As our time in Sri Lanka comes to an end and we look forward to the delights of India it’s time to cast my mind back over the past two and a half months and sum up my impressions of this friendly and beautiful country. Please bear in mind that this is only my opinion here and personal opinion is highly subjective.
First, but not necessarily foremost (although Rich and I do place far too much importance on nosh) is food. Before we go any further I’ll just warn you that my opinion here has been greatly skewed by the nationwide unavailability of decent cheese. I’m sorry, there’s no excuse; India and Thailand both have plenty of cheese and Sri Lanka’s not exactly on the moon is it? OK cheese rant aside, the quality and tastiness of food has been very good. My one gripe would be the chronic lack of variety. In China the words for ‘food’ and ‘rice’ are the same – in Sri Lanka the words for ‘food’ and ‘rice & curry’ should be the same as this seems to be pretty much what everyone eats every single day of their lives! Sri Lankan rice & curry is basically a thali – a mix of around 2 or 3 different curries (one of which always seems to be green beans), dhal and rice. I’m sure the majority of Indians also eat curry every day but there is far, far more variety there. The plus side here though is the standard of hygiene – neither of us have been sick at all and I guarantee that such will NOT be the case in India…!
A quick look at the montage above shows that Sri Lanka has some great sites, both man made and natural. For such a small place it certainly packs a lot in. I shamefully admit that sites stand or fall for me on their visual impact. I’m sure the William Dalrymples amongst you are now tutting and shaking your heads at my extreme shallowness but I’d always put Meteora over Mycenae even though the latter has far more historical significance. So while the landscapes score highly on my personal scale, the historical sites, with the exception of Sigiriya, often left me a little underwhelmed. The temples, when compared to those of India, Laos or Burma are a big disappointment. Lacking the spookiness of Indian Hindu shrines and the delicate beauty of the wats of Luang Phrabang the temple statuary and paintings here look distressingly similar to ‘an 8 year old’s school project’ to paraphrase Rich. Put bluntly, for me the Buddhist temples here just don’t have any atmosphere or sense of spirituality.
One word – amazing! Sri Lankan people are friendly, helpful, engaging, interesting and relaxed. They are one of the great highlights of a visit to this country. If all nationalities were so wonderful, travelling in general would be a lot easier…
The weather has been very mixed during our time here, which is totally our own fault! We knew we were visiting slightly off season but when you are travelling through a range of countries over a long period it’s impossible to be everywhere at the optimum time and things like hitting the right trekking season in Nepal have to take priority. It’s certainly been more good than bad and my advice would be to choose your time of year carefully depending on what you want to do and where you want to go. I actually sound quite rational there – such was not the case at Sri Pada during my third 5:30am sunrise photoshoot when the weather failed to oblige again!
We travelled mainly by train in 2nd class in Sri Lanka which was something of a mixed experience, but what can you honestly expect for less that £1 for a 5 hour journey. Sorry BR, you are put to shame – and if more Brits experienced making a purchase at a Sri Lankan Railways ticket office there would probably be rioting on the streets of the UK. Some trains were hopelessly crowded, others almost empty but every journey was a more or less pleasant experience and an absolute bargain!
The hill country has to take the prize here; mile after mile of wonderfully neat tea covered hills, dotted with waterfalls and rivers. Although lacking the out-and-out grandeur of Nepal, Sri Lanka is as close to a Garden of Eden as I think I’ve ever seen. The area around Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) deserves a special mention – almost stupidly gorgeous, this whole region is crying out for tourist development. The potential for walking trails, lodges and water based activities is massive and it can only be a matter of time before someone cashes in. If you like your countryside quiet but rustic – go now. If you need your creature comforts give it 10 years or so and the area will probably be full of pricey eco-lodges (and tour groups…).
With the exception of Kandy and Galle I couldn’t call any of the Sri Lankan cities that I saw attractive. I don’t think anyone would unless they were a concrete wholesaler who might justifiably think they had died and gone to heaven. Concrete is clearly de rigueur around here and functionality takes definite precedence over style. There’s not much here to compare with the colonial charm of Cuzco, the fascinating ricketiness of Bhaktapur or the colour of Jodhpur.
Although we didn’t have the budget to do an actual game safari the wildlife of Sri Lanka has been a revelation. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I’ve seen a Kingfisher virtually every day we’ve been here but there have also been humming birds, wild elephants, pelicans, giant bats (love those!), turtles and giant monitor lizards. It’s not even like you have to go far to see these wonders (sometimes nightmares!) of nature. Take a stroll around Kandy Lake of an evening and you can see ALL of them at once (OK not the wild elephants). The major drawback animals wise is the prevalence of dogs. Usually semi wild, they are either heartbreaking or a genuine threat to your life! If only they were cats (except the manky ones of course). I recommend carrying an umbrella at all times (doubly useful as it may rain at any time) and doing some target practice with stones.
All in all I’ve loved Sri Lanka and would recommend it to anyone – so book your flight and get over here!
Sri Lanka has been an absolute joy to photograph, although I must admit the weather has stretched my patience at times. I’m not averse to taking a serious leeching (virtually guaranteed when picking your way amongst tea bushes) or being a meal for mozzies, but when you do it three mornings in a row and the sunrise fails to live up to expectations then there is inevitably some gnashing of teeth. Poor Rich – repeatedly getting up at 5am to climb through leech infested tea plantations only to hear me bitch and moan about inappropriately positioned cloud banks and a lack of mist. The above picture took three attempts to capture but I think it was worth it and I’m sure once the bites have gone down and the blood has stopped flowing Rich will too!
The image above is overlooking Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka’s highest town at 1868m, from Single Tree Hill. A shutter speed of ⅕ sec. at f /14 was used. A 3-stop ND graduated filter helped to balance the contrast between the sky and foreground.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my pictures of Sri Lanka – stay tuned for India!