Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it was called before its became a republic within the Commonwealth in 1972 is a little island in the Indian Ocean that is home to an unbelievable cultural kaleidoscope of ancient temples, monasteries, palaces, Buddha statues, ancient cities, holy mountains, cave complexes and immortal paintings, all belonging to a past dating back 2500 years. Adding significance to this cultural treasure trove are the breathtakingly beautiful colonial period edifices such as vast tea plantations, magnificent forts, lighthouses, railroad wonders, aristocratic mansions, estate bungalows, commercial buildings, bridges, churches and wartime cemeteries.
Archaeological evidence indicates that Sri Lanka was home to Paleolithic (Homo erectus) also known as the Old Stone Age people from around 300,000 BP and even as early as 500,000 BP. Strong evidence indicates prehistoric settlements by about 125,000 BP. Furthermore it is known that a group of Mesolithic hunter gatherers known as the Balangoda Man (named after the place where his remains were found) probably the first modern inhabitants of the island who lived in caves prior to 34,000 BC. Several of these caves, namely the Fa-Hien, Batadombalena, Beli-lena, Alawala and Nilgala bear ample testimony to the existence of this anatomically modern man in South Asia. Later evidence shows large settlements, believed to be before 900 BC at Anuradhapura indicating the existence of an Iron Age culture. Nevertheless the earliest known-inhabitants of the island were probably the Indigenous Veddahs, hunter-gatherer people numbering around 3,000 whose descendants still live in the Uva Province of Sri Lanka.
Since ancient times Sri Lanka was ruled by sovereigns; a royal dynasty with 181 monarchs that lasted over 2000 years. The first recorded King of Sri Lanka was Prince Vijaya (543 – 505 BCE) who established the Kingdom of Tambapanni and the last being Sri Vikrama Rajasinha (1780 -1832) of the Kingdom of Kandy. The monumental feats of the ancient monarchs were monumental irrigation schemes, reservoirs, palaces, temples, stupas, cave temples, royal baths, landscaped gardens and awe-inspiring sculpture are still evident in most parts of the country bearing ample testimony to a proud heritage of over 2500 years.
The colonial rule in Sri Lanka began in 1505 with the arrival of the Portuguese under Lorencco de Almeida whose primary aim was to establish a flourishing spice and cinnamon trade.
One Hundred and fifty three years after the Portuguese invasion the Dutch, in 1658 took control over the coastal areas of the country, which they ruled for 140 years before the British took over in 1796. In 1815 the British took control of Kandy in addition to all other parts of the island making it the first European power to rule the complete country. Flourishing coffee, coconut and cinnamon plantations were established along with a vast network of roads and railways for the transportation of the produce. In 1867 coffee was replaced by tea as the main commercial crop after deadly leaf blight wiped it out completely. Today Sri Lanka is one of the top most tea producing countries in the world that is synonymous with high quality, great tasting tea. In February 1948 Sri Lanka gained independence from the British and the legacy left behind can still be experienced in every part of the island. Along with architecture, culture and the English language, the impact and influence of British rule in Sri Lanka is still strikingly visible by way of vast tea plantations, roads, parks, bridges, churches, hospitals, buildings and even waterfalls and wartime cemeteries, most of them named after the British rulers.
Today visitors have the opportunity to relive the British colonial grandeur; vacation in a converted tea factory now a luxury hotel situated on a functioning tea plantation, experience renovated colonial bungalows on the tea trails, visit the first tea plantation at Loolecondera Estate, pioneered by Scottish planter James Taylor tea in addition to other tea plantations begun by British planters of that era. Be enticed by beautiful Nuwara Eliya, popularly called “Little England”. Wander through the impressive Horton Plains in the central highlands named after Sir Robert Wilmot Horton, watch the beautiful Bakers Fall named after Sir Samuel Baker or just relax by the beautiful Lake Gregory named after British Governor Sir William Gregory. Stop at Lipton’s seat with its panoramic viewpoint named after tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton.
The list is endless… nostalgic Brit reminiscences fill every nook and corner of this little island that was under British rule for 146 years.