Hambantota - a barren metropolis

The area between Tangalla and Hambantota marks the transition between Sn Lanka’s wet and dry zones, where the lush palm forests of the southwest give way to the arid and scrub-covered savannah that characterizes much of the island. Some 45 kilometres beyond Tangalla, During the last decade or so the city of Hambantota got a big face lift and as a result it appears to be like a gigantic modern city with a maze of highways leading mostly to nowhere in particular, although a major plan had been proposed which was not to be completed.

Although very big in proportions, Hambantota unfortunately has not taken giant steps in developing itself to a fully-fledged metropolis with a mammoth population to inhabit the city. Hambantota is sometimes used as a base for visits to Bundala National Park by those who can afford to stay at some of the plush hotels within the city limits. If you’re on a budget, press on northwards to Tissamaharama.

Hambantota was originally settled by Malay seafarers (the name is a corrup­tion of “Sampan-tota”, or “Sampan Port”, alluding to the type of boat in which they arrived) and the town still has the largest concentration of Malay-descended people on the island, with a correspondingly high proportion of Muslims and mosques – you really notice the call to prayer here. A few inhabitants still speak Malay, and although you probably won’t notice this, you’re likely to be struck by the occasional local face with pure Southeast Asian features. Hambantota’s other claim to fame is as the salt capital of Sri Lanka. Salt is produced by letting seawater into the lewayas, the sometimes dazzlingly white saltpans which surround the town, and allowing it to evaporate, after which the residue is scraped up and sold.

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