Returning to Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka – The joy of returning home is beyond measure. When the wheels of my Sri Lankan Airlines flight left the ground in the UK, the excitement of arriving in Colombo was bubbling up inside me. Feasting on some of the best inflight rice and curry (thank you Sri Lankan Airlines) that I have ever had, made for even greater anticipation at the prospect of spending time back home with family and friends. I asked the stewardess whether the food was cooked in the UK or Sri Lanka and couldn’t hide my surprise when she answered UK. She serenely smiled and went on to say, “it was cooked by a Sri Lankan chef!”
I am Home!
Returning home is always an event filled with great joy which even the 10 and a half hour direct flight couldn’t put a dampener on. I lived in Sri Lanka during my formative years and returned yearly up until having my children, after which my visits became a little more sporadic. The last couple of years however I have been returning again more frequently and I am always surprised at the things I forget. It is a few of these things that I bring to your attention here.
5 things you’ll experience in Sri Lanka
1) Waking Up.
You will be woken up in the mornings, by one of 4 things.
One will be either the sound of the whirring fan or the air conditioner (or AC), which I always find to be an extremely pleasing sound. It means I am home. It means I am in the tropics and it means I am going to be wearing shorts and t-shirts (always a plus in my book!)
If it isn’t the fan or AC that wakes you, then it will be the cacophony of birds and squirrels tweeting and chirping their little hearts out, to the rising sun!! Though noisy, I can think of far worse things to be woken up by…..like your alarm clock! The little lena’s (or chipmunks as they are called in the west) stand along the wall edge, tails flicking with each chirp that they emit – calling and shouting to each other like a group of excited children in the playground. I wishing I could understand what was so interesting that had them all so riled up.
Now, as for the birds…..the sounds are pretty glorious. The Koha (Asian Koel), seems to be at its loudest during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year time (April – which was the time I flew out) and makes a commanding and very definite ‘ I am here’ call. It is the mating call of the male and cannot be mistaken for any other bird.
This image of the Koha is taken from Drongonaturesounds.org It doesn’t look like much in comparison to some of the other stunningly vibrant flying creatures of Sri Lanka, but its distinctive sounds certainly make up for that!
Another sound you’ll hear is a sort of trilling that comes from a number of little brown coloured birds affectionally known as ‘The Seven Sisters’ otherwise known as Yellow Billed Babbler or Demalichcha in Sinhala. They hop around in small groups chirping away to each other having what looks like an in-depth conversations about something very important. These little birds add a gentle beat to the morning chorus.
There are a number of other bird sounds including parrots, the oriel, the occasional crow contribution and many other unidentified by me as yet, bird calls. Loud and filled with exuberance, it is a morning chorus filled with life, heralding the start of a new day.
The early morning sound of sweeping is something else you will become accustomed to. The garden brooms made from the spine of the coconut leaf fronds make a very distinctive brushing sound. You will hear these brooms hard at work pretty much wherever you are and the rhythmical sound it makes, is quite comforting to be honest.
The bread man! The bread man? I hear you ask. Yes!! He drives up and down the lanes in his converted trishaw, music blaring from it as he goes about selling his vast array of bread, buns and pastries. Be rest assured, if the other 3 noises haven’t woken you already, then the bread man will ; )
No, not perspiring but good old fashioned sweating!! With average humidity levels of around 83% in Colombo not only will you be sweating copious amounts but you will also be consuming large amounts of water to replenish that lost fluid! You will have a number of showers throughout the day and will start to sweat as soon as you have dried yourself and stepped back into fresh clean clothing. Some may find this displeasing but I for one love it as it just re-affirms that I am back in my happy place : )
A note of caution for those who are not so accustomed to this type of heat – make sure you keep drinking throughout the day!! Its not as difficult as you may think because you will naturally crave water. One exceptionally good source of hydration is to drink ‘Thambili” (තැඹිලි). This is the orange looking smaller coconut you will find readily available at the road sides. It has been known to be used as an alternative to saline, making it an excellent rehydration drink.
This article from Roar.lk offers a great insight into this wonderful, naturally occurring beverage in Sri Lanka.
