2008 South Asia
Trip to Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is known as a country of picturesque beaches with coconut palms bending towards the blue sea. However, whilst traveling in the so-called “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”, I realized that Sri Lanka has also a very interesting culture based on Buddhism. Sri Lanka has ancient cities, caves with statues of Buddha, and post-colonial forts. Sri Lanka has tea fields, waterfalls, exotic fruit, and rich flora and fauna. Sri Lanka is nevertheless a country for prudent white travelers, because the locals are not the most honest of them all.
Why I decided to go to Sri Lanka
During the previous expedition I ran out of time and I didn’t see the only country in the Indian Subcontinent which I always wanted to see. I therefore went on a month trip around Sri Lanka and it turned out to be so beautiful that I could spend there easily two months. For a small island such as Sri Lanka there is a lot to see and the local transport meant that every 100km was turning into long hours what was delaying my every trip. By the sea buses were traveling at an amazing speed of 40km/h but in the higher parts of Sri Lanka, among the tea fields the average speed was only 20km/h. However, it was always interesting after all because every time we stopped buses were invaded by sellers of mango, candy, pineapple and other snacks.
Within a month I moved in the southern and the central part of the island but did not go to the north, to Jaffna, because there still fighting going on against the Tamil Tigers. When I swam in Mirissa or Unawatuna or when I was picking tea leaves in Ella, there were still reports about fighting in the north which took place about 250km away from me. When I left it was already known that Sri Lanka will be an undivided country.
Sri Lanka has all advantages of a tourist paradise which for years has been avoided by too many people because of the civil war which took 26 years. Sri Lanka (the “beautiful island”) is synonymous with exotic beaches with palm trees facing towards the warm sea but that’s not all because in Sri Lanka we can also find the precious peace of mind. In Sri Lanka kept picking off mangos and papayas straight from the trees, I ate fish freshly caught in the Indian Ocean and I was surrounded by beautiful, exotic nature.
I’ve been to many countries but the natural beauty of the “beautiful island” (according to translation of the name of the country) is amazing, the same as the notorious scams of their residents, what I am also going to discuss in this article.
Colombo and around
I started my trip from the capital Colombo. My first impression was not too good because I saw soldiers hidden behind sandbags and buildings blown up by the Tamil Tigers. I was searched many times. I lived in the Fort district from where I visited Pettah where I saw life in the bazaar and a few Hindu temples. I was at the Galle Face Green where the Indian Ocean smashed its waves against the shore and then on the Slave island to see some spectacular temples. I saw Beira lake with its small Buddhist temple on the island and at the end I went to the Cinnamon Gardens in Viharamahadevi park. Wherever I was, even in the capital, above all I was captivated by the nature. I liked huge trees with lianas and its spectacular roots and I also liked cinnamon trees, palm trees in many shapes and mango and banana trees which served as parasols protecting against the sun. When I was thirsty I had coconuts at 20 rupees apiece and for dessert I usually ate exotic fruit: fresh mangos, bananas and coconuts again.
Whilst in Colombo I organized a couple of trips. First I went to an interesting Buddhist temple in Kelaniya what gave me a chance to learn about the Sri Lankan culture based on Buddhism. Passing by a line of rickshaw drivers and bypassing retailers of lotus flowers I reached statues depicting Buddha. I saw a few interesting Buddhist bas-reliefs and praying people; and all of that in a warm climate and surrounded by palm trees. I also went to the zoo in Dehiwala where I saw an elephant show and many beautiful animals including tigers, venomous snakes and crocodiles but my sense of humor broke when I saw the price of the ticket. Sri Lankans paid only 50 rupees and I had to pay 1000. In the end I also wanted to feel the Indian Ocean that’s why I went to Mt Lavinia where I swam in warm water, I walked under the palm trees and I jumped into the waves. Here, it was the first time when I saw financial gaps in Sri Lanka because on a hill there was a luxurious hotel and on the beach there were brick houses smashed by tsunami. People however still lived in tents. They asked me for help so I gave them 50 rupees for a bag of rice.
The Hill Country
After Colombo I was heading to the Hill Country which is another beautiful region of papayas, bananas, jack fruit, blissful peace, ultra-slow transport and above all tea fields.
