Travel Notebook

Secrets of Sri Lanka

If you’re keeping up with our travels around the world, you’ll remember a recent newsletter reviewing our visit to Sri Lanka. There’s so much on offer in this tiny country, from cutting-edge boutique hotels to earthy tea plantations, hidden ancient Buddhist stupas and gracious local residents eager to share their culture and cuisine.

While with my Ventours friends in Sri Lanka on a recent trip, they shared a few favorite person-to-person and cultural experiences that are lesser known and a bit off-the-beaten path. If it’s authenticity and immersion you seek in this beautiful pearl of the Indian Ocean, this is the place to start. Read on for tips and marvel at the gorgeous photography – we’re certain you’ll be inspired.

Through Time Immemorial – The Ancient Anuradhapura

Anuradhapuram by night
Anuradhapura by night . Photo credit : Dilshad Sadiq

The roots of Sri Lankan culture, history, heritage and Buddhism sprout from the ancient kingdom of Anuradhapura, which outlasted mammoth kingdoms such as Egypt and Rome, dating back to 3rd century BC, and was the capital of the island for well over a millennium. The kingdom is home to the Sri Lankan dynasty, rich with palaces, pleasure gardens, meeting rooms and ponds, not to mention myriad Buddhist monasteries, temples and education centers.

As one would imagine, the story of Anuradhapura is mystical and intriguing. Visiting this sacred city by night, we can learn of the devotees who patronize the stupa, seen in their numbers as they chant spiritual texts and in meditation. Visit the sacred Bo tree and witness the locals who have come to offer their worship to Lord Buddha, after their day’s chores. This sacred Bo tree is a part of the Bo tree that Lord Buddha was enlightened and is one of the longest-surviving trees in the world. Blend in with the locals as they offer temple flowers, oil lamps and incense sticks to Lord Buddha. Time seems to stand still as you participate in these enduring and significant rituals.

Jaffna – Untouched

Exploring a rural island in Jaffna.  Photo credit : Dilshad Sadiq

Imagine a country within a country, a journey into a time capsule. Jaffna is all that and more. Located on the northern tip of Sri Lanka, Jaffna is easily accessible via road or train. Do keep in mind that it’s best to reserve an entire day for the journey as it takes about eight hours from Colombo (more easily reached from Wilpattu in just three hours).

Whilst the rest of Sri Lanka moved forward, Jaffna stagnated due to a civil war that ravaged in its heart for over 30 years. Post-war, development has been slow, but this has preserved the rich, predominantly Hindu culture and lifestyle in Jaffna, with a touch of Sri Lanka embedded into it, which makes it beautiful and truly authentic.

Dive deep into the rich culinary tastes, aromas, and colors of Jaffna-style cooking, including a hands-on cooking lesson with a local. Visit a forgotten rural channel island, hosted by a simple resident islander who relates the story of the island from his eyes and offers insight into the hardships faced by the rural communities. Visit the heart of Jaffna city with a local guide to learn about its history, the civil war, post-war developments and lifestyle. This is off-the-beaten-path as it was meant to be.

Beyond Kandy

The hermit painter strumming on his sitar in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Photo credit : Dilshad Sadiq
The hermit painter strumming on his sitar. Photo credit : Dilshad Sadiq

Known as the last fortification of Sri Lankan monarchy, Kandy has also been dubbed the country’s capital of Buddhist worship, as it is home to the sacred Temple of the Tooth. For that very reason, the city center of Kandy is often bustling with activity from both locals and tourists alike. However, one needn’t look far to escape the frenetic pace of this vibrant city. Within a one-hour drive, there are several oft-overlooked experiences for the traveler seeking an insightful and immersive experience.

How about a visit to a hermit painter’s house who lives on top of a scenic mountain and passes his days indulging in his favorite past time, music and art? There is nothing more exciting than having a nice cup of tea with this gentleman and to get an understanding about life in Kandy, whilst the sun sets behind a scenic mountain range. Visit a few forgotten ancient temples in the artsy Gampola area, which are less visited by tourists, but teeming with local villagers. Gain perspectives and be enlightened.

Galle – The Beautiful Interiors

The art of cinnamon extraction in Galle, Sri Lanka. Photo credit : Dilshad Sadiq
The art of cinnamon cultivation. Photo credit : Dilshad Sadiq

The historic coastal city of Galle is world famous for its living UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Galle Fort, and its beaches. However, those who wander into the interiors of Galle are often fascinated by the whole new world that awaits them.

Visit a lush cinnamon plantation, where Cinnamomum verum (true cinnamon) is cultivated by locals and is said to have anti-cancerous properties. Enter a tropical rainforest just one hour from the coast, with lush vegetation, teeming with biodiversity and scenic waterfalls. Or simply visit a typical rural village via a boat through an ancient Dutch-built canal, combined with a bike ride. Cook with a local family to enjoy a typical Sri Lankan meal cooked the southern way.

Sri Lanka is a tear-shaped gem where serendipitous moments make for the most unexpected and memorable travel experiences. To learn more about any of the experiences above, or many more, please be in touch and I’ll introduce you to the experts at Ventours, Sri Lanka.