Revel in the beauty of Sri Lanka – The Pearl of the Indian Ocean

21 November, 2016

Nestled in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka has a stunning coastline abound with natural beauty, much to the delight of travellers looking for new holiday destinations in South Asia. Commonly know as the tear-drop shaped island in the India Ocean, and more endearingly termed “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean”, the country is rich not only in flora and fauna, but also in terms of cultural and religious diversity.

Visitors to Sri Lanka are spoilt for choices on places to visit as tucked in every corner of the country is a treasure trove of ancient architecture, charming countryside landscapes and pristine coastline. The country is becoming increasingly popular with adventurers looking for a balanced mix of activities on their itinerary – a juxtaposition of adventures in the mountains (hikes and trails in the tea plantations) and relaxing strolls and nightcaps by the beach.

After a bumpy 4 hour flight from Singapore, we arrived in the capital city Colombo and were whisked away to our accommodation for the evening. Waking up bright and sprightly the next morning, we set off for our first destination by car. After 3 hours on the road in a flux of erratic traffic, cattle crossings and dirt roads that spanned across plenty of townships, we finally spotted the iconic rocky outcrop that rose from the surrounding flat plains – the Sigiriya. Prized as one of the most valuable historical monuments in the country, it is often referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by locals. The Sigiriya, also known as the Lion Rock, is an exquisite example of ancient Sri Lankan art and architecture. A rock column that is almost 200m high, this ancient citadel was the site of King Kasyapa’s palace from 477 – 495 AD. The most striking feature of this magnificent architecture is the gateway shaped like an enormous lion, and this feature is best enjoyed after the climb.

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The Sigiriya, also known as the Lion Rock

A UNESCO World Heritage site, a full hike on the Lion Rock takes around an hour or so. Keen photographers can linger on at the top of the climb to capture the panoramic view of the surrounding wild jungle. Entrance fee is priced at US$30/person and for visitors who do not usually engage in light workouts, a word of advice is to ensure that you are in the right attire (think comfortable footwear, loose clothing) and plenty of water for the hike (mainly stairs). The view, when you finally get up, is worth the effort as you get to enjoy the lush greenery surrounding the Sigiriya – a stark contrast from the towns and cities that are jammed with vehicular and human traffic day in day out.

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Made it up to the top of the Sigiriya!

The rich religious and cultural diversity of the country has seen its fair share of a tragic wartime past, when the government and LTTE forces struggled to gain control of territorial fragments divided by ethnic and religious tensions. After over two decades of civil war, peace returned to Sri Lanka. Reconstruction efforts in the East Coast has transformed the area from a former war torn zone into a coastal resort settlement, albeit slowly (but surely). The fine sandy beaches and lagoons that decorate the Eastern coastline centres its activities around the capital – the vibrant town of Trincomalee. The city is a blend of Dutch colonial charm and Hindu religious sites of worship, and the Bay of Trincomalee boasts one of the finest natural deep-water harbours in the world.

Trincomalee is home to the finest beaches of Nilaveli, Uppuveli and the nearby Pigeon Island. The unspoilt coastline is ironically a result of the civil war, and word on the street has it that these beaches rival the likes of Mauritius, Bora Bora and Maldives. Armed with a huge bag of M&Ms and several bottles of water, we went on a 4 hour drive from the Sigiriya in search of the bronzed sands of the Nilaveli beach.

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Chilling out on the Nilaveli private beach

The extremely low-key beachside village of Nilaveli is sparsely populated, and the relatively untouched coastline is shared by respectful visitors, local fishermen and the occasional cattle that graze and lay by the beach. Snorkelling is a joy in the crystal clear waters, and the shallow beaches with its silky sand is the perfect chillout spot by the Indian Ocean. Beach resorts in Nilaveli enjoyed a comfortable distance away from each other, and visitors (like us) have the luxury of a private beach with a well-stocked bar just steps away from our room.

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View of the Indian Ocean from our resort along the Nilaveli Beach

Just off the coast of Nilaveli is Pigeon Island – one of the two marine national parks in Sri Lanka. Aptly named after the rock pigeon that colonised it, the island is made up of two islets each boasting an impressive underwater world rich in flora and fauna. The coastline is decorated with an endless field of dried coral skeletons that welcome visitors with tingling sensations (especially for the barefooted) as they disembark from fishing boats. The highest point of the island is just under 50m above mean sea level, and provides an excellent vantage point for a panoramic view of the vast Indian Ocean.

 

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Coastline of the Pigeon Island

Uncontrolled tourism in recent years has eroded some of the coral reefs around the island, causing a loss of biodiversity and fish density. Regardless, the beauty of its underwater world is unparalleled by nearby spots in the Indian Ocean and a definite must visit for divers and snorkeling activities.

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Crystal clear waters at Pigeon Island – perfect for snorkeling and diving

Cracking your head over the next holiday destination? Look no further than Sri Lanka – the pearl in the Indian Ocean glistens with its rustic charm and rich history that is sure to catch on with travellers around the world. Enjoy the country before it becomes overwhelmed with touristic activities and multitudinous construction, altering the very beauty that attracted visitors in the first place.

Zhiqiang & Tingyi

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