No matter how may times I return, my taste buds forget the truly glorious flavours that my pallet gets exposed to when home. From the rich and creamy kiri bath (milk rice) with chicken curry and lunu miris (onion, chilli relish) that is always awaiting me when I first arrive, to the fresh papaya and pineapple from the garden that I demolish every morning for breakfast. The luxuriously aromatic curry feasts that we have for lunch which include a whole array of vegetables like bread fruit, banana blossom, wing bean and snake gourd curry that are accompanied by a meat or fish curry, which just keeps you coming back for more. I blame the wondrous spices that are such an integral part to the cooking in Sri Lanka!
Even going out for dinner, be it the Chinese restaurant, the Tamil cafe, the local Italian pizza parlour, the biriyani feast at my Muslim friends house or even the little wooden shack on the street corner down south…….all the foods take on such depth and richness of flavour that I want to keep eating forever. Food here is a visual, olfactory and gustatory experience like no other! It is the only place in the world that I have real trouble turning down seconds ; )
Its not only your taste buds that will be constantly stimulated in Sri Lanka!! Oh no, your eyes will too.
Look out from the plane window, when you come in to land (or depart), watch the world go by from your chosen mode of transport, walk along the beach, the shops, the railway line, the tea plantations, the spice gardens, the bustle of Fort, the many ancient monuments and UNESCO sites, the temple, kovil or mosque…..it doesn’t matter where you look, there will be something to catch your attention!! Somebody commented on my social media posts that I took very beautiful photos during my most recent trip home. I told them that “It’s not difficult when you are in a country as beautiful as Sri Lanka”. Remember to put your camera down every once in a while and take the time to absorb! Beauty can be found everywhere in Sri Lanka.
You will see a real mix of well off and not so well off things, people and places. Some will be quite extraordinary and some will be gut wrenching. Life can be very hard. It is all these differences that make Sri Lanka what it is.
As day turns to night, you will quite frequently experience twilight. Its not something I see very often in Dorset, so am immediately struck by the eerie type of light and that feeling of impending change!! A change that is quite profound because the day time Sri Lanka is very different to the night time one.
It starts with the birds all flying back to their nests, all heading in the same direction while the bats start to awaken and fly in the opposite direction. They can be a little disorientated during this time. Many an evening we have had them end up in the house and so needed to help them find their way back out doors. Bats always used to conjure up images of Dracula and blood sucking but actually, their bodies are quite small and delicate (though their wing span can be very wide). They are also far more interested in fruit than blood!
During this time, depending on where you are, you might hear the sounds of the mosque evening prayers. Though I don’t actually understand what is being said, it is a calming and soothing sound. I have spent many an early evening with friends, sat on the balcony taking tea and allowing the ‘call to prayer’, to carry us off…..
When the streets lights turn on, the world is transformed. The shops become brightly lit with their flashing coloured signs. The little carts selling food, being pushed along the road side are illuminated by a mix of candles and battery operated lights with loud music blaring from them, announcing their presence. The people come out and mill on the streets. With the evenings being cooler it is not uncommon to come across a group of people laughing and chatting sat on chairs that have been pulled out of the houses and on to the streets.
Trishaws, still weave in and out of all the traffic which is just as busy as it is during the day (it is usually the early hours, before dusk, that the roads are quieter but only for a short time before life erupts again!) But oh my…….some of the trishaws you will see at night have undergone a massive transformation. They might look like every other trishaw during the day but as soon as dark settles on the land, they turn into mini mobile discos. Music blaring out of them, flashing neon lights going off in all directions!! Beautiful or not, they are a sight to behold!
Night life in Colombo is not like it used to be. The number of pubs, clubs, bars and eateries that have exploded in the city means you are now much more spoilt for choice. The diversity of what is available means that every pallet, wallet and atmosphere is catered for. I was lucky enough to have one of my oldest and best school friend take me out to different locations during my last trip to Sri Lanka and we barely scratched the surface!! When I next return, more evenings out exploring the new Colombo will be in order!
This list is by no means exhaustive and one could write a series of books about what you will/can experience in Sri Lanka. I have chosen to mention just a few of the things that immediately struck me on my first few days back home.
I would love to hear what ‘things’ you experienced in Sri Lanka. The things that struck you and combine to make Sri Lanka what it is – a vibrantly diverse and beautiful land!