Follow us to Sri Lanka: The Other Down Under
A recent two week trip to Sri Lanka was the best possible way to kick off the new year: not only is it a safe place to travel, it has something of interest for everyone from casinos to wildlife parks to some great sightseeing. It is true that the sea is bluer, the tiny winding streets happier and the trees taller. More importantly, the dizzy blend of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims, of temples mosques churches and cathedrals, of shops eateries teashops spas and beaches, is exhilarating. It is truly inspiring to just walk around Colombo or Kandy or Galle and just experience the myriad sights and sounds.
When you drive through Colombo, you see colourful shops, dhabaas, the Taj Hotel, palm trees and King Coconut all along the same road. The country may just be coming out of a 30 year old civil war, but its soul is much braver and inspiring than something a war can put down.
Colombo itself is a fun place to be for shopping and great New Year parties, especially those ticketed at the Taj and Galle Face area hotels. Shopping is surprisingly reasonable for the quality stuff one finds on every corner, especially the wonderfully touristy shops offering colourful elephant knickknacks and glorious beach flip flops of every kind. Requisite must-do’s include eating at the Ministry of Crab (owned by the legendary and gorgeous Sangakarra), shopping at the Arcade and Odels and going to the Mount Lavinia beachside restaurants. There is some truly amazing seafood to be found. My personal favourite was the Asian Fusion restaurant ant the Cinnamon Grande Hotel.
SL is famous for some legendary sacred religious sites, including Adam’s Peak and the temple I chose to go to, The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy built in 1595 to hold the single most sacred object in all of Sri Lanka -- the tooth of the Buddha. The tooth is supposed to have reached SL in the 4th Century and has faced a lot of violent history. The temple is beautiful and one find peace in every corner of its lotus filled halls. Although Kandy is close to Colombo, I would recommend a few days stay and a train ride through the countryside known for its tea. Colombo hosts the Gangaram Temple which is also worth a visit, for its museum, Budhist and Hindu shrines. For visitors, it is important to understand that Poya is the name given to the Buddhist holiday of Uposatha in Sri Lanka, where it is a civil and bank holiday. Poya occurs every full moon of the lunar calendar. Those are the days one should visit the temples to truly understand the underlying spiritualism of the country.
My next stop, after visiting the elephant orphanage at Pinnawala, going to the Turtle Hatcheries on the Galle Road and enjoying a fun boat safari on the Madu River, was the Galle Fort. Galle Fort is full of old Dutch churches, teeming with seafood, decaying Malay- style houses, nuns on bicycles, and untouched seaside. It has a slow, old world charm filled with tropical showers and scenic inn’s. It is quite satisfying to walk around the fort, allegedly the oldest functioning fort in the world. One of the best things you can plan for at Galle, is a whale and dolphin watching trip, something rare anywhere in the world.
SL made for a relaxing, easy vacation. It is truly worthwhile to spend a few days in the beautiful countryside.