By Carla Jreidini:
Last year, I went on an exploration trip to Sri Lanka with my friend Rana. It was my first time in Asia and that country seemed like the logical choice since I had heard so many great things about it on so many levels, especially from my cousin Jean and his wife Lynn (breadonbutter) who had backpacked there a year before. Another friend of mine, Lina, went there as well on a getaway and she put me in contact with this wonderful guide, Raja Ekanayaka. Raja was our shadow and guide all throughout the wonders of Sri Lanka. Thanks to him we got to experience the daily life of the locals, as he gave us a glimpse into their culture. We were also introduced to Yoga and even learned some bargaining tips.
Eleven hours later, which included a stop in Doha (since we flew with Qatar Airways), we arrived in Colombo Airport where we were instantly greeted by a friendly “Aayubowan”, which literally means “may you live a long life”.
As soon as I got out of the airport and got my first glimpse of Sri Lanka, I got a huge smile on my face, and I instantly felt that this place will forever leave an imprint in my heart. A familiar feeling hits you when you reach the streets of the city. If you think Beirut is chaotic, you should see the traffic in Colombo! We stayed in a charming old hotel in Negambo called Galle Face Regency.
Day 2: Dambulla
Raj drove 6 hours to get us to Dambulla. Our first historical visit was the Rock Temple and Golden Temple . You will be amazed to see at the bottom of the temple, a 30 meter high Buddha statue. The hike up to the temples was just incredible. This place of worship, full of monks, is so peaceful. You have to be barefoot to enter the 5 separate caves containing about 150 statues of Buddha. This tour took us around 3 to 4 hours to explore. Afterwards we headed to the hotel Heritance Kandalama. This hotel is A-MA-ZING!! It is located in the middle of the forest and built around a rock, in total symbiosis with nature.
Day 3: Dambulla
Waking up to the sound of birds and monkeys coming from every direction… Being completely surrounded by beautiful green scenery… this is what I call paradise on earth!
The breakfast was a full house with all kinds of food including rice and curry, omelets and egg hops. Not to mention the delicious fruits… Papayas, passion fruits, melons, mangos, bananas (red, yellow and green) and all kinds of exotic fruits you can imagine! This healthy dose of multi-vitamins was exactly what we needed for the long day ahead of us.
You can’t go to Dambulla and not climb the sigiriya rock, which is where we went after breakfast. The climb was a bit hard because of the humidity and high temperatures of October but it’s definitely worth it! Sigiriya is simply an awesome sight with amazing views and impressive archaeological sites. Legend has it that King Kassapa (AD 477-495) built a garden and a palace on the summit to serve royal and military functions but that wasn’t enough for the insecure King and so he eventually murdered his own father King Dhatusena of Anadhapura in order to achieve complete control of the kingdom. In 1982, Sigiriya was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Later on Raj took us on a guided tour inside the jungle to show us a glimpse of the local life in Dambulla. It all started with a bull ride in the forest. We saw some inhabitants living in primitive conditions, in huts surrounded by monkeys, donkeys, bulls and dogs. Then we reached a point where we had to walk, and finally we reached a swamp which we explored using a kayak.
Eventually we met up with our host “Nangui” (which means sister, and it’s is what we called each other), and her father who were waiting for us for lunch. This was a family who lived off the land. Our food was pretty basic, and was served in banana leaves. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life!
On our way back, I actually drove a tuk-tuk (not an easy task by the way).That was one of the most hilarious experiences ever! It’s like driving a bicycle but with an engine and a back seat.
Afterwards, we went to the Minneriya National Park to see the toque macaques, wild birds, and elephants. We got there around sunset, just in time to see the colors of the background gradually change as the sun sets.
Day 4: Trincomalee
We drove for 8 hours to get to Trincomalee, a beach resort town located north on the Indian Ocean coast. The trip was tiring but it was really worth it! We first stopped at Fort Frederick which was built by the Portuguese and rebuilt by the Dutch. Most of the fortress is under military authorities but you can stroll up to the big new standing Buddha statue. We stayed in Chaaya Blu hotel, which was located right on the beach. Trincomalee (or Trinco as the locals call it) is famous for its beaches.
Day 5: Kandy
Kandy was the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom which fell to the British in 1815. It took the British 16 years to build a road between Kandy and Colombo. Kandy is well known for its cultural and spiritual sites but also for its jewelry and crafts boutiques.
Day 6: NuwaraEliya
NuwaraEliya (meaning city of light) has a cool climate and is referred to as “little England”. The local economy is based on tea, cool climate vegetables and more tea! Tea is a vital part of the entire nation’s culture. We were amazed by the lush green landscapes everywhere. We visited the Glenloch Factory, a recommended, not so touristy place to buy good quality tea at bargain prices. We stayed at an old tea factory/plantation which was transformed into a hotel, The Tea Factory, a charming little place where you can pick your own tea and take it back home.
Day 7: Colombo
Our final day in Paradise
Our amazing guide Raj invited us over for lunch at his home in Colombo. We met his sister and her husband and their kids. We were honored to be his guests and to meet his relatives. We spent a great afternoon talking about our different cultures, beliefs and ways of life.
I hope that by sharing my experience I was able to give you a glimpse of this magical place and maybe even made you think about jumping on a plane right now and head there. As for me, I can tell you that the flashbacks I got while writing this made me itching to go back!
Bottom line is, if you like stunning beaches, amazing landscapes, ancient cities, spicy food, and discovering a new culture then Sri Lanka is the place for you!