Sri Lanka at a glance

Updated 10 March 2015

Sri Lanka at a glance

Tourism is booming in the pearl isle of Sri Lanka. Achieving another remarkable milestone in the country’s flourishing tourism industry, Sri Lanka Tourism and Promotion Board (SLTPB), welcomed the arrival of its 1,000,000th tourist in 2014 at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on Aug. 28 last year.
Joshua Gladstein and Sophie Nathan who arrived via UL 504 Sri Lankan Airlines flight from London as the one millionth tourist to Sri Lanka were accorded a red carpet welcome at the Colombo airport by the tourism board officials.
The couple were visiting Sri Lanka on their first wedding anniversary and said that they are indeed delighted to be the 1 millionth tourist. A special cultural dance performance was held at the BIA to welcome the couple and the Sri Lanka Tourism offered a gift and a complimentary package to the lucky tourist couple.
With the arrival of the one millionth tourist, the booming tourism industry of Sri Lanka showed early signs of achieving its goal of 1.5 million tourist arrivals target set for year 2014 under the guidance of the Ministry of Economic Development, adding another ground breaking record in tourism industry. The key focus for the tourism industry for the next two years is to attract 2.5 million arrivals by the end of 2016. This strategic development plan of Sri Lanka tourism will achieve its core objectives serving the needs of all stakeholders and ensuring the economic benefits of the industry, in line with the national effort of making Sri Lanka the emerging ‘Wonder of Asia’.
Sri Lanka is a land filled with smiles and known for its hospitality world over. This resplendent isle is also known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean. Living up to its name, Sri Lanka boasts of a wide range of riches in the form of diverse cultures, a vibrant tourism industry, plantations, infrastructure development, garment trade and a booming financial sector. It is an island on its way to discovering the 21st century, while retaining the old world charm of a leisurely lifestyle.
Together with the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims and Burghers, descendants of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British who ruled the country at various times, Moorish and Indian traders and visiting Chinese and Malaysians opted to stay on, maintain their customs, traditions and religious beliefs brought in over the centuries by their ancestors.
Travelers including ancient mariners and merchants to modern astronauts and business people have been seduced by the tantalizing beauty of the colors and customs of this land, which according to Mark Twain were “all harmonious, all in perfect taste”. It has captivated visitors like the 14th Century Moroccan traveler Ibn Batuta, who said : “In the island of Ceylon, rubies are found in all parts.” The others who visited the island in the past included Omar Pasha and lately space scientist Professor Arthur C Clark.
Sri Lanka has come a long way since then, achieving golden milestones in the field of sports, trade, diplomatic ties, development, travel and tourism, placing herself on the world map prominently.
Saudi tourists to the island will feel at home since they would see a number of mosques in the Sri Lankan capital and in all parts of the island. Arab traders who visited the island built several mosques here. Their first mosque, Abrar, stands as a monument of their influence in Beruwela, a Muslim town 40 km away from Colombo.
Outbound tourists from Middle East have been increasing during the last few years. Tourist traffic from the Kingdom has also picked up in a great way following the defeat of terrorism in Sri Lanka in 2009. Leisure visitors from the Kingdom to Sri Lanka have increased by 23 percent.
Colombo, the main point of entry, is a bustling metropolis of big businesses and small bazaars. The whole city has been beautified according to tastes of the locals and international travelers.
Arcade Independence Square is the third super-complex to pop up in Colombo recently, after the Dutch Hospital and the racecourse. It’s a beautiful, central space with a food court, restaurants, and shopping centers, cushioned on a beautiful green expanse.
The Arcade premises is pretty large — it’s made up of a series of connected signature white colonial buildings, and the old Auditor General’s building.
The buildings are surrounded by green lawns, tall trees and flawless paved floors scattered with some very cool furniture. The central spot has got fountains and even a fish-tank that you can look at — get this — while walking on top of it. Overall, it’s one of the nicest places to hang out at in Colombo.
Another pleasant addition to the city of Colombo is the Floating Market in Pettah. The concept market in Bastian Mawatha was built by the Urban Development Authority.
The Floating Market which sits between the long distance private bus terminal in Pettah and the Fort railway station contains 92 stalls including a restaurant and refreshment stalls. In addition to the private shopping stalls it will also house a number of selected state institutions that will offer local produce, gems and jewelry, etc.
The first of its kind market in the country, the Floating Market offers people a unique shopping and dining experience in a beautiful setting. Its convenient location will offer easy access to visitors.
