Know your… Sri Lanka

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

It’s 60 years of in­de­pen­dence for the Teardrop Isle

With its time­less ru­ins, rolling tea plan­ta­tions and trop­i­cal jun­gles, Sri Lanka is a land as breath­tak­ing as its his­tory is raw. Hav­ing changed hands between the Por­tuguese, Dutch and Bri­tish em­pires across five cen­turies, Cey­lon (re­named Sri Lanka in 1972) fi­nally gained in­de­pen­dence on 4 Fe­bru­ary 1948. Yet even then, a decades­long civil war between the Sin­halese and the Tamils meant that, af­ter 70 years of free­dom, the coun­try is only now start­ing to reap the ben­e­fits, as vis­it­ing trav­ellers are dis­cov­er­ing.

Is it still pos­si­ble to see Sri Lanka’s colo­nial his­tory?

Prior to the Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion of 1803, the Dutch and Por­tuguese left their own marks on the Teardrop Isle. Galle Fort in the south is one of the coun­try’s eight Un­esco-listed sites and was first built by the Por­tuguese; and to the east, Bat­ticaloa is where the Dutch fleet orig­i­nally landed. North­ern Jaffna is also home to a num­ber of colo­nial-era churches and forts that re­call their Por­tuguese roots.

But it’s the Bri­tish who left Sri Lanka’s defin­ing colo­nial le­gacy: the tea plan­ta­tions and rail­ways that car­pet the hill coun­try of the south­ern heart­lands. The scenic rails between the tem­ples of Kandy and the jun­gle-fringed Ella re­mains one of the most spec­tac­u­lar rail jour­neys on the planet.

Else­where, cap­i­tal Colombo is home to In­de­pen­dence Square and the in­tri­cately dec­o­rated Memo­rial Hall, built to hon­our the events of 1948. The Cin­na­mon Gar­dens area that sur­rounds it is also known for its op­u­lent colo­nial man­sions and vil­las.

How will they cel­e­brate?

No of­fi­cial events have been planned for the 70th an­niver­sary, but if it’s like pre­vi­ous years, Colombo’s streets will be decked in pa­rades and marches, as well as tra­di­tional dancers. And across the is­land, lo­cals will, of course, be hoist­ing and wav­ing their na­tional flags.

What else should I see?

What bet­ter way to pay trib­ute to Sri Lanka than by vis­it­ing its trea­sures? Ex­plore the cave tem­ples of Dam­bulla, clam­ber up the rocky mag­nif­i­cence of the Si­giriya fortress, or spy ele­phants, leop­ards and spot­ted deer in Yala Na­tional Park. Though per­haps the most un­der­rated lost-for-words mo­ment is trekking the lush Hor­ton Plains NP at World’s End, where a 800m es­carp­ment plunges into the emer­ald val­ley be­low.

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