By Milda Urban, Summersalt Yoga founder
What’s there to do on a dark and gloomy winter day? Look for a place to escape the approaching cold winter.
Since I’ve already eaten my way through Southeast Asia twice and Latin America was still a little out of my budget, Sri Lanka ended up on the top of my list.
I’ve always seen Sri Lanka as some kind of utopia as so many religions and cultures – Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus – are coexisting relatively peacefully in such a small space (recently there was some conflict).
Life here and now
I realize that you do not need any meditations or consciousness training if you have access to tuk-tuk rides. It takes only 5 minutes in this bad boy driving through the chaotic streets of Colombo to be fully living IN THE MOMENT and to cherish that moment with all my heart.
Colombo is not a place you’d want to spend too much time. It’s not bad, but it’s also not really good. It’s enough to spend a day sightseeing a few temples, never-ending construction sites and trying your first curry (mine was a little watery). After that – go to the train station and grab your ticket further along.
A tip for technology and convenience lovers – install PickMe app to your phone, it’s like Uber for tuk-tuks and is great for those who do not want to negotiate with a driver too much (you will get the cost estimate on the app). I strongly recommend getting a local SIM card at the airport as it will come in handy for the app, the maps and check your email.
Kandy in the middle
Even though the backpack is rubbing my shoulders and my head under the hat is completely sweaty, I can’t wait to hop on the train and travel to Kandy – a city in the middle of the country. It is supposed to be the “real Sri Lanka” and after about 3-hour train ride from Colombo we are there! Once again – we take a stressful tuk-tuk ride and are finally at our rental place. It has a wonderful view of the mountain and a 27-meter-tall Buddha statue. So far, so good.
Kandy is a blend of curry, dumpster, durian smells as well as touristy spots that offer cappuccinos, fries and avocado toasts. The tired locals share the streets with gap-year blonde travelers in elephant pants and large backpacks.
It is enough to spend here 2-3 days, including the visit to the famous Sigiriya rock where one needs to climb 1200 scary/hard steps and sometimes share those steps with local monkeys (uhh..). It’s fascinating how I and other tourists can’t seem to catch a breath, but local guides walk the path multiple times a day!
It is easiest to reach this destination by hiring a car, this will cost you about 60 dollars, but you will have an AC, will be able to dictate the schedule and have pit stops whenever you want.
A beautiful place to visit when in Kandy is the Royal Botanical gardens. The bright colors, orchids, and gorgeous paths are worth the smog-filled tuk-tuk ride here.
Train to Nuwara Eliya
I was very much looking forward to the train ride to Nuwara Eliya – the tea fields and greenery was supposed to be one of the highlights of the trip. However, since we were not allowed to purchase the tickets in advance we did not see that much as we had to spend the ride on our feet and not unlike sardines in a can. The train was PACKED! I am kind of proud that I managed to survive those 4 hot sweaty hours. The yoga experience helped a little – it is what it is, just accept it.
Maybe I look a little too distressed or tired, but a 80-year-old grandma signals me to sit on her lap! It’s very tempting, but she’s about 3 times smaller than I am so I politely refuse.
PYYYNATS, DELISUS PYYYNATS. The train salesmen offer everything from peanuts, chips, drinks and more. They do not seem to care about squeezing through the fully packed train every 15-20 minutes and the local couple near us buys basically everything and once offer me some crisps too. Do I really look so exhausted? Well, it is what it is, right?
Once in Nuwara Eliya it feels so much calmer. Even the tuk-tuk ride to our stay was quite alright. It is also much cooler than everywhere else and it is so welcome. Our tuk-tuk driver Nagesh tells us he does tea plantation tours and since we like him we schedule a tour the next day. We obviously (duhh) communicate via Whatsapp later to set the time etc.
About 50% inhabitants in Nuwara Eliya are Tamils with the origin in India. They work in tea plantations, speak their own dialect, however they make up only about 4% of entire Sri Lanka’s population. Do not confuse them with the northern and eastern Sri Lanka Tamils who make up about 11% of the country’s population.
Even if it sounds a little corny or stereotyped I feel like this place is the real Sri Lanka. I love the amazing green colors of the tea plantations and the colorful saris of the local women. I love visiting the plantations and drinking the tea (black tea is my all-time favorite). The highest quality tea from Sri Lanka comes from Nuwara Eliya. The set up of the plantations and the entire experience reminds me a little of visiting vineyards and wineries. Nagesh is a great guide, he tells us about the history and the area, but is not prying and is giving us the space we need.
I love it here also because the place brings back the emotions of my early youth when I’d go through the National Geographic magazines and see the far-away exotic lands, dreaming of visiting them one day. I believe that day has come and it’s magical.
Going to the ocean
Again in a packed train, this time – traveling to Galle in the South which is famous for its Portuguese fort, Dutch, British and Portuguese streets and architecture. From there we’re going to reach a couple of seaside towns as well.
One of them is Unawatuna – a lovely, small place with semi-empty beaches which come as so needed paradise after days in a train and tuk-tuk chaos.
Sri Lanka has 1300 kilometers of coast, there are many gorgeous beaches, we also visit the famous Mirisa and it’s gangs of dogs and iguanas, we surf in Weligama and come back to explore the beautiful Galle. It’s touristy and crazy hot, but we take comfort in familiar cafes and stylish boutiques.
We spend the rest of our time living the slow life, eating pineapples, mangoes, coconuts and drinking local “Lion” beer. How is this not a perfect life? It definitely is.