Sri Lanka is a country full of colour, variety and vibrance. This applies especially to its people. This is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country. It is rare not to see a smiling face among the people of this island, who are said to be among the most hospitable and generous in the world. From the local fruit vendor to the safari jeep driver and the lady at the local tea boutique, Sri Lankans are some of the most charismatic and happy people one could come across. Across these micro-communities and regions there exists many traditional practices, arts and crafts which have been handed down from generation to generation for hundreds if not thousands of years. Explore these diverse practices and traditions which are fast disappearing in with the modern world and immerse in the fascinating Sri Lankan Way of Life.
With a written history that dates back almost 3500 years into the past, Sri Lanka is blessed with rich cultures, traditions and unique legends. The first story about Sri Lanka appears in the Indian legendary text, Ramayana, where Ravana, the Lankan ruler is portrayed as the Demon King who stole the Prince Rama’s lover Sita. The incident is said to have taken place almost 6000 years ago. The first recorded ruler of Sri Lanka was King Vijaya in 543 B.C. Due to a conflict with his father- the King, Prince Vijaya was sent from India to the island of Lanka where he fell in love with a woman of a demon-worshipping tribe, Kuweni. The prince and his army were said to have landed on a golden beach which he referred to as “Thambapanni”, now discovered as Kuduamalai, nearby Wilpattu National Park. However, Prince Vijaya later married an Indian princess as he ascended to the Lankan throne. The descendants of King Vijaya and his Queen are said to be the modern Sinhalese while his descendants through Kuweni are known as “Vaddhas”- the present native community of Sri Lanka. Since then, civilizations dawned into kingdoms. Kings such as Mahasen, Parakkramabahu the first, Dutugemunu were some of the most strong and powerful rulers of Sri Lanka. Irrigation proved to be a massive success at the time, so was the lush agriculture. During this era, fascinating monuments such as Abayagiri Stupa, Ruwanweli Seya and Jetawanarama, were built. The advanced architectures of Sigiriya, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa kingdoms still stand strong as ever. As kingdoms developed, ethnic diversity started spreading. Sri Lankan Tamil community arrived via Indian invaders, traders and rulers. King Elara, who ruled the Anuradhapura kingdom from 205 – 161 B.C. was known as a Tamil King. Moors arrived in Sri Lanka through Arab traders and settled here marrying into the community, they are presently known as Sri Lankan Moors. Beginning from the mid-16th century western invaders started arriving on the island. Until the mid-19th century, Sri Lanka posed as a colony of three different countries. The Portugal, Netherlands and the Great Britain. By 1948, Sri Lanka was finally freed from the chain of Colonization and the British Empire. By 1972 the island became a fully independent democratic state. Flames of a harsh conflict between Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese, in the early 1980s’ lead to a raging civil war that took place for almost 30 years… But now Sri Lanka is back on track and has been developing and growing ever since.
As the Indian Ocean’s beautiful little pearl island, Sri Lanka never fails to showcase its natural beauties, rich ecological values and stunning biodiversity. The natural treasures range from hillside wonders, pristine beaches to rich dense wildlife sanctuaries. The country has always impressed the whole world with its vivid biodiversity. Considered as one of the most ecologically rich countries in the whole world, Sri Lanka aces high on the Biological endemism with 16% of the fauna and 23% of flowering plants in its wilderness.
Venturing into the oceans surrounding the island, one will definitely come across a marine mammal extravaganza! The largest animal in the world, the Blue Whale is found in residence off the shores of Sri Lanka, along with other saltwater mammals such as the “Ocean Hunter”, Killer Whale and the acrobatic spinner Dolphin. Apart from the marine creatures, the shores provide beauty with its mesmerizing coral reefs in Hikkaduwa and Kaplitiya.
