Sri Lanka – trip to a rising star full of mystery

I fell in love with Sri Lanka at the time of landing. Early in the morning, a beautiful sunny day. The Emirates’ aircraft was already over the island, when I woke up and looked through the window. I have never seen during my trips so many palms anywhere else. Sri Lanka is literally covered by palm trees and from the sky it looks like an endless green sea. Still dizzy from the sleep, I was immediately bewitched by its beauty and was certain I was about to land at the most mysterious and magical island I have ever been to.static_map.php

I read a lot prior to my trip, trying to get prepared for what I am going to face in Sri Lanka. But despite all my efforts, this island still managed to surprise me. There is everything here. Mountains, lakes, rivers, large green valleys, beautiful ocean, white sandy beaches, plenty of history, delicious unusual food. And I swear, I have never seen so many smiling, calm and down to Earth people, gathered at one place.

I did not understand a word from their language, but whatever the locals say, they do it with a smile. Where all this patience comes from, I have no idea. Most of the people in Sri Lanka are really poor, but it doesn’t change their gentle attitude. My impression of them is of humble people, who have honourable limit even in their expectations of earning money from the tourists. The humility and smiles will be well kept in my heart forever.

I have been told this type of moderate attitude is brought mostly by the religion. About 70% of the Srilankans are buddhists. But it doesn’t explain much because the rest are Muslims, Christians and Hindu. Or maybe the rest have been just “infected”  by the total calmness and smiling daily appearance. Whatever it was, the habitants of this green island are definitely blessed. I truly enjoyed their positivity and optimistic approach to life. I guess that’s why their contagious smile affected me and I was not able to retract my lips during those 10 days in Sri Lanka.

Kite surfing

The occasion to visit the island came with an invitation for kite surfing lessons. In Northern Sri Lanka it seems to be really windy during the season from April to October, so kite surfing is extremely popular in there. I heard about at least 5 kite surfing schools, but mine was truly impressive. Awesome atmosphere surrounded by kite surfers from all over the world. I met a French couple, expats in China. A German couple, expats in South Africa. Plenty of Swiss, Dutch, Belgian and German kite surfers, spending their holiday around or willing to live in the kite surf camp for more than a month.

The free spirit was everywhere – casual clothes, no make up,  flip flops dress code, simple friendly relations, clear rules. Out of the kite surfing schedule, the local food, cooked in the camp, was fantastic, lots of sunbathing, beer nights and late chat. I can’t imagine a better place to be, despite my poor kite surfing performance.

I was probably the only guest who was not able to discover the mystery of catching the wind and finally failing ๐Ÿ™‚  During my very first lesson (out of the water), I literally furrowed the ground with my face. In my second lesson (in the water) I did my best to drink out the lagoon. It’s not a nice feeling being a loser indeed ๐Ÿ™‚ But my instructor and owner of the camp Mike was enough patient to calm me down. He politely explained that with some people it takes time.

Being compassionate with my embarrassment, the manager Ross told me his own kite surfing story. Teaching himself with no help, being hopeless, but finally jumping on the board and managing to kite in a month. Well… I did not have a month and was already too embarrassed to demonstrate daily my clumsy efforts ๐Ÿ™‚ I have just accepted I am not going to be a kite surfer, also won’t be able to make all those air tricks and jumps over the water.

History

Then what else could I do? Explore the island of course. Mike helped me a lot to overcome my embarrassment by arranging a trip to Kandy and Sigiriya for me. Charmed by the history and fairytales there, I was supposed to forget my kite shame. And it worked out ๐Ÿ™‚ That’s correct, my mind was blown away just stepping in Sigiriya.

I won’t be able to recall the whole legend, but there is a stunning single rock in the middle of nowhere. On the top of the rock, for the half of the season has used to live the ruler of the island (about 1600 years ago). The palace was just on the top where the king had been literally carried on the shoulders of his servants, climbing thousands of stairs up. The other half of the season, the king spent down the rock, where the swimming pools are. Large artificial pools, filed by rain water where the concubines have tried to attract the king’s attention, swimming, playing and being creatively seductive.

I experienced by myself the climbing. Poor king’s servants, it’s tough to climd the stairs just handling your own body. I can’t even imagine what it is like to carry up the king on this declivitous, sharp and narrow way to the top. Now the stairs are safe, secured by handrails, but not in the past. Seems to me extremely dangerous. Even now, it’s a bit tricky climbing to the top of the rock. Beautiful frescoes accompany the climbers.

 

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My guide explained to me about all the nationalities of concubines, owned by the king. They have been immortalised, exposed on those frescoes. Sri Lankans, Indians, Nepali, Bengali, Mongolians, etc… all 11 to13 different ethnic groups. They are still alive there on the rock’s wall, with all the natural colours and native characteristic.

