I hadn’t entirely intended on including Sri Lanka in my trip, but in researching the cheapest way to get to India from Vietnam, a flight there then a puddle hop into Southern India turned out to be the way to go. I’m glad I did, as it both served as an interesting introduction to the subcontinent, and a beautiful handful of days.
I skipped Colombo due to my shortened time frame and headed straight from Negombo (a beach side (and airport adjacent) town I only had time for a starry seaside walk in) to the hills inland, and Kandy. Thankfully, the public transportation there wasn’t as spotty as the internet would leave you to believe- there are tons of local buses leaving all day, but it was fairly crowded and uncomfortable (and incredibly cheap). After hours stuffed in tiny combis in Peru, though, it was nothing.
I met a really nice man, Vinojith at the bus station, who offered to show me around if I ended up in his part of the country, which I later did. Before that, though, I explored Kandy and its very pretty central lake, with plenty of monkeys, waterbirds, fish, and lizards and several temples around its perimeter. There’s not much else right in town there, but I did catch a cheap local dance show, replete with acrobats, fire eaters, plate spinners (one guy got 9 at once!) and grotesque mask dancing.
The next day I headed further north onto the great, rock studded central plateau of Sri Lanka. There I met up with Vinojith at Dambulla, which is a large rock with a Buddhist temple carved into it dating between 1000 and 1500 years old. The setting and view of the plains below were stunning, with the occasional rock formation reminding me of a green, spread out Monument Valley. Inside ,there were a variety of reclining and seated Buddhas of every size, and well-preserved paintings of incredible age. It’s an amazingly atmospheric place.
From there we headed to the nearby Sigiriya, a former palace built atop another huge freestanding rock with a surrounding city. There’s not much of that left besides ingenious remains of aqueducts and water basins, but they and the rock-top ruins of the palace with that same view of the plains and a far off jagged mountain range were just as incredible as Dambulla. The climb up the rock wasn’t as daunting as it first appeared, either, and midway up you can examine some even older paintings of an international selection of buxom beauties that are 1600 years old. it’s amazing that the colors and forms have lasted this long, and is often the case, religious fanatics were more of a threat than the elements to some of the paintings, but thankfully these survived.
As far as food goes, it’s surprisingly difficult to get real Sri Lankan food. The ‘tourist corridor’ here is strong, and it can be hard to get out of it and really mix with the locals (getting authentic food and cheaper prices). The government here doesn’t seem too interested in making things cheaper or more accessible, possibly trying to capitalize on the tourists who do come despite the social unrest that still plagues the country instead of focusing on drawing even more numbers. The best food I did have was with Vinojith unsurprisingly, from roti stuffed with spiced beef and veggies to a roadside buffet with several curries, daals, and spiced chicken dishes in earthen pots. There were plenty of flies around, and the only utensils were your hands, but my stomach was up to the task, and perhaps the strong, steadily building spiciness of the food and the high alcohol content beer we washed it down with sterilized it enough. It sure was good, though.