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The Island
   
 

The overriding word in everything we do is "Respect". Respect for the land, for the rivers, for the villagers, for our guests, for our employees, our equipment and safety. That's what sets us apart.

We are also trying to get away from any impact we might have on the wilderness areas we visit. After all, we are visitors so we do our best to make sure we leave no foot prints. Back at the office, we also take extra steps to recycle, reuse and conserve resources.

Climate
Geography & History
Culture

Sri Lanka has been described as a tropical paradise for centuries. It is a destination that has everything - Sun, sea, golden beaches, cool mountains, ancient stupas and lakes, forests, wildlife, precious stones, magnificent archaeological sites and on top of all that friendly people.”

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Climate

 
And there was that swoon in the air which one associates in the tropics, and that smother of heat, heavy with the odors of unknown flowers, and that sudden invasion of purple gloom fissured with lightening, - then the tumult of crashing thunder and the downpour – and presently all sunny and smiling again.

- Mark Twain writing on Sri Lanka in Following the Equator
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Monsoons

The topography of the country features lowlands along the perimeter and inland from the coast, which give rise within a short distance to the central hills, that rise above 8,000 feet in altitude. Careful examination of the topography reveals that the island can be divided into three planes or steps, first described by the Canadian scientist Adams in 1972. The lowest is from 0 – 100 feet, the second rising to 1560 feet and the third rising to 5,850 feet.

Sri Lanka can be broadly divided into three regions (Hill Zone, Low Country Wet and Dry Zones) resulting from the interactions of rainfall and topography. Rainfall is affected by monsoon changes which brings rain during two seasons, namely the Southwest Monsoon (May-August) and Northeast Monsoon (October-January). Their precipitation heavily influenced by the central hills, these monsoons deposit rain across the country and contribute to the demarcation of climatic regimes.

 

The Climatic Zones

- Low Country Wet Zone
The humid, lowland wet zone in the south west of the island does not show marked seasons, being fed by both the Southwest monsoon and by the Northeast monsoon. The low country wet zone receives 200 – 500 cm (79 – 197 inch) of rain from the Southwest Monsoon and afternoon showers from the Northeast Monsoon Humidity is high, rarely dropping below 97%, while temperatures range from 27 C to 31 C (80-87F) over the year.

The low country wet zone is the most densely populated area in Sri Lanka. The coast is well settled, while the interior has coconut and rubber plantations, some rice (paddy) cultivation and small industries. Remnants of rainforest and tropical moist forests precariously exist in some parts of the interior, under pressure from an expanding population. It is in these forests that much of the endemics that are a draw to eco-tourists can be found.

- Hill Zone
The mountainous interior lies within the wet zone and rises over 8,000 feet. Rainfall is generally well distributed, except in the Uva Province which gets very little rainfall from June to September.

Temperatures are cooler than the lowlands and can vary, from being chilly in the mornings to warm by noon. In the mid-elevations such as the area around Kandy, the temperature will vary between 17C to 31C(62-87F) during the year. Temperature variations during a 24 hour cycle will, however, be far less varied. The mountains are cooler, within a band of 14C to 32C (57-89F) during the year. There may be frost in the higher hills in December and January, when night time temperatures fall below zero.


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The central Hill Zone is intensely planted with tea but has small areas of remnant forest and open grassland.

- Low Country Dry Zone
The rest of the country, three quarters of Sri Lanka’s land area, consists of the Dry Zone of the northern, southern and eastern plains. These region receive between 60 - 190 cm (24 – 75 inch) of rain each year, mainly from the Northeast Monsoon. The Dry Zone is further divided into the Arid Zones of the Northwest and Southeast, which receive less than 60 cm (24 inch) of rain as these areas are not in the direct path of the monsoon rains.

The coastal plains in the Southern Province where Yala and Bundala National Parks are located, and the North Central Province where the cultural sites are located, are dry and hot. Much of the dry zone is under rice and other field crops, irrigated by vast man-made lakes (the ‘tanks’), many of which are centuries old, built by royal decree to capture the scarce rainfall in these areas. Once the ‘granary of the east’ exporting rice as far as China and Burma, wars and invasion, malaria and other diseases laid waste to vast areas of the low country dry zone. The once bountiful rice plains were reclaimed by scrub jungle, the haunt of elephant, bear and leopard. Since independence in 1948, successive governments have vigorously promoted colonization and resettlement of these areas. Sandy beaches fringe the coastline and it is always possible to find a beach that is away from the path of the prevalent monsoon.

An intermediate zone is also recognized in the transition zone from the wet zone to the dry zone.

