‘Time to go for a walk’, my friend said. And that’s exactly what we did.
In February 2020, I had the chance to visit for 2 days Sri Lanka, Colombo, with my friend, Angela. We were very excited to venture a bit into the unknown, so we decided to book a city tour and experience a little bit of the local traditions. We had exactly an afternoon to do the things we wanted. But before I go into details and tell you about the tea Factory and the elephants I would like to mention few aspects about this country.
The first curiosity I had about this country was the origin of its name, which seems to have a quite pleasant phonetics.
First of all, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte is the administrative capital of Sri Lanka, while Colombo is considered the commercial and economic center of the nation. I found out also that in antiquity, Sri Lanka was known to travellers by a variety of names. The island was first referred as ‘Tambapanni’, then Lanka (‘Island’) in Hindu mythology, ancient Greek geographers called it ‘Taprobanē‘, the Persians and Arabs referred to it as Sarandīb (the origin of the word “serendipity”), portuguese named it ‘Ceilao’ and it was transliterated into English as Ceylon (now you know the origin of the famous name for tea). The island was known also as Ceylon as a British colony and it achieved independence in 1948 as Ceylon. After 24 years it became a republic and was renamed the Republic of Sri Lanka.
And if you are wondering what language Sri Lankans speak, approximately 74.9% of the national population speak Sinhala language which is the mostly spoken, the Veddah people speaks the Veddah language of which the origin is debated and the Tamil language is spoken by Sri Lankan Tamils. Sri Lanka is home to many cultures, languages, and ethnicities. The majority of the population are from the Sinhalese ethnicity but there is also a large minority of Tamils.
The climate here is tropical and warm, due to the moderating effects of ocean winds. Mean temperatures range from 17 °C in the central highlands, where frost may occur for several days in the winter, to a maximum of 33 °C in other low-altitude areas. In February when I visited the country, the weather was sunny, with temperatures between 26-28 °C, I mean it can be better..but I didn’t have the heat shock as I would have expected. At night temperatures may vary by 14 °C to 18 °C, and I found this perfect. When I first stepped here, I felt kind of humidity and I found out this is typically higher in the southwest and mountainous areas and depends on the seasonal patterns of rainfall.
Interesting is also that Sri Lanka is one of 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Although the country is relatively small in size, I was impressed to know that has the highest biodiversity density in Asia.
Coming back to our story, we booked the tour, all the package including the transportation was around 5000 Sri Lankan rupees/person, but it depends on the number of people and your ability to negotiate.
We left the hotel in the morning, at 10am we had a brief discussion about how the day will go with our tour guide. The car transport was ideal because the traffic was very crowded and we would not have been able to reach all the locations in time. It took approximately 1h 50 minutes to get there, so we had time to take a nap but also to admire the rich nature, the green forests on the way and to observe the locals and their daily activities in the middle of the crowded streets.
I was curious about the air quality in this city and I took a look on the statistics. Colombo probably has the worst air quality in Sri Lanka, but as whole, Sri Lanka has very low levels of pollution, even though the traffic, as I noticed, is quite intense on the streets of Colombo.
Our first stop was Saffron 21 Spice Grove, The Herbal Garden, as we entered, another guide was in charge to brief us about the types of medicinal plants. The man explained us in details about the herbals and because they also had their own pharmacy inside the garden, he invited us to test some medicinal products. After we bought the teeth whitening powder, hair removal cream, shampoo and hair conditioner, which are very famous in Sri Lanka for their beneficial results, we were also invited in a specially arranged place where he had all the products displayed and we had a relaxing massage for the back pain which was great.
The second meeting we had it was with the cutest elephant I’ve ever seen, Kuromi. As a recommendation, I advise you to visit and do the Safari adventure in the Kaudulla National Park to see the elephants gathering, but beware, this gathering takes place once a year. As we didn’t went there because of the limited time, this would be my next visit in Sri Lanka. It’s just breathtaking to see the elephants in their natural habitat, in the nature, far away from the city and humanity. Everywhere you go in Sri Lanka you will see elephants ancient ruins with elephants carvings telling a story about how important these animals have been to these people, and it’s not enough just to see a picture from safari to realize that. For locals they represent God’s and symbols of fortune health and knowledge. The Sri Lankan elephants are incredibly intelligent animals and because before coming here I heard about the struggles that these animals are having in their day-to-day basis I was skeptical about this experience. Our meeting with the elephant Kuromi was short. I could see that she was controlled by the locals to make her do fun dance moves or an attempt to interact with us. That’s the sad part of this journey and the difference between the elephants living free in the jungle and those living in captivity, like Kuromi. After we fed her with bananas and gave her a hug, we said goodbye to that place and I left with a little bit of sadness, cause I could see in her eyes the pain and the sorrow. As a tourist you can experience this and do this tour, but you need to know that the way they are being treated there is not right and, unfortunately, this issue is everywhere around the world. I think we all need to be aware about this and make a difference and stop the interaction with the elephants in captivity. That’s why the best recommendation I can give is to go to Kaudulla National Park, there you can see them free and lively.
And because Sri Lanka is known for being one of the world’s largest exporters of tea with a roaring tea industry, we wanted to know a little bit more about the plants and also to taste the real tea.
The last stop was at the famous Tea Factory. Once we arrived, a lady was waiting for us with a local flavored tea as a welcome drink. And because this kind of tour would generally start out in the plantation itself to learn about how tea is cultivated, we were told that the time is limited and we will not have time to see the plantations because were located somewhere else, so the visit was resumed to a walkaround through the fabric, a pleasant and interesting discussion about the types of manufactured teas and we were shown the machines but also everything was explained in details about how the leaves go through the whole process of refinement to reach the ground form.
When the time came, the lady took us to see the machines pre-dating the industrial revolution which were meant to wither, roll and dry the tea. It was hard for me to believe how those machines can still work properly despite that they were so old…and she switched on the machines to show us the current functionality.
We found out that the production of tea involves a tedious procedure of plucking, withering, rolling, oxidizing and drying , it’s a process that requires heavy machines and plenty of manpower, and we’ve seen them all just in one room.
There is normally a little time at the end of the tour for a tea tasting, either of one specific type of tea or occasionally of the various specialties of that particular factory. We tasted few of them, and we also bought some for home and after we finished, in our way back to the hotel, the driver stopped for a drink (coconut drink) and for us to buy some souvenirs.
Of course, as a first visit to a new country, I was also curious to find out more, what kind of food Sri Lankans prefer to eat, so when we finally arrived at the hotel, we went to take the dinner. It was a perfect evening with good music and amazing food. Traditional food here is the notorious rice of the Sri Lankans. Almost every household in Sri Lanka takes rice and curry as its main meal. Meat, fish and vegetables are prepared as curries. As you can observe we had such a wide variety of food, all the dishes looked great and were delicious as well (confession of a vegetarian). The creativity of the chefs surprised me even with the wonderful desserts.
As a conclusion, if you are planning to go to Sri Lanka in the future, booking for a tour is an option only if you are visiting the country for one or two days. Otherwise, explore the wild nature, the island have so much to offer..you will be more than surprised when you’ll get there.