Sri Lanka: Paradise Visited
Writer Anita Pratap referred to Sri Lanka as an Island of Blood. When I went there in March, during the initial phases of the ceasefire agreement between the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka, the only traces of the colour of blood were on the dark blouses and shirts the people so happily wore. Apart from the fact that security is tight, you are expected to carry your passport everywhere and the minor hassle of the army and police frisking you and asking for identification, there are no signs of anything but calm, peace and quiet. The people felt an initial hesitation and caution in talking to strangers. When they knew that we were tourists they spoke freely on a variety of topics, particularly cricket. The Sri Lankan cricket team had done them proud and the nation had cause to celebrate in troubled times.
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The Island is lovely with unspoilt beaches and a profusion of trees everywhere you turn. The sea is a brilliant turquoise. Matara at the southern most tip of Sri Lanka, and Hikkuduwa, a coral reef beach resort are worth visiting. The best time of day to visit Hikkudwa is in the afternoon when the sun is at its brightest. For a person from India used to the burgeoning population, Sri Lanka seemed almost deserted. Buildings are occasionally painted in unexpected hues (yellow on one side with deep lilac for the roof).
Colombo itself is magnificent with wide, smooth roads. Do cross the roads with care as Lankans are prone to fast driving! It is a shopping paradise for clothes and tea. At Crescats, a super market, one can find the best spices and tea apart from paintings and clothing. All along Duplication Road there are shops and yet more shops. People either walk, cycle or take an auto for shopping as finding parking space is tough. Places worth visiting are the Galle Face, Town Hall and the various parks.
Sri Lanka made fertile by rivers like the Kelinia, is a verdant green land with creepers and grass abundantly visible. Pineapples and tender coconut are available in plenty. Religion is real and prevalent, with each full moon day being a national holiday! Competing with the creepers and trees for space are the temples! Buddhist temples and statues of the Buddha are found at intervals of a hundred feet. The best-known Buddhist temples are the Kelania temple and the Kandy tooth relic temple while the most famous Hindu temple is that of Lord Muruga at Kadigramma.
Kandy is situated at a higher altitude. The cooler climate makes it an ideal place for a variety of flowers. It is no surprise that the Kandy botanical garden, the second largest herbarium in Asia, is a much-sought destination. At Kandy, the world-renowned tooth relic temple with it's rich museum, draws Buddhists the world over.
Nuwar Eliya, a hill station, beckons people who relish the mountain air. A 2-hour drive from Kandy, Nuwar Eliya is home to tea estates and farms. Some of the best tea comes from here. Remnants of British rule and the lifestyle still remain in these tea estates in the form of the mansions, villas and cuisine. The three-star Nuwar Eliya hotel serves excellent food and has well-furnished rooms.
Sri Lankans have a laid back and relaxed approach to life. Initially reserved, in time they become friendly and are very hospitable and warm. Sri Lankans are mostly slim and athletic. The women, with their dark eyes and dusky countenance, are extremely attractive. They have a unique dress sense and seem to prefer vivid, bright and dark colours. Sea food forms a part of their staple diet, and vegetarian food is hard to come by. A fortnight is not enough to see this Island of Paradise.
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.