Sri Lanka at a glance
Sri Lanka at a glance
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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Seeking tourists, Israel promotes a different sun and sand
MITZPE RAMON, Israel: Israel has already been credited with making the desert bloom. Now it hopes to make it boom — with tourists.
Seeking to bolster tourism to its vast and largely undeveloped Negev desert region, Israel is promoting luxury camping trips, Bedouin hospitality and challenging outdoor activities like dune surfing.
In addition, a new international airport is rising from the desert floor 18 kilometers (11 miles) from the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat and the neighboring Jordanian port of Aqaba.
Tourism in Israel is big business, bringing in $5.8 billion in 2017.
Arrivals to the country of about eight million citizens hit a record 3.6 million last year, the Israeli tourism ministry said.
The United States, Russia, France, Germany and Britain accounted for most of the visitors.
The ministry says that it now seeks to grow the Negev’s share of total Israeli tourist revenue from the present five percent to 20 percent within two to three years.
It also aims to increase the number of Negev hotel rooms from 2,000 to about 5,000 within six to seven years.
Israel is marketing the desert as a unique destination on Europe’s doorstep.
“When it’s very cold in Europe, let’s say in December, January and February, we have very mild temperatures in the Negev,” the tourism ministry’s Uri Sharon told journalists on a tour of the sparsely populated region.
Activities include hiking, biking, rock climbing, abseiling and dune surfing — akin to snowboarding on sand.
The Negev is also home to a geological marvel: the Ramon Crater, the world’s largest erosion crater.
Salaam El Wadj has opened up the encampment where he lives with his wife, children and goats to visitors, who can stay in one of the tents and listen to his stories of Bedouin life.
“I was born here in the Negev hills,” he tells his visitors over strong, sweet tea.
Wadj relates how the arrival a century ago of British and French administrators and, in 1948, officials of the new state of Israel, brought a drive for modernization that disrupted and threatened the nomadic Bedouin way of life.
Hosting tourists, he said, enables him to preserve his heritage.
“They don’t want to just sleep in a Bedouin camp but also to learn,” he said.
Hikers can walk along part of the Negev Highland Trail, covering about 12 km a day between Bedouin camps while their luggage is transported by vehicle.
Near Wadj’s site, Hannah and Eyal Izrael have planted vineyards on terraces where Nabatean farmers cultivated vines 2,000 years ago.
Their Carmey Avdat winery produces just 5,000 bottles a year of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and other wines.
Eyal supplements his income by offering tourist accommodation in cabins and group tours to surrounding sites of interest rather than industrializing his winemaking.
Visitors can help run the production line and bottle, cork and label their choice of wine personally.
“All the time there are tourists from all over the world coming to the Israeli desert to explore, trek, taste our wine, go to other farms to taste goat cheese,” he said.
“The Negev is a very safe and accessible desert and it’s warm here.”
The vines grow in a natural basin, watered in winter by runoff from the surrounding hills and augmented with a modern irrigation system fed by desalinated sea water piped from the Mediterranean coast.
Not far from Carmey Avdat is the town of Mitzpe Ramon, which stands at the edge of the Ramon Crater.
There, travelers after tranquility with a luxurious twist can go “glamping” — glamor camping — in luxury tents with hot showers and a personal chef.
When inky night falls over the crater’s floor, there is the option of gazing through high-powered telescopes at the stars shining brightly in the unpolluted sky.
The Negev’s heart is only about a two-hour drive from Israel’s main international airport near Tel Aviv.
The new Ramon Airport will bring jumbo jets from around the globe to the desert itself.
Its website says that it will be able to initially handle up to two million passengers annually, but will be able to expand to a capacity of 4.2 million by 2030.
Low-cost and charter airlines currently flying to Ovda airport, about 60 km away from Eilat, will move to Ramon, it says.
They include Ryanair, Wizz Air, easyJet, SAS, Finnair and Ural Airlines.
Construction began in May 2013.
Israeli media say that the airport is expected to start operations this autumn, in time for the November-May winter tourist season, but the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) is making no official forecasts.
The IAA says the original specifications for the project were revised in light of lessons learned during the 2014 Gaza war.
After a rocket fired by Hamas militants in Gaza hit near the perimeter of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, international carriers suspended flights.
IAA spokesman Ofer Lefler said that the revised plans for the Ramon airport will allow it to serve as a backup in addition to boosting tourism.
“In an emergency, not only will Israel’s entire passenger air fleet be able to land and park there, but also additional aircraft,” he said.