Stalls are built on the banks of a canal of the Beira Lake. Floating platforms selling vegetables and fruit are one of the attractions of the market. The special light setup with solar powered street lamps illuminate the area with shades of various colors. Artistically landscaped walkway and the tree lined street reflect the environmental concern shown during the construction phase of the market.
The recently opened Colombo Airport Expressway takes tourists from the airport to the capital in 20 minutes. The link between the International Airport and Colombo with enhanced safety is designed to boost the country’s economy in addition to providing pleasant travel for road users. The 25.8 km long Expressway is a four-lane user-fee levying highway with a designed top speed of 100 kmph. It consists of three interchanges, namely Peliyagoda, Jaela and Katunayake.
The expressway has been constructed according to international standards to ensure the safety of road users and emphasis has been given to increase the mental and physical comfort of passengers and drivers, according to the Road Development Authority.
A similar highway has been built from Colombo to Galle and Matara to ease the hassle of traffic congestion.
Kandy — the last royal citadel — is the cultural center and home to the spectacular festivals of the perahera. Galle, the ancient port of Tarshish, is a town within a medieval fortress; while Nuwara Eliya, in the salubrious up-country, nestles amidst picturesque tea gardens and dazzling waterfalls. In the “Rajarata”, or king’s domain, are the ancient cities of Anuradhpura, Polonnaruwa, Dambulla and Sigiriya — all treasured antiquities of a priceless heritage over 2,500-years-old.
The western coastline from Negombo, north of the airport, to Tangalle, in the south shelters a string of magnificent beach resorts and quaint fishing villages.
With a cluster of economic nerve-centers, Hambantota is a fast-developing city in southern Sri Lanka, which is becoming the nucleus of development in the country in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in 2018.
Hambantota is the chief focal point of development in Sri Lanka with its Sea Port, Oil Refinery, International Convention Center, International Airport, International Cricket Stadium, Southern Railway Line and Southern Expressway together with Hambantota International Sports Hub.
Resorts here cater to all sorts of visitors, with hotels ranging from luxury five-star class, international chain properties, to the much more moderate-budget hotels. Most hotels offer a culinary extravaganza to pamper guests with a variety of cuisine from the East and the West, as well as local dishes that reflect the elastic tastes of seafarers, invaders, and traders that came ashore over the centuries.
Individual businessmen and groups of conventioneers will both find opportunities to invest or trade under generous incentives offered by a government committed to promotion of free trade.
Spanning more than twenty-five centuries, Sri Lanka’s classic and deep-rooted civilization is eloquently recorded in ancient and historic cities and citadels and in masterpieces of architecture, art, sculpture, and engineering. Despite Sri Lanka’s modest size, as many as six UNESCO World Heritage Sites underscore vast and fascinating archaeological wealth. Many of these and other monuments are conveniently located in a compact area called the Cultural Triangle.
The history of Sigiriya dates back to over 5000 years, to the Mesolithic period. One of Sri Lanka’s major attractions and a World Heritage Site, Sigiriya (Lion Rock) came into prominence in the 5th century AD, when King Kasyapa, afraid of reprisals led by his half-brother, Mogolan, chose to move the seat of power from Anuradhapura to this 500 m rock. It was Kasyapa and his master-builders who were responsible for the complex plan which made Sigiriya the glorious capital it was for 17 years (477– 495 AD).
The “mirror wall,” which records the poetic outpourings of early visitors to the rock and the colossal plan of the royal palace, water gardens and fortifications, is entirely fascinating.
Sri Lanka’s scenic beauty is as varied as it is enchanting. Hill century roads and railways cross picturesque landscapes making travel here exciting.
Sri Lanka’s highlands are also full of other fascinating sights. Tea covers vast areas of the hill districts and a visit to a tea plantation, always picturesquely sited, to see Sri Lanka’s most famous product being grown and processed is an integral part of the Sri Lankan experience. Many flagrant spices are also grown in the highlands, especially around Kandy, where numerous spice gardens welcome visitors. The Southwestern foothills around Ratnapura (City of Gems) yield Sri Lanka’s famed jewels: visitors can see them being recovered here from pits and riverbeds.
Unique highland nature reserves will delight nature lovers. Among the most fascinating are the Sinharaja Rain Forest (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Knuckles Ranges and Horton Plains mountain cloud forests and the Peak Wilderness.
The Nuwara Eliya hill resort 1800 meters above sea level, has a scenic location among high mountain ranges and prime tea plantations. British period architecture, flower filled gardens and an 18-hole golf course are reminders of its colonial roots. The Hakgala Botanic Gardens close by has fine collections of sub-tropical flora.

