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DESTINATION ;E?D; 9 T6;68@AT9> .ND9 $NHJ@ text and photography by Lucy Cooper




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ff the southeast tip of India, just north of the equator, lies Sri Lanka – an island which for centuries has been a magnet for traders and adventurers. Its location on the Indian Ocean trade route, its palm-fringed beaches, precious gems, exotic spices and stunning scenery have attracted Arab, Malay, Portuguese, Dutch and British settlers to its shores. Arthur C Clarke is one of the island's most famous settlers of recent times. "The island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) is a small universe," he writes. "If you are interested in people, history, nature, and art – the things that really matter – you may find, as I have, that a lifetime is not enough." Most of us will not have the luxury of a lifetime to explore Sri Lanka, but in a few days it is possible to get a taste of its diversity. A walk through Colombo's market district, Pettah, is a good place to start. During the short, intense dusk the streets are bathed in vivid yellows and pinks. In the surreal light it's easy to feel as though you have stumbled onto a film set, as you find yourself in a maze of old colonial buildings, pirate DVD stalls, spice merchants and "Fancy Goods" shops, which encapsulate everything from plastic flowers to tin openers.


DESTINATION Like an extra's digital watch in an historical epic, the details in Sri Lanka often seem out of place, challenging your sense of place and time. The hundreds of signs in the Pettah backstreets are in Singhala, Tamil and English, sometimes Arabic. The English letters look reassuringly familiar, but on closer inspection, the familiarity is often misleading. Do not expect to find rooms at the "Rolex Hotel". In Sri Lankan English a "hotel" is just as likely to be a street cafe as a place to stay.

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DESTINATION *AC D9INE;9;E =A O@AG6FE 9 KJ@?F9, =A CA86M9 9 G9=A@E;A H6DIEC=9;E DIJ=<EF9 IJ<9 H@6MI>DFA; =AC &FE;6F=9> ;J@86FD?9 KE=;J@ FJF U6@; – T9=A=D6F9> ?FA@;AI =A $6I6GM6. PA:=66M@A:9E;6, ?6E;6 H@AF9 3@9 .A=?A ;6I?6FA H@9FIE?A;EI=A, E 9 H@9<9=A :A 86I>GA <AD; 6; H@6MIEG9;E =A 6D;@6FA. S@E: 1996 8. (AG9ID?9;E ;98@9, ?69;6 LEIA>; AF;6=6G9> =A DEFE@=A;A 9 9:;6<=A;A <AD; =A D;@A=A;A, :AI6L9OA M6GMA FJF U6@;. #6E==9;E CEBD;F9> GELCN ;>O 9 H@AF9;EID;F6;6 M>OA 6T9K9AI=6 H@E?@A;E=9 H@E: 2002 8., =6 =AD9I9E;6 =A 9:;6? 9 DEFE@ H@6CJILAFA. "PEBI6=K9, ;AG9I9, MNC9D;9, O9=CN9D;9, G7D7IGA=9, O@9D;9>=9, FD9<?9 DE @A:M9@AGE H6GELCN D9 – ?A:FA Q6TV6@ =A ;A?D9 ";N? ;N?". – S@6MIEG9;E DA 9:K>I6 H6I9;9<ED?9." Behind the silhouettes of temples and churches, dagobas and minarets, the last rays of sun glint off the World Trade Centre in Fort, Colombo's business district. The very diversity that makes Sri Lanka so appealing has also been the cause of many of its problems and in 1996 Fort was bombed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who want an independent homeland in the north and east. A ceasefire with the government was signed in 2002, but violence in the north and the east has continued. "Day to day we all get on – Sinhalese, Tamil, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Christian," explains a tuk tuk driver. "The problems are all political."


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Tourists have never been a target in the conflict, but some governments have issued travel warnings against visiting the extreme north and east. This, coupled with the devastating tsunami in 2004, dealt a double blow to Sri Lanka's tourist industry. However, the island is proving that it is still as enticing as ever. Cultural and eco tourism have a big part to play. Sri Lanka is bursting with ancient cities, temples, and wildlife, but for stunning scenery and archaeology you would be hardpushed to do better than a trip to Sigiriya.


DESTINATION It's a steep climb to the top of the impressive ruins of the citadel, but you can stop along the way to admire the Sigiriya Damsels. These frescos depicting busty nymphs are the only non-religious paintings to have survived from ancient Sri Lanka. It is thought that originally there were 500, but today only 21 damsels survive. Some believe that many were wiped out when the palace returned to being a monastery after Kassapa's demise. Before returning to Colombo I just have time to visit another of Sri Lanka's ancient capitals.

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DESTINATION &8NQE= F9D6?6 F OJIG9D;A;A CLN=8IA, $A=C9 E F;6@9>; H6 86IEG9=A 8@AC =A 6D;@6FA. # =E86 DE =AG9@A =AB-FAL=9>; MNC9D;?9 O@AG F D;@A=A;A – W@AGJ; =A DFERE=9> :JM. S@ECH6IA8A DE, <E @EI9?FA;A E EC9= 6; :JM9;E =A 1NCA. #EC=JL 86C9Q=6 NI9K9;E =A $A=C9 DE 9:HJIFA; 6; O6@A D ;JHA=9, ;A=KV6@9 D TA?I9 9 DI6=6FE, :A CA 6;MEIELA; )DAIA SE@EpOE@A – S@A:=9?A =A DFERE=9> :JM, EC9= 6; =AB-?6I6@9;=9;E F ":9>. Nestled high in the jungle-covered hills, Kandy is Sri Lanka's second largest city and home to the country's most important Buddhist shrine, the Temple of the Tooth. The sacred tooth relic is supposedly one of Buddha's own. Once a year the streets of Kandy fill with drummers, fire-dancers and elephants to celebrate the Esala Pererhera, or Festival of the Tooth, one of Asia's most vibrant festivals.


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One Life Is Not Enough  
One Life Is Not Enough  

It's hard, but not impossible to taste the diversity of the little universe of Sri Lanka in a few days.