From the Fort district I took a train up to the town of Kandy which is one of the biggest attractions of Sri Lanka. Over there tourist life is concentrated around the lake which is one of the calmest and the most picturesque place of the whole of Kandy. However, tourists go there not for the lake but to the Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa). This temple is one of the most important Buddhist site in the whole of the country because monks keep in there the sacred tooth of Buddha. The history of the tooth is quite complicated because according to the legend the tooth was taken during the cremation of Buddha. Then it was smuggled to Sri Lanka in hair of a princess so it could return back to India. In the sixteenth century the Portuguese burned the tooth in the Indian state of Goa but as it turned out it was only a copy and the real tooth was intact. Personally, I think that the tooth of Buddha which is on display today is only a copy and the real one (if such exists) is hidden and only the elite of Buddhist monks has access to it. The temple itself I greatly recommend, as well as an evening Kandy dance offered in one of the hotels. In Kandy there are also several other interesting temples and a fruit bazaar where tourists can eat mangoes for their entire lives.
The hotel manager had two prices: one local and one for Whites, what can disgust the holiday.
It is worth mentioning that even those who don’t have much time should necessarily go to the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens located about 6km from Kandy. Over there we can see the avenue of palm trees and beautiful fig trees, palms curled together in one unit, bamboos and bats living here. Peradeniya is a beautiful place.
During my trip around the Hill Country slow buses driving through steep, winding roads took me to a lot of beautiful places. I went for example to Nuwara Eliya, a small mountain village with nice Victoria Botanical Gardens, tea fields and nearby also the highest mountain of Sri Lanka, Pidurutalagala (Mt Pedro, n.p.m 2524m). Apart from that it is a good base for the Horton Plains and World`s End National Park. During the colonial times the British changed Nuwara Eliya into their hill station holiday resort. It was them who founded a tea plantation and they even built a golf course. To me it was a time of peace, time to try exotic fruits and contact with people. I was lucky because a group of students picked me up from there to the Horton’s Plains and the World’s End National Park which lies at an altitude of 2000m a.d.s.l. It is one of the most visited national parks in Sri Lanka and although it lies only 20km from Nuwara Eliya it took me 2h to get there. The road was so awful, winding and bumpy and sometimes there was no road at all that we had to get off the bus to push it.
End of the World is a place located in one of the highest points on the plateau where a visit must be earned. After a few hours walk, often in heat and high humidity and after crossing flat, grassy terrain I suddenly reached the edge of the plateau called the End of the World. In that point I saw one of the most interesting geological formations of the planet because the plateau suddenly ended and all I saw was a sharp decline and a vertical wall of 880m which especially in dense fog looked as if in that point the world suddenly ended. In the park I also took rest by the waterfall and I watched playing monkeys. Entrance to the park for Sri Lankans cost only 40 rupees while for me it was 2800, what made everyone happy the the White man paid more.Another town was Ella. I spent there a few days walking through the mountains, among trees and tea fields, passing through waterfalls and temples. In Ella I watched nature, I was on the tea fields where I watched people at work and I went on a 3h hike to Ella Rock where I had great views of the surrounding countryside. It was a pleasant stroll through the winding mountain roads. On both sides I had tea fields and banana trees and sometimes I sat for a while in bamboo huts and deposited on the edge of the mountains and had a coconut drink with some mango. From Ella I went to a 60m high Dunhinda waterfall which is considered to be the most beautiful in the whole of Sri Lanka. On the way to the waterfall I went through a rough jungle path and crossed a bridge on ropes and I had monkeys and birds as my companions.
