Sri Lanka formally known as Ceylon during the British occupation, lies bathed in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean in Southern Asia. Situated south east of the point of India and north east of the Maldives. The island is connected to southwest India via a line of small islands forming a stepping stone-like bridge. Hindu legend suggests, Raman used the bridge when he rescued his wife Sita from Rawana (the demon king of Sri Lanka) who had kidnapped her.
The island is topographically very diverse due to the rapid fall in altitude from the middle to the edges of the island – from central highland down to the sea in relatively short distances.
The knuckles range is a popular area for the more adventurous visitor, providing exquisite wild camping sites and many great walks and treks over the lush green mountain tops. The views are breathtaking. Locals and visitors alike revere the knuckles beauty.
The availability of rainwater dictates the pattern of life in Sri Lanka. There are distinct wet and dry zones depending on the monsoons and vegetation has to be able to cope with seasonal flooding and drought.
The Sinharaja Forest Reserve in the south west of the country has been recognized by the UNESCO as a world heritage site since 1998 and is the country’s last viable area of primary lowland tropical rainforest. More than 60% of the trees are endemic and over 50% of the mammals such as the Sri Lankan leopard. It is well known for its bird life as well as other forms of biodiversity found here is recorded under the IUCN Red List of the world wide endangered species. Sinharaja is home to the vulnerable Ceylon blue magpie.
As has often been said of Sri Lanka, it is one of the best places in Asia to see wildlife. There are over 100 protected wildlife areas in the country. Sri Lanka has always been accurately aware of their existence alongside wildlife.
The main national parks that are readily accessible to visitors to Sri Lanka include:
- Yala – Probably the most visited national park comprising of several smaller reserves and is important for its bird life as well as elephants. The area is strewn with lots of different forms of water from small ponds to vast lagoons, fresh and salt water creating a wide range of habitats and biodiversity.
- Udawalawe – The national park not dissimilar to the Yala national park complete with leopards as well as elephants. It centers around the reservoir on the Walawe river. Teak trees line the river but there is little forest other than this. It lies on the transition point between wet and dry zones of the country and therefore has greater diversity of species. Marshland is great for birdlife and areas of open grassland makes elephant watching possible . It is also the location of the Udawalawe Elephant transit home where orphaned elephants are rehabilitated nd released back to the wild.
- Minneriya and Kaudulla – again, centered on the tank or reservoir, this national park has historical origins, the tank being constructed by King Mahasen in 300 AD. Elephants use the park during the dry season in particular when they emerge from the surrounding forest area.This makes them very accessible to view by visitors alongside the many hundreds of bird species that are also attracted to the vital water resource. It is not unusual to see hundreds of elephants congregating in the area and plenty of interaction between them. Leopards and sloth bears too are found here due to the abundance of prey species. The very are Grey slender Loris is found in the forest area.
- Wilpattu – on the north west coast of the country Wilpattu is characterized by water-filled sandy depressions or lakes that give the park its name, ‘Willu’ meaning natural lake. This is one of the oldest national parks in Sri Lanka and it is famed for its significant leopard population. The vegetation is different from many other parks as it occurs in lowland coastal plains where land is salty due to occasional inundation by the sea. The park is little explored by visitors. Only 25% of it is currently open; the park having only relatively recently reopened following the troubles the country faced in the recent decades.
- Bundala -famed for migratory wading birds and especially Greater Flamongo. It has vast salt water lagoons and has been declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO.
- Hikkaduwa – This national park is right in the middle of a major area for tourism. With palm tree fringed beaches and coral reefs, it is one of two marine national parks in the country.
Moving on to the hill side of the country , Sri Lanka has a more constant and agreeable climate, especially according to the British living in the country during the 1800s. They founded the town of Nuwara Eliya as their hill country retreat and seat of their tea plantation industry. It is the highest town in the country located south east of Kandy.
To this day, the town retains a very unique style, so much so that it is called ‘Little England’ as it resembles a traditional English village in terms of architecture and layout. The buildings are typical of any former colonial region with low build bungalows with corrugated iron roofs, complete with vegetable patches. Visiting today, you could take a step back in time to recent colonial past. Amongst the mist and low cloud hanging on the hills, so reminiscent of areas of Britain in Spring or Autumn.
It may come to a great surprise, but Sri Lanka is not just a tropical island with plenty of beaches, in fact its much more than just that. There lies a certain character no matter which town you decide to visit. You needn’t find the same through out the country which makes it unique in your own way.
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