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Tourist miracles of Sri Lanka

by Moin-ul-Haq

Looking eagerly down through the hazy window of the aircraft cabin, I was keen to get the first glimpse of the emerald island, popularly known in many travelling circles around the world as 'Heaven on Earth'.

I was coming to Sri Lanka with my family to take up my official assignment. The view from the top was breathtaking and I could hardly wait to get down and uncover the delightful mysteries of this paradise island. As the plane had crossed over from the blue waters of the Indian Ocean to the green land mass of this exotic island, my journey of exploration had already begun.

Tourism is one of my passions and it started to transform into an obsession within few months of my arrival in this beautiful country. I had read a lot about Sri Lanka in preparing for my new assignment, but it was only when I arrived here that I could appreciate the true splendours and beauty of this enchanting land.

The first thing which strike you on arrival is the warmth and the friendliness of the people. We got a taste of this affectionate welcome on the SriLankan Airlines Flight form Dubai to Colombo. The cabin crew of the SriLankan Airlines was true to its international fame of being the friendliest.

The remarkable recovery of SriLankan Airlines after the shockwaves of the terrorist attack of July 2001 is one of the success stories in the aviation industry.

The profitable marriage with Emirates Airlines has taken the company to new heights. It is reaching out to all the corners of the world adding new destinations with regular frequency thus bringing Sri Lanka and the rest of the world closer and closer.

SriLankan Airlines has a major role in making this 'Jewel of the Indian Ocean' shine once again on the map of the world.

For tourists, this tiny island is truly a paradise. There are very few places on the earth which have so much diversity within a small area as this place has to offer.

From sandy and sun-drenched beaches to the cool tranquillity of the tea gardens in the hills, from wildlife parks to the tropical rain forests, from fresh water lakes to picturesque waterfalls, from majestic ancient monuments to sacred religious sites, this place has an impressive array of tourist attractions to cater the palate of everybody.

Whether you are looking for a high-end tourist outing or a moderate budget vacation, you would certainly get the best of your money in this country.

The range of activities and attractions available to tourists are also exciting and numerous. Sun bathing, boating, bird-watching, deep sea fishing, white water rafting, scuba diving, snorkelling, wild safaris, colourful festivals, cultural and fashion shows, musical events, Ayurvedic treatment, exotic food, tea tasting, gems and jewellery, rare flora and fauna, and the list goes on and on.

Facilities for the visitors are of high standard with visible improvements being made in the infrastructure and other allied services on a regular basis. Aggressive marketing is being done abroad to make Sri Lanka as one of the most sought after destination in the world.

This is a sign of a vibrant tourist industry bustling with confidence and buoyed by the positive response of the international tourists. Already the annual arrivals of tourists this year has shown a remarkable increase over the previous year with around 500,000 arrivals expected by end year.

There is a projection that this number would touch one million mark in three years time. Judging from the pulse of the tourist market, this milestone could be reached sooner than predicted.

Sri Lanka's beaches are world-renowned. From the golden sandy beaches in the West to the famous pristine beaches in Trincomlaee in the East, there is such a wide range of seaside holiday resorts that the task of selection becomes a bit difficult for the beach buff.

All these hotels provide an extensive selection of facilities and attractions which one could find out from his or her travel agent prior to selecting a place. Many of these resorts have individual beach cottages to relax in complete privacy and tranquillity.

For romantic married couples, a private beach barbecue party could stir old memories while for those wishing to tie the knot, an exclusive marriage ceremony in an exotic setting could be an experience of a lifetime. For fun seekers there is surfing, diving and deep-sea fishing and whale-watching too.

Within couple of hours drive from the coastline, one finds the hill country renowned for its beautiful tea gardens. Lush valleys, cool temperatures, peaceful surroundings provide an ideal setting for a relaxing holiday.

The charm and splendour of the tea valleys of Sri Lanka has been described beautifully by a Swedish traveller Margaretha Haglind in her book Bogawantalawa: Life and Passion in the Golden Valleys of Tea as "It is a fleeting panorama. Bevelled valleys - not seldom covered with mist - could most unexpectedly alter into sunshine and the luscious verdure from millions and millions of tea bushes will suddenly shine like Gold.

Its endless rows of tea bushes working their way up on the hills - every area sculptured like an English garden gives a feeling of fantasia; a beauty unsurpassed!"

The towns of Kandy and Nuwara Eliya in the hill country must be part of one's itinerary while visiting Sri Lanka. Kandy also known, as the Hill Capital of Sri Lanka is a popular holiday place famous for its scenic beauty, congenial climate and the rich cultural heritage.

Nestling among the misty hills, it is also home to the shrine holiday the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha. Because of the history, pageantry and veneration associated with this exquisite city, Kandy has also been declared as a World Heritage City by UNESCO.

Nuwara Eliya meaning city of lights is also known as 'Little England'. British who frequented this hill station fashioned it like a typical English village.

Travellers from UK would be able to appreciate the Victorian architecture of the buildings still preserved to their original magnificence and grandeur.

Blessed with a salubrious climate, green valleys and mountains, emerald pastures and an endless array of tea plantations, this place is guaranteed to provide a break from the heart and humidity that surrounds rest of the island. Though a secluded town devoid of pollution and noise, it provides horde of recreational activities for the tourists.

Boating, fishing, horse riding, trekking and of course a game of golf in one of the most picturesque golf courses in Asia.

Climbing down from the hills down towards north lies the Cultural Triangle - home to Sri Lanka's archaeological treasure. The famous historical cities of Anuradhapura, Dambulla and Polonnaruwa are located here.

The former being the country's first capital founded in the 5th century enshrines the relics of ancient Kings in the stupas, which they built as a testimony to their Buddhist faith. The cultural triangle is best known for the city of Sigiriya, one of the oldest and best preserved city centre in Asia.

Deserved to be declared as the Eighth Wonder of the World, Sigiriya takes its name from the lion shape rock which rises majestically in the middle of the city with a combination of buildings, gardens, moats, pathways and water ponds surrounding it in a compact fashion. Built by legendary King Kasyapa in 477 AD, the history of Sigiriya is filled with a mysterious charm and stories of love and betrayal.

One can find world-class accommodation facilities in the cultural triangle. From the famous Kandalama Hotel, a modern architectural marvel built by Sri Lanka's most celebrated architect, late Geoffery Bawa to some of the original concepts in boutique hotels like Elephant Corridor and The Deer Park, one can find a place to suit its taste and budget in these environs.

Providence has also rewarded this land with an ideal weather which supports a diverse eco system plus provides a habitat for a wide variety of fauna and flora to flourish. Most of the tourist resorts have arrangements for trekking and bird watching for the nature lovers.

A one trip to Sri Lanka is definitely going to make you a regular visitor.

With the amount of attention and pampering a foreign tourist gets here, one is likely to get spoiled. And who would not like to have this experience repeated again and again. This is the charm and magic of this place which beguile and lure you in its fold for ever.

(The writer is First Secretary, Pakistan High Commission, Colombo)

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