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Hambantota, Sri Lanka

Hambantota is a very ancient port on the southeastern shore of Sri Lanka. It has been an important port for centuries, but in 2004 the major Indian Ocean Tsunami devastated the town and an estimated 4,500 people perished. The government of Sri Lanka immediately began a rehabilitation program to re-establish the port, airport and other infrastructure elements. Today it is one of South Asia’s biggest ports. For visitors, Hambantota is a gateway to several of Sri Lanka’s national parks in the so-called Dry Zone. Yala National Park is the most famous, hosting populations of leopards, elephants, sloth bears, wild pigs and numerous species of birds, as well as crocodiles. The contiguous Kundala National Park is a similar environment that is renowned for its variety of bird life including exotic stork species and flamingos. Inside the Yala park is Situlpawwa Monastery, a Buddhist pilgrimage site that contains a number of temples, crowned by a gleaming white pagoda set atop a massive red rock monolith. Also nearby are the very ancient Buddhist ruins of Magul Maha Viharaya, another pilgrimage site with picturesque sculpted and pillared temple platforms in a verdant setting.