Add a beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife and delicate food and it is easy to understand why those who has once been to Sri Lanka almost always return. Do you want to experience this country in the best possible way? Go on an exotic road trip in Sri Lanka.
Since peace was established in the country five years ago, the Sri Lankan government has invested heavily in two things: mandatory education and infrastructure. The main roads are now smooth and re-built although they are usually just a single-lane without sidewalks or roadside.
We watch as we pass men dressed in sarongs on bicycles, women with grocery bags and babies in their arms carrying umbrellas as protection from both sun and rain, young men waiting for customers at their tuktuks and schoolchildren in white uniforms standing on the steps of local buses.
We pass small shops where everything is handmade: wood carvings, bricks and wood. We see a macaque monkey sitting and mourning his friend hit by a car on the other side of the road.
In the distance, a wild herd of elephants appear, temples and Buddha statues are looming above and along the road we see endless rice paddies.
The villages are located closely next to each other with simple and colorful houses in line, turquoise, pink and sunny yellow colors. Those who are fortunate enough to own a house close to the road often live to sell whatever they grow or produce.
In front of the houses pineapples, bananas and mangoes, vegetables, beans and lentils, cashews, spices, buffalo yogurt and wild honey are sold. You can also find baskets and ceramics. Road fast food consists of a simmering pot of curry or cobs and coconuts thirst quencher.
Nature has been particularly generous to Sri Lanka. The tropical climate with steady, high heat and high rainfall are ideal for most crops, especially tea, the country’s fourth largest export after labor, textiles and tourism. 1.5 million people work in the tea industry, and the country’s former name, Ceylon, is still used when it comes to tea production.
Tea plants were introduced in the late 1800s by the British, especially in the mountain areas where hills are covered in tea plants usually planted in neat rows.
Now and then we see tea pickers with traditional tools: a long stick and a basket on the back. It’s a hard and dangerous job that is mostly carried out by Tamil women.
-Two-three tea pickers died every day of snakebites before, most vipers and cobras. Now we use chemicals that scare snakes away, says Nadel, who works at the tea plantation Pedro Estate in Nuwara Eliya.
The area around Nuwara Eliya is extremely beautiful with deep valleys and waterfalls. The world’s most beautiful train line goes through the landscape, built by the British to bring home the black gold: the tea leaves. Nuwara Eliya was also the first stop on our four-days journey where Unawatuna was the final destination.
Our second “must” during the journey is a safari and we choose the country’s largest national park Yala, which has 44 different mammals and 215 birds species. Seeing water buffaloes, crocodiles, macaques, peacocks, wild boars, “Bambi-deer”, elephants and black bear digging holes with his nose right on the road was more than enough. On the way out, when it was getting dark, we saw a huge leopard crossing the road quickly, just in front of the jeep. Almost breathless from the experience,we got out of the park when the sunset exploded with color.
The beaches are wide, infinitely long and sometimes empty. In beautiful Unawatuna, which is mentioned as one of the world’s most beautiful beaches by National Geographic, there are plenty of small hotels, no big hotels and high-rise buildings are blocking the sky.
The question is how long it will stay this way? A giant Marriott hotel is being constructed in Mirissa right now and the next tourist destination is likely to be the northern part of the island which is only now beginning to rise after the Civil War.
– In a few months we will open a hotel in Jaffna. It’s a completely different culture, other animals, beautiful beaches and coral reefs, says the receptionist at one of the hotels in Habarana.
It almost feels as if Sri Lanka is in the same position as Cuba. In recent years, all 16-year olds passed at least nine years of school and now no one wants to engage in crafts, tea gathering or rice cultivation.
Tourism has increased by 32 percent this year and it’s just a matter of how fast it goes.