ride to cultural Sri Lanka
Bloggers Carlos and Julia take a journey back in time
and marvel at what Colombo Kandy and Galle have to offer:
With history dating back three thousand years, when the first
Sinhalese monarchies began, it comes as no surprise that Sri Lanka is a
country filled with rich culture. Even though its original
Indian-influenced Buddhist roots endured over the centuries, despite
many imperialists - the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British - and the
quarter-century civil war, this tiny island in the Indian Ocean absorbed
parts of the foreign culture to create a cultural mix of its own.
One must only go a short distance to see the great variety of
colonial buildings, cuisine and art that Sri Lanka has to offer. Hop on
what was perhaps the greatest British contributions to Sri Lanka, its
scenic railroad network, for a journey back in time. On the way, enjoy a
Buddhist holiday in the historic Portuguese area of Colombo, pass by
rolling hills of tea fields to reach Buddha's relic in Kandy and stop by
a massive Dutch fort in Galle.
With its strategic geographic position, favourable for trading,
Colombo was the first European settlement in Sri Lanka. The Portuguese
were the first to arrive and in a game of deception and manipulation,
managed to take over the west coast of Sri Lanka, making Colombo its
Local market at
Galle Face Green
A walk around the fort area of Colombo reveals the Portuguese traces
in the iconic architecture of the buildings. Most of which were under
severe restoration in an attempt to regain attention from tourists.
Nonetheless, the historic fort area was nice. The most memorable part
of Colombo for us was experiencing Sri Lanka's most important festival,
the Vesak, celebrating Buddha's birth, nirvana and death.
Instead of going to yet another Buddhist temple, we joined locals at
the Galle Face, a grassy park overlooking Colombo's exceptional coast
line. With many food stalls serving snacks, traditional music playing
and kites flying high in the skies, the whole place was colourful and
With a cooler and more relaxed climate than Colombo, Kandy is known
for its misty green hills surrounding the centrepiece lake and the
golden-roofed temple that houses Sri Lanka's most sacred relic - the
tooth of Gautama Buddha. The relic is displayed during puja, three times
daily, and we attended the evening session. Dress code is strict within
the temple grounds - no shoes allowed while legs and shoulders must be
covered at all times for both men and women.
Local playing the drums
at the Temple of the Tooth
The main building of the temple was quite complex. With two floors,
several galleries and thousands of people around, we got lost, not
knowing where the relic was going to be displayed. At 6:30pm sharp,
three men, bare-chested and wearing orange sarongs, started playing the
flute and drums very loudly to announce the beginning of puja.
The crowd gathered around them and carefully watched as people walked
in and out of the golden door, where we thought the relic was.
At the same time, another line started heading upstairs, where locals
were worshipping Buddha. At this point we had no idea if we were in the
right spot for the relic showing.
After watching the music show for half an hour, we decided to join
the line leading upstairs, where we stood for another half an hour. The
relic showing was actually happening on the second floor! The tooth was
kept inside a golden casket shaped like a stupa, with six others in
diminishing size inside it, just like a Russian doll.
Locals made flower offerings and others joined the rushed line to see
the casket, each person having all of one, maybe two seconds to see the
relic. When we finally made our way to the end of the line, the doors
were closed and the relic was officially out of sight.
It was really disappointing and made us feel totally gypped,
considering we paid to see the relic but never actually saw it. We also
heard complaints from other tourists on the way out.
With the disappointing visit to the temple of the tooth, our
favourite activity in Kandy remained hanging out around the lake. It
looked good even during heavy rain!
Streets of the Galle Fort
Our last cultural stop in Sri Lanka was at the Dutch-influenced town
of Galle. Bursting with colonial buildings inside its majestic fort,
Galle is where classical architecture melds with a tropical setting to
create a unique city.
The Galle Fort is still a living community that hosts many boutique
hotels, fancy jewellery shops and picturesque cafes, to name a few. Just
wandering through its small alleys made us feel like we were living in
the colonial area all over again. From the top of the fort walls, we
observed the old lighthouse and gazed at the ocean. It's not hard to
imagine the hundreds of ships en route to and from the Old World during
the Age of Discovery.
Our time in Galle was short, but we certainly lived centuries of
history here.Sri Lanka is a deceivingly small country filled with
culture, abundant natural beauty and friendly people. It was a big
surprise to us (in a good way) and we have nothing but good memories of
our two weeks here.
(Carlos and Julia are on a year-long adventure
throughout Asia, and you can keep up with them through their blog 'Our
Lighthouse in Galle