Would you like to travel and experience Sri Lanka as locals? I had a trip to Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka and enjoyed hospitality of a Sri Lankan family.
Sri Lanka is the paradise on earth with 26 national parks teeming with wildlife, wonderful beaches, surfing, tropical fruits and mind blowing ancient places. The earliest human remains found on the island of Sri Lanka date to about 35,000 years ago (Balangoda Man). The majority of the population is from the Sinhalese ethnicity, while a large minority of Tamils have also played an influential role in the island’s history.
Besides the charming tourist attractions, there are also the poorest and most vulnerable lives especially in rural areas.
After arrival to Colombo airport, if you are driving close to the city, be prepared for the busiest and chaotic traffic . We could only drive 30 km.after 2 hours, at rush hour around Colombo.
Train is another experience, full with people, impossible to get-in to train.
Hikkaduwa: Sun & Sand & Surf
Hikkaduwa is the perfect beachside town on the south-west coast, only 140 km to Colombo, and takes more than 2 hours drive. The beach is very long and there are many cafes along the beach. (Recommendation: Top Secret, 24 hrs open)
One side of the beach for snorkelling and the other side is for surfing.
It is home to some of the best coral gardens. By snorkeling, I saw amazing corals blooming, many colorful fishes, octopus and I swam with a big sea turtle.
Unfortunately Tsunami destroyed some of the coral reefs. It is strictly forbidden to step on them. You can also rent a glass bottom boat. The reef has suffered high degradation due to both natural and human activities. The live coral cover was decreased from 47 percent to 13 percent in a coral bleaching event in 1998, caused by the El Nino. It has been suggested that at least 30-40 percent of coral reef should be restored in order for it to be capable of sustaining itself. Despite being designated as a protected area, the coral reef has been subject to constant exploitation including removal of breeding ornamental fish for the commercial market.
Hikkaduwa also has been the focal surfing point for many years. Other than surfing, you can just relax in the beach, grab a coconut, and listen the melodic sound of the waves.
At the surfing beach, the fishermen are collecting their fishing nets before the sunset, very photographic. They do not sell these fishes, it is just for themselves.
If you like experience local fish market, or buy fresh fish, the place is Hikkaduwa small fishing harbor. We went there by bikes.
Sri Lanka is a timeless country. Life is very slow here if you are on vacation. Days are starting with enjoying the sunrise, and watching great sunset over the sea, and have a great night out.
We planned 4-days trip to Pinnawala, Anuradhapura, Dambulla and Kandy.
We had our rental car with a driver. We started driving at 07:00, Sunday morning. Early Sunday morning, the streets were full of people dressed clean white clothes and going to the temples.
On the way, we saw rubber trees. The traditional rubber growing areas of Sri Lanka is located mainly in the wet zone. Sri Lanka’s natural rubber has a high-demand in the world market due to its unique properties.
Our first stop is the elephant park: Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I was quite unsure about this park, as there are many reviews that the elephants are treated bad and chained. As well, there are positive reviews that they take care of weak and sick elephants that cannot survive in wild. I felt quite sorry to be here and refused to have elephant safari as the elephants are all chained. The river side has a restaurant and this place is better, and the elephants are free in the river. This is a good photography location, after 14:00 all the elephants come here to wash themselves. If you like to see elephants in wild, you can prefer Yala National Park instead.
The elephants are in danger in Sri Lanka, only 2500—3000 left now. Early 2000 was around 20.000. The primary threat to Sri Lankan elephants is the loss of forests. The large blocks of forests they require are increasingly fragmented by clearing for human settlements and expanding agriculture in Sri Lanka.
Some roads in Sri Lanka are quite bad and driving takes time. At the time of our trip, the road from Pinnawala to Dambulla and Sigiriya was destroyed after the water floods. The road construction was also slowing the traffic.
Sigiriya, Lion Rock
Sigiriya is located on a massive rocky plateau 370 meters above the sea level. It is formed from magma of an extinct volcano, is higher than the surrounding jungles. Referred by locals as the Eighth Wonder of the World this ancient place attracts thousands of tourists every year.
We preferred to climb uphill early morning, so we wake up 06:00. However, I recommend the evening light for photography.
This site was selected by King Kashyapa (477 – 495 AD) for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes. On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion.
At the top, a huge stone lion was designed, whose feet have survived up to today but the upper parts of the body were destroyed.
