Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has been an appealing destination for travelers for much longer than anyone can remember. The finest island of its size in the world, as described by Marco Polo, it attracted the traders and wanderers from Asia, Mid-East and Europe by tales about rare spices, precious stones and gorgeous fauna. The natural beauty and abundance of this island that's peacefully enjoying itself in the mild waters of Indian Ocean just above the Equator is so widely spoken of it's almost become a myth – an inspirational one even for those who have only seen it in their dreams.

The shape of the island appears so enchanting some geographers compared it to a teardrop falling from the tip of India, and the fact that the English word Serendipity derives from Serendib – the name given to it by the early visitors from Arab countries – makes it even more romantic. A leg of ham was the Dutch way of seeing it, which although less poetic is worth mentioning still.

Centuries go by but it proved to be true to how Marco Polo described it. Rarely can you find an island as small as this that would offer such beautiful and diverse environment – Sri Lanka does award its visitors with a rich variety of wonderful places. From lowland jungle loaded with wildlife like huge populations of elephants, leopards, exotic, nowhere else to be found birds, and the country hills all wrapped in the moist haze showing off their carefully trimmed tea plantations on the interior – to the picturesque and unexpectedly wild beaches at the shoreline. Furthermore, if you suddenly feel longing towards something more civilized – again there is a plethora of attractions to satisfy that kind of needs. The northern part of the island has an array of ruined cities and religious monuments that tell the story of the early Sinhalese civilization.

Today's Sinhalese population still holds its roots in this early Buddhist civilization, and practically every aspect of life on the island is penetrated by the cultural identity of Theravada Buddhism, to which Sri Lanka is believed to be the oldest home that exists. Buddhism, however, is just a fraction of the island's culture, as its geographical position that was so exclusively convenient for traders allowed for a wide range of influences from various sources. For generations the local culture, architecture and cuisine was subtly shaped by the Malay, Arab, Portuguese, Dutch and British settlers, while the tradition of Tamil population in the north has been a stronghold of Hindu culture which relates more to India than to the local Sinhalese in the south.

The diversity of the culture though had unfortunately become a factor of conflict in the country: for three decades Sri Lanka had been in a state of civil war that divided the country between the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE – Tamil Tigers. The destructive battles in the north and east of the island ended eventually with the victory of the government in the early 2009. It's now the first decade that the island is at peace, and although the aftermath of war is still palpable on many levels and in many places, most Sri Lankans are now with fresh enthusiasm looking into the future, confident and reassured.

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