Sri Lanka unfurls before the senses as soon you arrive: the heavy warm air, the endless array of rich green foliage, the luxuriant swirls of the Sinhalese alphabet, the multi colored Buddhist flags, and the variety of saris, fruots, jewelry and spices on sale in the markets. Sri Lankan festivals announce themselves with multicolored lights strung over town clock towers and bazaar alleys. The sky turns deepest thundercloud black before a replenishing downpour fills the hundreds of lakes and rivers. Marco polo thought Sri Lanka was the finest island of its size in the entire world.
The island hangs like a pendant from the ear of India, physically and culturally. The main languages and religions were inherited from India, but Sri Lanka’s culture and society have unique, distinct qualities. The island became a strong hold of Buddhism when that faith faded in its homeland 1000 years ago, and it was a bastion of Tamil, Hindu culture when Muslim invaders threatened Tamil on the other side of the Palk Strait. The island has a longer history of western rule than any other Asian country its size. Sign of Portuguese, Dutch and British influences linger in institutions such as churches, tea states and forts, as well as in popular folk tunes, food and alcohol, and even the easy listening classic rock played on the radio.