The land is home to some of the great herbivores such as the Asian Elephant, the Asiatic Water Buffalo, Sambar, Spotted Deer and Wild Boar which can be found in a range of habitats. The iconic predator of the Sri Lankan wilds is the Leopard, which is the largest Feline species in Sri Lanka. The Sloth Bear is another enigmatic species roaming the dry zone forests of the island. However when it comes to the rivers, marshes, lagoons, and mangroves, lurks the crocodile, an ancient remnant of prehistoric times.
Sri Lanka is also a hot spot for birding with a vast plethora of species ranging from residents, migrants and endemics found nowhere else on earth. It is home to over 400 avian species including 34 endemics, which are unique to the island and are mostly limited to a particular habitat.
The natural landscapes of the country are surprisingly vast in relation to the landmass. In the coastal area's one can find riverine mangroves, estuaries as well as salt flats. The wilderness areas range from dry zone thorny scrub forests such as Yala and Bundala National Parks, to dense evergreen forests in areas such as Wilpattu and Wasgamuwa National Parks. The south is also home to the country's famous tropical rainforests such as the Sinharaja World Heritage Site, Kanneliya Forest Reserve and Kelani Valley Rainforest.
The island’s highlands provide stunning views for a perfect backdrop and landscapes giving a breathtaking spectacle to all those nature enthusiasts seeking hillside sceneries such as Haputale, Knuckles Range and Worlds End. Scattered widely across the highlands are mesmerizing waterfalls such as Ramboda, Bambarakanda, Diyaluma, Dunhinda and Bakers.
With the lush biodiversity and natural habitats of the country, Sri Lanka is considered the ultimate destination for exciting wildlife safaris, exotic bird watching and experiencing the endemic wilderness.
Sri Lanka is a land rich in culture which reflects in its culinary traditions as well. The local dishes are prepared mainly by using fresh produce unique to each region as well as cultural and ethnic heritage. The staple for every Sri Lankan would be rice and curry, which also varies from place to place depending on the fresh produce available, the spices used and traditions used to prepare them.
Starting from the rice, there are many traditional varieties that are used in the preparation of the main starch-based component, but the most popular is the more commercially used Samba rice which comes in the polished white form or a more unpolished "red" form which is higher in fibre content. The rice is boiled down but not to the sticky level usually done in the far east countries. The meal will entail the use of several vegetables which will be cooked using coconut milk to give a slightly creamy, rich feel or with water depending on technique. What is most definitely used in all dishes are spices. Chilli powder, Tumeric powder, and the all famous Curry powder which comes in raw and roasted forms (this includes coriander, cumin, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, dried curry leaves, and pepper).
The end product is rich and aromatic, but not for the sensitive palate as the level of spices and chillies used in Sri Lankan curry is high but can be adjusted to suit those who prefer a milder palate. The dishes will be accompanied by a protein item, which might be fresh fish if close to a coastal area or dried fish (which is either deep-fried or tempered with chillies, onions and curry leaves) if more inland. The inland dry zones are particularly famous for lake fish such as the more commercially available Thilapia, to the native fish known as Giant Snake Head. The more popular meat would be chicken, but other forms of meat are used such as beef, mutton (goat), and pork (the Black Pork Curry is very popular), but depends on the preference, religious beliefs of the area.
One of the most popular and key dishes in any meal is the famous Coconut Sambol or "Pol Sambole" in Sinhalese. Which is a mix of freshly grated coconut, onions, chilli powder, dried chillies, fresh green chillies, garlic and lime juice which are ground on a mortar and pestle. This delicious concoction is eaten with rice, bread, rotti or any other form of meal, and will be without a doubt the most popular and essential item in any Sri Lankan meal.
Besides rice, a staple of the village folk is Rotti, which is simple dough burnt on the stove, which are usually eaten with a chilli paste known as Katta Sambal, as well as other curries. In the dry zone, Rotti along with pumpkin curry is quite popular, along with coconut sambol.
Another popular meal especially for breakfast or dinner is String hoppers. These stringly pancakes are made out of rice flour and are soft and fluffy. Eaten with a white curry known as "Kiri Hodhi" which is coconut milk or a Dhal curry (using lentils), along with a coconut sambol and fish or chicken curry.
