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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Trip to World Heritage Site of Sigiriya

Trip to World Heritage Site of Sigiriya
We, the four Rotarians, were brave enough to accompany a contingent of sixty members of the Inner Wheel District 328, Bangladesh drawn from different clubs of the District to attend their South Asian conference for the year 2010-2011 held on 23 and 24 April, 2011 in Habarana, a North West town from Kandy. The Inner Wheel's South Asia conference is held in the area once in three years. The next conference is scheduled to be held in Bangladesh in the year 2013-2014.

Inner Wheel clubs are associates of Rotary clubs and are formed by the wives of the Rotarians. The Headquarters of the Inner Wheel is in Manchester, UK. The Inner Wheel District 328, Bangladesh comprises 28 clubs with over 660 members.

The route of the journey was -- Dhaka-Colombo-Kandy-Sigiriya Village Resort-Habarana-Colombo-Maldives-Chaaya Islands-Male-Colombo-Dhaka. The journey took us ten nights and eleven days.

In this write-up (heavily drawn from literatures available on the tour and the related websites), I will briefly touch on Sri Lanka, Colombo, Kandy, Maldives and Male but will present somewhat intrinsic details about World Heritage Site at Sigiriya, Sigiriya Village and Chaaya Island. I will also present history of tea, as I could come across from the varieties of tea and coffee menus available in the lobby of the Hotel Ceylon Continental, where most of us stayed while in Colombo, for the knowledge of the general readers.

I had a feeling that the journey would not have been complete without a visit to Sigiriya Village, Sigiriya Rock Fortress and Chaaya Island. It is recommended that those who are either on official or pleasure trip should not forget to visit those places.

Sri Lanka 

Sri Lanka has an area of 83,000 sq km, about half of Bangladesh with a population of only 21 million. For the last two years, they could maintain a growth rate of 8%. With the 30 years of war with LTTE over, people everywhere see a booming Sri Lanka now and in future.

The capital city is Sr Jawardenapura, Kotte, whereas Colombo is the island's business and commercial city. Sri Lanka is one of the most densely populated areas, only second to Bangladesh among the least developed countries in Asia. Seven per cent of the population is Muslims, Colombo's population is 650,000. The island is the fast growing tourist centre in Asia. Sri Lanka was selected as the lead country in tourism in BIMST-EC in 1998. Lanka's per capita income is around US$ 1,500; textiles, garments, tea, coconut, gems, diamonds, jewellery, rubber-based products are the prime export items.

During our 14 hours' journey on highways and sightseeing tours within Colombo and Kandy, we have not seen any beggars around, no street quarrel anywhere, not heard any honking of horns, not seen any overtaking, or parking vehicles here and there, no pile of logs or furniture or wood. 

I lost my mobile phone twice and could get them back even after several hours. On discussing this with one of the Sri Lankans, I could gather that every telephone has a unique number. On complaint of loss or theft to the appropriate authority, the phone itself is locked from further use inside Sri Lanka and, as a result, there is no use of stealing the instrument!

Even with wars on, they could build a deep seaport; roads are now being widened; 473 acres of sea are being reclaimed to build a modern town; tourism is booming and major five and four star hotels in Colombo are built facing the sea. Unlike the scenario in Cox's Bazar, no hotels are built within 200 yards from the shore.

Golfers should not forget to carry the golf set along. You can take some time off and make a dash to Royal Colombo Golf Club (RCGC) and play at least 9 holes.


'Kandy, the hill capital, is another World Heritage Site.' It can be compared with any European hill city. It was the last stronghold of the Sinhalese kings during the Portuguese, Dutch and British rule and finally ceded to the British in 1815 after an agreement. Close by are the remains of Royal Palace, Maha Wasala, Palle Wasala - where the queens stayed - now used for the National Museum.

If you are a golfer, do not forget to play golf at Victoria golf course. The certificate hung on the wall of the golf shop says, "It is the best golf course in Asia." It is about 1-hour one-way journey from the Hotel Mahweli Reach. Riding on the zigzag hilly road to the golf course will give you a feeling of travelling to Kaptai from Chittagong. But do not forget to carry plenty of balls, because there are plenty of bushes all around the golf course.

Sigiriya Village

Living in the Sigiriya village resort - imagine you are surrounded by chalet type rooms, greenery, various types of abundant Ayurvedic plants and trees, water bodies here and there, cottages on the trees, playground for the kids at a distance, and interconnecting pathways complete with a sprawling swimming pool - gives you a feeling of tranquility and calmness; if you complain of high level of stress present due to heavy workloads, and escalating demands in your occupations back home, you may return as a new person with soothing nerves, and yourself completely rejuvenated.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

Sigriya is home to the 5th century 'Fortress in the sky' which is perhaps the single most fantastic wonder of the Island. People here tend to believe that it is the 8th wonder of the world. It is also known as Lion Rock because of the huge lion that used to stand at the entrance to the fortress. The huge rock rises almost to a sheer height of 700 feet.

On its summit are the foundations of what was once a great and sumptuous palace and gardens complete with swimming pool. On one of the stairways, the only known ancient work of Sinhala secular painting survived in the form of Frescoes of life-sized damsels in all the freshness and delicacy of their original colour.

Sigiriya dates back to 1-2 centuries BC. Monasteries Kasiyapa established a fortress in 473 AD and shifted the capital from Anuradhapur to Sigiriya. As one approaches the lion rock, one could still notice two fountains built then still flowing with water which are working on the principle of gravity and pressure. Two cisterns were built then on the two sides to control the water pressure.

As said before, up on the hill was the palace and down the hill was his playground, audience hall, and other functional activities.

