Sri Lanka - The Pearl of the Indian Ocean

As the fanfare of the festive season has died down, it is easy to feel the need to get away from the cold British winter and experience some sun. For a luxury holiday offering the requisite sunrays as well as excellent cuisine, views and different festivals throughout the year, look no further than Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka, officially known as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is an island nation in South Asia, located about 19 miles off the southern coast of India. With a population of around 20 million, the country is a multi-religious and multi-ethnic, with nearly a third of the population following faiths other than Buddhism, most notably Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. This multiculturalism can in part be attributed to the different rules of Sri Lanka, including colonisation by Portugal, the Netherlands and finally Great Britain. After peaceful negotiations with the British, the island nation became independent in 1948, and in 1972, the nation, then-known as Ceylon, changed its name to Sri Lanka, meaning "Resplendent Land".

As a result of the multi-religious background, Sri Lanka is renowned for its many religious festivals. Sri Lanka offers at least one festival each month as Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims celebrate both religious and national occasions. This month, for example, the full-moon festival of Dututhu commemorates the visit of Lord Buddha to Kelankya, the temple of Kelania. The Hindu community meanwhile celebrates the harvest festival of Thai Pongal, where homes are cleaned and decorated, farm animals bathed and sometimes adorned, and special dishes prepared. The sizeable Muslim community celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, roughly every 11 months, with prayers in mosques, distribution of alms, family-oriented celebrations and the enjoyment of traditional dishes. In addition, there are several national holidays, such as the Sri Lankan New Year, celebrated every year between 12-14 April, to ensure good fortune in the coming year. Amongst the traditional rituals undertaken, houses are spring cleaned, new clothes worn and newly harvested rice cooked in milk in new pots. Traditional games and music are enjoyed, and passing visitors are invariably invited to join in the celebrations. These are merely some of the many festivals held throughout the year, with further information being available from the Sri Lanka Tourist Board.

Apart from the festivals themselves, Sri Lanka can offer travellers the sights belying its rich heritage, such as the Temple of the Tooth, situated in the central city of Kandy, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It houses a tooth that came from the mouth of Lord Buddha, and is as a result considered one of Sri Lanka's most holy shrines. Kandy is also home to the Pinawela Elephant Orphanage, a national sanctuary for about 70 semi-tame elephants, allowed to roam freely around the orphanage, with bathing and feeding times being highlights for tourists. Other cities popular with tourists include Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.