The hopper or "aappa" in Sinhalese, is a popular snack and street food that is taking the world by storm. A curved pancake made from rice flour this popular snack is taking London by storm with restaurants simply named Hopper in Soho being a popular place in England to taste this Sri Lankan culinary marvel. Generally served with a chilli sambal, or enjoyed with any form of curry, one can also make an "Egg Hopper", by simply adding an egg to the middle of the hopper while in the pan. A sight was often seen during mornings and evenings in most wayside eateries and boutiques.
Pittu is mainly a breakfast dish that is popular in South India and Sri Lanka using steamed cylinders of ground rice layered with coconut. This is served with coconut milk curry and onion sambal as well as fish and any other curry.
One of the most popular street food in Sri Lanka is the infamous Kottu Rotti. Mainly an item eaten for dinner, one can patrol the streets of any town, or city and listen to the unmistakable "tak tak" beat of the kottu chef using his metal plates to chop up the mixture on a hot plate. Usually hammered to a rhythm, the dish involves chopped up rottis, chicken, carrots, leeks and onions along with an egg or two chopped and mixed finely on a hot sheet of iron. For cheese lovers, there is always the "Cheese Kottu" with some cheddar delight to soothe ones cravings. This popular dish has taken the country by storm and is loved by all.
Snacks or "short eats" found in the same shops which make Kottu Rotti are vegetable rottis’ which are stuffed with potatoes and chilli, vegetable samosas which are deep-fried triangular dough stuffed with potatoes and vegetables, egg rolls which are stuffed with egg, potato and veggies and crusted with breadcrumbs before deep-frying as Chinese rolls which are the same but a different cylindrical shape and stuffed with either fish or vegetables. Another popular short eat is the cutlet, which is the same as a Chinese roll but round in shape and much smaller and generally has fish and potato stuffed in it. Another famous bakery snack is the fish bun or "maalu paan" in Sinhalese. This bun has a signature triangular shape and is stuffed with potatoes and some fish. Slightly spicy this is the ideal breakfast on the go.
In the old Burgher tradition, one of the most popular dishes is the infamous Lamprai, which is a mixture of Sri Lankan, Portuguese and Dutch influences. This is an all-inclusive packed meal that includes the following, all neatly wrapped in a banana leaf. Rice is boiled in stock, accompanied with a frikkadel (meatball or cutlet), a mixed meat curry (pork, ham and chicken), blachan (prawn paste), aubergine curry, and seeni sambol (caramelized onion paste).
Moving up north to Jaffna, the food preparations change further, using unique spices and flavours from the northern peninsula. Jaffna cuisine includes a range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Crab curry is very popular and can be prepared using traditional spices, and thick gravy often served with rice or pittu. Another popular Jaffna dish is Kool. It’s a seafood broth that includes crab, cuttlefish, prawns and crayfish. The broth also contains long beans, jack fruit seeds, manioc or tapioca, spinach and tamarind. The dish is thickened using palmyra root flour.
The Muslim community are famous for preparing the much-loved version of the Indian dish known as Biriyani. A rice dish cooked in broth with chicken or mutton. The dish is generally served with curd raita (salad), Maldive fish sambal and onion pickle. For dessert one would usually be served Watalappan, which is prepared using the palm sugar from the kitul palm. This is a very sweet and delicious pudding and is enjoyed by all communities.
During the Sinhala and Tamil New Year as well as any festive occasion Sri Lankans prepare the traditional Milk Rice or "Kiri Buth" which is a rich rice preparation using coconut milk. Often enjoyed with a chilli paste and an option of a fish curry. Festive occasions also entail the preparation of the traditional sweetmeats of Sri Lanka with the famous Kavum or oil cakes- deep-fried delicacies, as well as Kokis which is a crunchy snack shaped like flowers and butterflies, along with items such as Aluwa, Kalu Dodol, Aasmi, and Aggala.