My last plan in the Hill Country was the climbing adventure in Adam’s Peak which is one of the holiest places in Sri Lanka and the destination of pilgrimage for more than 1000 years. As with any holy place also with one there are legends connected with several religions. The Catholic one says that it was here that Adam first set foot after he was thrown out of paradise and the Buddhist one that it was here where Buddha left his mark when he was on his way to paradise. The name used in Sri Lanka is Sri Pada what means a holy footprint. I set off at 5.30 in the morning so later than everyone advised and I whilst walking through tea fields, through standing and reclining Buddha statues, the great white stupa and several Buddhist and Hindu temples I saw the sunrise. At the beginning it wasn’t hard. I admired views, the river, mountains and I was taking photos. I didn’t expect that climbing a 2243m mountain could be difficult, especially that I had already stood in front of Everest at the altitude of more than 5200m above sea level. Unfortunately here it was different because it was hot and humid and as I was climbing it was getting steeper. In most places I had to climb concrete stairs and to be exact 5200. In some parts it was so steep that I had to hold on to the railing and climb on all fours but I also realized that I didn’t have even a drop of water. I think I was too arrogant because I didn’t take that summit seriously. When I thought it was the end it turned out that it was only a turn behind which there was a series of steep and high stairs. Reaching the summit took me 2.5 hours. I was tired but proud of myself and I realized that when it comes to climbing it is not always just about height but also about the kind of ascent. Perhaps in the season when the lights are on and people climb in groups it is easier mentally but I, as usual had only myself as a companion and that’s why it was a very hard and lonely 2.5 hours. At the top there was a Buddhist temple with monks living there where I spent a couple of hours. From the top the view was beautiful and thankfully there was no fog. I was going to enjoy the sights and go downhill but a pleasant surprise waited for me. The resident monks gave me a very good lunch and afterwards they gave me a fiery lecture on Buddhism. It is worth noting that getting to Delhouse which is a base town for Adam’s Peak was an adventure in transport. Ancient Cities
The next part of my trip around Sri Lanka was to the Ancient Cities and I have to admit that it was a beautiful and educational adventure, although at this stage of my trip I realized that I was sick and tired of certain things. The local transport was hopeless. Travelling 100km could take a whole day from dawn to dusk and once 16km took me 2 hours what meant that it would have been faster to walk. Besides, at this point I was fed up with the White man’s price which in Sri Lanka is abused to the maximum. For example the entrance to Sigiriya for locals or Indians cost 18 cents while for me it was $35. The very fact that I am White in Asian countries means that I am apparently a millionaire and I could therefore pay up to 200 times more than locals. For example in India the entrance to Taj Mahal is 10 rupees for Indians and 750 rupees for Whites. I hate them for it and they still dare to say that I am racist, when the whole of Asia works on the principle of institutional racism against White people. Their naive explanation is: “tourist price for a poorer country regardless of skin color”, but I checked that. Asians living in America or Europe do not pay more but only Whites so it is the White man’s price and the moment of paying large amounts of money for tickets is the moment of joy for the locals. How many times have I experienced that when I reached a town on a board of a rusty bus “no one spoke English” but everyone wanted to get me a room for 1000 rupees. As soon as I found a room for 300 rupees suddenly everyone spoke English and wanted to sell me souvenirs, lunch, postcards and they probably shave my head too if I paid them. It is important to avoid crowds and clearly and firmly say “no.”The first place in the Ancient Cities which I got to after long hours on a bus were Dambulla caves from the I century BC. I went to to see its wealth of Buddha statues in many positions and sizes. The literature says about one of the kings who after being expelled from Anuradhapura settled in Dambulla and ordered to build statues which have survived to this day. There are five caves in total and each one is different, each one was created in a different period and each one of them was dedicated to a different God. A few elements have been transformed since then and most frescoes on the walls were created in the eighteenth century. The entrance was built in a great style because on the museum there was a huge statue of a sitting Buddha and after I paid 10 usd I began to climb which was also a nice part of my trip. Dambulla is another beautiful adventure which is a combination of history, interesting art and exhausting climbing in tropical climate. As usual in the package there is nature, monkeys in the trees and coconuts to drink. I also had an interesting meeting over there with a cobra.
After few more hours in transport I got to a big attraction of Sri Lanka called Polonnaruwa which was the royal capital of the Chola and Sinhala dynasties and it is about 1000 years old. Polonnaruwa is another beautiful remain after the ancestors of this island. There are ruins of towns, Buddha statues, palaces, pools, harems, temples and many other buildings left in the jungle which best days have already passed. Ancients kings also left in Polonnaruwa their parks and a 2500 hectare water reservoir. Before entering the temples I advise to pay attention to the “moon rocks” with animal carvings on them and which in art of that time got a mystical significance. Among the many objects the ones that should not be missed are: Gal Vihara (large monuments of a sitting and a reclining Buddha carved in the rocks), Vatadage (round palace with many Buddha statues and bas-reliefs) and Kiri Vihara (the enormous stupa with a sharp peak).
After getting to know the history and the culture of Sri Lanka, at last it was the time for beaches, palm trees and swimming in the sea. East Coast will always remain in my memory because of its terrible transport. If 300km takes 13,5h of nerves and discomfort I think that it would have been better to just go to the south coast which is closer to Colombo and where there is better transportation. But, I was ambitious and wanted to see as much as possible.
