MESSAGE: Sri Lanka’s Coast
Let’s get this straight — Sri Lanka isn’t India. The country and its people have a very distinct personality and culture that come from being a predominately Buddhist state, with its own language, food, and musical traditions.
Known as Ceylon before 1972, Sri Lanka is home to more than 60 million people and it was the first country to have a female head of state. The island nation is situated on major sea routes, making it a historically important trade link in the Silk Road.
Here’re my 7 insider tips on exploring the southern and western coasts of this warm tropical island:
MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – Galle Face Hotel. My good friend Utthama took me to the Galle Face Hotel to enjoy high tea and watch the sunset. The Galle Face Hotel opened in 1864 and is the oldest hotel east of the Suez. A visit to Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo is incomplete if you don’t share a cocktail on the famous veranda.
EAT (Tasty Eats) – Coconut Sambol. In Sri Lanka, sambol refers to a spicy salad which uses shredded coconut as main ingredient. The shredded coconut, dry red chilies, onion, garlic and lemon juice are pounded together using mortar and pestle. The mixture is then eaten with soft bread, dosas, string hoppers or pittu.
Want to make this traditional Sri Lanka dish? Here’re 2 recipes:
- Traditional sambol: http://amisvegetariandelicacies.blogspot.com/2010/11/pol-sambol-grated-coconut.html
- Mint sambol: http://amisvegetariandelicacies.blogspot.com/2011/12/mint-sambol-spicy-mint-salad-with.html
SEE (Must-see Sights) – Galle Fort. Galle Fort is located on the southwest coast of the island. First built in 1588 by the Portuguese, the fort was later reinforced by the Dutch in 1649. The enclosed fort offers a mix of European and Asian architecture from the 16th-19th centuries.
The fort has a colorful history, and today has a multi-ethnic and multi-religious population. On the sunny afternoon I visited, I could see the famous lighthouse, flanked by men attending the local mosque and young Buddhist monks playing in the ocean waves. Nice!
SHOP (Gotta Have) – Spa Ceylon Bath Products. My Colombo hosts Utthama and P.K. left me a welcome basket of Spa Ceylon products on my bedside table – so indulgent! Spa Ceylon features ayurveda-inspired products such as massage and bath oils, shower gels / scrubs / lotions, and herbal compresses.
Smell good and do good! Spa Ceylon is an ethical company. Its spa products are 100% vegetarian and are not tested on animals. You can buy the products online: http://spaceylon.com/ and the sales of their products supports 2 charitable missions:
- Save the Majestic Ceylon Elephant campaign – to help conservation efforts and to raise awareness about the plight of the Ceylon Elephant which is under threat of extinction due to loss of its natural habitat
- Community Trade Aloe Vera program – to help support the community development of large scale organic cultivation of aloe vera in the country. The company sources their aloe vera only from this local economic development initiative.
ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Surfing! The Indian Ocean is one of the world’s top surf destinations. Some of the best stops are located on the southern and eastern coasts in spots like Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna. I spent an idyllic 3 days in Unawantuna myself, soaking up the sun, sand, and sea water!
GIVE (Greatest Need) – Boxing Day Tsunami. The 2004 Asian tsunami disaster hit Sri Lanka hard, claiming 35,000 lives and displacing more than 1 million people. As you drive up the coast, you see the beautiful beaches dotted with grave markers of those who perished in the waters that day.
Near the town of Peraliya, about 60 miles (95 km) south of Colombo, stands a monument to those who died in the tragedy. A large Buddha marks the place where the train, the “Queen of the Sea,” was derailed by the tsunami. The crash left almost all 1,200 passengers dead and is considered the worst rail accident in history. Eight years after the disaster, Sri Lankans living on the coast are still rebuilding their lives.
ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Whale Watching. The southern coastal villages of Mirissa and Dondra Head offer unmatched whale watching opportunities. 105 river systems flow into the ocean creating a steady flow of rich nutrients and the continental shelf provides a consistent upwelling of warm tropical waters. Particularly during the calm seas between December and April, there are is a wide window of opportunity to see Blue and Sperm whales close to shore. In fact, several outfits even guarantee a sighting during this time!