Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon), is a small tropical island in the Indian Ocean, less than 50 kilometres southeast of India. A belt of high mountains in south-central Sri Lanka gives this island a range of climates. The country can be divided into four regions: the southwest, the central highlands or Hill Country, the east and the northern lowlands. Sri Lanka has two seasons: wet and dry. Heavy rains and monsoons arrive in the north and south at different times of the year.

Sri Lanka's south and central regions receive the most rainfall. There are coconut, cinnamon and clove plantations in the southwest, as well as plants used in Ayurvedic or traditional medicine. Rainforests containing hardwood trees such as teak, ebony and silkwood used to grow here, but these have become scarce due to deforestation. The low country is inhabited mostly by Sinhalese. Colombo, now known as Jayawardenapura, is a major sea port and the industrial and commercial centre of the country.

The Hill Country is the coolest area, with an average temperature of 20°C year round. The highest peaks are Pidurutalagala (2,524 metres) and Adam's Peak (2,224 metres). The country's longest river, the Mahaweli, rises near Adam's Peak and flows north to the sea at Trincomalee in the northeast. Sri Lanka is known for its varied wildlife, and the rainforests of this area are home to thousands of animals, including elephants, leopards, crocodiles, sloths, bears, jackals, peacocks and flying foxes, a bat-like mammal that lives in treetop colonies. Tropical fruits such as pineapple, mango, passionfruit, papaya and avocado grow in abundance. During colonial times, much forest was cleared for tea plantations. Rubber is grown on the lower hills; tea on the higher hills. Kandy, the capital of the Hill Country, is considered the cultural and spiritual centre of Buddhism.

The country's northern and eastern areas are relatively dry. Northern Sri Lanka is subject to frequent droughts; in lowland areas, the weather is hot all year, with temperatures ranging from 27 to 35°C. The landscape is dotted with thousands of reservoirs, built 2,000 years ago to provide a steady source of water. Jaffna, the northern metropolis, is the centre of Sri Lankan Tamil culture.

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Elephants are an important part of Sri Lankan culture. They are decorated for religious processions called peraheras, and their images appear in temples and palaces. Some elephants are still used for work. Others are in danger of extinction due to uncontrolled expansion of agriculture and development.