There is a painting, which behaves like a contemporary 3D or 4D image. Wherever you move, the face from the image is moving toward you and is watching you. It was shocking, because the painter has created it 1600 years ago via unknown extraordinary techniques. Going upper, you can see the famous Cobra rock and Lion rock ( hey really look like the heads of the animals). This ancient fairytale truly fascinated me.

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I also visited the temples of Dambulla, the Buddha tooth relic temple in Kandy, the Botanic garden, Spice garden and elephant sanctuary on the way. All of them are worth seeing, so I would recommend to pass by. In Sri Lanka you still could watch close ups ( if you are lucky) of wild elephants, living freely in the jungle. They cross the road from time to time or pass by your hotel deep in the forest. Lots of road signs warn you to be cautious and remain calm if you have such a close meeting. I was very lucky seeing both – elephant orphans in the sanctuary, who are quite familiar with the tourists. Also I had the chance of seeing wild elephants, just coming out on the road. It was on the way to Ayurveda holistic centre, near Sigiriya.

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Ayurveda

Bathing in the river elephants

In a spiritual place like Sri Lanka your spirit goes free too. My spirit went mostly curious and eager to experience every unknown, but potentially interesting local practice. I heard of Ayurveda before, but my knowledge was limited. In fact, I have imagined it as a mysterious Eastern massage technique to relax and calm down. I couldn’t be more mistaken.

It’s a holistic (whole body) healing system. Locals seriously consider it as medicine. Transferred from India thousands of years ago, Ayurveda is quite popular in Sri Lanka. It’s based on the belief that health depends on the balance between mind, body and spirit. In my case I experienced only the wellness side of Ayurveda, provided by a combined sitting/laying massage, body oil made from local herbs, all this ended with a natural steam bath in wooden cabin.

The outcome is not focused much on the massage itself, but on the oil. The masseur is improving the blood circulation and the herbs in the oil are supposed to go deep under your skin. The steam bath supports the process by opening skin cells for the oil ingredients. It was mystical, but I need to confess my body just enjoyed the perfect massage. It was a very limited touch to Ayurveda. but at least I partially got a clue.

Spices and Herbs 

Sri Lanka is also popular with the best cinnamon in the world, plenty of spices and medical herbs. I requested the experts of the Spice garden to let me know how to recognise the real cinnamon powder from the fake one. In Europe there is low quality packed cinnamon powder on the market, mixed with other herbs and chemicals – cannot be trusted at all and the expected effect is zero.

Jack fruit tree, Sri Lanka

So the explanation I got was the real cinnamon must be a bit sweeter, when you taste it and has darker colour than the fake one. To make sure I won’t be mistaken, I secured my cinnamon supplies directly from Sri Lanka.

The locals used the same spices already popular in India. But the meals are quite different in Sri Lanka. There is an unique Srilankan cuisine. I really liked it and enjoyed it, lots of cooked vegetables. I still cannot make any difference between manioca and tapioca, but they cook both of them. Also the Jack fruit is used as a vegetable and cooked as a main dish. Spinach, sweet potatoes, okra, peas, egg plants, parsley, rice and imagine – all these cooked spicy. Mmmmm…just delicious.

Avocado tree, Sri Lanka

The island is full of mainly European tourists, coming from Germany, the Netherlands and France. Their number is growing monthly and at the moment Sri Lanka is a preferred newly discovered tourist spot. It was named “rising holiday star“. Very popular is the combined holiday Sri Lanka – Maldives, as Maldives is just an hour flight away. I saw many couples getting married in Sri Lanka and heading to Maldives for their honeymoon. Or the opposite, getting married in the luxury of Maldives, also getting pampered there and then leaving to the adventurous side of Sri Lanka.

The large plantations of Ceylon tea are open whole year round for tourist visits. The tea fields are established in the mid of the island, mostly in the mountains, very humid and often need to be climbed to. You can arrange to watch how the tea leaves are picked, dried and on site be able to order a variety of Ceylon teas, usually consumed with milk, non- sweetened.  I am not a big tea fan, but have to admit during my Sri Lankan stay, I have replaced in mornings my beloved cappuccino by milky Ceylon tea and it was fun to prepare it and drink it.

11822701_966365153408021_1789521801222404428_nIn the end I should thank my great Sri Lankan friends. The always patient and smiling Kumdu, who made me love people of Sri Lanka even before visiting the country, just by daily showing me her kindness and politeness. The brilliant Sri Lankan chef Rohan, who gave me an idea about the taste of the local food and made me respect his culinary as an art. The Australian entrepreneur Mike, living more than 20 years in Sri Lanka, who has provided for me the great opportunity to get closer and made me part of the adventure. Another Australian Ross, who being long enough on the island, introduced me to its peculiarities and to the local beer.  And to all those people, I did not mention above, who just made this trip to Sri Lanka simply unforgettable.

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