Teardrop in the Indian Ocean
By Gabriela Krizanova, Exodus' Reservations Manager
Before I visit a new country I always buy a guidebook so that I can soak up as much about the place and culture as possible. When I finished reading about Sri Lanka all I wanted was to jump on the next plane to Colombo. I was so impatient! As the days slowly dragged by I started doubting whether this country could really have it all: thousands of years of colourful history, Buddhism, inspiring mountains, wild ocean, picturesque scenery, amazing food and a simple, peaceful way of life. Fifteen days were more than enough to make me realize that this island has got much more to offer than I expected, but in the end it was Roshan – our trip leader- who added the final touches and created the perfect experience.
At the start of the trip we headed inland. The centre of the island prides itself with some the richest and most impressive archaeological monuments in Asia. We started off at the cave temples at Dambulla - incredible Buddhist temples carved into a mountain in the 1st century BC. From there we continued to Sigiriya where ruins of an ancient rock fortress from the 5th century AD are still standing on a massive red stone monolith which dominates the country for miles around.
The most spectacular however, was the 10th century capital of Polonnaruwa. Walking round its well preserved palaces, dagobas and sculptures makes you feel like you've been magically transferred into the past. It was breathtaking.
To balance off the history lessons you can chose to do an exciting elephant ride into the jungle, visit spice gardens and a local food market, or take a bike ride through the villages on a sunny afternoon to see people getting on with their everyday lives. The day finishes with the most amazing home made curry cooked by one of the families in the village.
Travelling further inland we arrived at the second biggest city and the cultural centre of the island - Kandy. Our first steps led to the Temple of the Tooth which is the spiritual heart of the city where every day hundreds of people come to meditate and pray by the most sacred Buddhist relic - The Buddha's tooth. The atmosphere created from the burning incense, the beating drums and the crowds of people in silent prayer was unforgettable.
Leaving the busy city and its the crazed tuk-tuk drivers behind, the bus climbed along the never ending switch-backs up to the hill country covered with rubber and tea plantations. Between December and April it is possible to conquer 7362 foot high Adam's Peak however no matter when your travel you can trek to the World's End where the ground drops almost 4000 feet down to the plains. Nothing will prepare you for the stunning views where on a clear day you can see as far as the ocean.
If you are a wildlife lover you will definitely enjoy the game drive in a national park and the visit of a turtle hatchery on the south coast. Whatever you do, don't miss out on the charming Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe where you can see how they feed orphaned baby elephants before attempting to return them back to the wild. The absolute highlight of my holiday was The Pinnawela elephant orphanage where you can watch these intelligent and dignified animals taking their daily 2-hour bath in a wide calm river. I guarantee you that you will leave with a memory-card full of amazing photos.
Sri Lanka has the 2nd lowest productivity in the world but the highest literacy of all 3rd world countries. Unfortunately it also receives a very negative media coverage due to the Tamil Tiger rebels which are now considered a terrorist group. However many analysts say that the rebels have been reduced to just 2,000 capable fighters and have very little future as a conventional force. The state police have managed to push the Tamil Tigers and their supporters to the north west of the country and plan to remove the group in the next couple of years. The western medias portrayal of the Tamil Tigers movements has resulted in a significant drop in the number of tourists visiting the island which is having a catastrophic effect on the economy. During my trip I found Sri Lanka to be a peaceful country and saw nothing of the apparent troubles and would highly recommend this gorgeous teardrop in the Indian ocean as your next ‘must visit’ destination.
Gabriela travelled on Exodus' Discover Sri Lanka (AIL)