For a small island, Sri Lanka has garnered a lot of names - Serendib, Ceylon, Teardrop of India, Resplendent Isle, Island of Dharma, Pearl of the Orient - an accumulation which reveals its richness and beauty, and the intensity of affection which it has evoked in visitors. For centuries it seduced travellers, who returned home with enchanting images of a langourous tropical isle of such deep spirituality and  serenity  that  it  entered the  Western imagination as a
 

Tahiti of the East. This, unfortunately, is the same island which, for the past 13 years, has been traumatised by a ferocious ethnic and religious conflict that has punctured the most willful exoticism and burned Sri Lanka into Western minds as the Northern Ireland of the Indian Ocean.

 

          Sri Lanka is shaped like a giant teardrop falling from the southern tip of the vast Indian subcontinent. It is separated from India by the 50km wide Palk Strait, although there is a series of stepping - stone coral islets known as Adam's Bridge which almost form a land bridge between the two countries. The island is just 350km long and only 180km wide at its widest, and is about the same size as Ireland, West Virginia or Tasmania

          The southern half of the island is dominated by beautiful and rugged hill country. The entire northern half comprises a large plain extending  from  the  edge  of the  hill  country  to  the  Jaffna  peninsula.

The highest mountain is the 2524m Mt Pidurutalagala near Nuwara Eliya and the longest river is the Mahaweli which courses from the centre and empties into the Indian Ocean at Trincomalee. The best beaches are on the south - western, southern and south - eastern coasts.