With the freshest of ingredients and an array of flavours, a journey into the culinary wonders of Sri Lanka is sure to be an adventure. A culinary demonstration on Sri Lankan cuisine can be arranged in local restaurants, within a rural village for a more authentic experience or with a resident hotel chef and the guests can have the opportunity to visit a local market to purchase the key ingredients and produce.
The tear drop shaped island of Sri Lanka lies in the Indian Ocean just off
the southern tip of India and is blessed with over 100 miles of coastline.
With its golden sandy beaches, azure blue waters and warm tropical climate,
Sri Lanka is a year-round destination for holidaymakers seeking sun, sand &
sea. Many of the islands top resorts are located along pristine beach fronts
and from stunning oceanic viewpoints providing luxurious retreats with amazing settings.
The beaches along the west coast and south coast stretches from the south of Colombo in Mount Lavinia and continues through Wadduwa, Beruwala, Bentota, Hikkaduwa on the west coast to Galle, Unawatuna, Thalpe, Weligama, Mirissa, Tangalle and Hambantota along the south coast. These palm-fringed sandy beaches allure travelers from all parts of the world who are seeking some down time to enjoy the sun, sea and sand. The pattern of the monsoons plays a big part in when and where you should best enjoy a beach stay and the south coast along with the west coast is best visited during the months between November through to April once the south-west monsoon has receded.
The east coast comes into its own while the rest of Sri Lanka is experiencing monsoonal rains. Influenced by the north-east monsoon, the best period to enjoy a beach stay, weather wise would be from April through to September. The eastern and northern beaches extends northwards in a gentle arc from Arugam Bay and ends at Kuchchaveli which is approximately 275 kilometers along the eastern coast. These stunning, pristine beaches with its wide stretches of white sand with turquoise blue waters are akin to a setting from a picture post card. With minimal disturbance from development, there are charming bays and secret coves, as well as deep natural harbors, quiet lagoons and extensive underwater coral gardens teaming with marine life which are sure to take ones breath away. The best beaches along the east coast include Nilaveli, Kuchchaveli, Marble Beach and the Dead Man's Cove with its magnificent harbor, reaching towards the North of Trincomalee. Protected by an offshore reef, the shallow waters and white sandy beaches around Passekudah and Kalkudah are a haven for beach goers and provide ideal conditions for sea swimming for children and adults alike. There is a fine collection of boutique and star class beach resorts in Trincomalee and Passekudah.
Not known to many, Sri Lanka is a hidden gem for underwater exploration with world class wreck diving, pristine coral reefs and a rich abundance of marine life and aquatic eco-systems. Although the full extent of the biodiversity in Sri Lanka's oceans are yet to be assessed, 200 species of hard corals, 28 species of marine mammals and 5 species of marine turtles have been recorded in these waters. Scientists estimate that up to 900 species of reef fish may also be found. There are also some excellent wreck dives which can be explored off Mount Lavinia south of Colombo and in Trincomalee and Batticaloa off the east coast. There are a number of shallow reefs teaming with vividly coloured corals and reef fish in the Bar Reef Sanctuary off Kalpitiya and off the Pigeon Island Marine Sanctuary near Trincomalee providing ideal conditions for snorkelling. The Blue Whale, the largest animal to have inhabited our planet is resident in these waters and can be seen from Mirissa in the south and Trincomalee on the east coast along with large pods of resident Spinner Dolphins.
The bountiful sea life has given rise to a rich fishing culture. Some of the best sea food can be tasted in Sri Lanka, from delicious fish such as mullet, snapper and seer fish, to succulent lobsters and crab. The gentle oceans are an open playground for a host of watersports. Surfing beaches with Activities such as surfing are great in Arugam Bay and in the southern coast from Hikkaduwa through to Matara.
Sheltered by a lagoon, the calm waters in the mouth of the Bentota River make it an ideal year-round destination for water sports. Activities such as jet skiing, water skiing, banana boat rides, wind surfing and kite surfing can be included for adults and children alike. Kalpitiya on the north-west coast is considered as one of the best places in the world for kite surfing with ideal wind conditions. Angling enthusiasts have the option of chartering a boat and heading out to sea, where game fish such as Marlin, Baracuda and Tuna are abundant.
