Sri Lanka, while small has a lot to offer: The warmth of the locals, the tradition of hospitality, the rich diversity of food, the deep spirituality and religious traditions especially Buddhism.
Unfortunately for me, I also found it extremely difficult to deal with the heat and found myself hating the weather from 10am!!! to about 5pm in most places. That is on me. Since I also ended up sick in the last week of my trip, I couldn’t experience the beaches of Sri Lanka: I did a quick stop at Mirissa and Unawatuna but didn’t really spend much time there. But I got to experience the temples and the hill country which were fantastic.
I started my journey in Jaffna and then made my way through Mannar, Anuradhapura, Dambulla, Sigriya and Polunnawara. In each of these places, you get close to the deep spirituality and religion in Sri Lanka. While Jaffna/Mannar have a lot more Tamil/Hindu influence, the rest of the places are traditionally more Buddhist.
A note on Jaffna: It is peaceful now but you do have army posts everywhere. Usually I would discuss politics with locals, but here I refrained: It is still quite sensitive and a few days before I headed to Sri Lanka, the government had declared that a lot missing from the war are likely dead.
And in the reglious centres, my ignorance of the country was laid bare. I always knew that Sri Lanka is Buddhist. But what I was ignorant about is how deep the practices of Buddhism permeates the society. I haven’t experienced this much depth in many countries (except Arabic countries for Islam, I havent really travelled much around India) including Cambodia and Laos. There were 100s praying at these sights. People dressed in white offered prayers and lotuses to the different stupas and temples. It was a humbling moment. I am not religious. I bounce between being agnostic and being atheist. But even I was quite appreciative of the faith of these devotees. I was also humbled by my own ignorance of my knowledge. There is so much to learn about our world.
Leaving the religious centres of Sri Lanka, I made my way to the Hill Country: Ella, Nuwura Elijah, Sripada and Kandy. In each of these places, there are hiking opportunities (Ella Rock, Adam’s Peak, World’s end), tea plantations and a much needed cool weather. I loved my time here. I enjoy hiking and made most of my time here.
Since I am a coffee drinker, I didn’t try much tea but I did try a lot of food. And boy! The food is fantastic. There is a lot of overlap with the food of South India but there are three dishes that stood out: String Hoppers, Jaffna Crab Curry and Kottu. I need to find the crab curry in London!
Finally, I was extremely appreciative of the warmth of the locals. In every place I stayed at (including some hostels), I felt I was staying with a family. Sri Lankans open their doors and hearts to you. My favourite moment was playing cricket with some kids (Still got the technique and hand/eye coordination 😁).
Sri Lanka is a small country. Unless if you are surfing or want a week of a beach holiday, you can cover most of the country in under 2 weeks. It might be a short period, but I can confidently state it would a period you would cherish.