My Icons of Sri Lanka

Worldwide Sri Lanka
My Icons of Sri Lanka

Sometimes it is not the main attractions of a destination that provoke lasting memories, but the little things we see and cherish. And no more so than those relating to Sri Lanka is a country of colour, culture and craziness. Carpeting the plains are brown and green squares of the paddy fields. Around the old-fashioned tractors flocks of brilliant white egrets flutter and fuss. The towns are chaotic with cars, tuk tuks, motorbikes, DIY transporters and brightly painted buses. Iconic images reflecting treasured memories.

Homemade Vehicle in Galle, Sri Lanka
Homemade Vehicle in Galle, Sri Lanka

Flower garlands were priority on my arrival in Sri Lanka during the early hours of the morning. This tradition was also practised when we visited the Demodera Tea Factory. While my colleagues were calmly being photographed outside the factory, I was inside trying to wrestle my garland from a giant fan I had strayed too close to. Both survived.

Garlands for Anastazja, Chaminda and Tess at  Demodera Tea Factory in Sri Lanka
Garlands for Anastazja, Chaminda and Tess at Demodera Tea Factory in Sri Lanka

Smiling faces greeted me everywhere I went. People on the street, assistants in the shops, receptionists in the hotels. In particular I remember two pretty young ladies on reception in the Cinnamon Bey Hotel in Beruwala whose giggles were so charming when I asked them to pose for a photograph.

A Warm Welcome at the Cinnamon Bey Hotel in Beruwala, Sri Lanka
A Warm Welcome at the Cinnamon Bey Hotel in Beruwala, Sri Lanka

The maroon and orange robes of Buddhist monks are a common sight on the streets of Sri Lanka. During my short stay in Colombo, I accepted an invitation to visit the Siri Sudassanarama Sadaham Senasuna Buddhist Monastery. Here, I met the high priest who showed us around the complex and explained the purposes of the different buildings.

High Priest and Valery at Siri Sudassanarama Sadaham Senasuna Buddhist Temple Sri Lanka
High Priest and Valery at Siri Sudassanarama Sadaham Senasuna Buddhist Temple Sri Lanka

Temples are a common characteristic across the whole country. Sri Lanka is predominantly Buddhist, with a sprinkling of Hinduism. I spent some time exploring probably the most famous temple, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy. A tooth of Buddha has pride of place here, encased in a casket behind curtains.

Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy Sri Lanka
Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy Sri Lanka

Buddhas in Sri Lanka come in different shapes and sizes and are generally pure white or gold. The stand alone on city streets or tower above a neighbouring temple. One of the most impressive is the one sitting about the Cave Temples in Dambulla.

The Cave Temples of Dumballa in Sri Lanka
The Cave Temples of Dumballa in Sri Lanka

Stupas are a common sight in Sri Lanka often associated with a temple or monastery. Generally white in colour these hollow structures house relics and are a place of worship for Buddhists. My favourite stupa was in the Nelligala International Buddhist Centre near Kandy.

Stupa at Nelligala International Buddhist Centre near Kandy Sri Lanka
Stupa at Nelligala International Buddhist Centre near Kandy Sri Lanka

Sri Lankans often do their washing in rivers and lakes. While strolling around Biera Lake, one of the most prominent landmarks in Colombo I was amused to see that this tourist attraction is also a wash tub for the residents here.

Wash Day on Beira Lake in Colombo Sri Lanka
Wash Day on Beira Lake in Colombo Sri Lanka

Coconut water is believed to be very healthy and should be drunk regularly in Sri Lanka. So much so that it is actually called king coconut. It was available on our splendid breakfast buffet at the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel. We were also each given a fresh coconut during our Colombo City Bus Tour on an open top bus – the best way to see Colombo during the heat of the summer.

King Coconut in Sri Lanka
King Coconut in Sri Lanka

From Colombo we headed for Sigiriya, a long journey on the roads of Sri Lanka. On our way we saw life as it is lived in this country. Street markets are a common feature of the towns and villages with stalls groaning under heaps of fresh fruit. We passed lorries piled high with fresh fruit and isolated heaps of fruit by the roadside.

Steet Market in Sri Lanka
Steet Market in Sri Lanka

There are more tuk tuks than cars on the roads of Sri Lanka. In some places they are the only means of approaching an attraction. I enjoyed a thrilling race along a bumpy dry mud track to reach the Nine Arches Bridge in time to watch a train crossing it.

