Sri Lanka I.: A Journey for Warmth, Tee, Spice, and Fantastic Culture - VIDEO
Sro Lanka is referred to also as Ceylon. You can find the country on the island of the same name mere dozens of kilometers south of India. The country has a population of 20 million people. The country has very diverse culture, and natural environment. Buddhisms, Islam, Hinduism and Christianity mix in this country which is telling about the local culture. Natives divide to two groups – the Sinhalese (75 %), and Tamils (15 %). In the mountains, you can encounter the Tamils whose ancestors were moved there from India for the purpose of tee plantation in the 19th century. It was done by the British.
With the altitude the terrain changes from the lowlands with coconut groves, and rice fields through forests in uplands, and tea plantations in the mountains. There are also moorlands with primeval forests located in the highest altitudes Hundreds of beautiful beaches with gold-colored, corral sand line the coast. There are many possibilities where to do some diving, or surfing. Mountain hiking is also very popular for the beautiful views at high altitudes. The best experiences you would get in many of the national parks such as Yala in the southeast, or near Udawalawe.
You can also go to explore countless temples. Some are even more than 2 thousand years old. You will see large Buddha statues, majestic stupas, cave complexes, colorful paintings depicting historic moments, vast Hindu and Buddhist temples, and even small village sanctuaries where it seems timeless.
The relics of the colonial rule of the Portuguese , Dutch, and British. The most interesting colonial landmark is the Dutch fortress of Galle. There you feel like in the 16th century Europe, only with coconut trees, and monkeys above your head. Another city of this kind is Nuwara Eliya - the center to the tea planting. It resembles an English city with its architecture, and also weather.
Where to go?
You can land on the island just to enjoy its beaches and sunny days when there is snow in the Czech Republic. Low-budget travelers and hard to please tourists will all enjoy it. Most of the people go inland to explore island’s culture. I really recommend it.
Perhaps the most popular circuit starts in Colombo, then you would go to Kandy, island’s cultural hub. In the latter, you find the temple with Buddha’s tooth, and unforgettable ride on mountain railroad that follows tea plantations resting on steep hills, to the quite town of Ella in the south of the mountains. You can travel there by boat from there to the largest summer resorts located on the west coast. Or you can continue southwards to see the national parks of Yala, Udawalawe or Bundala, and dozens of quite villages that have fabulous beaches, it is between Tangalle, Matara, Galle, and Hikkaduwa.
Another option is to travel to the so-called cultural triangle. It is within the cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, and Kandy. There are the oldest Buddhist and Hindu landmarks on the island. Since the 4th century B.C. there lived a very prosperus and advanced Sinhalese culture. I very large area depopulated once the civilization fell. Archeologists found its remnants only in the 20th century. You should visit at least rock temples in the city of Dambulla, a 5th-century citadel, Sigiryi’s gardens, monumental ruins of the former royal city of Polonnaruwa, and sacred Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s former capital of more than 1500 years. You can continue to Kandy to the mountains.
Less frequent, yet very interesting, might be journey northwards. There lays the center of the island’s Hindu culture. Its capital is the city of Jaffna. On your way there, you can stop in the National Park of Wilpattu. There you will experience an unforgettable safari.
More adventurous travelers like to explore the east coast. This part of the island has been damaged by the recent civil war. Transport infrastructure is being renewed only in the present. So, don’t expect rich hotels. The best thing you can find there are deserted beaches, great opportunities to surf, and people who are not spoiled by the greed to make money.
If you enjoy chilli, kari, and rice then Sri Lanka is a paradise. "Rice and curry" is the national meal. You can eat how much you can in local cuisines for the cost of only couple of cents. Mostly you get a plate of rice with some vegetables, chicken, or fish (meat is not obligatory, so it is easy for vegetarians to avoid it) all in small bowls. Often are included fruit chutney or sambul grounded coconut, and chilli.
You will get rice and curry often for a breakfast. If you feel like you have enough of rice, say that you want rotti - delicious coconut flat cakes, or hoppers - thin pancakes that look like a bowl. Mostly you get them with some vegetables, and sambul. But you can ask for a sweet version of it.
Don’t forget fruits. You can get several kinds of mango at local markets. Also you can buy there about 10 kinds of bananas (I recommend red ones), papaya, avocado, small melons , and about ten other kinds of fruits worth tasting. Prices are about one third lower in villages compared to supermarkets. And the quality is much better.
The best are "king coconuts" - young, orange (sometimes green) coconuts. You will see them all around. They contain coconut water which is very refreshing and also works as a disinfection, and prevention to stomach distress. If you let them cut in half once you drank the water, you can gouge out pupl.
All guide books insist to avoid tap water, ice and icecream included. I did not mind. I did not have any problems during the month I spent on Sri Lanka. I do not imply that you should drink tap water in small villages but you won’t, probably, inflict any harm on yourself by putting an ice cube to a juice.
When to travel?
The main tourist season is at its peak from January to March (because it is cold in Europe). If you don’t mind a bit of rain, frequent transfers, then you can travel anytime. November-December are the rainiest and coldest months. Despite this I spent almost two weeks around Ella. Regular afternoon rain was no problem once I had an umbrella. At the beginning of December, I travelled mostly along the south coast. Except seldom ten-minute sprinkles it rained only once. Yet it was supposed to be rainy weather then there. Rains are common in the northern part of the island in the summer. The weather is dry in the mountains.
Text/photo/video: Matouš Vinš
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