Thanks to this lion the palace was named Sigiriya. The term Sigiriya originates from the word Sihagri, i.e. Lion Rock.
The western wall of Sigiriya was almost entirely covered by frescoes, created during the reign of Kasyapa. Eighteen frescoes have survived to this day.
The frescoes are depicting nude females and are considered to be either the portraits of Kasyapa’s wives and concubines or priestess performing religious rituals.
Despite the unknown identity of the females depicted in the frescoes, these unique ancient paintings are celebrating female beauty and have incredible historical significance.
But some of them were destroyed by the monks later.
From Sigiriya, we drove to Anuradhapura, and arrived around 13:00. We stayed in a guest house here.
Anuradhapura, Garden of Dagobas
The ruins of Anuradhapura are one of South Asia’s most exciting sights. The complex contains a rich collection of archaeological and architectural wonders: enormous dagobas (brick stupas), ancient pools and crumbling temples, built during Anuradhapura’s thousand years of rule over Sri Lanka. Today, several of the sites remain in use as holy places and temples.
Founded by King Pandukabhaya in 377 BC, he was seen as the supreme ruler of the country throughout the Anuradhapura period. He made it his capital and developed it into a prosperous city.
Buddhism played a strong role in the Anuradhapura period, influencing its culture, laws, and methods of governance.Society and culture were revolutionized when the faith was introduced during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa. Sri Maha Bodhi, the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, which was then planted in Anuradhapura. Devanampiya Tissa bestowed on his kingdom the newly planted Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi.Thus this is the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
In this sacred city, there are eight main places of worship known as Athamasthana. They are Sri Maha Bodhiya, Ruwanwelisaya, Thuparamaya, Lovamahapaya, Abhayagiriya, Jetavanaramaya, Mirisawatiya, and Lankaramaya. In the vicinity of Anuradhapura, there are a large number of ruins consisting of three classes of buildings, dagobas, basic buildings, and pokunas (bathing-tanks)
Our 1st stop is Thuparama Dagoba. It is the oldest dagoba in Sri Lanka – indeed, probably the oldest visible dagoba in the world.
Our 2nd stop is The Royal Palace (Vijayabahu Maligaya).
Our 3rd stop is Lankaramaya.
The stupa was similar in architecture to the Thuparama, the first stupa to be built after the establishment of Buddhism in Sri Lanka in 250 BC. It was built with 88 pillars supporting the roof of the vatadage which appears to have been 45 feet in diameter.
Our 4th stop is Twin Pods
Kuttam Pokuna, known as the ‘Twin Ponds, is an architectural landscape built to be a bathing pool with terraces for the monks and it dates back to the 8th century.
Our 5th stop is Abhayagiriya Dagoba.
Abhayagiri is the largest monastery complex in the Anuradhapura kingdom for it covers an area of 200 hectares. In the 1st century BC, a Sinhalese King by the name of Vattagamini Abhaya had been forced to flee and abandon his capital during a Tamil Chola invasion. While he was hiding, he heard the sarcastic ramble of a Hindu priest named Giri.
“The great black lion is fleeing!” 14 years later, the king came back with a robust army and trampled the occupation. In celebration, he built a monastery and named it after himself (Abhaya) and the priest who had aroused his rage (Giri).
Our 6th stop is Ruwanweliseya Dagoba
Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba is one of the oldest stupas in Sri Lanka. Ruwanwelisaya is considered an icon of architectural glory in ancient Sri Lanka. Also known as the Great Stupa, Ruwanwelisaya was built by the victorious King Dutugemunu in 140 BC
You need to spend 2-3 days just in this area, worth for great photos.
The Dambulla Cave Temple is the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The five major caves are dotted with 150 plus stunning Buddha statues (and a few depicting Sri Lankan kings, gods and goddesses) as well as huge cave paintings & murals. Prehistoric Sri Lankans would have lived in these cave complexes before the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka as there are burial sites with human skeletons about 2700 years old in this area.
In 1592 Kandy became the capital city of the last remaining independent kingdom in Sri Lanka after the coastal regions had been conquered by the Portuguese. Invasions by the Portuguese and the Dutch (16th, 17th and 18th century) and also by the British (most notably in 1803) were repelled.
As the capital, Kandy had become home to the relic of the tooth of the Buddha which symbolises a 4th-century tradition that used to be linked to royalty since the protector of the relic was seen fit to rule the land.
