I have to admit that Sri Lanka caught me completely off guard. I suppose the biggest (and more erroneous) generalization I made prior to arriving was comparing the country to India. Don’t get me wrong, I loved India and cannot wait to return, but when people ask me to summarize India the adjective which consistently recurs to me is intense. I could tell right off the bat that Sri Lanka was completely different. Upon leaving the departures hall at Bandaranaike International Airport we were not accosted and hassled by people vying for our services, which is standard practice in a multitude of countries I have been to, but rather gained our first glimpse at the reserved, laid-back approach the people of Sri Lanka depict. This would be the first of many such experiences with the amazing people of this country.
When I think back on my experience in Sri Lanka, I would describe the overall vibe of the people as more Southeast Asian than Indian in terms of their relaxed, go-with-the-flow pace. Perhaps this stems from the various religions practiced there. Predominantly a Buddhist country, Muslims, Hindus, and Christians all seem to interact in complete harmony with each other and even the locals admit that there are very few problems which result directly from religion (although the Sri Lankan Civil War, which ravaged the country from 1983-2009 was stemmed from a separatist militant group called the Tamil Tigers and had some religious ramifications, it mainly resulted from perceived (and to some degree, just) inequality dating back to the British occupation rather than direct religious conflict). This kind of religious coherence was a beautiful sight to witness and frequently took me aback, and everyone I met greeted me a smile and a kind gesture, despite the obvious financial divide between many of them and myself. I was truly touched by the kindness and generosity of the people in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan cuisine is, simply put, out of this world – a veritable smorgasbord for the senses. I suppose this is where some loose comparisons to India can be drawn. The most common lunches consist of rice and curry options, although I found the flavors comparably different to Indian cuisine. Rich, filled with a variety of spices ranging from sweet to sour to spicy, and each chef, whether it was at a higher end restaurant or just a local joint took immense pride in their variations on traditional food. Eating with your hands and having each ingredient locally grown and prepared fresh just added to the overall pleasure of the dining experience. At night an array of incredible street food is made such as arguably my favourite Sri Lankan dish kottu (composed of rotti, vegetables, various meat and spices, you can hear this dish being prepared from a mile away with the crash of metal on metal) and hoppers, as well as many other delicious treats. And the fruit, wow! On roadside stands throughout the country I had bananas, red bananas, mango, mangosteen (if you’ve never had one of these please try to find one), avocado, rambutans, jackfruit, gaduguda, pineapple, papaya, amongst a variety of others I had never tried and would have a hard time pronouncing, all sold for mere pennies. Suffice it to say this country is the equivalent to foodie heaven.
The landscape of Sri Lanka is as awe inspiring as it is diverse, frequently leaving me jaw-dropped, unable to fully comprehend what my vision was taking in. We opted for a driver through the country as we had a short period of time and a lot we wanted to see, which was something we had never done in the past. I was blown away by the diversity we would witness in such a short period of time. From the hustle and bustle of Colombo to the beautiful beaches of Unawatuna. Onwards to the arid and dry southeast and the incredible Yala National Park (where we had an amazing Safari which warrants a story in itself I shall write at a later date). Into the central highlands where lush green tea fields grow as far as the eye can see, and where I actually spent a night in Nuwara Eliya shivering in the dining room, (“But you’re from Canada!” the locals would exclaim with surprise in their eyes.), then out of the highlands and onward to Kandy, where we witnessed the yearly Perahera, a grand festival of fire, dances and elephants. Not to be outdone, northbound to Sigiriya, a marvel of architecture and one of the most astounding sites I have ever seen in my life, and onward to Polonnaruwa, which possessed ruins which awed me in terms of architectural detail in ways I haven’t experienced since Angkor Wat.
All told, Sri Lanka is an incredible country, one that not only met my expectations but exceeded them in more ways than I could possible quantify. I would highly recommend it to anyone with a bit of an adventurous spirit who wants to attain a lifetime of memories in a couple of short weeks. Although often referred to as the ‘teardrop of India’, do not draw false conclusions. This is not little India, but a truly magical and unique country, and one which if you visit it, I assure you will not regret it. Below is a small sample size of images I took along the way depicting this wonderful country.
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