 

Temperatures

 
Temperatures in the wetter parts of the lowlands (including Colombo), vary between 22C to 30C (71F – 86F) during the year. In the drier parts it will be a few degrees higher. But you are more likely to be troubled by the heat in the humidity of the wet zone lowlands. In the mid hills around Kandy for example the temperature will vary between 17C to 31C (62F – 87F) during the year. Temperature fluctuations during the day will be much less and not on the scale of the annual variations mentioned. But it can vary from being chilly in the mornings to warm by noon. In the mountains it will be cooler within a band of 14C to 32C (57F- 89F) during the year. Cycling Holidays, Cycling Tours, Mountain Biking Tours, Biking Tours in Sri Lanka, Mountain Bike Tours Sri Lanka, Mountain bike
The period January to April is the warmest in the lowlands but is the favored time for tourists as it is generally the driest and also coincides with the Northern winter. In the highlands around Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains for example, frost may be experienced in January and February.

As is evident the pronounced climatic zones have their own seasonal variations and the climate across the country cannot be generalized easily.

- Source: “Where to Watch Birds & Wildlife in Sri Lanka” by Gehan Wijeyeratne

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Geography & History

 
Physically, Sri Lanka is a tear drop shaped island in the Indian Ocean separated from the Indian peninsula by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, the width of the narrowest stretch of water being 32 km. It is 432 km from north to south and 224 km from east to west. It is about twice the size of Belgium or a third larger than Switzerland. It enjoys fine sandy beaches almost all around the island with the strip from the west coast to the south, with its sandy bays and delightful coves, developed heavily for beach based tourism. The beach resorts at Negombo to the north of Colombo, and those to the south at Bentota and Beruwela are magnets for beach lovers and water sports enthusiasts. Further south in Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa are fine beaches with good prospects for snorkeling and diving. Swimmers share the ocean with turtles. Cycling Holidays, Cycling Tours, Mountain Biking Tours, Biking Tours in Sri Lanka, Mountain Bike Tours Sri Lanka, Mountain bike

Heading further south on the coast are the Dutch fortress towns of Galle and Matara. Continuing south, the sanctuaries of Kalametiya and the national parks of Bundala and Ruhuna (Yala) are reached. Here, the jungle belongs to elephants, leopards and dozens of other large animals that can be seen on safari. Tissamaharama, previously the center of an ancient kingdom, is now a thriving safari center. As with elsewhere in the country ,wildlife and culture are inseparable. Tissamaharama has a number of ancient lakes around it that are still in use. Deeper in these harsh dry zone scrub jungles are hermitages where the way of life is little changed from what it was two millennia ago.

The exciting mix of wildlife and culture, created when cultural outposts hold back the jungle tide, is nowhere more evident than in the ancient capitals of the north central plains. Culturally, the ancient kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa rival those of other ancient cultures such as the Egyptians, Mayas and Incas. But in the latter, ancient religions have been extinguished with the passage of time. In contrast, many of Sri Lanka's ancient temples, dating to pre-Christian periods, are still flourishing in a Buddhist and Hindu culture that is still vibrantly alive. In the travel trade, the island is referred to as Buddha's Island, in reflection of its long association with Buddhism and the impact the religion has on the physical landscape as well as the social and political fabric of its society. The legacy of ancient cultures is much in evidence in the hundreds of ancient man made lakes that dot the country, especially so in the dry lowlands. Some of these have been in continuous use for over two thousand years.

A historical legacy survives of many examples of an early appreciation of aesthetics. From the sublime rock cut sculptures at the Gal Vihara in Polonnaruwa to the sheer hedonistic delight of the fratricidal King Kasyappa who sought to reconstruct heaven, on an isolated rock monolith at Sigiriya. The gardens and palace at Sigiriya are an early example of the organic movement of architecture, sympathetic to the in situ landscape. Today, very little survives intact, and what does survives includes the famous frescoes of beautiful maidens who provoke much debate.

Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa form the two apices of a cultural triangle. The third, to the south of them is the hill capital of Kandy. This became the seat of the Sinhalese kings after successive invasions and internal dissent led to the abandoning of the magnificent capitals in the north central plains. The route south to Kandy from the north central plains runs past the cave temple complex of Dambulla and the Aluvihara in Matale. Unlike the kings, the monks never deserted their monasteries and continued to uphold the monastic traditions, unbroken over a stretch of several centuries. Dambulla is breathtaking. Cave after cave has its walls covered with ancient paintings and a bewildering array of religious statuary has been constructed by generations of royalty and lay donors.