Thus, the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Tooth were associated with the administrative and religious functions of the capital city.
The Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a temple in the city of Kandy in Sri Lanka. It was built within the royal palace complex which houses the only surviving relic of Buddha, a tooth, which is venerated by Buddhists.
Travel south: Galle, historical capital
The plan is to go shopping to Galle by local train. The train was full and the people are trying to fit inside and if not they travel at the stairs outside. Oh my God:, this was really a though experience. It only lasted half an hour, fortunately.
At Galle, there is a fortress from Dutch.
On the way to Yalla Park
We started the day at 06:00 in the morning from Hikkaduwa, had a driver to go to Yalla Park, to see animals in their natural environment.
On the road, we stoped to photograph “stillt fisherman”. They are famous for photographers, they ask money to let to take photographs. Be prepared when surrounded by fishermen.
On the way, we stoped at Ruhun Uduwap Weherahena, huge temple. There are Buddha paintings and stories in all walls. On the top of the temple, very high, you have a perfect view to tropical trees and the rice fields.
We arrive to our hotel close to Yala Park, the hotel is called Refresh Hotel at Thissamaharama. This is at the lake-side. A short boat tour in the lake is recommended. There are different birds on the small island.
The life here is integrated to the nature, people are a part of the nature, they respect the nature.
We wake up 04:00 in the morning, the rental jeep picked us up at 05:00 from our hotel. After 40 minutes drive, we arrived to the park. There were tens of jeeps, hundreds of tourists are already waiting to enter the park. The driver fixed the entry tickets.
Of all the National Parks in Sri Lanka, Yala National Park gives the best opportunity to witness Sri Lanka’s broad variety of wildlife.
The park is the biggest in Sri Lanka; all the jeeps are driving different directions, so after a while we are on our own in the nature. We saw a lot of birds, monkeys, elephants, wild boar and crocodiles. You are not allowed to go outside the jeep, only in 1 or 2 special places. Our driver got a signal from other drivers the location of the leopard with a baby. When we arrived, 30-40 jeeps were already there, but no leopard
We also visited the coast to the ocean, where Tsunami statue is located.
Our jeep safari in the jungle lasts until 11:00. Then we drove back to Hikkaduwa.
On the way, we stoped at a lighthouse, even though it was closed, the officer opened it for us so that we could climb 200 stairs and see the perfect view. This is the south point of the island with a view of Indian Ocean, ships, fishing boats, coast, villages, bays, trees.
Day trip for River safari: The Madu Ganga River tour
We planed to have a river safari, 40 minutes north of Hikkaduwa. The river has a lot small channels, tropical trees. We stopped at a cinnamon producer, we listened the production technique and we bought cinnamon. Old days, Sri Lanka was the biggest seller of cinnamon in the world. They also make oil out of it. It is good for muscle pains, colds..
We learnt how to make a rope out of a king coconut and how to make a roof from palm tree, all purely natural products.
Back to the boat, and then we went to a 600 year old temple. The monk welcomed us and explained the history of Buddha and the temple. Buddha was born rich, but at the age of 29 he sees the poorness and sickness and he starts to search. He lives without any money until 35 with the help of people. Then he understands that he cannot be enlightened with this poorness and he chooses the middle path. He was enlightened under the “Bo” tree at the age of 35. In the paintings he has the aura around his head. After his death his was burned and the ashes were distributed to different temples all over. Helping each other is very important in Buddhism.
Noble eight Path:
In the temple there are paintings in the walls and the books 500 year old. The papers are covered by coconut oil first then writing by sharp pen and cover it with ash.
The last stop of the boat trip is the turtle farm. (Victor Hasselblad Turtle Hatchery) There are new born baby turtles here then they release these turtles to the sea. In Sri Lanka there are 5 different types of sea turtles.
Sri Lanka History:
1517 – The Portuguese built a fort at the port city of Colombo and gradually extended their control over the coastal areas
1638 – The king signed a treaty with the Dutch East India Company to get rid of the Portuguese who ruled most of the coastal areas
1796 – Great Britain occupied the coastal areas of the island, which they called Ceylon, with little difficulty
Roti, the roll. It can be with cheese or chicken or banana or chocolate or anything.
Arrack is a distilled alcoholic drink, typically produced in the India and southeast Asia, made from fermented sap of coconut flowers or sugarcane and also with grain