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  Sri Lanka is a teardrop-shaped island south and slightly east of India, with an area of some 25,000 sq. miles (65,600 km2). The pre-history of the island spans the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and early Iron Ages. Among the Paleolithic human settlements discovered in Sri Lanka is Pahiyangala (named after the Chinese traveller monk Faxian), which dates back to 37,000 BCE. One of the first written references to the island is found in the Indian epic Ramayana, which provides details of a kingdom named Lanka, home of the demon Ravana who abducted Sita, the wife of Rama, an avatar of the Hindu god, Vishnu. Ancient cemeteries that were used before 600 BC and other signs of advanced civilization have been discovered on Sri Lanka, but Sinhalese history traditionally starts in 543 BCE with the arrival of Prince Vijaya or Singha, a semi-legendary prince who sailed with 700 followers to Sri Lanka after being expelled from the Vanga Kingdom (present-day Bengal). He established the Kingdom of Tambapanni, near modern-day Mannar. Singha is the first of the approximately 189 native monarchs of Sri Lanka described in native chronicles.

  Sri Lanka was the first Asian country known to have a female ruler: Anula of Anuradhapura (r. 47–42 BCE), and the rulers of the Anuradhapura Kingdom (377 BCE – 1077 CE) built extensive networks of water reservoirs, dams, aquaducts, canals, tanks, and water gardens, many of which are still in use today. It maintained close ties with European civilizations including the Roman Empire: Bhatikabhaya (22 BCE – 7 CE) sent an envoy to Rome who brought back red coral, which was used to make an elaborate netlike adornment for a Buddhist stupa. In addition, Sri Lankan male dancers witnessed the assassination of Caligula; and when Queen Cleopatra sent her son Caesarion into hiding, he was headed to Sri Lanka. The first dedicated hospital in the world was in Mihintale in the 4th century. A convent for Buddhist nuns was founded in China when Devasāra and ten other nuns came from Sri Lanka at the request of Chinese women and established the order there in 429.

  In 993 CE, the Chola Emperor Rajaraja I, a Hindu, invaded the island and devastated the Buddhist societal order; native rule was restored in 1070 CE, the country was reunited, the capital moved to Polonnaruwa, and ordained monks were sent from Burma to re-establish Buddhism, which had almost disappeared. The new kingdom prospered until 1215, when Kalinga Magha, a South Indian Hindu ruler, invaded and ransacked the old kingdoms. The next three centuries were a confused era of shifting kingdoms, battles, wrack, and ruin. During this time, Chinese admiral Zheng He and his naval expeditionary force landed at Galle in 1409, fought the Sinhalese, and left a stone tablet inscribed in three languages.

Portuguese explorers arrived in 1505 and the island was opened to Western trade; they were superceded by the Dutch in 1656. Both attempted to impose their rule on the island and a continuous series of alliances, treaties, battles, and treacheries ensued. From the 1590s, the Kingdom of Kandy in the central highlands was the sole independent native polity on the island, and Buddhism remained strong. Through a combination of hit-and-run tactics and diplomacy, the Kingdom kept  European colonial forces at bay before finally succumbing to British colonial rule in 1818 after which it was known as Ceylon. Sri Lanka was granted independence from the British Empire in February, 1948, and has struggled to achieve peace and unity.

  During the colonial period, Buddhism suffered at the hands of Christian missionaries and colonial administrators who refused to recognize and employ non-Christians. Monasteries and convents decayed, temples were abandoned, and many of the rituals disappeared. In the late 19th century, a native Buddhist revival began, largely through the efforts of a Brit, Henry Steele Olcott, who had converted to Buddhism. He founded Buddhist schools and began a series of publications to promote Buddhism; temples were rebuilt and native monks were once again ordained. The revival took hold and today Buddhism is flourishing; Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any Buddhist nation, with the Sangha having existed in a largely unbroken lineage since its introduction in the 3rd century BCE. After periods of decline, the Sri Lankan monastic lineage was revived through contact with Burma and Thailand. There are over 6000 monasteries today on Sri Lanka, the majority of the population is Buddhist, and 5 of the 8 World Heritage Sites in the country are associated with Buddhism.

Ancient Capitals — Nov–Dec 2014

Colombo to Kandy — March 2013

Places I've visited are marked in red