Impressions of Sri Lanka

Martin Lake on 01 July 2019
One of my first impressions of Sri Lanka was how warm the welcome is. 'Ayu Bowan' ('may you live longer') is both the greeting and farewell, and is always accompanied with a genuine smile. The second thing I noticed was how different the country is to India. Its close proximity means that of course there are similarities, but - having spent time in India - I was pleasantly surprised by how easy-going it is in comparison.

My first visit involved the difficulty, upon arrival at Colombo airport, of choosing a driver/guide from the many who vie for business outside the terminal building. More recent visits have involved a far better and smoother arrival, with the guaranteed knowledge that my pre-arranged guide would be both friendly and knowledgeable (and insured!)

Heading inland to the Cultural Triangle to see the huge ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya and the former ancient capital of Polonnaruwa seemed like the right thing to do. I wasn't disappointed; the rewarding views from the top of Sigiriya were a sight to behold. Journey times can be quite long when travelling in a vehicle around the island, but one way to break this up a little is to include a journey by train. Travelling by train through the tea plantations is a 'must-do' adventure for any trip to Sri Lanka and has certainly been a highlight for me on a number of occasions.

While it's certainly not the Orient Express, the Tea Country train offers ‘travel with charm’ and a truly authentic experience. It’s not a tourist train - locals occupy the majority of the (comfortable) bench seats in second class. The warm breeze that drifts through the open windows (and doors!) adds to the enjoyment, as do the vendors offering cold drinks and spicy snacks.

With sixteen National Parks to choose from, narrowing this down tends to be dependent on personal preference. Trying to spot the elusive leopards of Yala National Park continues to be a popular option. However, a three-hour safari without a sighting can be disappointing - unless of course you spot a sloth bear bouncing across the road in front of you just as you’re exiting the park, as I did on my last visit. Elephants are another of Sri Lanka's more popular creatures, and if you want guarantees, you should head to Uda Walawe NP, with the added bonus of a visit to the Elephant Transit Home, which rehabilitates orphans back into the wild.

A well-balanced holiday experience is what I look for when I travel to Asia, and without doubt Sri Lanka offers this and more. It has history and culture, amazing scenery, fantastic wildlife and great beaches. Throw into the mix some of the best curry dishes - not only full of colour and flavour but also served with a smile - and I realised I had stumbled on a country that I knew I’d be returning to…