Sri Lanka is a typically tropical country with distinct dry and wet seasons and it is subject to two monsoons: the Yala season (May to August), when the south-west monsoon brings rain to the southern, western and central regions; and the Maha season (October to January), when the north-east monsoon brings rain to the north and east of the island. Rainfall is heaviest in the south, south west and central highlands; the northern and north-central regions are very dry. Temperatures in the low-lying coastal regions are high year round but they rapidly fall with altitude and in the hill country, where it feels like perpetual spring. The highest temperatures are from March through June while November to January is usually the coolest time of the year. The typically tropical climate with an average temperature of 270C fluctuates between 150 C in the highlands to 350C in certain areas of the lowlands.
The history of Sri Lanka stretches back over 2500 years, its very beginnings are lost in myth and legend, and the arrival of Prince Vijaya an exile from North India with his entourage of seven hundred followers. However, the earliest recorded civilization dates back to 380 BC, when Anuradhapura (206 km from Colombo) was established as the first capital city. Following the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd Century BC, a civilization rich in Indo-Aryan culture took root. It produced the great cities with their dagobas which compare, and even exceed in size, the pyramids of Egypt, palaces and pleasure gardens, a rich art and architecture and the gigantic irrigation works, many of which are still in use today. With invasions from neighbouring South India, the base of power shifted to Polonnaruwa (101 km South East of Anuradhapura) and other cities such as Dambadeniya, Kurunegala, Kotte and Kandy.
Because of the position at the southern tip of the Indian Sub-Continent Sri Lanka is often referred to as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. In recorded history for over a thousand years travelers from all over the world came upon Sri Lanka or made the happy discovery by accident. Thus, this Island Paradise was also called SERENDIP giving rise to the word 'serendipity' meaning 'making happy discoveries by accident'.
In the more recent times the strategic position of Sri Lanka (or Ceylon) became a magnet of attraction for the Western traveler or explorer to visit Sri Lanka. In the early 16th century the Portuguese were the first European power to realize the importance of Sri Lanka in 1505. Sri Lanka became a centre of the spice trade between the East and the West ever since. What followed was a period of nearly five hundred years during which the island came under the control and influence of the Portuguese, Dutch and British. The Portuguese and Dutch ruled over the maritime regions for a rough 150 years each, and the British established complete control over the island with the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815. They too ruled for 150 years before the country regained independence in 1948.
The island's economy has traditionally been based on agriculture, with rice as the main food crop. Spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and pepper have been age old exports, as were gems and even peacocks and elephants. With western commercial influence, rice gave way to cash crops, until the British made tea the base of the economy such as, Tea, Coconut and Rubber are the main economic agricultural crops. Tea brings beauty as well as the foreign exchange to the country.
The impact of many cultures over the centuries, from South Indian to the Moorish and that of the western colonizers have resulted in the country's culture being enriched by a rich diversity, much of which is in evidence today.
The people of Sri Lanka are of diverse races and faiths. The majority are Sinhalese who are Buddhists, while among the others the Tamils, mainly Hindus are the largest, followed by the Moors who follow Islam and a few number of Burghers, descended from the Portuguese and Dutch, who are Christians. There is also a considerable population of Christians among the Sinhalese and Tamils.
What may strike you most about Sri Lanka is its amazing diversity of scenery. It is possible to pass the brilliant green paddy fields, sun-bronzed beaches, ruined cities, small lively villages, near desert regions, sanctuaries for wildlife in tropical jungles, and the hill country tea plantations, within hours of each other. Ebony, teak, silkwood and spectacular orchids are found in the dense south-western tropical rainforests. Hardy grasslands, rhododendrons and stunted forests predominate in the cool, damp highlands, and shrubs and grasslands survive in arid zones in the north. Animal life is profuse and includes the ubiquitous elephant, as well as leopards, deer, monkeys, sloth bears, wild boar, cobras, crocodiles, dugong and turtles. The island is an important seasonal home to migrating birds, including flamingoes, which flock to the lagoons, wetlands and bird sanctuaries for respite from the northern winter.
Though Sri Lanka is very small in land area, the great diversity in habitats harbors are a rich and diverse fauna and flora, with many species endemic to the island. Historically as well as in the modern era, successive rulers and governments of Sri Lanka have strived to provide sanctuary and protection to our beautiful wildlife. Today the demands and aspirations of an expanding human population makes it difficult for the government to be solely responsible for the protection, preservation and management of this beguiled wild heritage of ours. When considered the facts of today, human interest and wildlife interest are in direct conflict. It is imperative that private organizations with resources step into and fill the areas that need immediate attention: environmental education, long term research, and to develop integrated projects for community based conservation.