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See more in Sri Lanka as the eastern province opens up to tourists

British Airways has just announced it will commence flights to Sri Lanka from Gatwick (via the Maldives) three times a week from 31 March 2013. Millions of holidaymakers visit Sri Lanka each year and as the east coast opens up to tourism, it’s set to become even more popular. It was the civil war in 1983, that took the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka off-limits. Almost 30 years later, with the civil war over and the completion of Tsunami rehabilitation projects, this part of Sri Lanka is gearing up to receive an influx of visitors. Situated on the east coast, the small coastal resort of Pasikudah is one area prime for tourism as many Sri Lanka hotels are set to open in the next year. With one of the longest stretches of shallow coastline in the world, Pasikudah is ideal for swimming and watersports especially as the current is relatively weak compared to the rest of the country. In addition to exploring the local towns, this area is ideal for day trips to the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa, UNESCO heritage site of Sigiriya and an afternoon safari in Minneriya National Park. Polonnaruwa The second capital of Sri Lanka and built in 667AD, the remains that stand today give a glimpse into a regal past long since forgotten. The crowning glory of the site is Gal Vihara where four beautiful and mesmerising giant Buddha are situated having been carved by hand out of one solid slap of granite rock. Sigiriya Sri Lanka’s second most important heritage site and one that was made iconic in 1982 when 80’s band, Duran Duran, filmed the video for their classic hit ‘Save A Prayer’ from the top of the rock. It was built in just seven years starting 477AD by King Kassapa and designed as an impregnable fortress to ward off his brother Mogallana, who had been exiled to India by the king and vowed to make revenge. In addition to being impregnable, Kassapa also designed Sigiriya to be his pleasure palace where he housed his women. The rock is made up of four lower gardens and the palace atop and makes for a stimulating, if not rather tiring, climb. Minneriya National Park Surrounding Minneriya Tank which was created by Mahasena, this National Park offers an unusually wide range of habitats despite its relatively small size when compared to other national parks. It is most famous for the large herds of wild Sri Lankan elephants that gather every evening around the tank to drink and bathe. This event has been popularly dubbed as “The Gathering”. Other mammals found in the park include sambar, spotted deer, slothe bears, leopards and jackal, although the last three are very rare. There is also a good chance of seeing macaque and purple-faced langur monkeys. The park is also famous for its bird life boasting some 160 species.
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