Sri Lanka is often referred to as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, and not just because of its teardrop-like shape. The island is a tropical paradise in a league of its own, with lush flora, a stunning range of species of species, a jaw-droppingly beautiful landscape, and resorts specialising in anything from Ayurveda to lived Buddhism. Here, myAustrian fans Natascha and Julia report on how their trip to Sri Lanka became a life journey in its own right.
We’d never been so excited to be standing in a queue at an airport. Having picked up our luggage after the non-stop flight from Vienna to Colombo, we were waiting to change currency at the Bank of Sri Lanka desk, and could already see long queues of drivers waiting for customers beyond the barrier in Arrivals, pieces of A4 with scribbled European name in hand. We had booked a four-day round-trip through our hotel, the Lanka Pearl, to check out the island’s must-do locations, after which we would be taking an Ayurveda retreat for ten days at the „Lanka Pearl“, on its palm-lined beach down in south-eastern Sri Lanka.
A few minutes later, our guide, Sunny, stepped out of the crowd and introduced himself, and took us to our Mercedes estate car complete with smiling driver. The air was sweltering, and the mood got steadily hotter as Sunny began living up to his name from the off. In broken German, he answered our countless questions as we headed to Dambulla, 120 kilometres into the heart of the island.
The next morning, we prepared to view the temple of Polonnaruwa. Sunny, an Ayurveda therapist by trade who had taught himself German with the help of his patients, put on his tour guide hat at this point. Polonnaruwa was where Sri Lanka’s Buddhist rulers enjoyed their golden years some 500 years ago, and you can see why from the site’s artistic temples, impressive statues of Buddha and stupas. For us, though, the 14-metre-long reclining Buddha is the highlight of the medieval site.
After enjoying a delicious lunch at the Jaga Jaga-Café, (seated on an airy terrace next to three cormorants), we move on to Sigiriya, a mythical ancient clifftop fortress in the heart of thick jungle.
It poured with rain this morning, luckily, so we can experience the climb up to the fortress on the picturesque cliffs by cool evening sunlight. As we approach the top and turn around, we realise why we’ve made the climb. We’re exactly where we should be, at exactly the time we should be there. The view across the jungle treetops is more breathtaking than the climb. This is how the Garden of Eden must have looked. There are no words to describe the feeling that captivates us as we look out over the cliffs onto the millions of palm trees below us, towards meandering rivers and mountains on the horizon, with the space in-between packed with the sounds of nearby monkeys and far-away jungle animals.
Next day, we are offered a heady mix of clifftop temples, herb gardens, a wide range of temples and a batik factory as we make the journey to Kandy, Sri Lanka’s former capital. Impressive experiences all, highlighting the island’s natural wealth and sheer range in a million different ways. We stock up on spices including vanilla and cinnamon, aloe vera creams, and natural remedies designed to combat every imaginable complaint.
In Kandy, the former capital and still a major commercial hub if its kilometres-long traffic jams are anything to go by, the famed Dalada Maligawa temple awaits our arrival. Here, too, the evening ceremony says with you the longest: the temple, home to a tooth of Buddha, is revered in the twilight to the sound of wild drumming and song, the smell of joss sticks, and the flickering light of countless candles.
On the third day of our trip, we travel to Pinnawela, site of the famed Elephant Orphanage. Here, you can watch the gargantuan four-legged beasts bathing in the river, close enough to touch, before being fed.
After leaving the orphanage, we spend the following hours driving further and further up into the mountains. By evening, we eventually reach Adams Peak, right at the heart of Sri Lanka’s vast tea plantations. At 2,243 metres, the Peak is the highest highpoint of our trip so far. As we get out of the car and admire the holy mountain, revered by Buddhists, Christians and Muslims alike, Sunny informs us that it’s just about to get higher still: we will be getting up that night to climb some 4,000 steps right to the top. Hearts sink and passions rise.
At two o’clock in the morning, the alarm goes, and we set off with crowds of pilgrims, passing small temples, stalls and statues of Buddha on the way, accompanied by mesmerising mantras, the watery sound of the stream beside the path, and still, cool night air.
We’re all bathed in sweat within an hour’s climbing. We give it everything we’ve got, in the effort to transcend our limitations away down on the ground, keep moving those bent, aching legs, just a few steps more. Somewhere within ourselves, we find the rhythm needed, breathing, climbing, breathing again. Our thoughts stop moving, as we’re caught in the moment.
Three-and-a-half hours later, we reach the small monastery at the very top of the mountain. Smiling at the other strangers in the crowd, euphoric, happy, proud, we wait for sunrise to come.
As the first specks of light start lighting up the sky, quickly spreading, the view down onto the legendary highland, combined with the joy of having done it together with all those people we’ll probably never meet again, enable us to forget all that painful climbing. We did it. We can do anything.
The drive back down from the mountains then becomes more like something off the Discovery Channel. Except it’s real. It feels as if we’re watching a beautifully-made nature documentary. Trees the size and shape of mega-city skyline. Shiny green hillsides covered in tea plants, flowers as far as the eye can see, mountains framing the picture beyond. An eternity later (sitting in the car for hours is the price you pay for unforgettable experiences), we reach our hotel, the Lanka Pearl Lanka Pearl in Beruwela, and thank them for organising a truly amazing trip.
Grateful and happy for some home comforts, we collapse into plush chairs out on the hotel’s terrace, order cocktails and look down on the amazing garden, the sound of the sea in our ears. The Sri Lankan jungle and culture has been a life-changing experience. Time to do nothing.
If you think you might be interested in visiting Sri Lanka, click here to book your non-stop flight from Vienna to Colombo right now: