Sunrises and sunsets in Sri Lanka

Posted on September 14, 2011

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Sitting in the late afternoon sunlight watching the deep blue ocean and a game of beachside cricket between the locals sounds like a typical Aussie Summer weekend.

In fact, I was on the other side of the Indian Ocean, in Sri Lanka, relishing the chance to witness the country celebrate the end of Ramadan, a festival known as Eid-ul-Fitr.

Sri Lanka is a surprisingly small island, about the size of Tasmania, with a population of about 20 million – this makes it pretty underpopulated for a South Asian nation, and it was a welcome relief for me, coming from Dhaka, to be able to wander the streets without constantly bumping into people!

While only about 7% of the Sri Lankan population are Muslim, Eid-ul-Fitr was still observed by many people across the nation. Utterances of Eid Mubarak, the festival’s greeting, could be heard from the mosques of Colombo to the cobbled streets of Galle.

We visited Colombo, Kandy and Galle – Sri Lanka’s equivalent of the golden triangle. While it may be a well-worn route, it offered an amazing overview of a country that is rich in history, culture and natural beauty.

Considered to be the place on earth that Adam first touched when he fell from Paradise, and the land where Buddha left his footprint in the mark of Sri Pada, the landscape is as diverse as the people – rice paddies, tea plantations, ribbon-thin beaches lined with palms and the green Indian ocean are all scattered among ancient temples, mosques, churches and modern buildings.

Sri Lanka has a long history of trade and cultural diversity. In more recent times, it was colonised by the British, Dutch and Portuguese, and the architectural influence of each of these cultures is still present. There are also reminders of Sri Lanka’s ancient history in the bleached-white roadside Buddhist temples, the Ayurvedic medicine stands, and the faint scents of simmering spices and freshly cut flowers.

Despite these reminders of Sri Lanka’s distant history, it was ironic how strangely easy it was to forget that it’s a country emerging from nearly thirty years of civil war. On the day we arrived, the government revoked the country’s State of Emergency. This was met with overall media approval and some suspicion that it was a publicity stunt on the eve of the meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

But as we wandered the streets and enjoyed the coconut thosai and the sight of hundreds of kites hovering above the skyline, the locals were more keen to talk about the cricket match between Australia and Sri Lanka rather than the horrors they’d experienced  – UN reports say that the war left tens of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The people of Sri Lanka, like their vibrant history, are resilient. The country currently has some of the highest levels of literacy and life expectancy in the South Asia region. The Sri Lankan economy is also growing at a rapid rate  – in the first quarter of 2011, its economy expanded by nearly 8% compared to the previous quarter.

While Sri Lanka still faces development challenges, the growth of the tourism industry will also help the country to rebuild infrastructure and recover from the conflict.

Sri Lanka is probably one of the most beautiful countries I have visited in South Asia – the people, the history, the landscape and the food all made for a colourful and multifarious trip.

I’ve uploaded the rest of my pics from Sri Lanka here.

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