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© 2011 Sabrina Swenson. All Rights Reserved.
Sri Lanka
April, 2013

No room , no problem!  My train from Colombo to Kandy.
Countryside outside of Kandy.
Kandy traditional dancer.
Fire eater!
Buddha in Kandy.
My hotel in Kandy, not bad for $11!
Looking out to the veranda at my hotel.
Beautiful frangipani and other flowers for sale.  They're used as Buddhist temple offerings.
Typical countryside in Sri Lanka.
Ruins at Polonnaruwa, an ancient royal capital of Sri Lanka.
Vatadage at Polonnaruwa.  A Vatadage is a circular relic house consisting of a small central  Buddhist monument flanked by Buddha images and encircled by columns.
Standing and reclining Buddhas at Gal Vihara, Polonnaruwa.
Great lunch (not so sure about the plastic flowers!)
Medirigiriya Vihara; a circular relic house consisting of a small central dagoba (Buddhist monument) flanked by Buddhha images and encircled by columns.
Martha was none too pleased with her new hairdresser.
Rawana Waterfall, 82 feet high.
Everyday life.
The best meal I had in Sri Lanka.  Seafood soup, garlic bread  and prawns prepared "devil" style!  (aka very, very hot!)
My train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya.
My hotel in Nuwara Eliya.
Picking tea leaves.  They have huge white bags on their backs.  They're suspended from a strap that goes across the person's forehead.
Tea plantation near Nuwara Eliya.  This is where the leaves dry.
View surrounding the plantation.
Old Air Ceylon poster.  The name officially changed to Sri Lanka in 1972.
Picking tea.
The train I took from Kandy as seen from the plantation.
Different kinds of tea.
Rice and curry.  All this for just me!
My bus from Nuwara Eliya to Welligama.  I had to stand for 5 1/2 hours it was so full!
My hotel in Welligama.
Grat breakfast.  Doesn't look like much, but it was delicious!
A bit mangy, but still beautiful.
Fresh fish plucked from the Indian Ocean off of Welligama on the Southern coast of Sri Lanka.
Fresh catch.
Welligama coastline.
Beach at Welligama.
Cows roam wherever they like.
Fisherman early in the morning.
The stilt fisherman of Welligama.
Beach at Welligama.
Check out those eyes!
Beach at Mt. Lavinia.
Sunset over beach at Mt. Lavinia.
Nope, not Sri Lanka.  It's Doha, Qatar.  I spent a day here on my way to Colombo.
What a skyline!
Looks like Oz from "The Wizard of Oz".  That movie still scares me today!  Who the heck makes a movie with evil looking flying monkeys!!!
Looks like a giant eyeball!
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Sri Lanka or Ceylon as it was known until 1972 is called the teardrop of India due to its shape and location.  It’s a tiny island nation off the Southern tip of India known for its natural beauty.  Its history, sadly, is marred by a twenty-six year civil war which only recently ended in 2009.  
Sri Lanka is home to many different religions and ethnic groups with the Sinhalese being the majority (they make up three-quarters of the country) and the Tamil's who are the minority.  The Tamil's occupy most of the Northern province of Sri Lanka, however, they are a minority in the rest of the country.   When Sri Lanka gained independence from Great Britain in 1948 relations between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamil communities were strained.  Rising tensions led to the formation of militant groups (specifically the Tamil Tigers) advocating for independence for the Tamil people in the North from the rest of the country.  The civil war that followed cost the country tremendously.  Tourism slumped, the government had to spend crippling amounts on defense forces and foreign and local investment dried up.  It's claimed approximately 80,000-100,000 people were killed during this time.  The Sri Lanka military finally defeated the Tamil Tigers in May, 2009.  As such, the nation is only now slowly getting itself back on its feet.  
My flight to Sri Lanka started with a stopover in Doha, Qatar in the Middle East.  Since no flights go non-stop from Frankfurt, I chose Qatar as a stopover point as I had never been to this tiny country.  I spent a full day in Doha and after having a look at their very impressive skyline, have decided that this is where all our money for oil is going!  Other than a lot of sand and some serious skyscrapers that put any skyline in the West to shame, there wasn't a whole lot to do in Doha.  After spending the day in the city I headed back to the airport for the continuation of my flight to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.  
