Sri Lanka’s first E Class highway – The Southern Expressway which is 126 km long highway links the Sri Lankan capital Colombo with Galle and Matara, major cities in the south of the island.
The Southern Expressway Project- SEP- was introduced by the Road Development Authority and the Ministry of Highways as far back as late 1980s. the University of Moratuwa undertook the Environment Impact Assessment — EIA study in 1996 and the report was submitted in early 1997 and in 2002 began under the “regaining Sri Lanka” program. Construction of the highway began in 2006 and completion up to Galle was done in November 2011. Later in March 2014, the section from Galle to Matara was declared open for the public by Mahinda Rajapakse, who was ruling during that period. The expressway runs from the suburbs of Colombo to Matara, slashing journey times.
While we voyage along the E01 with the impatience of arriving at the Southern beaches, lets our eyes wander to the fringes of the tarmac and behold the Island’s agricultural inheritance. The country’s dark coppery soil is its ultimate treasure. A soil so fertile that anything can take strong root here, is a common adage.
Coconut trees beckoned our attention with fringed leaves cha-chaing with the wind. Nothing paints a prettier picture of the Paradise Island than coconut palms glinting in the sun. The tall palms along the beach are the embodiment of enjoyment and tropical heaven. Yet, the copses of coconut that we glimpsed en route to Matara represent the economic importance of this unassuming palm. From its fruit to its root, this tree serves as cooking ingredients, medicine, roof material and lumber for furniture. The estates of the coconut triangle that leans on the E01 span out in acres catering to a never ceasing demand.
On the home stretch to Matara, the Island’s famous symbol stole our attention. Tea bushes concealed low-lying hills and surrounded pint-sized houses. Here tea does not take over the slopes to create a carpet of green. This truly Southern scene shows pruned tea bushes co-existing with the tangled wild of the terrain. As we breathed in this view, an unusual palm swayed into the window. Towering over the tea fields was a row of puwak the lanky cousin of the coconut tree. This is the mother plant of the betal nut, the kernel chewed with betal leaf, a traditional past time that color’s the mouths of its consumer crimson.
Rubber, coconut, cinnamon, paddy, cashew, tea, puwak and even the homely banana. The Southern Expressway is not just a quick ride to the glimmering southern coast, it’s a tour of the paradise Island’s bountiful crop.