An excavation done at the cave site called 'Aligula' has revealed evidence of pre-historic settlements of which thirty have been found and eight of them contain brahmi inscription.

The bodhi - tree shrine and the stupa in the boulder garden are monuments that testify to the second monastic phase after Kasiyapa.

Unfortunately, Kasiyapa (whose mother came from the common caste, and father was a king) ruled only for 18 years. His half-brother was all along against his ascending the throne. He came back one day with fighting force composed of South Indians and reached Habarana. As Kasiyapa heard about it, he proceeded towards Habarana with his army mounted on elephants.

On their journey forward, the elephants sensed marshy and muddy land ahead and began to retreat. Sensing this as an evil omen, the whole army retreated without a fight. On this, Kasiyapa killed himself. He killed his father before. Perhaps the guilt of killing his father overpowered his conscience at that point. 

On our return to Colombo, we visited the Elephant orphanage situated at the town Rambukkana - started in 1975 to house the abandoned and the wounded. The orphanage has grown to be a big family. The number of elephants has now increased well over 40 including the baby elephants brought from other areas and babies born in captive breeding programme. 

On the way, you pass through Krunegale - the coconut triangle - where the largest number of coconut trees are grown with preponderance of yellow coconut. Passing through this road, one may have a feeling of travelling through a garden, surrounded on both sides by flowers, banana, varieties of fruit trees. The ride is pleasant indeed.

History of tea

Tea is one of the major export items of Sri Lanka. It is famous for brand names like Dilmah, JAF, Earl Grey, Green Tea, Black Tea. While in Bangladesh Krishi Bank as a General Manager, I was also looking after about 150 tea gardens for meeting their financial needs.

I knew that tea was introduced to this part of the world by the British Raj. It didn't much occur then to know its history in detail. Perhaps I rather spent time much on financial matters. Now that I have come across on its history a little bit from my Sri Lankan trip, I have a feeling that I should present it for the benefit of those who want to know about it in detail.

The story of tea begins over four and a half thousand years ago. According to the Chinese Mythology, in 2737 BC, the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, along with scholars and herbalists, was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled water. A leaf dropped into the water. Shen Nung, however, decided to try the brew. Incidentally, the tree happened to be the wild tea tree.

From the earliest time, tea was renowned for its properties as a healthy, refreshing social drink. By the 3rd century AD, many stories were being told and some had written about tea and the benefits of tea drinking, but was not until the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) that tea became the China's national drink and the word 'Cha' was used to describe tea.

The first mention about tea outside China and Japan is said to be by the Arabs in 850 AD and it was they who were reputed to have brought it to Europe via the Venetian Circa 1559.


It is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, formed by a double chain of 26 atolls (this chain of islands is in reality the tops of a vast undersea mountains - the atolls are composed of coral debris, live coral reefs and sand bars - this acts as a natural barrier against the storms and high waves of the sea, forming lagoons), featuring 1192 islands of which only 200 are inhabited. 

The atolls are dispersed over an area of 90,000 sq km, in geographic terms, the most dispersed country in the world. The country has a population of 300,000 people, with Male, the capital of the country, is inhabited by 100,000 people only.

The Maldives is the smallest Asian country by both size of population and land area. With an average ground level of 4 ft 11 inch above sea level, it is the lowest country on the planet. It is also the country with the lowest highest point in the world at 7 ft 7 inch and rising sea levels are a concern for the Maldives.

The first settlers date back to 300BC-300AD. 100% of the population is Muslim. No non-Muslim can be a citizen of the country.

Real GDP grew by 7.5% for more than a decade. Today, the Maldives' largest industry is tourism accounting for 28% of GDP and more than 60% of its foreign exchange receipts. Fishing is the second leading sector. Recently, they are out of the LDC status.

Historically, Maldives provided enormous quantities of cowry shells, an international currency of the early ages. From 2nd century AD, the islands were known as the 'Money isles' by the Arabs. 'Monteria Moneta' was used for centuries as a currency in Africa, and huge amounts of Maldivian cowries were introduced into Africa by western nations during the slave trade. The cowry is now the symbol of the Maldives Monetary authority.

Chaaya Island

The island is a 30-45 minutes trip by speed boat from the Maldives' international airport. Once you arrive in the island paradise, life transforms. Tranquility envelopes you and leaves you fabulously rested. Life will never be the same again. Each day is more blissful than the previous one. Each day is a memory to be treasured. This is a holiday experience that will remain with you forever.

The warm waters of the azure sea are an ideal balm that lifts the spirits and calms the soul. Whilst perfect waves make the surfers an unforgettable experience, the clear water allows you to sample the beauty of the underwater treasure.

Celebrate the most memorable moment, standing on the soft white sandy beach surrounded by the preponderance of turquoise and blue waters studded with colourful corals and marine life. As you seek complete leisure and relaxation during holiday, soothing nerves for returning home are completely rejuvenated.

The in-house experience is unparalleled. There is an array of fabulous options for you. To select from the choice of accommodation varies from garden bungalows to beach and water bungalows, but each option is unique and memorable.

The gastronomical experience of freshly caught sea food awaits you. Apart from that you have a choice of culinary delights to tickle your tastes and leave you satiated.

Do not forget to go island hopping and submarine ride where you will discover underwater treasure and tradition and a way of life that is so different, among the natives of the nearby islands.

There are a lot of Bangladeshi workers in the island and in Male. According to them, they are the lowest paid employees, and their employment is off and on terminated in the absence of any relevant protocol between the two governments. A protocol is needed to be signed soon to protect their employment and wages. 

A K M Nozmul Haque
(A K M Nozmul Haque is the former Managing Director of Prime Finance and Investment Ltd.)


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