Surrounded by the azure Indian Ocean and blessed with a tropical climate, this island is home to many a people, many a culture and many a marvel. It is affectionately known as the 'Pearl of the Indian Ocean', a name- which alludes to its appeal as well its exquisite shape.
Historically speaking it is assumed that the first native Sri Lankan people or the Wanniyala-atteo, were hunter-gatherers who may have been descendents from the people of the late Stone Age circa 16,000 BC. From then onwards, historical accounts state that the first Sinhalese kingdom was born under the rule of banished King Vijaya from India, who settled in Anuradhapura around 4th century BC.
Ancient Ceylon was a fascinating place. The kings that followed showed remarkable ingenuity and had progressed far beyond many nations in the West. Their dedication resulted in marvels of engineering and irrigation, testaments of which still stand in Sri Lanka's tanks and ancient monuments. A fondness for the arts and culture resulted in statues and carvings- later influenced by the introduction of Buddhism into the country in 3rd Century BC and the exact spot where King Devanam Piyatissa was said to have been converted still stands atop Mihintale and can be visited.
Sri Lanka's location led it to become an important point on trade routes, dabbling in the trade of gems, spices and ivory. Once noted by the world, invaders came forth, eager to grab a slice of this prosperity for themselves. The Portuguese came first in 1505, followed by the Dutch and then finally the British. Thus, -a strong colonial sub text still lingers in Sri Lanka, in the colonial fortifications, old English well manicured lawns and crisply tended cricket grounds. Along with India, Sri Lanka finally gained independence from the British Raj in 1948.
A civil war between the government and the LTTE ended in May 2009 after almost 30 years of conflict and Sri Lanka is enjoying a more peaceful era. The 2005 tsunami also set Sri Lanka back as being among the worst affected countries and having much devastation to rehabilitate.
The Sri Lanka of today, under President Mahinda Rajapakse, stands hopefully toward the future. The war ended, tourism blossoming once more- the Sri Lankan people hope for economic resurrection and a higher quality of life.
Life in Sri Lanka stands juxtaposed between the hustle and bustle surrounding the commercial districts, bus stands and markets and the gentle demeanor of those who have always wanted to take life at their own pace. Sri Lankan people are simple, easy to please and an amiable sort. They smile at passers- by, help whenever asked (and sometimes even without being asked)- someone facing car trouble will find themselves surrounded by altruistic strangers in a matter of minutes.
Sri Lanka is a land of many ethnicities, predominantly Sinhalese, followed by the Tamils, Muslims and Burghers (who are of Dutch or Portuguese descent). It is also a land of many holidays, to honour the various religions that these ethnicities adhere to. In fact it is the country with the most holidays in the world.
Hospitality is a quality that Sri Lankans are widely noted for. When visiting, a Sri Lankan family will pull out all the stops and ensure you have a meal or snack – a request that can often not be refused. Eating is a central part of Sri Lankan life, as you will find that everywhere has some restaurant, bakery or eatery.