The legendary beauty of Sri Lanka
Throughout the centuries the teardrop-shaped island hanging off the southern tip of India has been celebrated by many names. Known as Taprobane during the time of Alexander the Great, the first travellers from China called it ‘the land without sorrow’. Known in Pāli as Tambapanni or ‘copper leaf island’, it has been called Simundu, Sala-Diva, and Serendip, which is derived from Sanskrit for ‘island in the cosmos’. Seafarers from Europe called it Ceilao, Zeilan and Ceylon. But to the majority of its inhabitants, it is reverently known as Sri Lanka or Resplendent Island.
The Resplendent Island immerses you in a world of glistening palms, emerald waters and shadowy jungles, with air perfumed by temple flowers, spices and coconut oil. Forests of teak, eucalyptus, rubber and jak trees give way to fields of rice, pineapples, tobacco and sugarcane. You encounter bare-chested men in multi-hued sarongs, women in saris all colours of the rainbow, laughing children burnt brown by the sun and bicycles and bullock carts on the roads. Buddhist monks swathed in robes of saffron and yellow wander peacefully through the countryside and elephants guided by their diminutive mahouts amble majestically along the back roads carrying logs or bundles of sugar cane.
With a history going back over 3000 years, the country holds some of world’s most ancient cities, their once glorious palaces, temples, monasteries, hospitals and theaters intricately carved and modeled out of stone, having laid abandoned and forgotten for centuries amidst the ever encroaching jungles. Eight cultural and natural locations in Sri Lanka are now listed as World Heritage sites.
As Arthur C. Clarke, a long-time resident of the island once described Sri Lanka. ‘And always it is the same; the slender palm trees leaning over the white sand, the warm sun sparkling on the waves as they break on the inshore reef, the outrigger fishing boats drawn up high on the beach. This alone is real; the rest is but a dream from which I shall presently awake.’