Traveler: Sophie DeGroot – Aspiring Anthropologist & Traveler
As I hiked through The Knuckles Mountain Range early one Sunday morning, this greeting echoed all around as we passed through the homes and plantations of the locals. Ayubowan, meaning, “May you live a long life,” is a much deeper acknowledgment of presence than just our simple hello. As a predominantly Buddhist country, Sri Lanka is scattered with thousands of white stupas that you can spot in every direction. While the Sri Lankan people, now, live in relative peace, the religious and ethnic diversity of the country at one time devoured this small island into a hateful war which lasted 26 years. With 2,000 years of history before that as well, there is much culture to relish in this small country (just about the size of West Virginia).
In my few months in Sri Lanka I saw and did as much as time would allow, most of which I will not be able to share here with you. As a volunteer, I lived in a house in Kandy with other international volunteers and it was these people I was lucky enough to get to do much of my exploring with. Kandy itself is the cultural capital of the country and is well worth your time. In comparison with Sri Lanka’s colored history, it is a relatively new city, but is the heart of Buddhist culture. Just north of the small Kandy Lake sits The Temple of the Tooth. An attraction for both tourists and Sri Lankan locals, Kandy’s largest temple is a stellar sight. While it is packed with admirers and those there to worship, to see traditional Buddhist art and architecture is a must for visitors. If you like something a bit less crowded, a walk up to the Buddha overlooking the city is worth your time. While there are some excellent cafe restaurants that provide wifi, Kandy is full of local restaurants where you can enjoy the traditional rice and curry dishes; including but not limited to Dahl curry, sambol, and the fish curries that Sri is famous for.
If you are on a budget, buses and trains are the best way around the country, while also the slowest. Taxis, while perhaps worth your time will cost you. Though it is a small country, between the windy roads, bad drivers, and wildlife that seems to be always crossing the road, just 120 km can easily take 3 or more hours. Yet, in the case of many trains and buses, you get what you pay for in comfortability, but the views are priceless. The train trip from Kandy to Ella is long, but stunning and ends in the most quaint of all Sri Lankan country side towns. Definitely a must (and check out Chill Bar for an excellent veggie burger if the western taste buds need a fix).
No matter where you venture in Sri Lanka, ancient Buddhist monuments are sites to behold. Among my favorites were Sigiriya, the Dambulla Cave Temples, Polonuwara, and the highlight: Adam’s Peak. As the tallest point on the island, Adam’s Peak is a pilgrimage made by Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims alike. Beginning at about 2:30 morning, travelers from both near and far embark up the 5,500+ steps to the top, racing to make it before sunrise. Joining hundreds of others at the top to await the sunrise, we were hungry and chilled (temperatures can drop to below freezing). And as the sun rose over the nearby mountain ranges and I basked in the growing warmth, I knew it would be a highlight of my trip. Be sure to stop for tea on your way up as a way to rest your body and mind, along with many other pilgrims.
Sri Lanka is a destination that is already back on my long list of travels. Luckily, this time around I get to keep exploring as I am heading over to Oceania for the next few months. I hope I was able to help that travel bug bite!