The east coast is rarely visited by tourists and for that reason it is much poorer and more neglected. A very sloooow bus took me to Trincomalee (usually called Trinco) which was overgrown with dirt and the road by the bus station was also used as a garbage dump. However, Trincomalee is a jumping point to the best beaches on the east coast, such as Nilaveli and Uppuveli. The whole area had wooden huts which were covered with ugly plywood and the fields were flooded as it rained for many days. First I drove to Uppuveli because it was closer to Trincomalee and although the distance was only 6km, getting there took me half an hour. Every now and then we stopped and we drove as slowly as we only could and at the end I had to pay 20 rupees instead of the 10. The whole bus was happy that the White man was cheated for 10 rupees. The grandpa who I rented the room from said that he was 87 and that he spent his whole life on this beach. Soon after I ordered a handful of rice with vegetables and a few hot sprats and then I went to sleep. Throughout the night I could hear the ocean and falling coconuts. Actually, I had the whole beach to myself because the area was deserted due to bad weather.Then I was on my way towards the south to Arugam Bay and although the route should have lead along the coast, yet again I was travelling whole day because the short road was closed due to clashes with the Tamil Tigers. It came out as if I was driving from Poland to Germany via Hungary but in the end I got there. Arugam Bay was a pleasant place and prepared well for tourists and the beach was beautiful. Whilst there I unfortunately had arguments with rickshaw drivers and unfortunately the whole area was full of drug dealers what the government was obviously aware of. I was fishing, swimming and it was generally very nice.
After seeing Colombo and Kandy the southern coast is a region of Sri Lanka which is usually the main destination for beach loving tourists. This is the prime beach paradise in places such as Mirissa or Unawatuna which come in one package with the greed of the locals. To me the most pleasant was the town of Unawatuna. I had a nice room with a private bathroom and a mosquito net, I swam in the turquoise ocean and tasted exotic fruits. I also went on a bike trip away from the beaches to be out of reach of fraudsters and drug dealers. The beach in Mirissa is also a fairy-tale place, surrounded by palm trees, warm ocean and a pleasant breeze. If one manages to find a cheap place to stay I recommend to be there a week or longer.
Apart from that, in the south coast there are also cottages and flats for rent with their own kitchens for around £70 – £100 per month with bills, what means that it is possible to move there for a year and lead a tranquil life away from London. Of course I advise to take a family so that the wife could clean, cook, massage and swing a hammock and so children could serve drinks and fan the daddy. At the local bazaar for Sri Lankans the wife could buy fresh vegetables and fruits, many spices and fresh fish whilst the daddy could go fishing with a cold beer. Taking into account all of that Sri Lanka is very nice, rich and a healthy country.
I also went to Televijaya to see the snake farm and to Galle where I saw the Dutch fort. Once I was really lucky because I saw a great monitor lizard coming out of the rice field and another time I saw a fisherman taking out a big fish from the sea. It is here that I advise families to come to enjoy the pleasures of life.
As I noticed west coast is a beach region primarily for wealthy Germans but also for the English and Russians living in expensive hotels. First I stayed in Hikkaduwa where the beach was quite narrow but still nice and then I went to Bentota where even shop names were in German. The beaches were of course beautiful, the sea and palm trees as well, like from a fairy tale and I as a White man entered 5* hotels for free to swim in the pools surrounded by landscaped gardens. They thought I was a guest. Finally in each of those places I found a rat hole below the market value and I stayed there for a few nights. For meals I was cycling 1 km to a dirty Alutghama village because it was cheap. I also went the beach in Kosgoda which exists on a tourist map just because there is a surrounded by banana trees sea turtle preservation project. I saw both adult turtles and turtle nests and then I also went to the beach where fishermen just came back with their catch. However, the thing which will forever remain in my memory is the way of selling tickets to tourists. For Poles, Czechs and other Europeans who are not considered millionaires tickets cost 200 rupees, for English and Swedes 500 rupees but for Americans and Swiss 1000 rupees. That’s how Sri Lanka operates.
My last place was the post-Dutch town of Negombo where I spent one night and from there went to the Katunayake airport.
