The most beautiful island on earth according to Marco Polo and one of the lands to be admired according to world-famous Arab Muslim traveler Muhammad Ibn Battuta al-Tanji, Sri Lanka has a coastline that extends 1,340 kilometers.
In the Sinhala language, Sri Lanka means “that which shines brightly.” As its name implies, the sun always shines over the Sri Lankan land. The average temperature in the country is 28 degrees Celsius.
After reading these curiosity-awakening facts, we immediately set off and begin our visit with the commercial capital, Colombo. While walking in the streets of the capital, we come across many Buddhist temples and mosques on both sides of the road. The Sri Lankan population comes from different religions and races. This difference is reflected in the country’s streets in all sort of cultural patterns. Sixty-nine percent of the population is Buddhist. Their biggest temple, Asokaramaya, is located in the city center. We walk into the temple. This 150-year-old temple has statues set in its walls. And what immediately draws our attention is that these statues mostly belong to Hindu gods. We understand that the Buddhism here has been influenced by Hinduism to a great extent, so much so that we can say that Buddhism and Hinduism are in a way mixed here. Another thing that catches our attention is that we are the temple’s only visitors.
Colombo has an extremely long coastline that extends as far as the eye can see, and its streets are flanked with palm trees. In this country with a tropical climate, the cheapest way of cooling down is probably swimming — so the beaches are always full of people. The streets are full of vendors. This street scene typical of poor countries may be quite interesting for Europeans, but it is perfectly normal for us Turks.
Just like its climate, Sri Lanka’s people are very warm and they always smile at you. The smells of spices enchant us while touring the back streets, and the scents we are not used to in Turkey immediately remind us that we are on a different continent. The West and the East met through these spices centuries ago. While walking the streets today, you are likely to be pulled into a spice shop by its owner. Some tourists try to shake off their tiredness by having a massage done with special oils made of spices and herbs.
The Sri Lankan capital has remarkably different styles of architecture, which remind us that it went through three different colonial periods, under Portugal, Holland and England.
The motor rickshaws we frequently see in India are widely used also here. They play an important role in local transportation. Those returning from downtown with their hands full of plastic bags get on the motor rickshaws one by one.
After visiting Colombo, we set off toward Kandy. The road to Kandy passes through rice fields. Sri Lanka is a green country and we find ourselves in all tones of this color again on the way to Kandy. We stop by a garden to rest a little and have a glass of tea. When we enter the garden, we understand that it is a garden where herbal medications are made. We cannot drink the tea we expected, but they offer a spice tea to us, which they say is very good for sore throat, stomachache and the flu. Although there is no sugar in the tea, vanilla meets our need for sugar. It really helps relieve our weariness. After the brief time-out for tea, we get back to our travel. This time, we are advancing toward the old capital which, as we later learn, is famous for tea cultivation. Sri Lanka is one of the biggest tea producers in the world. Tea plantations cover the entire area. People work in the fields despite the scorching heat. Someone tells us that it is mostly the Tamils who work in the tea plantations. Most of them are tired and some have difficulty walking up the road. We sit by one of the fields and speak to some of the workers. They feel neither their tiredness nor the heat with their happiness of knowing that they will be able to take some food home this evening. The tea leaves they collect in the fields are taken to nearby tea factories to be processed. We follow one of these workers who takes the collected leaves to the factory, where the leaves are immediately processed. While this is going on, we drink a glass of tea. The factory and its surroundings are heavily scented with the fragrance of the tea. We learn that this brand is mostly sold to Middle Eastern countries. The factory is open for tourists to visit, and they offer free glasses of tea. We have a chance to drink the tea that cannot be drunk by the residents of Kandy, as all of it is exported. Although it tastes different than the tea we are used to, it is still delicious, and better than the classic heavy Ceylon tea.
Sri Lanka is a poor country. It is one of the countries that took the brunt of the tsunami that happened in December 2004. Everybody is hard put to earn a living. While some work in the fields and gardens, some work in precious stone mines. To see how these stones are processed, we visit a very famous jeweler, “Zem Gems.” Its owner is Muhammad Rufai, a very humble jeweler who shows us different kinds of stones with prices ranging from $1,000 to $1 million. The one priced at $1 million is described by Rufai as “a piece worth displaying in a museum.” This expensive piece, whose price sounds really absurd considering its size, looks green in natural light, but turns red in artificial illumination. He has had many celebrity customers, including Hillary Clinton and the wives of the Pakistani president and Chinese prime minister.
As we continue our journey, we move a bit away from the urban areas. A herd of elephants slowly advances in the Sri Lankan forest and we learn that this area is an elephant orphanage. We are very excited and surprised to see 100 elephants together. We start following the herd and it turns out that it’s their bathing time in the River Maha Oya. We suddenly realize that both sides of the river are teeming with tourists. Hundreds of tourists watch them bathe and roll in the mud. The elephants seem to be enjoying themselves. They occupy an important place in the history of Sri Lanka. Humans have tamed and used these animals, particularly in transporting tree trunks and during wars. Sri Lanka has recently realized the importance of tourism, and they are now making efforts to increase their tourism revenue. It is a very cheap country for European tourists and one can bump into people from all European nations here.
Visa: Turkish citizens can get one upon entering the country.
How to get there: You can reach the capital Colombo with Emirates via Dubai.
Food: Sri Lankan food is very different than Turkish food. Therefore, those not used to eating spicy dishes may experience some difficulties. But there are many fast food restaurants.
Where to stay: There are clean and beautiful hotels in the country.
Best time to go: Between December and March. But if you don’t like crowded places, then come sometime between March and December, as the best season in the country is the period I mentioned, during which the country teems with tourists. Also, the tickets are cheaper between March and December.