Travelling in Sri Lanka was my first touch with Asian culture. It might be that this fact makes me biased and intensifies my enthusiasm about this country. Perhaps it’s similar in other Asian destinations. I don’t know. Sri Lanka was my only Asian adventure so far. With regard to feelings and experiences I should say that It’s definitely not the last.
Actually, I don’t know why I decided to go to Sri Lanka. Me and my friend Katarina have decided to go on a trip. Anywhere, just go. Attractive prices for airline tickets appeared in front of our eyes, we didn’t consider a lot, and tickets were in our pockets.
I admit that I haven’t thought much about Sri Lanka before starting the journey and I haven’t done a lot of inquiries what to expect. I only gathered enough information to outline the route of travel. I packed my backpack (oops, my sister’s) and set off without any expectations or ideas about what is waiting for me. I think that way is better. Less one expects, greater enthusiasm follows…
Smiling faces and friendly people
Sri Lankan people are always ready to help when you’re looking for a bus station, which by the way, in most cases are not marked, or the trail to the peak of Ella, which is hidden among the grass, higher than me. However, it seems to me that the locals are not too intrusive in offering services for tourists and what is more important, tourism has not spoiled Srilankan people yet. But Sri Lancans aren’t friendly only to the confused traveller. They’re extremely attentive to each other as well.
On a bus, a person who sits always holds a bag or even a child to person who has to stand because of the crowds. When a driver’s cherished vehicle, the tuc-tuc, is in bad condition or damaged, other drivers immediately pull over and help with maintenance. People walk around smiling, despite the past 20 years of pain, when they were hit by dreadful civil war and devastating tsunami in 2004. I guess this could be attributed to their rich spiritual life, karma, and liability to teachings of Buddhism.
I met Namal in Kandy and he explained me a lot of things about their faith and Buddha. I had an honour to join him in praying at a temple to see the whole procedure. Namal also kindly invited me to have a dinner with his sister and niece, who dressed me in a »sari«, traditional clothing for women. Someone told me that It’s honourable for the locals to have a foreigners into their homes and it’s very impolite to refuse such an invitation.
Tea tree plantations, as far as the eye can see, rice fields, palm trees, coconuts and other tropical vegetation, which provide shelter for many animals, spice gardens, the peaks of the mountains, which offer us breathtaking views, waterfalls and don’t forget to mention sandy beaches and blue sea… do I have to continue? Sri Lanka has many National Parks, the hardest thing is to decide where to go to, since each one is unique. Once I said to Katarina for fun (or did I mean seriously?) that as I can see, the whole Sri Lanka seems to be a National Park. Travelling by very slow and old train between Kandy and Ella in third class, sitting at outer door wide opened with swinging my legs was the highlight of the journey and one of the best thing I have ever experienced. As a great lover of nature I couldn’t get enough of breathtaking views of the mountains and valleys, overgrown with trees and tea plantations.
I should probably mention before that Katarina and I are both students so that low-budget style was our only choice. Travel with shallow wallet around Sri Lanka is not difficult. Almost everything: airline tickets (416 eur), public transpor (50 cents for a two-hour bus ride), food (2 euros for a delicious Kothu Rotti or 30 cents per 1 kg of fruits) and accommodation (20 eur for a decent room for two people with private bathroom with hot water, fan and breakfast)… Everything you need you can get with low prices (excluding entrance fees). I often didn’t negotiate with tuc-tuc drivers, what is a “must do”, because the prices were already so low so that I didn’t consider it worth of negotiating for a few tens of cents. Well, I should admit that I wasn’t successful bargainer so eventually I abandoned this activity. Now I finally understand why some call it »the art of bargaing«.
Before departure my friends who have already been in Sri Lanka advised that it’s worth hiring a private driver. I say that it depends on what you want to experience. Travelling with private driver is certainly more comfortable than getting stuck on crowded buses. The driver can also drive you to hidden and remote places where a bus can’t go. However, travelling by public transportation is still much more cheaper and what is more, it has one precious quality: hanging out with the locals and learning about their culture, which is actually the essence of traveling in foreign countries.
With private transport I would never get involved in conversations with locals, exchange contacts with lovely Tamil girl, meet Namal and take a photo with a bunch of festive dressed girls who went to a wedding in the neighboring village. In short, I would never change a comfortable taxi for a crowded and stuffy bus. Buses are very cheap, they arrive/depart every half an hour, they go almost everywere, you can step out wherever you want and you can buy a ticket right on the bus. To conclude, it’s easier to travel by bus between villages in Sri Lanka than to get from Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia) to my hometown.