Tea and Enlightenment in Sri Lanka
This is a long overdue post about four magical weeks I spent in Sri Lanka, the island known as the teardrop of India, the pearl of the indian ocean or quite simply - Paradise.
Sri Lanka is unlike any place I have ever been. Everywhere we went we experienced such kindness, generosity and warmth from the people we met. The scenery was spectacular, the weather perfect there was culture galore and the food delicious, but there was something else so special about the experience that just can't be put into words, and a magical feeling in the air.
As we went in July/ August which is monsoon season in the south we travelled to the highlands and the east coast. There are so many more places we didn't visit, so I guess we will just have to go back, but in the mean time, here is a run down of places I definietly recommend visiting.
We quickly legged it out of Columbo and caught a train to Kandy, the city on the lake. Yoga was our plan, and we spent 3 days studying with yogi Master Nnoyel. Master Nnoyel runs a retreat in a village in the hills above Kandy, from his beautiful wooden house surrounded by jungle. It was so serene and peaceful, we did 1.5 hours yoga at dawn and another 1.5 at sunset, and spent the rest of the time walking, sleeping, meditating and eating gorgeous fresh food and drinking coconuts.
It was a great reset and set the pace for the rest of the journey, we learned so much in just three days, and managed to keep up the practice for the rest of the trip.
The next destination was Haputale, a small town high in the mountains. Definitely not touristy, the town is a little rough around the edges but in the best way, and extremely picturesque. We caught a bus to Dambethenna Tea Estate, a working plantation and tea factory, and the jump off point for the hike to Liptons seat, which was well worth it for the magnificent views and a sensational cuppa from the tiny tea shop at the summit.
Lipton's seat was where Sir Thomas Lipton (yes, THAT Lipton) used to sit and survey his domain, now the estate is state run, and is like a series of villages with workers cottages, hospitals, schools, churches and temples.
Ella is one of those incredibly touristy place that somehow manages to retain a completely charming and authentic vibe. With two striking landmarks of Ella Rock and Little Adams Peak the views and hiking alone make Ella a must visit. The village itself is gorgeous with loads of great options for dining for all budgets.
We splashed out and stayed for a night at the 98 Acres resort which was super luxurious and worth every penny, however we had just as much fun staying at Beauty Mount Inn where we did a fabulous cooking class with the gorgeous host Nimali.
It was time to leave the mountains so we headed to Arugam Bay, a surfing paradise and hippy hangout on the east coast. It was a bit like how I remember Bali being when I was a kid, and had a lovely laid back vibe and beautiful beach. We stayed in a cabana at The Folly a crazy collection of huts, tents and follys (four poster beds with mosquito netting over the top) which was right on the beach and necessitating daily sunrise dips in the ocean.
The road from Arugam to Batti bought into focus how recently Sri Lanka was completely torn apart by a long running civil war and a terrifyingly destructive tsunami. The scars are visible everywhere, from the partially washed away, burnt out or bullet ridden abandoned buildings and the roadside graves and memorials.
The town is surrounded by a lagoon and we had a peaceful day riding bikes around the town along the lagoon to the lighthouse and getting hopelessly happily lost. We ate an unbelievable vegan buffet at the Sri Krishna cafe for about $1 and the boyfriend braved a haircut at the completely over the top but fabulous Imperial Saloon hairdressers. But the most special part of Batticaloa was staying at Ammas Hut, a homestay run by a lovely Tamil lady called Amma. She was so kind and had an infectious smile, and despite the fact that she spoke very little English we had some great conversations and learned about her story, and the hardships she suffered during and after the war.
If you go to Batti, definitely consider a homestay, the website Welcome to Batticoloa has loads of great options.
Polonnaruwa is a Unesco listed site with ancient ruins dating back to the 9th century in a lush jungle landscape. There are several sites around the town to visit, and you can get a day pass that covers everything including the museum, all the sites are easily reached by bicycle.
The perfect end to the day was meditating at sunset at the giant sleeping buddha statues as worshippers came to pray and make offerings of lotuses as the clouds of insence wafted over us, it was a truly serene and magical experience.
SIGIRIYA AND PIDURANGULA
Soooo... full disclosure time- we did not climb Sigiriya... but we did climb Pidurangula, which had an amazing view of Sigiriya! We were put off by the crowds and the cost, and for a fraction of the price we got Pidurangula all to ourselves and it was stunning.
There are so many more things I want to say... and more places we visited including Uda Walawe National Park and Uppaveli both of which I highly reccomend. I am going to do another post just about the food and chuck in some amazing recipes I learned, but for now here are my top tips for travelling in Sri Lanka.
Pack Scarves. Many scarves. It is really hot, but not socially acceptable to show too much skin, especially shoulders, so thin floaty cotton scarves are a lifesaver and come in handy in so many situations.
Try the food, all of the food. And eat in the guesthouses, you won't be disappointed.
Catch buses and trains, and don't bother with a first class ticket, 2nd and 3rd class are just fine. Alot of people get drivers, but in my opinion the public transport is awesome, and much more fun, and you will save a shit ton of money.
And last but not least tea is definitely the drink of choice, and it is great, but say NO firmly to sugar unless you want a fast track to type 2 diabetes, as Sri Lankans like to drink their tea with so much sugar the spoon stands up!
Now go have a life changing trip following the scenic route in Sri Lanka, you won't regret it!