They call it the teardrop island as it lays in the shape of a tear at the foot of India. Perhaps most of us associate it with the Civil War or with the origin of cinnamon, but for a tea lover like myself, Sri Lanka’s tea plantations were a must see. Sri Lanka was our second stop on an Aeroplan Flight Reward ticket following a week in India and onward to Japan; all three destinations on the same amount of points.
In this country as well as most countries we visited, I found a private driver by reading a number of Tripadvisor posts and recommendations. I designed our itinerary to include Kandy, the famous train ride from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, a safari in Udawalawe, a few beach days in Unawatuna and short visits to Galle and Colombo.
Having arrived from India, our first impression of Sri Lanka was that it was extremely clean and orderly. Locals appeared engrossed in their own lives and we instantly fell into a hybrid “island time”. I say hybrid because Sri Lanka did not feel truly slow as most islands do, instead, it felt like a mix between island time and that small city feeling you would get in less visited European cities. This country was running at its own relaxed pace which we instantly fell in love with.
The sun was smiling down on us on our first morning in tropical Kandy where we sat on the patio of our hotel and simply breathed in the fragrant air of Sri Lanka. This country has many nicknames, including Spice Island, Cinnamon Island, Ceylon Island, and most of those scents prevail in the air you breathe. The food here too is rich and varied in flavours from the abundance of native spices.
The following day we boarded the train from Nuwara Eliya to Ella while our driver continued the journey alone with our luggage. The train ride through the tea plantations was an intricate masterpiece of green valleys filled with viridescent vegetation and local tea pickers with massive woven baskets on their backs. From the comfort of our first-class cabin, it felt as if a fairytale was slowly streaming in front of our eyes and we were simply distant spectators. Outside our window, there was another magical world where we did not belong and where our tourist presence would alter the aesthetic appeal of the lush, green, rolling hills. We were mesmerized by the endless fields of green bushes, brightly dressed tea pickers and surprising waterfalls.
After visiting a tea plantation, I discovered that while the tea leaves are extremely fresh and green, the processing methods transform it into an oxidized, strong and distinctly dark tasting beverage. Though I did not enjoy the strong taste of Sri Lankan tea, since I am partial to Taiwanese Oolong and Japanese Green tea, this country remains one of the largest tea producers in the world and the leader in Earl Gray teas.
Our journey continued through a national park safari in Udawalawe where we saw Asian elephants, numerous birds and a reservoir of dead trees which appeared to be extraterrestrial. In what seemed like no man’s land, the lifeless trees decorated the barren land into a quirky scene. The elephants appeared playful and friendly while the birds were having a singing contest all around us.
And then there was the beach because hey, no trip is ever complete without having seen the ocean; the majestic, awe-inspiring and enigmatic ocean. The beach was not particularly aesthetically pleasing, however, it certainly had a charm of its own with seafood restaurants lined along the shore and monks of all ages leisurely strolling by. There is a certain element of peace that I feel when I observe monks going about their daily routine and I am not sure if it is due to their life philosophy or the way they carry themselves around in their long robes and grateful attitudes.
We relaxed for a few days at the beach and ended our Sri Lanka discovery tour in Colombo where we were pleasantly surprised at its colonial feeling and easy-going attitude of the locals. Colombo has lived through Portuguese, Dutch and British reign and that influence is still visible and clearly felt in the frame of mind of the people as well as local customs. In many ways, having arrived here from India, Sri Lanka felt like a “breath of fresh air” in comparison. Orderly, slow-paced and diverse, this country was a wonderful surprise. Though it is often overlooked as a tourist destination, I highly recommend going off the beaten path and visiting this teardrop fragrant island where a world of possibilities awaits.