Tuk Tuks in Sri Lanka
Tuk Tuks in Sri Lanka

The blue water lily is the national flower of Sri Lanka and once we were in the countryside we saw them growing wild. During our lunch at the Eco Pavilion near Sigiriya they were placed on the centre of our tables around the barbecue where our fish curry was cooked.

Blue Water Lily National Flower of Sri Lanka
Blue Water Lily National Flower of Sri Lanka

The elephants of Sri Lanka are a specific breed and revered here. They are a common sight in the wild and we enjoyed watching them in the Hurulu Eco Park, one of 26 wildlife parks in the country. Sri Lanka is also home to the first Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe National Park where visitors gather at feeding time to see the youngsters rushing to the milk station to gulp down the milk vital to their well-being.

Elephants in Hurulu Eco Park  Safari Sri Lanka
Elephants in Hurulu Eco Park Safari Sri Lanka

Three species of monkey are found in Sri Lanka - the Tufted Grey Langur, the Purple-faced Leaf Monkey and the Toque Macaque. These canny creatures are often seen on roadside verges or playing in hotel grounds. Anywhere where tourists are known to linger. I was kept amused by a large family of monkeys on an early morning walk in the grounds of the Habarana Village by Cinnamon near Sigiriya.

Monkeys in Sri Lanka
Monkeys in Sri Lanka

The island of Sri Lanka is a popular bird watching destination boasting around 350 different species. I was lucky to see a good selection on a fascinating early morning nature walk the naturalist Akash at the Aliya Resort and Spa.

Pond Heron - Nature Walk at Aliya Resort and Spa Sri Lanka
Pond Heron - Nature Walk at Aliya Resort and Spa Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is renowned for its tea production. Tea plantations cloth the rolling hills of the northern area where tea pickers collect the leaves by hand. I visited both the Demodera Plantation and the Demodera Tea Factory. The cool of the former was welcome relief from the summer heat and the latter a fascinating insight into the labour-intensive production of various grades of good quality tea.

Tea Production in Sri Lanka
Tea Production in Sri Lanka

Cinnamon is grown in Sri Lanka and has been vital to the country’s economy. It is used to make tea and cinnamon tea is at the centre of one of my most vivid memories of Sri Lanka. Our boat trip on … was interrupted by a thunderstorm and we took shelter in a makeshift tin hut on Cinnamon Island. As thunder and lightning crashed around us, we were served cinnamon tea.

Anyone for Cinnamon Tea in Sri Lanka Sri Lanka
Anyone for Cinnamon Tea in Sri Lanka Sri Lanka

Every buffet meal in the hotels in Sri Lankan offered a good choice of curries to choose from. But my favourite meal was in a local café when we were given a mound of white rice and could choose from small dishes of different curries lined up down the centre of the table. Most of the curries were too hot for me but I kept trying. I really enjoyed the dahl dishes.

A Sri Lankan Curry
A Sri Lankan Curry

The colourful face masks worn by traditional dancers are popular souvenirs from Sri Lanka. I was impressed by both the masks and the dancing at a Cultural Show in the theatre in Kandy.

Cultural Show in Kandy Sri Lanka
Cultural Show in Kandy Sri Lanka

Amongst the colour and clutter of the streets in Sri Lanka it was a surprise to spot the occasional dull red British post box – a vestige of British rule which ended in 1948 when Sri Lanka achieved independence. The example outside the Old Post Office in Galle was in better shape than the others I spotted.

Old British Post Box in Galle, Sri Lanka
Old British Post Box in Galle, Sri Lanka

And finally …

Coffee lovers in tea mad Sri Lanka need not fear there is a Barista just around the corner. This chain offers excellent coffee and a variety of tasty snacks. Strangely, a lasting memory of Sri Lanka as it became a standing joke if anyone went missing, we guessed that would be where we would find them. Popular with tourists and locals alike – a happy mix.

Barista in Galle, Sri Lanka
Barista in Galle, Sri Lanka

Getting There

Sri Lanka Airlines is the only company that offers direct flights from the UK to Sri Lanka. but most of the leading airlines offer connection flights from their main hubs for example, Qatar via Doha, Emirates via Dubai, Turkish Airlines via Istanbul.

Want to know more? Check the Sri Lanka Travel website.

Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller
. An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 28 years ago. After publishing four books she turned to online travel writing.