Sri Lanka is a treasure trove crammed with tropical gems; mist-laden tea plantations, a kaleidoscope of birds, bright paddy fields and lakes adorned with candy-floss pink lotus flowers. Add to that a legion of wild animals, including elephants, monkeys and leopards, and pristine azure waters, and Sri Lanka really does have it all. Sri Lanka is often referred to as India’s cousin; many say that the small but dazzling island is the perfect “gentle” introduction to Indian life. However, this assertion undoubtedly does the island a disservice. With history and temples dating back 2,000 years, its own distinct culture and exquisite landscapes, a trip to Sri Lanka promises to be one of the best trips of your life.
Sri Lanka’s Ella train is an experience in itself. Rolling through the countryside, the automotive affords perfect views of paddy fields studded with bright saris. At the train stations, you will glimpse an insight into the hubbub of everyday Tamil life; vendors reach through the windows purveying fragrant snacks, such as chilli fritters or freshly cooked corn. The trains are normally full, so seats aren’t guaranteed, but as you stand by the window watching this beautiful, secret world roll past, you won’t mind about standing!
Whether you love vast white-sand beaches or hidden coves, still waters or fantastic surf, Sri Lanka promises to deliver when it comes to beaches. Due to the size of the island, it is easy to travel to find that perfect beach, too. The western coast is far more developed than the rest of the island, but it is still home to beautiful beaches; the south coast, with its fantastic surf and broad choice of accommodation is popular among backpackers and independent travellers; while the east coast, which until recently was under the shadow of the war, has some untouched beaches waiting to be discovered. So, don’t be content to visit the local beach every day; do some research, as around and find your own private idyll.
Sri Lanka is not short of national parks, and choosing “the best” depends on what you want to spot, and who you listen to. As with all excellent national parks, you can’t always guarantee that you are going to catch a glimpse of your quarry; one day, someone may be lucky and get up close to leopards, elephants – the lot. Others may be a “quieter” day, when you will have to content yourself with the experience of being in the jungle, surrounded by the colours and sounds of the jungle and its less shy inhabitants – birds and monkeys are rarely bashful! When it comes to size and volume of animals, Uda Walawe is as close as it comes to Eastern African safaris. Vast plains and countless elephants, not to mention (allegedly) the largest leopard population on the island, you will be very unlucky not to see anything at Uda Walawe.
Sri Lanka is steeped in history and it is impossible to travel the island without seeing the remains of former communities and majestic Buddhist temples. The city of Anuradhapura was a centre of power for over a thousand years, the crumbling yet majestic ruins of temples, buildings and monasteries laying testimony to the importance of the area and giving an enchanting insight into the country’s history. In the middle, you will find Sri Maha Bodhi, one of the oldest trees in the world, which is over 2,000 years old. Sri Maha Bodhi has been tended to by guardians for millennia, a thought which is at once awe-inspiring and humbling.
Before the British occupied Sri Lanka, its Hill Country’s mountains were cladded in jungle; wild and inaccessible. When the Brits arrived they, of course, needed a decent cup of tea so set about taming the forests and planting massive tea fields. Today, Sri Lanka’s tea plantations are a central part of not just their landscape, but their economy and they are incredibly beautiful. The vast, rolling hills of tea are punctuated by Tamils in bright saris, who undertake backbreaking work, day in, day out, to pick that perfect cuppa. A visit to a tea plantation is a fascinating experience; you are unlikely to look at a humble cup of tea in the same way again.
The majestic mountain in the south of the Hill Country has gone under a number of names: Adam’s Peak, because it is believed to be the place where Adam first stepped foot after being cast out of heaven; Sri Pada (Sacred Footprint) – for the footprint left by the Buddha as he travelled towards paradise, and Butterfly Mountain (Samanalakande), where butterflies go to die. For over a thousand years, pilgrims have ascended the mountain by candlelight; today, the pilgrims are joined by tourists who make the climb before dawn, reaching the perfect peak in time to see the sun dawn on a new day. Whatever your beliefs, Adam’s peak is truly enchanting.
If you are not a fan of curry and rice, Sri Lanka may not be the ideal holiday destination for you! While the burgeoning tourist industry means that there is a rising number of choices in the capital city of Colombo and some of the more tourist-centric destinations, you will predominantly be greeted with curry and rice wherever you go. Sri Lanka’s dishes are as packed with colour, variety and flavour as its landscape; each seemingly humble dish the result of tireless grinding, slicing and marinating to create the perfect fusion of flavour and spice. Delicious tropical fruit, exploding with flavour, and stunning seafood, straight from the sea, are taste sensations; their UK supermarket cousins fading in comparison. If you are brave enough, try a nibble of the durian fruit, a fruit so pungent (noxious to some), that it is banned on public transport and taxis in Singapore and Thailand.
On the surface, Sri Lanka looks like the perfect place to go and relax on a tropical beach, enjoying local cuisine and sipping coconut water from the fruit. However, on closer examination, you will discover that there is a whole array of things to see and do in Sri Lanka. Best of all, its relatively small size means that you are not confined to one region; hire a driver, hop on a bus or catch a train to discover this glorious country, your way.
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