Kathmandu and beyond
4th Jul 2012 - 12th Jul 2012
Sri Lanka - Curry & Rice and more (Part 1 by Kirsty)
After 2 months in Thailand, most of it in Chiang Mai, it was time for another little adventure. Much of Asia is deluged by monsoon rains at this time of the year so dry adventures can be tricky. Indonesia is the obvious choice but neither of us felt the pull there - I think after the great trip we did time last year we were worried it would be hard to beat. And let's face it, Indonesians can be hard work. So we plumped for Sri Lanka. Neither of us had been for several years and the end of the war there means that previously out of bound areas in the north and east are now opening up to visitors. To boot, those regions are currently at their best climatically and Air Asia were offering some pretty cheap flights. Decision made.
On landing, we decided to avoid Columbo and headed straight to Negombo - a small town with an interesting fishing harbour and a lot of churches. So many that it is apparently nick-named "Little Rome". To the north of the town there's a beach area with a relaxed atmosphere. Aside from some patches in front of the big resort style hotels, it's definitely a locals beach. By this I mean swimming fully clothed is the norm and sunbathing would attract a lot of attention. It's at its liveliest from late afternoon onwards and on the weekends when families from out of town head to the ocean for snacks, paddling and impromptu drumming and dancing sessions. There were carts selling snacks, known all over the country as "short eats" and the music of Desmond de Silva was pumping from loud speakers courtesy of a Hyundai promotion crew. Popular music in Sri Lanka is very different from anywhere else in Asia - it has retained a very Portuguese influence and is very South American in sound and rhythm. A nice change after the generic "Asia pop" heard in most other countries in South East Asia.
We decided to head to the far north of the country with a brief cultural interlude at Anuradhapura, one of Sri Lanka'a ancient cities. This is when we began to discover the amazing travel bargain that is bus travel in Sri Lanka. Of course, public bus is always the cheapest way to travel but here it seems especially cheap and we calculated that in 3 weeks we travelled almost a full circuit of the country - 800 miles/1300 kilometres for approximately 20 pounds. On the downside, we did many hot, sweaty and extremely crowded journeys.
As we headed north towards the Jaffna Peninsula the rice paddies were a lush green and the coconut palms swayed gently in the breeze. But then we noticed the tree trunks were pock marked with bullet holes and as we headed further along the road we passed many buildings and homes destroyed by bombs and tanks. The area may be peaceful now but the devastation wrought on it by almost 30 years of war is still very much in evidence. If it wasn't for the visible proof in some areas of the city though, it would be hard to guess. The people are friendly and appear happy; just getting on with their lives. Despite the accusations of atrocities, one thing seems to stand out and that is that people here just want to move on and up. We also met quite a few Sri Lankans who had moved overseas (many to Canada and the US as well as the UK) who were visiting for the first time in almost 30 years.
Being largely Tamils, originating from South India, this region has a different feel to it culturally to much of the rest of the country - there are more Hindu temples than Buddhist ones and the food is a bit more South Indian influenced. Mmmm ..... the food! All over the country we had great food. Rice and curry is the national staple consisting of a huge pile of rice, a meat or fish curry and a selection of 3 or 4 vegetable/dhal side dishes. Sri Lankan are also great snackers and I believe Mark is going to describe "short eats" in his next blog. But breakfast has to be one of my favourite meals here and is very similar to that in South India - it's very simple and filling and is usually dhal and potato curry poured over either roti (a cross between naan, chapatti and paratha), string hoppers (a kind of thin noodle/pasta and as far as I know unique to Sri Lanka) or vada (typical of south India, donut shaped but denser and savoury). Locals often also have fish curry but this is a bit much for me first thing in the morning. It's often served on a banana leaf which is great for saving on the washing up; in fact often when a plate was used it was covered in a thin plastic sheet before the food was added so maybe the Sri Lankans just don't like doing the dishes! All washed down with a cup a milky chai.
So enough of the food for now and on with the journey.... Jaffna was an interesting place to visit even though there aren't a long list of "must see" sights to tick off. The centre of the town appears just like any other South Asia city - busy with markets, transport and people going about their business. Most of the centre has been rebuilt with the exception of the fort which had been standing since the Dutch built it in 1680. Allegedly it was the best fort in the whole of AsiaIt from an architectural point of view but sadly it was completely destroyed by the Tamil Tigers during the recent war. Currently there is a massive renovation project underway so it will no doubt be one of the sightseeing highlights of the future.
Away from the down town area Jaffna has a very different feel to it - quiet, leafy suburbs which are very pleasant to wander through. Also in these area is much more evidence of the war and in many places there still lie destroyed buildings and homes. Again people were very friendly but it's a strange kind of tourism, voyeurism of a post-conflict zone.
Infrastructure is still being developed but it is possible to visit some of the out lying islands by bus and boat and one of the most important Hindu temples in the county is located on an island around 20 minutes by boat off the mainland. We were both grateful it was only 20 minutes as although everyone was given a life jacket we were packed in to the small wooden ferry boat like sardines so it wasn't a pleasant ride. The temple itself was interesting - very colourful and a good place to observe religious ritual.
From Jaffna we hopped on another series of hot and sweaty buses and travelled to Trincomalee on the northen part of the east coast. This area was also heavily effected by the war but has opened up to tourists a bit quicker due to its unspoilt beaches and accessibility from some of the main historical sights. The town itself has a fort and a few temples to explore and plenty of friendly locals and tasty snacks. The beach town of Upaveli also has a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery. Like every one that we have visited across the world it was impeccably and proudly maintained by a man who had inherited the job from his father. He showed us files of records of the gravestones and photographs of a visit from Princess Anne many years ago. He had a lot of respect and enthusiasm for his role and was very proud to be doing it. Once the sightseeing was done, like most tourists here, we were just happy to spend a couple of days on the beach relaxing under a couple of coconut palms.
|1410 Words | This page has been read 48 times||View Printable Version|