Despite many trips to India, I have only just visited its beautiful teardrop – Sri Lanka. Because it is so close to India, I had mistakenly assumed it would be quite similar, like a province of South India floating in the sea. But Sri Lanka is delightfully different and has a beguiling charm of its own. It’s definitely not called the pearl of the Indian Ocean for nothing.
Considering I have been here for less than two weeks and have only visited two different places, Colombo and now the beachside town of Hikkaduwa in the south, my observations are admittedly a little superficial. In any case, here are some of the differences I have noted thus far;
Coconuts – the Sri Lankan coconuts are orange (rather than green) and have an enormous, almost never-ending amount of water inside. They don’t seem to require much effort to cut open. The lovely lady I buy one off each morning just uses a small knife – water spurts out when she pierces the hole – almost like the pop of opening champagne!
Rickshaws – they come in many different colours in Sri Lanka – red, cream, green, black, (I’ve only seen yellow ones in India) – and most of them seem to be in very good condition. They are adorned with pictures of the Buddha rather than Krishna, Ganesh or Shiva.
Hair – Sri Lankans often have very curly hair. It seems the trend by the beach is to grow it long and wear it like an afro – blonde tipped if you are a surfer. When I see hair like this it makes me wonder about the myth that the Singhalese people are descents of a lion.
(This is the guy from our guesthouse. He wanted to charge me 1000 rupees for this photo)
Rice and curry – when I read this on the menu I didn’t feel very excited. But Sri Lankan rice and curry is more than what it sounds and is quite different in flavour to Indian food. It involves a big plate of rice and a three or four small bowls of dhal, vegetables and fish or meat if you choose, and a crunchy papadum. Every time I have eaten this (which is almost every day) I have been amazed at the subtle and delicate fusion of coconut milk with spices such as cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. Even at the cheapest hole-in-the-wall place, the rice and curry was absolutely delicious. The banana and honey rotties aren’t bad either!
Tea – despite all the wonderful spices used in the cooking – tea in Sri Lanka is served British style, milk and sugar separate, unlike the aromatic masala chai of India. But I do love the charm of a full set of china wear delivered direct to the beach sun bed.
I have, of course, already hunted down the best café in town. The owner was trained by an Australian barista and his flat whites are indeed up to Sydney standards. Such a treat!
Other interesting discoveries I have made about Sri Lanka, courtesy of Wikipedia, include the fact that it was the first Asian country to have a female ruler (Queen Anula who reigned during 47-42 BC) as well first country in the world to have a female head of government. Sirimavo Bandaranaike served as Prime Minister three times 1960–65, 1970–77 and 1994–2000.
It is a small country but there are many places of natural, historical and religious significance that I would like to visit. But for the moment, I think staying by the beach sounds just fine.