Published: February 11th 2006January 22nd 2006
Beautiful Sri Lanka II
...from the train to Kandy
STOP PRESS: Finally managing to do a blog. Turns out that Sri Lankan web technology is not as advanced as India's...or indeed Bolivias !! Anyway...enjoy our adventures from a few weeks ago...and I'll see how much I do today before I get piss'd off with the dial up connection and go back for a swim on the beautiful crystal clear waters of Unawattan bay :o)
Didn't that used to be Ceylon?.. isn't that just an Island near India?.. Isn't there a lot of fighting there? Didn't the Tsunami hit it?
Yep to all of the above...but probably like most we were fairly ignorant as to what all was really meant by the questions posed above. We had decided to go for a holiday within a holiday (god - we are soooo lucky), and after knocking the Maldieves on the head (too boring), and Malaysia (too far), we settled on Sri Lanka. Chris and Kate had been pre-Tsunami and gave it a very glowing report. How right they were...we booked for return after 10 days and have just extended for over three weeks !!
So after deciding to give it a go, we checked the Foreign
office website (Tamil problems), and they gave it an OK (except for the North), and so we booked a flight from Cochin to Columbo. However, I am very ashamed to say, we had not really appreciated how hard Srl Lanka had been hit by the Tsunami. It was only subsequently, upon checking blogs on this site and numerous others, that it dawned on us that Sri Lanka was one of the hardest places hit. 30,000 dead and the whole of the south and south west coasts devistated (the main beach resort areas). There was then a strange period where we wondered what to do. What would it be like? What would we see? Would we be considered voyeuristic travelling through? Would it be easy? Would it be sad?
Obviously, we came. We haven't been to the affected areas yet. But we were persuaded by the numerous web sites - from Lonely Planet to the Sri Lankan tourist board, urging people to come, to see how they have got back on their feet, to inject money into the economy. So here we are...suprised and amazed at Sri Lanka, enthralled and enchanted, and enthusiatically injecting money into the economy (well Lion
brewery and tour operators anyway !)
So what's it like? Comparisions with India are inevitable, but largely inaccurate. It's a beautiful, beautiful Island..comparible with Jamaica (Steve's comment and that means a lot), stuffed full of sandy beaches, palm trees everywhere, the towering hill country with stunning tea plantations, elephants and monks on street corners, and more temples and ancient sites than you can throw a stick at. (That phrase is much better spoken eh?). This, combined, with the more advance infrastructure such as roads, cars, houses, trains, supermarkets etc. as compaired to India, just a short flight away, make a comparions to Thailand (if you must) seem more appropriate.
And once again in the world, a place that seems so naturally blessed, is also full of madness. In a cruel and shameful twist, it seems that the internal Tamil conflict, amongst others, is close to igniting again..this time because of arguments over Tsnumai aid distribution ! Indeed, two days after we left Columbo, they had a series of small grenade blasts - no one killed, and no one responsible yet.....but.....
So...what we done.
Well - had a few days in Columbo, the capital. Not the most
enthralling of cities, but we salvaged a good time by having a few sundowners at the magnificently situated Galle Face hotel. We also found a superb restaurant serving traditional Sri Lankan food. Largely based on Indian (i.e. lots of spices/curry), there are also a lot of subtle and not so subtle differences (including a thing called an Egg Hopper, which is basically a fried egg inside a bowl shaped poppadum. It goes superb with a Dhal drizzled over it). Unfortunately we are discovering that outside Columbo it's far more difficult to get decent, traditional Sri Lankan food. It seems the thing to do is to eat in your guest house...and they seem to have a bland, generic menu ("chicken curry"), rather than lots of specialities. Hmm...three weeks...bring back India for the food.
So after Columbo, we travelled up by train to Kandy...and old hill station. What a ride...7am and in the 'observation car' at the back of the train - the whole of the end of the train was a massive window. A superb journey with fabulous views up through the hills. We found Kandy a slight disappointment in that it wasn't as 'colonial' as expected (that's to come
we think), but we used it as a base for a four day trip to the 'cultural triangle'.
Before the tour we had a day in Kandy and did all the things you must. We visited the Peradeniya botanical gardens - rightly touted as the best gardens in all Asia. Amazing place - wonderful as the sun rose. It's also home to a coloney? of fruit bats. Wow. they are huge flying foxes and quite scary to be walking underneath them as they soared, screeched and poo'd gwano everywhere.
Then on to Pinnawela elephant orphanage - home to about 70 elephants from various parts of SL. The highlight was watching them get marched, Dumbo style, to the river and then being allowed to get right up close as they bathed. Cool.
So..that's it for now. Off to ancient cities, more Hill Country and then the beaches.
Steve and Lou
There are more photos below