Sri Lanka at a glance

Updated 10 March 2015
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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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Shrinking Sea of Galilee has some hoping for a miracle

Updated 13 November 2018
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Shrinking Sea of Galilee has some hoping for a miracle

  • The Sea of Galilee has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm
  • Plans are being devised to resuscitate the freshwater body
EIN GEV, Israel: It was not so long ago when swimmers at Ein Gev would lay out their towels in the grass at the edge of the Sea of Galilee.
Today, they put up their parasols 100 meters (yards) further down, on a sandy beach that has appeared due to the shrinking of the iconic body of water.
“Every time we come we feel an ache in our hearts,” said Yael Lichi, 47, who has been visiting the famous lake with her family for 15 years.
“The lake is a symbol in Israel. Whenever there is a drought, it is the first thing we talk about.”
In front of Lichi, wooden boats with Christian pilgrims aboard navigate the calm waters, among groups from across the world that visit.
The Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water, has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm.
Plans are being devised to resuscitate the freshwater body known to Israelis as the Kinneret and to some as Lake Tiberias.
For Israel, the lake is vital, having long been the country’s main source of water. Israeli newspaper Haaretz provides its water level daily on its back page.
Its shrinking has been a source of deep concern. When two islands appeared recently due to falling water levels, it received widespread attention in the Israeli media.
Since 2013 “we are below the low red line” beyond which “salinity rises, fish have difficulty surviving and vegetation is affected,” said Amir Givati, hydrologist at Israel’s water authority.
The level is only around 20 centimeters (less than eight inches) above the record low plumbed in 2001 — except, at that time, 400 million cubic meters (14.1 billion cubic feet) a year were pumped out for irrigation.
“This year, we only pumped 20 million cubic meters, but the lake is in a very bad state,” said Givati.
Added to that is the 50 million cubic meters Israel sends to neighboring Jordan as part of peace agreements.
Its unique characteristics go beyond its religious significance.
It is 200 meters (650 feet) below sea level, located north of the Dead Sea, the River Jordan between them.
Both the Dead Sea and the Jordan have also suffered from overuse.
The Galilee covers some 160 square kilometers (60 square miles), roughly the size of Liechtenstein.
At the water ministry, blame for its condition is placed on five years of drought.
But “climatic factors alone are inadequate to explain the record shrinkage of the Sea of Galilee,” wrote Michael Wine, Alon Rimmer and Jonathan Laronne, researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University.
Irrigated agriculture, pumping and diversions are the main culprits, they say in an analysis.
Israel constructed a national aqueduct in the 1950s in the years after the country’s birth, when it was on a quest for nation-building and sought to “make the desert bloom,” as its early pioneers put it.
The aqueduct carried water from the lake toward the rest of the country.
“Lake Tiberias was used as a national reservoir,” said Julie Trottier, a professor who specializes in Israeli-Palestinian water issues.
A man-made canal supplied water to the west toward the Mediterranean coast and into the Negev desert in the south, she said.
That system has not been in place for some 10 years. Now, most homes in the west of the country use desalinated water from the Mediterranean, while farms are irrigated with water that is treated and recycled.
But eastern Israel does not have access to desalinated water, said Orit Skutelsky, of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
Farmers in the region rely on rivers that provide 90 percent of the lake’s input.
Dozens of pumps remove nearly 100 million cubic meters (3.5 billion cubic feet) each year from those sources, whose flow has decreased and is no longer enough to supply the lake, says the researcher.
Several kilometers from the beaches at Ein Gev, at the foot of rocky hills, immense nets cover banana trees whose leaves wilt with the surrounding dry vegetation.
“We call it the valley of bananas,” said Meir Barkan, tourism director for the Ein Gev resort.
“When they began planting trees, there was no water problem and the banana is the only fruit that you harvest year-round.”
But without desalinated or recycled water, the farms are a main player in the “competition for resources between nature, agriculture and tourism,” said Eran Feitelson, geography professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
For Lior Avichai, agronomist at the Zemach Nisyonot research center, the solution is not to “kill agriculture and the local economy,” but to use less water.
Authorities propose providing the region with desalinated water via the aqueduct.
Skutelsky said that to better manage the ecosystem, the water should be sent further upstream and then allowed to flow down naturally.
But “that would be very expensive,” said Skutelsky.
Menahem Lev, 59, has spent 39 years of his life on the lake as a fisherman.
In his open palm, he displays a Saint Peter’s fish just pulled from his nets, barely bigger than his hand.
“The solution can only come from the government — or from the sky,” he said.
He points to the half-abandoned dock which pilgrims’ boats can no longer reach, forcing visitors to disembark on the bank.
“I am really ashamed when tourists see the lake in this state,” Lev said.