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The ascent to Kandy takes you into a cooler climate, although in the hot season, you may wonder why it is supposed to considered cooler. Kandy is still the center of the nation's Buddhist soul and has one of the holiest of shrines in the Buddhist world. The Dalada Maligawa or Temple of the Tooth Relic, houses a tooth of the Buddha, retrieved from his funeral pyre. Every year, the Esala Perahera, one of the most spectacular pageants in the world, is celebrated with over a hundred caparisoned elephants and thousands of drummers and dancers taking to the streets. Kandy is also home to the influential Asgiriya and Malwatta chapters, who have carved out between them the Buddhist administration of the island. A number of ancient temples are dotted in and around Kandy, and the highlands uphold much of the traditions of Sri Lankan culture that have its roots in medieval times. Kandy is also a gateway to the remote countryside of the Victoria Randenigala Rantambe sanctuary as well as the traditional homelands around Mahiyangana of the Veddas, the island's aboriginal people.

The British, who finally subdued the Kandyan kingdom, set their sights higher and established the hill station of Nuwara Eliya, up in the highlands. The hill station still retains a colonial elegance with its mock Tudor and Queen Anne style houses. A journey to the highlands will take you through mile after mile of tea plantations, forming green carpets that cover the mountainsides. A stop at a tea factory will reveal how the famed Ceylon Tea is brewed.

Tea came at a price. A great deal of the island's bio-diversity was lost, before science could catch up with it. What is left, clings to harsh mountain tops ridges and some protected areas like the Horton Plains National Park, once the hunting grounds of the British. Although much diminished in size, the highland plateau and forest continue to be a refuge for many plants and animals found nowhere lese in the world. The beautiful leopard still holds sway all the way from the jungle fringed beaches of the lowlands to the cloud forests of Horton Plains.

An ancient network of footpaths across the island, making it ideal for trekkers and mountain bikers to explore "off the beaten track". Perhaps the best known trails are those leading to the sacred peak of Sri Pada or Adam's Peak. For centuries, pilgrims of all religious denominations have found significance in the impression of a footprint on the summit and have made their way through dense rain forests (and now tea estates) and the cloud forest on the upper reaches of the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, to pay homage to the shrine on the peak. Notable visitors to the peak have included travelers like Marco Polo and Ibn Batuta.

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One trail starts all the way from Ratnapura, the city of gems. The gravel beds around Ranapura are rich in precious minerals and a thriving prospectors’ town has built up around an industry that makes Sri Lanka one of the world’s top five producers of gem stones. The Ratnapura area is home to another gem, the Sinharaja lowland rain forest, where half the tree species are found only in Sri Lanka. It has simple accommodation and several trails cutting across it, which acts like a honey pot to naturalists and bird watchers.

In contrast to the rustic simplicity of the facilities of Sinharaja, the country's business capital Colombo has the usual third world mix of five star hotels and luxury apartments competing for land with unsightly slums. Visitors new to Asia are often shocked at the contrast of the opulence between the ‘rich’ and ‘poor’. The urban sprawl of Colombo spreads ever outwards, smothering the countryside in its wake in a pall of pollution and traffic congestion. Even here, however, are havens of peace and refuges for wildlife. The Bellanwila Attidiya marshes are a wetland jewel under siege from urban grime. The Muthurajawela Wetland Center offers boat rides for a memorable family excursion. For those with money, Colombo has other attractions. It's night life has a character and sophistication of its own. The many elegant colonial mansions speak of an elegant past. The city, like much of the country, once derived its wealth from trade winds that brought merchants and adventurers to its shores in search of spices and elephants for export. Today, the new merchants of Colombo fly business class, taking their garments, spices and software to the east and west.

- Source: “Where to Watch Birds & Wildlife in Sri Lanka” by Gehan Wijeyeratne

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Culture

When visiting religious sites you are expected to dress conservatively. Some sites may request you to do so, if deemed to be inappropriately attired. Shorts for both sexes and sleeveless tops for women can fall into this category, however innocent such attire may seem. Donning a simple wrap or local sarong is a handy, hassle free solution.

Buddhist monks are treated with high respect by the local Buddhist’s, therefore avoid photographing them or having any physical contacts with monks. If a monk initiates a conversation, he may also readily agree to stand for a photograph, but it is better to tread cautiously than risk an offense.

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Visitors are often unsure of themselves when they visit a temple that is not on the tourist circuit. Generally you will be welcome at almost every religious place, provided you are dressed conservatively and are respectful in your conduct. Remember to take off any hats and caps and you must remove any footwear before entering the temples. Observe what the locals are doing. This applies for Buddhist and Hindu temples (known as kovils). In Buddhist temples the image house (Budhu Ge) is often locked. If you ask someone at the temple they will often open it for you. Always ask permission before you use a camera or video camera. Permission is seldom refused.

Generally speaking if you are civil and courteous, you will find yourself as welcome as at any place of worship in your own country.

- Source : Extracts from “Where to Watch Birds & Wildlife in Sri Lanka” by Gehan Wijeyeratne

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