Hikkaduwa along with Arugam Bay in the east coast is recognized as one of the island's top surfer towns. Hikkaduwa has four popular surf breaks and conditions are best for surfing between November through to April while at Arugam Bay, where international surfing competitions are regularly held, the season spans form April through to September. The stretch of beaches along the south coast from Weligama through to Matara have in recent times emerged as a popular option for surfers. There are a number of surf schools across the country with instructors teaching beginners how to surf and where surf boards of all sizes can be rented locally.
Sri Lanka is famous for its natural healing and medicine which is known as ‘Ayurveda’. This is an ancient system of medicine developed in South Asia. The name is derived from two conjoined Sanskrit words "Ayuh" (life) and "Veda" (science or knowledge). Since the ancient times, man has constantly been engaged in the pursuit of achieving and maintaining an optimum state of health. Going back to 600bc, Ayurveda emerged in South Asia as the natural way of healing. In the modern day, it has evolved into a scientific system of holistic healing that has gained worldwide recognition. This traditional medicine is used by over 75% of the country’s population.
The major source of Ayurvedic knowledge is the "Vedas" the sacred texts of knowledge of Hindu God called Load Brahma, (MAHA BRAHMA). The God Maha Brahma introduced this healing system for both achievement of "Enlightenment" and also to prevent against disorders. The fundamentals of Ayurveda entails three vital forces or "Tri Dosha" - Vayu, Pitha and Kapha. This is generally translated as Wind, Bile and Phlegm. Vayu is interpreted as the transmission of energy within the body which in modern medical terms is nerve impulses, muscle contractions, and hormonal activity. Pitha is not limited to only bile but actually signifies the whole scope of the body’s metabolism as well as the internal heat production within the body. Kapha means mucus, often described as "The Protective Fluid". The modern medical identification of mucus as an antibody containing liquid which coats and protects internal linings of the body, seems to fit in with Ayurvedic thinking.When the balance of all three Dosha’s are achieved the body is considered to be in good health.
Illness takes over when the equilibrium is disturbed and the balance of these complementary forces is unbalanced. Ayurvedic practitioners study the patient in detail and as a whole with the end object of restoring balance, by getting to the root of the problem and treating it this directly. Traditional thinking is said to the thought that while western medicine classifieds germs and attempts to destroy them, while Ayurveda classifies human beings and attempts to save them.
Ayurvedic calls for the use a multitude of medicinal plant, herbs, trees, roots, seeds and a variety of minerals. Contemporary Ayurvedic theory tends to emphasis that building a healthy metabolic system, attaining good digestion, and proper excretion lead to vitality. Ayurveda also focuses on exercise, yoga, and meditation to strike a balance between physical and mental health.
Several Ayurvedic and wellness treatments are practiced in Sri Lanka across specialized wellness retreats, boutique hotels, hostpitals and spas. A range of treatments are offered from authentic Ayurveda, Yoga, Meditation and Thai influenced massages and treatment techniques aimed at vitalizing one’s mind, body and soul.
When one typically thinks of Sri Lanka, the image portrayed is generally about golden beaches, turquoise blue waters amidst a tropical setting. But the country has another side, which is completely different; an area of cold misty mountains, amazing sceneries, cloud forests, highland moors, stunning waterfalls, colonial towns and carpeted green tea fields.
Located in the center of the island, the hill country is an ideal escape from the tropical heat of the lowlands. This area was for most of Sri Lanka's history inhospitable and largely impenetrable wilderness which remained only sparsely settled and cultivated. Legends of the ancient and mythical king Ravana are found in this region, with locations such as Seetha Amman Temple, Thotupola Kanda, Ravena Ella are some sites which a linked to these legends. With the arrival of the British in the 19th century it was commercially exploited. The abundant rainfall, combined with sunshine, cold nights and mists, offered the perfect formula for the production of tea and hence the world-famous industry of Ceylon Tea, which was born which can still be considered one of the mainstays of the nation's economy. Areas such as Nuwara Eliya, Hatton, Talawakele, Labookele are some of the best places to experience the tea culture of Sri Lanka. The tea is still manually plucked by laborers, mainly ladies who were brought during the colonial period from India.
