A spiral staircase leads to the top of the Sigiriya fortress, some 349 meters above the ground, in Sri Lanka. (Kim Hae-yeon/The Korea Herald)
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Experiencing a foreign country can be very different from our expectations. But that’s the beauty of travel. As Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll said, “In the end, we only regret the risks we didn’t take.”
Those wishing to leave the familiar to explore the unknown away from the urban crowds, Sri Lanka is worth considering.
Sri Lanka, which means “resplendent island”, is also called the “pearl of the Indian Ocean”.
Better known as “Ceylon” until 1972, the island embraces both tranquil and vibrant nature with abundant rainforests, mountainous regions and beaches shimmering under the sunlight.
Picturesque meadows, spice-rich food, and coexistence with wild animals and nature, for the most part, can only be imagined.
Inspired by foreign tourists’ comments on their travels, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau’s slogan, ‘So Sri Lanka’, captures the authenticity and richness one feels when setting foot in the country.
Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic state with a population of around 22 million: Sinhalese make up the majority of the population, followed by Tamils.
More than 70% of the inhabitants are Buddhists, 13% are Hindus and 10% are Muslims.
With a literacy rate of over 92%, the highest among developing countries, free and open education is the pride of the country.
A view of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka, at sunset on March 27 (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
“Ayubowan! The Sinhalese greeting, wishing long life, is the most frequently heard greeting in the country.
After successive periods of colonial rule – by the Portuguese, Dutch and British – that lasted almost 500 years, the country gained independence in 1948, but then plunged into 26 years of civil war that ended completed in 2009. Hopes of overcoming such historic tragedies seem to be reflected in peoples’ daily greetings.
The Korea Herald visited some favorite tourist sites and tourist sites selected by travelers and locals in Sri Lanka in March at the invitation of SLTPB.
The country is on the road to economic recovery after a financial meltdown, and the Korean government issued a special travel advisory for Sri Lanka on May 20, which is still in effect. This means that Korean citizens are advised to delay all travel to Sri Lanka unless necessary, or exercise caution if they are already in the country.
It’s never too early to plan your trips and here are some highlights of the six-day trip to Sri Lanka that can serve as a guide for planning your own trip when the travel advisory is lifted.
A group of travelers heads towards the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya on March 26. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
Sigiriya: Ancient Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Minneriya National Park
Located near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya is one of eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.
Nature has created the 200-meter-high massive rock, with its flat-shaped top surface.
The climb takes about an hour on steep stairs.
Halfway up the summit, a symbolic giant boulder can be seen that resembles a pair of lion’s paws and serves as the main entrance to the top of the mountain.
The upper part of the structure has crumbled over the ages, leaving the rock’s mysterious shape a great photo spot for travelers.
Climbers who reach the top are rewarded with breathtaking views of nature unfolding with mountains lined up in rows that meet the sky.
The 5th-century ruins of King Kashyapa’s palace include the king’s terraced gardens and frescoed organic caves. The architecture blends harmoniously into the natural environment.
Wild elephants are seen at Minneriya National Park on March 26. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
A 30-minute drive from Sigiriya is Minneriya National Park, one of the country’s 22 national parks.
Located around a reservoir, the park is famous for its game drives during which wild elephants, deer and various species of birds can be observed.
Although it’s open all day, the best time to visit is after sunset after 4 p.m., as the light breeze and setting sun make the three-hour jeep ride much easier.
A view leading to the inner sanctum of the Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, March 27 (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald) March 27. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
Kandy: The Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandyan Dance
Kandy is the second largest city in Sri Lanka after Colombo. The favorite city of tourists and Sri Lankans alike, the city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The city, located about 465 meters above sea level, is home to the scenic Kandy Lake located in his heart.
A must-see in Kandy is the Temple of the Tooth, which houses the tooth of Lord Buddha.
An annual national event is held at the temple in July or August at the temple, called Kandy Esala Perahera, or The Festival of the Tooth.
According to a legend, after Buddha’s cremation, his remains were distributed for worship, and of all his remains, his four canine teeth were considered the most sacred of all. The temple is the resting place of one of the four.
When climbing the stairs to the two-story shrine to view the tooth, be careful of the steps as huge crowds are expected. The coffin that protects the tooth is removed from the shrine only during the festival.
Kandy’s traditional dance is performed at a theater near Kandy Lake on March 27. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
After seeing the temple, a five-minute walk will take you to Kandy Lake. Towards the eastern end of the lake, you will notice a few signs pointing to a performance theater, Kandyan Cultural Show.
The hour-long Traditional Kandyan Dancer features traditional exorcism ceremonies and masked dramas that accompany various mimes, songs, dances, and acrobatics. Guide leaflets in 12 languages are provided at the entrance. Towards the end of the show, the dancers invite the public to come up on stage to see the fiery numbers, the high point of the show, up close.
A researcher holds an injured sea turtle to explain the recovery process to visitors to the Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Center, March 28. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
Bentota: Madu Ganga, Center for Research and Conservation of Sea Turtles
The Madu Ganga River, located near two popular coastal towns, is the second largest wetland in Sri Lanka. It has a rich biodiversity, with over 500 species of plants and animals. A paradise for botanists and conservationists from around the world, the Madu Ganga offers boat trips to watch monkeys picking fruit from the trees, water monitor lizards gliding through the water, and cormorants and egrets.
Some 64 islands in the river and lagoon are inhabited. If you start the trip after sunset, you will notice fishermen in canoes lighting lanterns to lure the shells into their pots.
The boat trip takes 90 minutes. Life jackets are provided on request.
About 20 minutes from Madu Ganga is the Victor Hasselblad Sea Turtle Research and Conservation Center, the island’s first turtle hatchery which opened in 1978.
The center has helped some 5 million turtle hatchlings find their way back into the sea. The center rehabilitates injured turtles and launches global campaigns to end illegal fishing.
Accompanied by the center’s researcher, visitors can observe hundreds of turtles aged 1 to 3 days as well as thousands of unhatched eggs sheltered for more than a month.
The center is located on Kosgoda beach, a good place to take some time to relax after a day of travelling.
By Kim Hae-yeon ([email protected])