Round Trip in Sri Lanka

It’s an early bird morning again. Getting up at 5.30 a.m. to make my way to Singapore Airport flying out to Colombo, Sri Lanka. I’m looking forward to this a lot. My grandmother and grandfather used to live there for several years. My grandmother always talked about the country and it’s unbelievable friendly people. Her eyes went wide open and you could see the many great memories she’s got in mind about this place.

A pretty long post will follow framing amazing experiences and visual impressions.

 

In Colombo I was about to meet my friend Janitha. We got to know in Sweden six years ago in the Entreperneurship programma. Janitha is the fifth person of the programm I get the chance visiting on this trip.

Janitha was kind to pick me up at the airport. And not just that. Before everything else, I have to say that people from Sri Lanka are the most generous and friendly people I have encountered.

After I informed Janitha about my visit in Sri Lanka, he just answered that he is going to be my personal guide. First, I thought, cool sounds funny. A local daytrip or something. No guys, Sinhalese people are generous! A few days later, Janitha presented a whole seven day trip plan. The plan suggested to change location daily. It included all the trains, hotels and sightseeing bookings. Wow!

The way this round trip was set up will follow now. This was one of the most intense packed short period experiences on my world-round trip. Lots of great pleaces we saw…

Starting from Colobo Airport, the first spot we went to was Anuradhapura. Originally the plan was to go there by train. However, tomorrow there is one of the greatest public holidays which is a day of great religious importance. The country celebrates the day Buddhism came to Sri Lanka from India. Because thousands of people were on the move travelling, Janitha organised a private taxi for the two of us – a Suzuki. On the way we stopped at several spots for the local experience.

First, we bought a SIM card with 9 GB LTE for 5€. Then we stopped for a fresh fruit juice. Star fruit was my choice of the day. I had never eaten one before, maybe just as decoration on a coctail. Following that, we had lunch in a family restaurant. Some very tasty rice with seafood was served. Later, we stopped at a shed next to the road to get some fresh coconut drink. First you soak out the coconut water with a straw. It really tastes like coconut and is even slightly sweet. Then you scrape out a thin layer of flabby coconut meat. Mhhhh, excellent refreshment in this hot and humid environment. One coconut was about about 0.40 €. Then we reached one of the places where they gave away free food. As of the public holiday they have places with free food everywhere. While standing in line, I smiled at some kids. They were more shy than the kids in Vietnam in the beginning. But they smiled back in a cute way and the smile also came deep from their heart. Question: Why do people give away food for free? Well, from a western point of view one would say that this is quite likely a marketing strategy to sell more food later. Guys, not even close to the way of thinking here! The only reason is that they like giving. Without any expectations to receive something in exchange. They are even desperate for giving stopping cars passing by using a yellow flag. Janitha told me, after we had gotten some fruits for free, that he could see a special happiness in the eyes of the people while handing out their food to a special tall blond guy from Germany. I answered that I enjoy the fruits a lot but being perceived special I do not appreciate too much. I should just accept that, Janitha recommended. That is the way people are.

 

An intense encounter

Thousands of people make a pilgrimage to Anuradhapura. It was Poson Full Moon Poya Day which, as said before, commemorates the arrival of Buddhism to Sri Lanka from India. How lucky am I to be at this special place tonight! We walked to some temples and to Ruwanwelisaya. There, the pilgrims will sleep on bare ground the upcoming night. A prayer is giving prays all the time. We walked around and there was this man sitting on the side of the main road that lead through the place. He had grey hair and a grey beard. Maybe around 60 years old. I gave him a smile. What I got in return was not just a sample of a smile we know from Europe. It was a genuine smile. A smile I had never gotten before. His smile was like taking a deep breath first, followed by and combined with the appliance of a slingshot towards you. In the beginning, the smile grew slowly from a standard smile we all know to a smile that was generated from the deepest honesty of his heart. A smile not just from the mouth and eyes but the whole face and person produced it. All this free love from his heart showcased on his face without any reservation. It was like a shot at me. Like a stone made of feather shot by a slingshot and delivering the incarnation of happiness directly into my eyes, my brain and heart. I could felt like I see his soul. A soul balanced and free of second thoughts. A soul that was living in the moment. I see myself as very lucky having had this encounter. Will I ever master my smile to this level? Have you mastered it?

 

Late evening we had dinner at the hotel. Sure, I wanted to have the local experience. I learned how to eat without cutlery but with fingers. In the beginning I felt embarrassed since I was taught by my parents as a child that it is only appropriate to eat with cutlery. A bavarian chicken at the Oktoberfest excepted. πŸ˜‰ Eating rice, chicken and vegetables with fingers does not go along with our European society and our internal agreement. It’s different in Sri Lanka. The agreement here is to eat with fingers. That’s not better nor worse. Just different. And the food tastes amazing that way.

