The tiny island of Sri Lanka is around quarter of the size of the UK but it has a population of 19 million, equal to that of Australia. Only 270 miles long and 140 miles wide, this tear drop shaped island sits off the south eastern tip of India, 500 miles north of the equator.
Sri Lanka has a diverse religious and cultural history. Around 70% of the population are Buddhist, 20% Hindu and the remainder are Muslim and Christian.
One of Asia's most biologically diverse countries, Sri Lanka is home to elephants, leopards, buffalo, deer, monkeys, squirrels, snakes, chameleons as well as hundreds of bird species.
Sri Lanka has been known by many different names. Due to the rich gem stone deposits, the Arabs named it 'Serendip' meaning "Island of Jewels".
Blue Sapphire is the National Gem Stone of Sri Lanka
It was not until the late 1860s that tea became important in Sri Lanka. Following a blight that destroyed the island's coffee crops, the growers imported tea plants from India. They flourished in the Sri Lankan climate, particularly the crisp, damp air of the central highlands. Such was the success that many British adventurers were attracted to Sri Lanka and the possibilities of the island's 'green gold'.
The advent of tea changed the topography of Sri Lanka forever. Elephants were put to work clearing vast areas of land for tea plantations. Today approximately 500,000 acres of land in the hill areas are devoted to growing tea.
'We left Colombo at 6 am on Poya Day to get out of the city before the traffic built up. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day and many locals would be having the same idea as us – getting out of town on a public holiday to visit some of the Sri Lankan cultural sites. We had a friend over from England so took the opportunity to visit Sigiriya. Our first excitement came early, when at 6.50 am we saw a large tusker elephant on the road with his mahout.
It is about a 4 hour drive, but as always there is plenty to see on the journey, giving our friend a good idea of seeing Sri Lankans going about their daily lives, bothin bustling towns and the quieter rural villages.
Sigiriya is an ancient rock citadel built by King Kashyapa. The garden city and fortress was built in 477-495AD and it is where you can see the beautiful Sigiriya frescoes, baths and pools.'
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Formerly Ceylon, 'Sri Lanka' became the island's offical name in 1972. It means 'Lanka the Blessed' in the Sinhala tongue.
The National Bird of Sri Lanka is the Ceylon Junglefowl. Endemic to Sri Lanka, this bird is part of the pheasant family.
The first Tea plant grown in Sri Lanka was in the Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniva in 1824.
Sri Lanka has been a noted producer of gem stones, such as rubies and sapphires, for over 2000 years.