I admit; I have always wanted to go to India, but have been a bit intimidated. So, when I was given the opportunity to go to Sri Lanka, the neighboring country, I jumped on it.
Image by Katja Presnal
Sri Lanka is feast for all senses, whether it comes to nature, architecture, culture, historic sites, culinary experiences, or design. So is India. Where India might be the "more exotic" destination, Sri Lanka is oddly both less intimidating for Westerners yet less tourist driven than India. The main reason for the lack of tourism in Sri Lanka in previous years has been the ongoing civil war. Now that the war is over, the country is open for business. It is difficult to say how long Sri Lanka will remain unspoiled by tourism. Ironically, that's the very reason now is the time to go, before you find a KFC on every corner. Western chain stores and brands are already in Sri Lanka, but not nearly in the same quantities as in many other places in Asia.
It is very easy to experience the authentic Sri Lanka, but in a "safe and easy" way. By this I mean that traveling in Sri Lanka is relatively easy (even by train), the education level in the country is high, and we met people who spoke perfect English even in the smallest of the towns. The high literacy rate and education level can also be seen in the infrastructure. There were new highways from the capital Colombo to the other parts of the country, and the railway system worked well. You can even enjoy a great network of domestic flights managed by CinnamonAir. I visited Colombo and Kandy, the two largest cities of Sri Lanka, and not even once felt they were overcrowded by locals, or by tourists.
There are eight UNESCO heritage sites in Sri Lanka. My favorite is the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy. Since the Temple of the Tooth Relic is one of the most sacred worship temples, people travel from all of the country to visit. We saw newly wed young couples coming together. We saw mothers bringing their children. I felt like an intruder, not really knowing enough of the religion. I was just a tourist, taking photos. But when a family asked if I wanted to take their photo I realized... I was welcome there too.
And that's how I sort of felt everywhere in Sri Lanka - welcome. One of my favorite towns is the coastal town of Galle. I am a person who judges places by the "could I live here?" parameter (I have lived in several countries and states on two continents) and Galle went on my list of places where I could see myself living. It was probably because I saw a colonial influence in Galle. I loved walking the streets trying to imagine how the colonial settlers, first Portuguese and then Dutch, had felt when they had settled there.
The Galle Fort is an UNESCO world heritage site, and is the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European settlers. I, however, was equally fascinated by the colonial museum, and the downtown shopping area where I could see the fusion of modern design, Asian heritage, and colonial past. One of my favorite shops is owned by Swedes, just confirming my thought that Galle was, and is, a great spot to settle down - no matter where you are from.
Some of the real highlights of my trip happened outside the cities. In Sri Lanka you can experience anything from tea plantations, to cinnamon production, to luxury relaxation on the beach resorts. I mention the beach resort, because you can't miss the Beruwala beach. It is the starting point of the "golden beach," over 80 miles (130 kilometers) of golden sandy beaches. My favorite time for beach time was in the mornings when the fishermen started arriving on the beach. There was a serenity in the everydayness of the fishermen, like it wasn't even their day job, but simply what they truly enjoyed waking up for every morning. I couldn't really blame them.
Climbing the Sigiriya, Lion Rock a 200-meter-tall rock with ancient fort ruins on the top was an accomplishment for someone scared of heights, and one of my real highlights of the trip.
But there's more! Seeing the elephants gathering at the Kadulla National Park was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Seeing over 60 elephants (including babies) gather in gorgeous fields was a sight I will never forget.
One of the places that made the deepest impact on my life was visiting the Ranwali Spice Garden in Kawdupelella in Matale area of Sri Lanka. I have always liked using natural remedies in our everyday life, but the visit to the Ranwali Spice Garden finally made me want to move even further towards herbal medicine and inspired me to join the Young Living essential oil company shortly after returning from Sri Lanka. Seeing all of the ayurvedic herbal medicinal plants (like cocoa, cinnamon or ginger) that grow in the forest, and are then turned into products that can help you improve your health was truly inspiring and literally changed my life after returning home.
Truthfully, the entire Sri Lanka experience is something I will never forget, and I hope to visit this beautiful country again soon.