 

We started the next morning with a local breakfast. Not quite comparable with a western one. πŸ˜‰

“‘Yamu, yamu!” means “Let’s Go!” We grabbed our belongings and started into another amazing day. First, we saw some wild apes. Wohoo, better not get too close, they show their teeth. πŸ™‚ Some poor people were also around. I dropped 100 LKR each in the hands of a mother of a family and a blind person.

The area around Anuradhapura is so very special. The kings used to build these massive brick made half ball constructions. The Egypt pyramids say “hello”. This sinhalese buildings do not need to hide from the pyramids.

We saw the original half-moon. It’s fenced. All other half-moons in front of doors all around the coutry are just copies of it.

In the former residential area of the monks.

Our private taxi drove us from one place to the next. We arrived at Sigirya. This rock is the highest point around. What a nice view. Still all these places where very crowded as of the public holiday and long weekend. International tourists? That day we just saw thousands of people and not more than 30 tourists. Funny, tourists greet each other when they meet in the crowd. Like driving in a Mazda MX-5. “Hello. Are we cool?” Haha. πŸ˜‰ First we could not sight the rock, because of all the trees…

We planned to make our way on top of Sigirya. It is a big rock where one of the kings flee away to from his brother to build a castle. An impressive place. To enter the place, my two friends, Janitha and the taxi dirver, bought a ticket each for 50 LKR which is around $ 0.33 locals’ price. The ticket counter for foreigners was located at a different place closer to the museum. Hold on, you remember what I wrote about the pricing in South America. Foreigners there are charged ten times more than locals. In Sri Lanka they go crazy. Here, they charge $ 30 for the same ticket which is 91 times (!) the price the locals pay. Well, it is affordable for us. I just got upset, when I placed my biggest note (5000 LKR, which is like $ 50) on the table and they said, they have no change. I assume 50 % of the money is never going to the original purpose (but into some private pockets) and you expect me to round up? Janitha realized, I must feel exploited. Well, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to pay to support the preservation of Sri Lanka’s cultural heritage when I may visit it. But please, if you charge western prices, be professional as western people would expect. I paid for the general admission ticket with smaller notes.

Anyway. At the entrance place of Sigirya, they charge another $ 30. They brought to our notice to a paper on the wall where they explained that they cannot do a refund of the ticket in case we don’t make it on top of the rock for any reason. Janitha asked what that means and they said, the queue might be so long today that one won’t make it to the top before they close. So we skipped on that and just visited the museum, $ 5 for foreigners, locals free.

 

After the museum, Janitha and I walked a little bit alongside the castle moat. At the end of the trail some tuk-tuk drivers informed us that there is a second rock possible to climb. That brought me on my first tuk-tuk ride. πŸ™‚

The hike up was nice, it included some proper climbing. Glad, I had only my flip-flops with me. πŸ˜‰ The local experience. Haha.

The view from up there was amazing, if not mind blowing.

Back on lower gorund, we made our way through some traffic jam to Kandy where we will visit a friend of Janitha. We had breakfast at Janitah’s friend’s place with a nice local food. They picked up a street dog who was now living with them and barking all the time. It was impressiv to stay at that place since it is a very modern and innovative home building with an unbelievable view into the green jungle hills. Together with his friend’s daughter Apoorva we drove to the temple Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha). This is supposed to be the most important place for all Buddhist people on earth.

 

After we had visited the temple, Janitha and I walked some meters through the city and then we jumped on the bus to reach the local train station. With diesel locomotive power we headed towards Pinnawalda Elephant Orphanage. Impressions from the train ride.

Luckily we did not have our big bags to carry with us since Janitha’s friend was supposed to drive in the same direction later. At the Elephant place they did Elephant feeding, baby milk feeding and a walk with the herd through town to the river. We had some great buffet lunch. Janitha’s friend was planning to pick us up. However the engine cooling fan of his Suzuki car was broken. So Janitha and I started to travel by bus back to Kandy. We stopped half way at a free small outdoor train museum and Janitha’s friend picked us up with his repaired car from there. We drove in some new direction. Normally I always know where I am on the map and were I’m going to. This time I had no idea. Haha. However, I had the honor to sit in the back next to Apoorva to share a nice English conversation. Being eight years old, she speaks better English than I do. Apoorva is reading a lot in English. She is applying a reading speed I could only dream about. Some guitar music during the traffic jam entertained us. Janitha and I changed to a bus and then to another bus to reach a place not so far from Janitha’s wife’s home. His brother in law picked us up in a Suzuki Swift for a 20 minute ride to their home. Suzuki’s are ruling here. πŸ™‚

 

My backpack on the bus’ gear box:

Close to Janitha’s wife’s house they had terrible mud and mountain slides recently:

 

We arrive at the local family stay. Getting into the family feeling, Mahesha, Janitha’s wife, cooked for us. Later in the evening, Janitha and I ate the local way. I took a shower, did little laundry and fell asleep in bed while writing my diaries.

