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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Serendib regains its place as a global tourist hotspot

Sri Lanka had a name in Arabic and Persian - Serendib - and it is this name that befits the extraordinary sights and sounds of the country.

The land of “smiling people” is always ready to welcome travelers from all over the world, and after years of turmoil, the island has regained its place in the world as a veritable tourism hotspot. Recent industry reports indicate a remarkable boom in the tourist trade with an over 32 percent increase in Saudi tourists’ arrivals alone.

The tear-shaped tropical island located in the Indian Ocean is already equipped with the necessary infrastructure to accommodate a million visitors annually. Tourist resorts dot the coastline providing sun and fun on golden sandy beaches and the cool, mountainous interior boasts of an abundance of scenic beauty with waterfalls, streams, flowers, forests and eco-friendly tourist hotels.

After a period of three decades, long isolated beaches in the east are now open. Though Trincomalee - one of the biggest natural harbours in the world, surrounded with places of historical interests - would be an ideal place in the East to visit, Passikudah is the most isolated private beach in the region, popular with German and Scandinavian tourists.
Negombo, in the west, has been the most popular beach resort, as well as the stop from which all tours kick off as it is located on a 20-minute drive from the Katunayake International Airport. From the west to the south, Kalutara, Bentota, Galle and Tangalla offer a string of beach resorts from five star hotels to economical guest houses and bungalows.

Adding to the picturesque beauty, the country can boast a proud, 2,500-year-old chronicled history, the evidence of which still exists due to ruins of old temples, palaces, irrigation systems, art and monuments at various locations where kings historically ruled the country. Aruradhapura - the old capital of Sri Lanka - was the domain of a long line of kings.
Sigiriya rock fortress is a UN World Heritage Site with the famous colorful frescos and nearby Dambulla rock temple displaying the marvels of old sculpture work with magnificent paintings dating back several centuries.

In the midst of this picturesque landscape lies the city of Kandy, the cultural capital of the nation and gateway to the central hills. One of Asia’s most remarkable spectacles, the Kandy Perahera - a parade of over a hundred elephants covered with richly embroidered clothes and illuminated with colourful lights bulbs alongside groups of folk dancers from all over the country - provide evidence of the rich culture and traditions of Sri Lanka that have prevailed for centuries.

Many a tourist comes to Sri Lanka to watch wild life, particularly elephants. The elephant sanctuary at Pinnawala, could well be the largest or the only one of its kind in the world to see abandoned elephants from various ages brought out of jungles and cared for in one place.

The sanctuary offers visitors the chance to view close to a hundred elephants parading one after another into the river to bathe and play. A number of safaris are also available which offer the chance to watch wild elephants, leopards and deer as well as excellent bird-watching opportunities. The ideal locations to watch birds are at Kumana, Bundala and Yala, where scores of migrant birds make nests for temporary periods of time.

Bio diversity is one of the key factors that brings the majority of tourists to the country. It is only few hours’ drive from warm beaches to the chill of the mountains. This kind of climatic diversity highlights the most visible element of diversity that is the gradual change of species of flora in the natural habitats.

Sri Lanka is home to hundreds of different types of plants and many are indigenous in that they cannot be seen elsewhere.

Nature has bestowed the greatest gifts of beauty to this tiny island. From cosmopolitan cities to isolated and tranquil villages and from sandy coast lines to the dense forests of the interior, any view would provide a photographic image to the visitor. While wild orchids could be an ordinary observation, the world’s rarest roses are grown at the Haggala Botanical garden.

If you are a lover of flowers or wish to see the world famous Ceylon Tea Gardens, the ideal place is to visit Nuwara Eliya, one of the most beautiful places in Sri Lanka. Situated in the midst of the mountains with mornings enveloped in mist, one can attain everlasting memories of the beautiful scenery.

The area was discovered by a British planter during the colonial period, and it became the weekend sporting and rest place for the planters. They called it Little England, as the houses and bungalows were built in the Victorian style.

For those seeking the thrill of adrenaline-laced activities, the place to visit is the Kelani River at Kithugala for some rafting fun. Passing several rapids, zigzagging through boulders and whirlpools, the experience is guaranteed to provide anyone with the thrill of adventure.

The last two kilometers of the 5-kilometer journey down the river are in comparative tranquility, providing the opportunity to observe the lush vegetation on the banks, as well as the location where the famous World War Two film “The Bridge on the River Kwai” was shot. Although the bridge is no longer there, the remains are still visible to the naked eye.

Public transportation is available through most of the country, with bus and train services to and from most hot spots. Rent-a-car services are also rife and available with the option of a native driver. Recently, the Sri Lankan Air Force has introduced scheduled helicopter services to various locations at very affordable rates.

For avid shoppers, local markets provide the option of inexpensive wooden handicrafts, brass work, batik wall hangings (and dresses) as well as precious and semi-precious and precious stones. A trip to the country is also incomplete without the purchase of the world-famous Ceylon tea and spices.

Serendib provides a plethora of holiday fun to cater to all types and ages of people. While the beach resorts provide various water sport facilities, most hotels provide folk dance, music, cultural programs, ayurvedic and herbal treatments. Add that to excursions of mountain climbing, boat rides in rivers and visits to places of biological and historical interest, and there is something for each member of the family.

By K.M.A. Perera - Saudi Gazette


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