Sri Lanka's capital has a special atmosphere and a delightful mixture of past and present. Its busy, man-made harbour from which tea, spices and rubber are exported, and bustling commercial centre stand side by side with historical museums, churches and monuments, fine restaurants and excellent shopping. Wide avenues and modern structures contrast with the crooked lanes and ramshackle buildings of the old Pettah quarter. See the Presidential residence and Old Parliament, the Gengarama Temple, the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara Buddhist Temple, visit the Dewiwala Zoo or perhaps take a trip to the Pinnawala elephant orphanage to see working elephants in their traditional role. Further afield visit the town of Kandy located by a serene lake high up in the hills. Here you can explore the sacred Temple of the Tooth, built to preserve the gold-casketed relic of Buddha's eye-tooth. Also take a peaceful walk through Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.
Man is believed to have lived in Sri Lanka as early as a half a billion years ago, though the political history of this Asian country did not begin until the 6th century AD. The history of the capital of Colombo began as Muslim traders settled along the bay. The Portuguese and Dutch settled here, followed by the British, who occupied the area during the 19th century, developing the local economy and expanding the city. Today it has a population of over 2 million.
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