Sri Lanka: A land like no other

IF, as the legend goes, God created the world in six days, then it is entirely likely that he devoted the seventh day wholly to creating Sri Lanka! Paradise is a word too easily bandied around these days on the global tourism front, but in its application to this jewel of an island hanging like a teardrop in the Indian Ocean, it matches the description in every sense of the word.
Indeed, early explorers were in such bewiderment over Sri Lanka’s abundance of natural beauty—from golden beaches lapped enticingly by pristine blue waters to carpets of green foliage that make up the breathtakingly picturesque tea country nestled in the country’s highlands—that they coined the word “Serendib” (meaning a fortunate discovery by accident) to describe the island.

In fact, “serendipity” and “a land like no other” were two of the befitting names attached to the country long before it made its international mark as Ceylon (in colonial days) and later, in the years following independence, as Sri Lanka. The names alone bear witness to its richness and beauty, and the intensity of the affection it evokes in everyone who has ever visited the country.

But as chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, Renton de Alwis and his hard-working team take great pains to point out, the negative vibes created by the reign of terror inflicted in the north by the Tamil Tigers’ terrorist outfit do not in any way impact on the fantastic beach resorts of the south such as Bentota and Hikkaduwa, nor in the cool recreational climes of Nuwara Eliya and Bandarawela where the colonial British created a home away from home—with these parts more redolent of Scotland than any place you associate with in the orient.

Concerns about the “business in the north” are easily displaced by an ethnicly diverse people (whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim) who are the most friendly and hospitable on earth, and whose gleaming smiles are worth a thousand words of friendly greeting. And dig this—a Sri Lankan holiday luxuriating in sun and sand (along with insights into a glorious culture that is over 2000 years old) does not only provide top grade recreational quality but the prices (whether you are counting dollars, euros, pounds or yen) are probabaly the most affordable in the world.

But the Sri Lanka Tourist Board is not just sitting back on its laurels. Explains Chairman de Alwis: “Today’s consumer is conscious about the environmental and social effects of tourism. With this in mind, the Sri Lanka Tourist Board has unveiled plans for a new and exciting project designed to raise Sri Lanka’s profile as a destination, offering socially and environmentally responsible tourism”

Outlining the rationale behind the “Sri Lanka Tourism’s Social Responsibility Service Project,” he adds: “The new plan is designed to bring greater numbers of socially and environmentally aware tourists to Sri Lanka, and to enhance their holiday experience while here. Local communities are the focus of the new plan and a key objective is building community support in the development of tourism.

To this end, the plan aims to link communities with tourism activities to ensure that the benefits from tourism actually contribute toward sustainable community development. Visitors to Sri Lanka who are interested will be able to take part in a community service project in one of five broad areas—carbon off-setting, child welfare, animal welfare, peace education and facilitation for the differently abled.”

It is clear that a growing number of tourists want to “give something back” while on holiday. This plan will give visitors to Sri Lanka the chance to fulfil this wish, and in doing so contribute toward the sustainable, socially responsible development of local communities. (To get involved contact the Sri Lanka Tourist Board on 0094 112426929, or e-mail

Whilst we were on the island, we had the wonderful experince of journeying to the hill capital of Kandy to witness the famous annual August festival (or Esala Perahera in the local vernacular) where every night for ten days, a specacular three-hour long procession of almost a hundred elephants coupled with scores upon scores of colorfully dressed native dancers, fire eaters, acrobats and drummers take to the streets in a dramatic exposition that is part theater and part fiesta.

The ritual is to bring out the scared relic of the Lord Buddha’s tooth that is kept in the Temple of the Tooth, which is one of Kandy’s—and indeed the country’s, primary landmarks.

Incidentally, the elephant is akin to being the national animal in Sri Lanka. And a magnificent tusker is given the honor of carrying the casket bearing the scared relic. Fitting that, since elephants in Sri Lanka were once royal property, and it was forbidden to kill them. Today there are just under 3000 wild elephants left, compared with nearly 15,000 two decades ago.

In order to protect the species, the Sri Lankan government has created an elephant orphanage in Pinnawela, which is not too far away from Kandy. Here care and protection is given to the many baby elephants found in the jungles without their mothers who had either died or had been killed by poachers.

Tea is easily Sri Lanka’s best-known gift to the world. As the biggest exporter on the planet of tea—unarguably the world’s healthiest and most popular brew—the Sri Lanka Tea Board is at the forefront of spreading the good word about the drink that in a quaint touch is still branded worldwide under the colonial name of Ceylon

Says Chairman Lalith Hettiarachchi: “Tea is what comes to most people’s minds around the world when they think of Sri Lanka. The main task of the tea board is to enhance this association by highlighting the benefits of tea to the market abroad, while at the same time promoting corporate social responsibility within the home grown tea industry.”

Sri Lanka’s tea country is contained primarily in the cool climes of the hills and valleys of what is known locally in the “up country” region. We stayed in the St. Coombes Estate where the Tea Research Institute is situated. And as its name suggests, the TRI is at the very core of protecting and scientifically developing the industry literally on ground level.

The picturesque and mountainous tea country provides for a contrasting holiday experience from the sun-kissed beaches of the south coast, and the cultural gems of the interior such as the 5,000-year-old Sigiriya Rock (with its amazing frescoes) and the ancient ruins of Anuradhapura and Pollonaruwa—all treasured wonders from the past. In fact, Sri Lanka is home to seven World Heritage Sites.

All in all, Sri Lanka has something for every holiday seeker, whether discerning traveler or just backpacking tourist. Rightly can it be heralded as the “Land like no other.”

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