 

At 7.20 a.m. The next morning, the alarm woke me up. The clothes did not dry overnight. Even the micro towel was still wet. It is rediciously humid. After some refreshing, Janitha and I had milk rice for breakfast. In the beginning, it were only the two of us on the table with two plates. The children were watching us from the hall way. Smiling and even laughing towards us. Coming to see us, then hiding again. Different to last night, this morning we ate with cutlery. The children wanted to join eating that western way. So they were given plates and the tools to have breakfast together with us. Janitha’s daughter, who is fife years old, explained to us how to count to 20 in English. She is just tree and a half years old. At that age I was struggling to count that far in German. πŸ˜‰ The milk rice was followed by some coconut cake and banana. Before we headed down to the bus, we took some pictures together in front of the house. Outside in the garden, they grow tea plants.

The older cousi, Pasan handed me some tea as a gift and painted this for me. πŸ™‚ I performed the song “Nautilus” from Willy Astor and some “Country Roads” from the Hermes House Band on the guitar. Nice mix, istn’t it. πŸ˜‰ The children were dancing around having fun.

We carried our backpacks down to the main road and jumped on the bus. There is the smell of burned plastic in the air every now and then.

Funny, the license plates here are useing the same letters as we do in Germany. All our friends from around my home area were found. GΓΌnzburg (GZ), Landsberg am Lech (LL), Neuburg Schrobenhausen an der Donau (ND) und Ulm (UL). Haha. In Germany, a number plate indicates in which county the car is registered by the first letters.

After 90 minutes, we reached Panadura where we changed to the train. Some guitar music while waiting at the platform attracted some listeners.

Riding on these trains is a special experience. Safty at the door? Who cares. πŸ™‚

 

Then, we arrived in Galle. The Dutch once built a huge fort here. Some sightseeing. Crazy People jumping off the cliff. Afterwards we enjoyed a big beer and some pasta.   

Is it a playground, or is it a baseball field? Oh no, it is more like a volleyball field … or still a cow field? πŸ˜‰

 

Starting in the morning at our family stay hotel in Galle, we went to see some turtle hatchery. They collect the eggs early morning before the locals or some reptiles come to steal the eggs for eating. They bury the eggs in a fenced place to release the baby turtles two to three days after they had hatched. We gave freedom to one baby turtle.

Afterwards, we walked along the beach.

We caught the train to Colombo where Janitha had organised a private taxi again. The cab brought us to a place called Rio Ice Cream. Very, very delicious. At the promenade we had some fried shrimp and crab.

Janitha’s aunt Sagarika lives not far from the airport and we were very happy to have the chance staying with her, her husband and daughter. After some talking in their house, where some neighbours and friends joined our conversation, we went for a beer with Janitha’s uncle. Snacks and speedy two big Lion beers. I asked my question about happiness to his uncle who answered: “Family and having no trouble.” Back at their home his aunt had prepared some delicious dinner. Self-evident, we all ate the Sinhalese way without cutlery. I asked my question again in the direction of Sagarika who answered almost similarly: “Family, no trouble, being peaceful and having enough money to live.” Some music from my Bolivian guitar finished our day. 

The next day was pretty much only relaxing at Janitha’s aunt’s home. Sagarika made a great local breakfast with hoppers for us. That’s kind of a pan cake. Later, we grabbed some lunch closer to the city center by taking a tuk-tuk and the bus. I played some guitar and read some lines in my book. A power nap in the afternoon refreshed us.

Janitha ordered the same taxi driver who brought us north recently again. We stopped at the airport where I was about to board an Oman Air flight to Muscat and further to Kathmandu. Janitha made his way further to his wife’s place. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Janitha who made this Sinhalese experience so very local and intense! His dedication and his unconditional will to give is a great example for the people of Sri Lanka. Thanks a lot brother! I’m looking forward to seeing you in Germany or elsewhere in the world soon! You are always welcome!

I’m sitting in the plane while writing the following paragraph. I may reflect.
In Sri Lanka I had the great chance to learn about the true and unconditional smile from the heart. I learned about the beauty of being selfless and a strong desire to give to other people, rather than to take from them. Give a smile to the people and they will smile back to you and make this world a happier place. A smile is the global and commonly understood way of expressing good will. It is free to give. I’m sure, you give it to your friends and families every day. Also consider to give your heartily smile to other children, elderly people and also to the people who never smile. They deserve it the most and will be grateful towards you by smiling back if you ensure you smile is unconditional. When they smile back to you, you will think, “What a great gift.”

Relaxing in my flight chair and turing over now to the movie Life of Pi.

Join for the final adventure on this world-round trip and visit with Nepal and a Buddhism monastery with me.

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2 thoughts on “Round Trip in Sri Lanka

  1. Reading the blog indiscriminately, but this report inspired me most so far! Sounds like a great place to visit, with all the elements I like!

    1. Hi Andrew, thank you – I’m very happy you find inspiration! I can only recommend to make your way as soon as you can to this beautiful country.

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