Summary of Sri Lanka, scams, sense of humour and eventual return
Sri Lanka is a beautiful country where every visitor can find something for himself. There are exotic beaches, ancient cities and mountain walks among waterfalls and tea fields. It would seem that wonderful nature in connection with the Buddhist culture gives an opportunity to a stress free travel and even though to a certain extent I agree that Sri Lanka is a “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” our impressions would not be damaged by the hot and humid climate, nor by venomous snakes, nor by company of tiring monkeys, nor even by the hopeless transport but only by the people. Although in neighbouring India cheating and legal robbery of White tourists is a part of the Indian tourist industry, Sri Lankan people even go a step further because they have fraud in their blood. The Sri Lankan government is the expert in the field of legal robbing of Whites while Sri Lankan people have learned that White tourist are millionaires and even if they are not cheating them on money is seen as a moral behaviour. On my way I met a lot of “collectors of European coins” who then exchanged them into rupees. I also met people “collecting money for schools and hospitals”, always with notebooks showing that Whites give at least 500 rupees so I should be honourable and give them at least 1000. The entrances to places of interests cost Whites up to 200 times more than Sri Lankans and in a hotel in Kandy the manager had officially two prices, one for locals and another one for Whites. I entered the hotel with an Indian man speaking with an English accent and he still paid the local price. This means that I didn’t pay a tourist price but a White man’s price, what proves my theory of greed driven institutional racism of Sri Lanka against Whites. I understand that Sri Lanka is a poor country (like most of the world) and I don’t mind helping poor people but at the same time I do not want to be deceived and I do not want to pay 200 times more for tickets because of their imagination that I can apparently afford anything.
Ripping off tourists is very easy to check. I advise to do some shopping in a local bazaar and then send a local to do the same shopping. I can bet over any money that the local would pay several times less for exactly the same things. Still, I recommend visiting Sri Lanka but not to the naive and I also refer this chapter to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal because the Indian Subcontinent is the Subcontinent of Scammers where Whites learn to think sensibly.On that condition Sri Lanka will be a beautiful experience where we would always want to return. Do I want to go back there? Yes, definitely because it is a great country. I’m also curious what will change within 10 years? Besides, I do not want my last chapter to be seen as a description of every Sri Lankan person because good people are everywhere. I only think that bad things should be also discussed to help the future travellers. To not to make it entirely sad I also want to say what I like about Sri Lankans. Well, they can be very funny and they have sense of humour, especially when they made fun of me many times. They told me several times that the “White Monkey was going to the zoo to visit his relatives” and with that I do not have any problem at all, but why does the “white monkey” have to pay so much? Besides, when it is not about business they are honestly nice and helpful.
Either way, to us Sri Lanka is still a paradise that we can afford and which I recommend wholeheartedly. One day “the white monkey” will go back to make fun of them.
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Important facts from this trip
War against the Tamil Tigers
For decades there was a conflict between the Tamil Tigers, who captured the north of the country and the government’s army based in Colombo. The ceasefire which was signed in 2001 was already broken so many times that it became fiction. The civil war continued when I was still in Sri Lanka and the evidence of it I saw whilst walking around Colombo. There were kidnappings, money extortion and a whole variety of crimes. Conflict with the Tamil Tigers was so violent that when Sri Lanka was destroyed by tsunami, instead of uniting in the face of such a disaster political filth began to come out what inflamed the conflict even more. Tamil Tigers accused the government in Colombo of lack of support to Tamils and the war grew in strength.
When I came back from Sri Lanka there was a breakthrough there in 2009. The 26 year war against the rebels (LTTE) was at last finished. Better equipped and bigger Sri Lankan army started getting back more towns in the north of the island, and finally the rebels whose specialty were bomb blasts gave up. Their leader got killed and the outnumbered Tigers put down their weapons. There were also refugee camps in the north because the rebels were using the people of the north as their life shields against the army. 75 000 people died during that war. Now it is obvious that Sri Lanka will remain one country. It will not be divided.
It is worth noting that an important role in this war was played by the “Big Brother of Sri Lanka” – India, which for decades had changed its attitude to the Tamil Tigers; from the Tamil guerrillas training and funding the Tamil Tigers to the open support for the Sri Lankan government against the Tigers. First Rajiv and then his daughter Indira Gandhi gave a great show of political naivety and weak characters which plunged Sri Lanka for 26 years and probably for another 26 to rebuild the economy and infrastructure in the northern regions of the island. That way the Gandhi clan helped to destroy its economic partner on the island and at the same time it also helped to destroy the economy of the southern India and increased the already enormous Indian poverty.