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World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide

Updated 13 June 2018

World Cup 2018: A Muslim-friendly travel guide


Both Tunisia and Iran are based in the vibrant 800-year-old Russian capital, renowned for its golden domes and stunning orthodox architecture. It is home to the famous Russian ballet and a wealth of art, culture and iconic scenery, including the breathtaking Red Square. A truly multicultural capital, Moscow is home to a sizeable Muslim community, which first began to settle here around the time of the Golden Horde. If you want to explore some of the capital’s Islamic heritage, visit the historic Muslim area, Zamoskvorechie, and head for the ‘Historical Mosque,’ built in 1823 by Muslim tatars. Reopened in 1993 after a lengthy closure under communism, the mosque has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Along with the 10k-capacity Moscow Cathedral Mosque (pictured), it is the capital’s most significant Muslim building.
Halal Food: You’ll find plenty on offer, from highly rated restaurants including Mr. Livanets (Lebanese), Dyushes (Azerbaijani), and Gandhara (Asian) to halal food carts.
Mosque: The Moscow Cathedral Mosque on Pereulok Vypolzov.
Qibla: South.

Saint Petersburg

Saudi Arabia’s national team will be based in this bastion of Russian imperialism, known as the Russian ‘Venice’ for its stunning network of canals, neo-Renaissance architecture and its plethora of culture, arts and all things splendid. Visitors can enjoy a wealth of museums, galleries, open promenades and the finest dining in the northern hemisphere — talking of which, sun lovers will be delighted to know that during the World Cup the sun will barely dip below the horizon. Muslim visitors should not miss the St. Petersburg Mosque’s sumptuous Central Asian architecture and mesmeric blue tiles (pictured) — a design inspired by Tamerlane’s tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
Halal Food: Limited, in comparison to Moscow, but both Eastern European restaurant Navruz and Oh! Mumbai (Indian) have received generally positive online reviews.
Mosque: St. Petersburg Mosque on Kronverkskiy Prospekt.
Qibla: South-east.


Egypt’s ‘Pharaohs’ should feel right at home in the Chechen capital, which is home to a huge Muslim population (its coat of arms features a mosque), making it one of the most halal-friendly destinations on our list. The mosque in question is the city’s flagship monument and main tourist attraction, the Ottoman-style Akhmad Kadyrov Mosque. Modelled on Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Mosque and sited in a serene location on the west bank of the Sunzha River, it is part of an ‘Islamic’ complex also housing the Russian Islamic University, Kunta Hajji, and is the spiritual headquarters for the Muslims of the Chechen Republic. Much of Grozny is still being rebuilt after being virtually destroyed in two wars with Russia in the 1990s and 2000s, much of it through investment from the UAE.
Halal Food: Chechnya is majority-Muslim, so you’ll be spoiled for choice, from fast-food chain Ilis to high-end restaurants in five-star hotels.
Mosque: Akhmad Kadyrov on Prospekt Putina.
Qibla: South-west.


Morocco are based in quiet (at least until the tournament starts), picturesque Voronezh. The city is littered with lush green spaces and stunning churches. It’s home to a large orthodox Christian community, as well as small Jewish and still-smaller Muslim ones. The city’s beautiful 114-year-old synagogue on Ulitsa Svobody is a popular tourist attraction. Those looking for more ‘familiar’ heritage should head to the Kramskoy Museum of Fine Arts on Revolyutsii Avenue, home to an impressive collection of ancient Egyptian works of art on stone and sarcophagi.
Halal Food: Very sparse. The Asian restaurant Bahor bills itself as offering the “only halal food in Voronezh,” and there are reportedly a couple of grocery stores selling halal meat, one in the city’s central market.
Mosque: While no official mosque has yet been built in Voronezh, Muslims do gather to pray. According to, there is an informal mosque on Ulitsa Gvardeyskaya.
Qibla: South.


Essentuki, which will host Nigeria in its Pontos Plaza Hotel (pictured), is famous for its health spas and mineral water, so the 'Super Eagles' should at least be able to relax after their games. Muslim visitors may want to drop by Kurortny Park, where the drinking gallery was inspired by Islamic Moorish design.
Halal Food: Hard to find. There is a kebab house that may be able to provide halal options. Otherwise, head to the area around the mosque in nearby Pyatigorsk.
Mosque: The nearest mosque is 25 minutes drive west in Pyatigorsk, on Skvoznoy Pereulok.
Qibla: Southwest.


It’s all about space exploration in the city where Senegal will be based. Space travel pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky taught in Kaluga in his early years. The town’s main attraction — unsurprisingly — is the Tsiolkovsky State Museum of the History of Cosmonautics, reportedly the world’s first space museum. Second billing goes to the rocket scientist’s quaint old wooden family home.
Halal Food: Very hard to find. Asian restaurant Chaikhana and Russian eatery Solyanka (pictured) appear to cater to alternative dietary requirements, and may be worth a call.
Mosque: The town’s main mosque is a converted building off Ulitsa Annenki.
Qibla: South.