With natural beauty waiting outside of the capital city, the first thing I did was exit the hustle and bustle of Colombo and hopped a train for the two and a half hour ride to Kandy in the hill country.  With a higher elevation I escaped the very oppressive heat of the coast.  There were no first or second class tickets left and so I bought third class.  Traveling with just my small backpack, I can get around pretty much anywhere easily.  I ended up sitting in the snack car as I had ample room on a bench I found and watched the world go by through the open train door.  The countryside was green and lush.  As we pulled into Kandy I left the total pandemonium that was the train station, got out my map and found my way to the hotel I had picked out.  I was delighted to find an old, colonial British hotel that most likely had seen better days.  A charming room with a toilet down the hall only set me back $11.  I sat on the terrace a while to watch the busy street below and saw beautiful flowers arranged in a beautiful manner for sale.  I later went down and found out they were flowers for sale to be taken to the Buddhist temples as a gift.  I wandered around Kandy for the day and that night took in a traditional dance complete with a fire eater.  
A couple days later I found my way further North to a former royal capital; Polonnaruwa.  I quickly found and hired a guide and driver to take me to the many ruins in and around the area.  As a former royal capital, almost 1,000 years old, the Polonnaruwa area has many sights including, my favorite, a huge standing and reclining Buddha carved from a slab of granite.  The standing Buddha stands over 23 feet high with the reclining one stretching out at 45 feet.  After many hours of roaming, I hopped back in my ride and headed back to Kandy.  I had been enduring a serious cold at the time and had been blowing my nose constantly when my guide finally suggested we stop at the local herbal healer.  I agreed and we eventually pulled up to a beautiful, landscaped area set amongst beautiful plants and trees.  The old healer came out and asked what was wrong, immediately giving me some awful tea infused with a variety of herbs.  After talking for only about 2 minutes and telling him I had a serious flu, the next thing I know he gets some potent, natural balm and starts putting it up my nostrils with his finger!  I generally don't left people I just met stick their finger up my nose, but he seemed to know what he was doing.  He gave me the jar of herbal balm and sent me on my way.  Within minutes I was able to breath freely through my nose and no more Kleenex were needed after that.  My nostrils were free and clear the rest of the trip!
I eventually hopped another train for a five and a half hour ride to tiny village of Ella set in the midst of tea country.  Sri Lanka (Ceylon) tea is well known throughout the world.  I decided to spend a day at a tea plantation, since I had never been to one before.  As I walked into the huge factory the smell of tea was overwhelming.  Numerous, long wooded boxes were stretched out each containing huge amounts of tea leaves that had just been plucked from the surrounding area.  On the drive to the factory, I could see many people out amongst the plants picking the leaves.  Each had a large, white bag on their back which was affixed to their head by a large strap that went across the forehead.  I watched as they would grab a handful of leaves and then toss it over their head into the bag.  When full, they would return to the factory and each bag would be emptied into the long, wooden boxes to dry.  The area was kept warm and amazingly the new leaves would be dried within a day.  They were then dropped onto the lower floor where they would go into a variety of machines.  I was most amazed at when complete, the tea was dumped in a huge pile on the floor and several women with shovels would walk around the pile tossing a shovel full of tea from the outside into the middle, a low tech way of quality control.  Making sure all the tea was mixed, there would be no variation in taste, rather, every bag would taste the same. 
My time in the beautiful tea country came to an end as I caught a five hour bus ride to Welligama on the Southern coast of Sri Lanka.  Old school buses are often overhauled and serve as local transport in third world countries.  I got on an old, bright red school bus and had to stand for the entire 5 hours as it was so packed.  We wound our way around the Sri Lanka countryside until we finally came to the fishing village of Welligama.  I found a place to stay and checked out the small village and beaches.  Cows are free to roam wherever they like in Sri Lanka and as such I found it an odd sight to see several cows on the beach!  Numerous vendors had the days catch on display for sale.  I found a restaurant right on the water and picked a fish for my dinner.  At the crack of dawn the following day, I rose early to go out to the ocean to watch the stilt fisherman.  They were the most elegant looking fisherman I've ever seen.  Several wiry men were perched on top of stilts out in the water, not far from shore, with their lines in the water.  Every morning and evening they can be found doing the same.  How they stood on the tiny, thin stilt for hours, I don't know.  I spent a few more days in the area before catching the train up the coast back toward the capital. 
I stopped short of Colombo and relaxed on the beach at Mt. Lavinia.  Eventually I made it back to the hustle of Colombo; a seriously hot city.  I almost felt ill it was so hot.  Interestingly, while watching Anthony Bourdain's show on Sri Lanka, he mentioned the same thing.  The heat is almost sickening.  Not being a fan of heat, the capital was almost too much for me.  I spent the last day buzzing around the market, trying to keep cool and had one last great fish dinner before heading home.  
Sri Lanka is pleasant and really does have some beautiful, natural scenery in its countryside.  It's very obvious, however, the country is still getting over the effects of its long civil war.