Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) gained its independence. The country’s name was changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka in 1972.
Sri Lanka is a 2500 year old society settled by people predominantly of Aryan (Singhalese) or Dravidian (Tamil) in descent and a mixture other races from the ancient sea-faring races (Moors, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, British and European). Mohammedans (Muslims or Moors) came and settled down in Sri Lanka in stages, thought to be after the 6th Century A.D. There are other lines of decent from India, Africa and Europe but these groups are very small.
There is still a community of aboriginal people called the ‘Weddas’ living in the ‘wildest’ region of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has a population of about 20 million people. Sri Lankan people have a very high literacy rate – about 90%. The people mostly eat rice and flour based foods accompanied by spicy curries and condiments. Their main source of protein is fish. The manufacture of Sri Lankan art and crafts, a traditional form of income, can still be seen by travellers and are readily available for sale around the island.
Culture and Religion
Sri Lanka’s main occupants are Singhalese who are generally Buddhist and descended from the ancient Aryan settlers from North India. The minorities are Tamil (Hindu) from South India, Moors (Muslims) and Burghers (Christian). Each society generally exists in peace with each other. Modern Sri Lanka is indeed a ‘mixed culture’ enhanced by modern foreign influences. In fact in today’s Sri Lankan society many cross-cultural marriages take place.
Many grand colourful religious festivals representing all faiths exist in Sri Lanka for travellers to enjoy.
The national languages of Sri Lanka are Sinhala and Tamil but English, the language of business, is also widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in the big cities.
Lanka is traditionally an agricultural country and the land is extremely fertile except for part of the north and the northern peninsula, the Jaffna area. The ancient kings of Sri Lanka built the ancient cities together with huge inland lakes or reservoirs known as ‘tanks’. These ‘tanks’ today still serve the local people with their water supply, particularly for the rice growing regions in the dry zones.
Successful agriculture is conducted throughout Sri Lanka and many agriculture based industries make up a substantial part the Sri Lankan economy. You will see beautiful tea fields, coconut plantations and paddy (rice) growing areas as you travel through Sri Lanka as well as fruits, vegetables, spices and rubber. Tea, rubber and coconut are the main commercial export crops. Tea (Ceylon Tea) and spices are of premium quality for the international market.
Sri Lankan people use every part of the coconut tree. Part of the coconut tree is used for coconut oil, desiccated coconut, coir products, building timber, roofing, etc. The rest is consumed.
Sri Lanka is a Socialist Democracy as indicated in the full name – Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has a parliamentary system of government with an executive president. The system has been evolving since 1978 and is an adaptation and combination of many governmental systems.
Sri Lanka’s barely adequate road system makes travel between destinations much slower than in more developed countries. Allow sufficient time to travel to your destination. Most roads have a single lane in each direction. Buses, trucks, lorries and three-wheelers use the same roads.
Sri Lanka has a good public transport based on rail and bus systems. These can be crowded at peak times. These services are only for hardy travellers. Three-wheelers and taxis are the other forms of transport available. However, the entire road and transport system is currently being improved.
Travellers can expect good communications in Sri Lanka. Three major phone network providers cover almost all areas and wireless internet is available at most hotels. Mobile broadband internet coverage is also excellent for travellers throughout Sri Lanka.
Most western currencies and travellers cheques are easily exchanged at any major bank in Sri Lanka. The major banks have branches in most towns. ATM’s are also freely available and credit cards are accepted in most major retail centres.