Day 2 (2 of 5).
We always enjoy scenery outside the car window while traveling on the road. It offers us an aperture to frame momentary street scenes away from tourist attractions. From billboards to posters, gas stations to bus stops, convenient stores to market stalls, private dwellings to communal housing, observing the locals from the car gave us a collage of insights on their daily businesses from a discreet distance. Unlike driving on a North American highway where human activities remain unseen from the road, the enthralling human activities in South Asia may happen anytime next to the curb, even along a busy highway.
The 4 hour car journey from Negombo to Anuradhapura passed through numerous villages and towns, school complexes, wet markets, Buddhist temples, Christian shrines, palm forests, rice paddy fields, etc. Roads were surprisingly clean and well maintained, and traffic was certainly not as hectic and insane as we have seen in other countries like India, Egypt or Peru. Indeed, Sri Lanka is one of the fastest growing economy in South Asia. According to the World Bank, Sri Lanka has the lowest rate of extreme poverty in South Asia. As we have seen during the trip, the gap between the rich and poor in Sri Lanka is certainly not as apparent as many other countries we have visited. While lives of most Sri Lankan remain simple, rapid urbanization, wide-spreading of the Internet and mobile network, and high literacy rate would certainly transform this sleepy island nation in the near future.
Water puddles reminded us that the monsoon rain was getting more unpredictable and lengthy in recent years according to the driver.
Fishmonger like to set up their stalls right by the road, usually under a big tree.
Peacock is the national bird of India. These magnificent birds are also very common in Sri Lanka. Their vivid colours become an undisputed symbol of beauty for the country.
Many rely on the state-run Sri Lanka Transport Board buses to move around the rural areas and go about their daily business.
Convenient stores selling snacks, sweets, fruits and drinks were the most common shops we saw on the road.
Like much of South Asia, the sugar-coated problem of diabetes also poses a rising threat to Sri Lanka. In 2017, the prevalence of diabetes in Sri Lanka was about 10%. This number climbed to 27% in the city of Colombo. Around 10% of pregnant mothers had diabetes and 35% of women were overweight.
Occasionally, we would pass by large neglected estate or plantation compound.
Christian shrines dot around the roads near Negombo.
The Christian shrines gradually make way for their Buddhist counterparts further away from Negombo.
Dialog and Mobitel are two of the most popular mobile service providers in Sri Lanka. Foreign tourists usually choose between these two providers for sim cards.
Bicycles are the most popular means of transportation for local villagers in rural areas.
For town dwellers, motorbikes are definitely their desirable choice.
However, for moving a group of people or traveling with goods, most locals would opt for hiring a tuk tuk (auto-rickshaw).
For local women, fashion and styling are heavily influenced by Bollywood from its powerful neighbhour.
Fashion in Sri Lanka is relatively conservative, especially in the north or near religious sites.
A Buddhist monastery features a smaller version of the famous elephant wall at Ruwanwelisaya Stupa in Anuradhapura.
Approaching Anuradhapura, we passed by a series of water bodies. Since the 3rd century BC, reservoirs were constructed around the ancient capital to sustain the earliest kingdom of Sri Lanka.
The arrival at the artificial reservoirs of Tissa Wewa and Basawkkulama signified our 4-hour-drive had come to an end. We had officially arrived at the heart of Sri Lanka’s most ancient capital, Anuradhapura.
Our most recent travels have been focused on short trips to Japan and South Asia. These experiences offered us two distinct views of Asia. In Japan, the minimalist beauty in fashion, food, and architecture, the strong sense of community and respect to local traditions in villages and urban centres, and the Shinto attitude on harmonic coexistence with the nature captivated our admiration. On the other hand, the pungent spices, mystic incenses, vivid costumes, bizarre rituals, exquisite temples, majestic landscapes, and mythical folklore of Tibet, India and Myanmar offered us some of the last glimpses of truly unique and centuries-long traditions in our ever-changing world. After an invigorating journey to Hokkaido in early summer, we turned our eyes to the exotic dimensions of South Asia once again. We picked the “tear drop” in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, as our destination for a 12-day trip.
2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War, a devastating conflict between the Sri Lankan military and the rebel force of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or simply known as the Tamil Tigers. The conflict lasted for 26 years. 15 years have also passed since the horrific 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the natural catastrophe that has devastated the coastal area of Sri Lanka and claimed 35,000+ lives. In the past 10 years, tourism has boomed exponentially along with the rapid growing economy. 2019 was on track to become another record breaking year for tourist numbers until Easter Day, when Isis terrorists attacked hotels, churches and residences in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, claiming 259 innocent lives. The incident caused a disastrous blow to the country’s tourism. The government immediately tightened national security, attempting to restore international confidence. Despite of the attack, magazines and newspapers remained affirmative to endorse Sri Lanka as a top destination of 2019. After learning about its diverse attractions, affordability, ease of travel and communication, pristine natural scenery and unique cultural experiences, we were not surprise at all to see why Lonely Planet selected Sri Lanka as their destination of 2019.
As a small country about half the size of England, Sri Lanka has a lot to offer. We planned for a loop journey starting in Negombo on the western coast, then moved north to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya & Dambulla before heading up to the hill region. In the hills, we stopped by the historical capital Kandy, took the “world’s most scenic train ride” to the tea plantations near Ella and Haputale. Leaving behind the hills of Ceylon tea, we ventured into the wilderness of Udawalawa for wildlife safari, and arrived at the beaches of Mirissa and the colonial port of Galle to embrace the Indian Ocean. Before leaving Sri Lanka, we stopped by Colombo for a delicious crab dinner. This trip was filled with lovely moments: joining Buddhist pilgrims at the 2300-year-old Bodhi Tree, hiking through Sir Thomas Lipton’s tea terraces, facing eyes-in-eye with elephants and leopard on safari jeep, spotting whales and dolphins in the open ocean, candlelight dining on the Mirissa Beach, not to mention devouring delicious curry and seafood, meeting the friendly and curious local people, and taking in the laid back atmosphere that we could always smell in the air.
Our journey embarked from the beaches of Negombo.
At Anuradhapura, we circled the 2300-year sacred Bodhi tree,
and visited several ancient Buddhist dagobas (stupas) where pilgrims burned incenses and offered lotus flowers.
At Sigiriya, we climbed up a rock opposite to Sigiriya Rock to watch the best ever sunset.
Visiting the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy offered us a chance to see the century-old rituals that once symbolized the political and religious power of the nation.
At Kandy, we stayed at the magnificent Villa Rosa Guesthouse overlooking the Mahaweli River,
and visited the famous Royal Botanical Garden to check out the large flying foxes.
“The world’s most scenic train ride” took us up to the hills of tea plantations.
In Haputale, we followed Lipton’s footsteps for a half day hike.
In Ella, we were rewarded with the peaceful and lush green scenery.
Onwards to Udawalawa where we had close encounters with Asian elephants.
Reaching the south coast at Mirissa signified the final leg of our journey.
Mirissa offered us moments of relaxation right by the Indian Ocean.
The seaside resort town is also renowned as one of the world’s top spot for whale and dolphin watching.
We enjoyed every moments by the sea at Mirissa and Galle before heading north to Colombo.