Land of plenty

Nadia vis­its Sri Lanka, an amaz­ingly di­verse land, and finds a wealth of wildlife, his­tory and curried de­lights

Nadia - - CONTENTS -

Sri Lanka is a land of ex­tremes – de­spite be­ing about half the size of our own North Is­land, it boasts trop­i­cal beaches, misty high­lands, dense jun­gle, bustling cities and grassy plains. Fol­low­ing the end of a tragic 26-year civil war in 2009, as well as the dev­as­tat­ing 2004 Box­ing Day tsunami, the coun­try has been slowly re­cov­er­ing eco­nom­i­cally, and a blos­som­ing tourism in­dus­try has been a ma­jor part of that re­newal. Nadia, Car­los and son Bodhi vis­ited Sri Lanka re­cently and spent 10 days en­joy­ing the sights, smells and flavours of this unique is­land off the south­ern tip of In­dia.

If you’re think­ing about vis­it­ing Sri Lanka, there’s one ques­tion you need to ask your­self: “Do I love curry and rice?” De­spite be­ing a huge fan of curry in all its forms, even Nadia found her­self all curried out af­ter just five days on the ground.

“We’ve al­ways wanted to go to Sri Lanka and the food is meant to be re­ally amaz­ing,” she says. “And it was! But be­cause it’s a lot of curry and rice and I was 23 weeks preg­nant, I got re­ally bad heart­burn! But all the trop­i­cal fruit was so amaz­ing – and the rice hop­pers (they’re like crispy pan­cakes with an egg cracked in the mid­dle).”

Nadia and Car­los were keen to visit Sri Lanka be­cause of its rapid growth as a tourist des­ti­na­tion and their wish to see it while it was still rel­a­tively un­der-de­vel­oped. The is­land is a tourist’s par­adise, boast­ing lux­u­ri­ous beach re­sorts, health spas, jun­gle sa­faris and moun­tain-top tea plan­ta­tion eco-ho­tels among its di­verse at­trac­tions.

Start­ing in cap­i­tal city Colombo, the fam­ily went on a mini tour of the largely Bud­dhist na­tion, tak­ing in just a few main des­ti­na­tions to ac­com­mo­date 2-year-old Bodhi’s needs. The long civil war from 1983-2009 caused a gen­er­a­tion’s worth of dam­age to Sri Lanka’s in­fra­struc­ture so its roads and trans­port net­works are a lit­tle frozen in time. As a re­sult, book­ing a driver and trav­el­ling by car is by far the best way to get around, says Nadia.

“To get from town to town and city to city, it’s best to drive be­cause there aren’t that many do­mes­tic air­ports. It’s great, though, be­cause then you have some­one to tell you about the lo­cal cul­ture and his­tory and give you their per­spec­tive. It was in­ter­est­ing hear­ing our driver’s per­spec­tive on the civil war, rather than read­ing a his­tory book or watch­ing a doc­u­men­tary.”

The nar­row, bumpy roads take time to nav­i­gate but of­fer a fas­ci­nat­ing, car-win­dow view of daily life in this bustling na­tion. Herds of cat­tle, mar­ket­places and lo­cals go­ing about their busi­ness all share the wind­ing net­work of roads. One of the best things about trav­el­ling this way is the easy ac­cess to huge stalls piled with the fresh

trop­i­cal fruit that grows in this fer­tile land.

“There were lots of fruit stalls by the side of the road, so we’d be like, ‘Can we stop there?’” re­calls Nadia. “You can buy co­conuts for eat­ing and drink­ing, all dif­fer­ent types of wa­ter­melon, all sorts of man­goes; there were whole ta­bles laden with them. We bought heaps and took them to our ho­tel for snacks.”

From Colombo, the fam­ily drove to Si­giriya in the Matale Dis­trict, which is fa­mous for its 5th-cen­tury fortress built atop a 200m-high rock in the mid­dle of thick, mon­key-in­hab­ited jun­gle. Ever the in­trepid trav­ellers, Nadia and Car­los de­cided to strap Bodhi on and scale the rock.

“We had to take turns car­ry­ing Bodhi!” Nadia laughs. “It’s not for the faint-hearted. There are parts where you’re on a tiny lit­tle plank. But the views were in­cred­i­ble.”

Also while in Si­giriya, the fam­ily were lucky enough to take a sa­fari to see a herd of ele­phants in their nat­u­ral habi­tat on one of Sri Lanka’s grassy plains in Min­ner­iya Na­tional Park. “The herd we saw had 40-50 ele­phants with ba­bies as well. They’re not scared, they’re very used to tourists, and the clos­est they came was about five me­tres away. Bodhi loved it. He wanted them to come closer!” says Nadia.

A slightly hair-rais­ing drive up steep roads into Sri Lanka’s high­lands led to the idyl­lic Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge. From their very own glamp­ing-style can­vas tent, the fam­ily re­laxed with easy na­ture walks, tea plan­ta­tion tours and even a mas­sage for Mum, Dad and Bodhi, too. The misty moun­tains, stun­ning vis­tas – and heaps more curry and fresh fruit – were an ideal way to re­lax at the end of a busy trip. But the high­light of the ex­pe­ri­ence?

“Bodhi got on like a house on fire with the lo­cals,” Nadia says. “He even learned to say a few of the lo­cal words, like ‘Is­tuti’ which is ‘thank you’ in Sin­halese. The peo­ple over­all were just so friendly, so smiley, so good with kids and so nice to be around.”

To book Ni­mal De Silva, the driver Nadia toured with, email cool­sri­lanka.gg@gmail.com.

Re­treat and eat The peace­ful Madulkelle Tea and Eco Lodge was the per­fect spot to chill out. Op­po­site A tra­di­tional Sri Lankan break­fast with milk rice cake, co­conut rice, co­conut and tomato chut­neys, onion and dried fish sam­bal, chick­peas, dhal, string hop­pers (or idiyap­pam, a tra­di­tional rice-flour dish), sam­bar veg­etable curry, and chicken and prawn curries.

Ad­ven­ture ad­dicts While Nadia says she and Car­los are less in­trepid these days with Bodhi on board, the fam­ily still man­aged a hike up an an­cient fortress in Si­giriya and an ele­phant sa­fari in Min­ner­iya Na­tional Park. Op­po­site Road­side fruit stalls were plen­ti­ful, with man­goes, co­conut and wa­ter­melon some of the high­lights.

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