Apr 20, 2015

Ratnapura -City of Gems

King Solomon one of the great kings of Israel is said to have wooed Queen Sheba with a set of jewels from Sri Lanka, while sending many ships to Sri Lanka to obtain supplies of precious and semi-precious stones apart from ivory, apes and peacocks.

Many years later, the engagement ring presented by Prince Charles to Princess Diana was one with a unique blue sapphire from Sri Lanka. The gem mining trade in Sri Lanka dates back nearly 2500 years to the time of the ancient kings and have been chronicled in the 'Mahavamsa', a historical record of Sri Lanka dating back to the founders of this country.

Translating into the 'City of Gems', Ratnapura is the capital of the Sabaragumuwa province located just over 100 kilometers from Colombo. For years, the mining town has been famous for its precious and semi-precious stones which are mined off the 'Kalu Ganga' (Black river), one of the main rivers in Sri Lanka. Home to one of the best varieties of Zircons and Moonstones in the world, Garnets, Topaz, Star Rubies & Star Sapphires, Alexandrite, Aquamarine, Amethyst, Blue & Yellow Sapphires, the gem trade is mainly in the hands of many private individuals and enterprises. Should you want to make a purchase it's best to visit the Ratnapura Gem Bureau, Museum and Laboratory as you have a wide range to choose from and are least likely to be cheated in terms of price.

Located in a fertile valley, Ratnapura serves as a crossroad between the Southern part of the country and the hills, and will take up just a few hours of your time when visiting. A strategic starting point, some begin their climb to Adams' Peak from Ratnapura. Although the journey is tougher and many opt for the easier route via Dalhousie, the view is fantastic. You can also access the 9000 hectare UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve - 'Sinharaja', the remaining bit of wet zone rainforest in Sri Lanka.  Home to more than 200 species of flora and 260 species of fauna, all of which are endemic to Sri Lanka, the trek through would be heaven for the nature lover and those who love the outdoors.

The town houses two main museums. The Gemological museum – which has everything relating to the gem trade in Sri Lanka and the National Museum – which has from 'ice age' fossil remains of rhino and hippopotamus to artifacts representing folk life in the region and many geological displays. One more place you shouldn't miss is the 'Maha Saman Devale', a 13th century shrine dedicated to the deity of the revered 'Adams' Peak'. Over the years it has become a religious and cultural icon with many statues of worship dedicated to the Lord Buddha and deity 'Pattini'.