The old world British colonial charm still exists in this region, in the form of railways, Geo-Gothic Churches and quaint houses as well as Western influenced vegetables and flowers. The old colonial estate mansions are decadent reminders of a lavish life of a bygone era. Some of these mansions and bungalows are functioning even today as boutique residences with all the niceties enjoyed by the colonials many years ago. The rail journey which traverses across the hill country from Kandy through to Ella is one of the main highlights for visitors to this region which should not be missed.
But the main attraction of the highlands are its spectacular natural wonders. The breathtaking scenery in certain lookout points such as Worlds End, Haputale, Corbetts Gap and Mini Worlds End are hard to describe. The view from the top of Adams Peak, the country's holiest mountain is surreal, with the triangular shadow of the mountain stretching across the forests and valleys below during sunrise. When clouds are shrouding the view, it is as if one is atop mount Olympus itself. The last remaining cloud forests are unique, in that the almost stunted and gnarly nature of the foliage and trees which are infect perfect adaptations to the climate and wind. These forests which border open glades or plains have been described as being similar to the moors of Northern England and the highlands of Scotland. These forests harbor unique life which are found only in this areas and nowhere else on earth with the animals and plants having adapted to life in these higher elevations with colder climates.
The great rivers of the island, all originate from these highlands starting as small springs which flow and create streams, which in turn will become the waterways which flow down to the lowlands and eventually into the vast expanses of the Indian ocean. During this journey, some of these streams produce stunning waterfalls which are truly a magnificent sight to behold. Diyaluma, Bambarakanda, Dunhinda, Ramboda, Bakers Falls are some of the well-known falls.
A lower regions of the highlands such as Kitulgala play host to an array of adventure activities along the Kelani River, as well as tropical rainforests with an array of species of flora and fauna. This region is a land to itself, and offers so much to the yearning traveler, from relaxation, exploration, to adventure.
Sri Lanka is blessed with its natural beauty and landscapes. This has given rise to people wanting to explore and truly experience the great outdoors and adventure sport is slowly catching on in Sri Lanka.
One of the best places for outdoor exploration is Kitulgala, which is a natural haven for nature lovers and adventure junkies alike. The fast flowing rapids of the Kelani River is ideal for the adrenaline inducing sport of White Water Rafting. This area is also great for even more daring sports such as canyoning, and abseiling down a waterfall. There are many trails and forest paths which are great for hiking and cycling.
For those who like to use sheer muscle power and cycle across the country, there are many routes one can take on a cycling trail, from open roads, to mountain passes and the back roads through remote villages. The hill country has many routes which are ideal for long treks. With great forests, and stunning landscapes, the routes one selects can vary based on fitness levels, and time required.
If water is ones forte, then Sri Lanka is perfect, and being an island, the options for ocean based adventures are endless. Surfing is very popular in the country especially in Arugam Bay on the south-east corner of the island, which attracts pro and part time surfers from all over the world. Kalpitiya on the North-west is a world recognized spot for Kitesurfing with licensed trainers and instructors. Besides these, Bentota is one of the best places for watersports such as jet-ski, wake boarding, boogie boarding and boat rides. The oceans are also great places to try ones hand in deep sea fishing where a variety of different species including Groupers, Snappers, Bonefish, Barracuda, Jackfish, Trevally Tuna, Indian Mackerel, Sailfish and Marlin can be found.
Scuba diving and snorkeling are possible to explore the deep blue up close, with some amazing dive sites surrounding coral reefs and wrecks which showcase the true beauty of the oceans off Sri Lanka. The great outdoors are waiting for anyone willing to take the plunge and savor all the natural bounties that mother nature has to offer.