Sri Lanka officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island country in the northern Indian Ocean off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent in South Asia. Known until 1972 as Ceylon, Sri Lanka has maritime borders with India to the northwest across the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait, and the Maldives to the southwest.
Only 640km North of the equator, Sri Lanka’s tropical climate shows little seasonal variation in temperature. Around the coasts, temperatures hover between 26 C and 28 C, with a mean temperature in the capital of 27.5C inland, however, average temperatures are very much cooler. From May to September, the South-West monsoon deposits heavy rain on the South-West coasts, from Colombo to Galle, and also raise heavy seas which make swimming and diving unattractive. The worst intensity of the monsoon is from November to February, but this will have little impact on most visitors, as the main resort areas and visitor attractions are concentrated in the South and the central hills. Local thunderstorms can occur at any time of year, and while these are often intense they do not usually last more than a few hours.
Recent excavations show that even during the Neolithic Age, there were food gatherers and rice cultivators in Sri Lanka. Very little is known of this period; documented history began with the arrival of the Aryans from North India. The Aryans introduced the use of iron and an advanced form of agriculture and irrigation. They also introduced the art of government. Of the Aryan settlements, Anuradhapura grew in to a powerful kingdom under the rule of King Pandukabhaya. According to traditional history he is accepted as the founder of Anuradhapura.
Sri Lanka’s natural harbours have made the island a magnet for mariners throughout its history, from the legendary Sindbad the Sailor to the Portuguese navigator Vasco de Gama and the others who followed in search of the untold wealth of the fabled Orient. Modern visitors are as likely to be drawn by some 1600km of sandy beaches, warm Indian Ocean waters and coral reefs.
The most prominent examples of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist influenced architectural heritage are at the dagobas which can be seen from one end of the country to the other. In the shape of a dome, the dagoba, usually painted white, often enshrines a relic of the Buddha, such as a hair or a tooth, and is usually massively constructed of brick covered with a coat of plaster. The pan tiled roofs and verandahs which grace many older buildings are the legacy of the Portuguese and Dutch. Galle has many fine old Dutch buildings, while in Kandy and Nuwara Eliya there are many surviving buildings from the British colonial era which would not look out of place in an English country town.
Statues of the Buddha are features of ancient temple sites, where they are often carved from the living rock of basalt crags and crafts. The Buddha may be represented standing, reclining or sitting in meditation. Frescoes like those at Sigiriya may display beautiful women, temple dancers or deities.