Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, long term travel, Sri Lanka, Travel

Sweet Sri Lanka



We leave Chennai on Monday evening, and arrive at the airport with plenty of time before our flight. When we finally began boarding, we are relieved to be on our way. But this is when it all gets a little weird. In addition to having to go through two security lines, we are all searched again at the gate prior to boarding the aircraft- a full on body pat down and thorough bag search. It seems a bit excessive, but nevertheless, I pass it off as good security measures.

Once we board, it seems to be chaos on the airplane. Everybody is up in the aisles, trying to change seats, conversing with each other. It just doesn’t seem “normal.” No one seems to obey any of the rules of flying. Cellphones stay on and are still being used while we were taxiing to the runway. The security agents who had checked us prior to boarding are on the plane, sitting in the row next to us, but seem to show little concern about what is going on. After we take off and the seatbelt sign is turned off, everyone gets up simultaneously, and again, they are chatting and meandering through the aisles. Needless to say, once we land, we are glad to be on the ground. We put it down to Sri Lankan airlines not being very organized or up-to-date on travel and safety regulations, but later learn the reason for all this.

Apparently, the Chennai – Colombo route is still a vibrant trade route, all kept under wraps…or, er, not so much. Many of the people on this flight take it weekly- Indians selling silk and fabrics in order to turn around and stock up on tax free booze before heading back to Chennai, and Sri Lankans doing the exact same thing in reverse. It’s sort of like Brits going to France for a day to stock up on red wine…a booze cruise. Apparently, none of the authorities really care because they are all paid off and in on the scheme.

Sri Lanka Part II –

Considering that Sri Lanka sits just 35 km south of the tip of India, I find a staggering difference between the two countries. I think I was expecting more of the same, but to my surprise, I discover a clean, more modern and ordered place.

A sense of optimism is felt amongst Sri Lankans. Smiles are abundant, and the days of war seem like they ended years ago, not just months. Everyone is eager to talk to you, help you on your way, hear what you think about their country. They love their music…kudos to the Colombo radio stations! I heard songs that I thought I might never hear again, interspersed with the classic hits of Bon Jovi and Aerosmith.

I am only passing through Sri Lanka on my way to Singapore, so I want to see as much as I can in the little time I have. I decide to get out of Colombo and take a day trip to the hill town of Kandy. Kandy is about 200 km from Colombo, so I organize to have a driver from the hotel take me. I meet Senarath, my driver and guide for the day, at 7am in the hotel lobby. An early departure ensures we will catch the elephant feeding at the orphanage.

On the way, I get to see what a diverse country Sri Lanka is. Although small, this country has something for everyone- scuba diving and snorkeling, surfing, wildlife, unique vegetation, trekking, tea picking, gem hunting- a place (I learned) where you should spend more like 2 weeks, not 2 days. As we drive through the little towns on our way to Kandy, Senerath points out the products that each place is know for… cashews here, pineapples there, cane furniture in the next town. Fruit stands are abundant, with bright orange king coconuts seeming to be the most popular item. These are unique to Sri Lanka, which makes them even more special!

Bath time at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage.

Our first stop is at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. We spend the morning watching elephants of all ages have their breakfast and then look on as the group is herded up and taken on a visit to the river for bath time. A couple of hours later, Senerath and I get back on the road, but not before sampling some king coconut juice…A roadside vendor hacks open two bright orange coconuts for us and we sip on the sweet juice. After we finish, we crack open the shells and scrape out the rind for an extra treat. Like India, nothing goes to waste in this country. After drinking the juice and eating the rind, the shells are collected and used for everything from decoration to fuel for fires.

Loose tea at Geragama Tea Factory.

From here, we drive up to an herbal garden, where I take a tour of a garden and see everything growing in its natural environment- plants, herbs, spices, coffee beans, cocoa… you name it, it’s here. These herbs and plants are then taken from the garden and used to cook up every type of natural remedy you can imagine- some to relieve arthritis pain, some to make your hair grow. I treated myself to a shoulder rub and a facial cleanse, made from sandalwood oil, aloe vera and jojoba – all for a whopping $3.

Next on my whirwind tour of Kandy is the Geragama Tea Factory, where Senerath and I start out with a cup of Ceylon tea. Despite the fact it’s about 85 degrees outside, and we were sitting above a tea factory churning out heat, the tea is quite tasteful. I then get an education on the tea-making process- from leaf picking to cup.

The famous ‘Tooth Relic’ Temple.

After a quick stop for lunch, we head to a batik factory and then to the famous Tooth Relic Temple. I meet up with Mapa, my guide at the temple, and he gives me a tour of the grounds and the actual temple itself. Buddhists believe when Buddha died and was cremated, his tooth remained intact and was found amongst his ashes. Throughout history, the tooth has passed many hands- having spent time in England and India, but it was turned back over to Sri Lanka, and is housed here. Apparently, the tooth is worth seven king’s ransoms and is taken out to be viewed only a few days a year. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see it, but you can’t actually “see” it… although some say they have.

Senerath and I enjoy a king coconut.

We begin our journey back to Colombo, and I ask Senerath if we can stop for one more king coconut juice. Since I am leaving Sri Lanka tomorrow morning, I have to get my fix. The rest of the way home, Senerath shares stories about life in Sri Lanka, his family, the years of the war, and his excitement that his country is now free. He hopes to explore places within his own homeland that have been off limits to him for decades. I think about coming back to Sri Lanka for a longer period of time in the near future.  Yes, I will be coming back. This is a gem of a country, and I feel slightly sad that my journey here has been so short.

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