Sri Lanka is one of those places I never thought of. Unlike other cities like Cairo, Tokyo, Habana or Seul, I never dreamt of going there. But it happened. And I loved it.
Also, I would like to point out something else. By now, people think I'm Indian, Pakistani and even chinese. You can´t imagine how wonderful it is to just blend in and walk freely. From now on, I'm never a tourist again.
Yet, as peaceful as it seems, Sri Lanka has a bloody history I only learn about while talking to the locals; their last civil war was only 13 years ago, in 2009. Sri Lanka was known as Ceylan until 1948, when the british granted the country autonomy. They took over in 1796 and by that time, the island had 2 kingdoms: sinhalese and tamil, indians from Tamil Nadu. From those years, sinhalese were appointed as the ruling kingdom. Tamils - who were brought by the dutch as labor- were released to a second category.
From that time, the rivality between sinhalese and tamils is the largest karma the country has. Even now, my tuk tuk driver as tamil, complained about differences between both races, but he also told me this is the best version of Sri Lanka so far.
Colombo had me at hello. What a beautiful, clean, chill and well connected city. My only whole day there, I decided to rent a tuk tuk that took me everywhere in 5 hours (3.000 SLR).
Our first stop was Galle Road, a beach side extravaganza that comes alive at night with dozens of stores that sell local street food. You need to walk for a while to cover the whole fair and since you there, you need to try some of the local specialties.
However, that was not the most impressive sight of Galle Road. I could not believe how chinese companies are building new skyscrapers into the sea and just like Dubai did, they are altering nature itself. These chinese companies work 24/7 and I'm sure the next time I come to Colombo it will look completely different.
Within walking distance from Fort Railway Station. This street market has everything you see in a movie or documentary about Asia: is crowded, noisy, cheap and completely alive!
Pettha has a indian, muslim and chinese streets. You can spend hours bargaining and buying whatever you can think of.
Gangaramaya Temple and Seema Malaka
One of the most important buddhist temples in the country. Today, Gangaramaya is not only a worship place but also a learning center and museum.
The temple is peaceful, tolerant and an open invitation for everyone to feel at peace. Within walking distance, you can visit the Seema Malaka temple which is in the middle of a big lake. Then again, a place of tolerance and quietness.
Independence Memorial Hall
This monument sits in the middle of a huge park. It was built for the commemoration of the independence of Sri Lanka from the British rule with the restoration of full governing responsibility for the local people.
- Fish ambul thiyal (Fish Curry):My favourite, served on a banana leaf, it summarizes the best of the country: fish curry, vegetables and rice
- Tea: Unlike indian chai, Sri Lankan tea is different. It has milk but the tea itself is way better (to me) than chai. Each cup was a true pleasure
- Mex: A posh mexican restaurant in the middle of Casa Colombo, a great boutique hotel. I had burritos and even though is not rocket science, it was tasty and well cooked.
- Coffee and energy drinks:I don´t drink alcohol, so I always go for local coffee and sometimes, different energy drinks. Colombo is the house of Wild Elephant, a sugar free energetic drink I truly loved. As of coffee, there's a few Barista stores but believe me, tea rules the island.
Sri Lanka is a multi religious country. Most of the people are either buddhist or hindu, but there´s plenty of muslims and christians. My first day in Colombo, I was fortunate enough to:
- Join Salat al-`Asr (the 3rd daily prayer)
- Participate in a evening puja
- Witness a christian mass
I always find pleasure in understanding different worldviews and actually joining the rituals if I'm allowed to. This time, it was not an exception.
Galle -according to Lonely Planet- is:
the big unmissable destination in the south. It's at once endlessly exotic, bursting with the scent of spices and salty winds, and yet also, with its wonderful collection of Dutch-colonial buildings, a town of great beauty. Classic architecture melds with a dramatic tropical setting to create a reality that is endlessly.
The city is just 3 hours away from Colombo (train will be 180 SLR). The scenery for the trip is out of this world. By the sea and then, when you come back, looking at the most beautiful landscapes you have ever seen.
Pay attention to the train schedule. The last train to Colombo leaves at 15.50, however, by the station there´s plenty of buses traveling to the city every hour.
Flag Road, the old gate and the dutch churches are within a walking distance from the train station and are free of charge.
As you can see, I had a wonderful time. Now, Sri Lanka has a spot along Uruguay and Portugal my three favourite pieces of paradise on earth.