Sri Lanka - My 'happy place'
Written by Dean
Sri Lanka is one of the most surprising and enthralling countries I have ever visited.
We spent 10 days predominantly in the south and centre of the country and it left an indelible impression. The country is universally beautiful with its diverse history, beaches and architecture of the south contrasted with the most beautiful mountainous landscapes I have ever seen. The country left an image so strong that it has been added to my list of happy places, especially the town of Haputale.
Sri Lanka has recently declared itself to be free from a protracted civil war, socially the country is still bleeding, but smiling through the pain. The people of Sri Lanka are some of the most open, kind hearted people I have ever met or likely to meet, but perhaps it is the sadness of their recent past that gives them contrast and reason to smile. It was certainly the case that the country was once a popular destination for international travel as far back as the colonial period however the war withdrew a significant amount of foreign investment and with it the tourist’s money. It is not unusual to a see a hundred year old palatial colonial guesthouse offering its services for the price of a backpackers with a stellar Sri Lankan breakfast to boot.
The country has gone through many periods of occupation, from the Dutch, Portuguese, English and at times exploitative local lords. It is not surprising that many of the treasures held in the National History Museum in Colombo have only been recently returned after an extensive period overseas under dubious ownership.
Our exploration of the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, as it is known, began in the bustling, dusty but uniquely Sri Lankan city of Colombo. However it would be another six hours until our 30 hour day was to end in Galle (pronounced "Gaul"); a Portuguese/Dutch built defensive peninsula town in the south-west of the country. As you would expect after more than 24 hours awake I had the shits with everyone.
For the next 9 days we knew a rough outline of the direction we would follow but little else including accommodation and for that I am thankful, because so many of our great experiences were of genuine surprise to us.
By far my favourite location in Sri Lanka was the sleepy town of Haputale. This mountainside town famous for its tea plantations sits immediately below the imposing Dambatenne estate, established by Sir Thomas Lipton founder of the Lipton tea empire. The summit of the estate, known as, Lipton’s seat overlooks the mountains and valleys in every direction seemingly to the end of the earth. By a matter of luck we found ourselves at the summit of Lipton’s seat on Puthandu, Sinhalese and Tamil new year, Tamil and Sinhala being the two major racial groups in Sri Lanka.
Although the tea factory we intended to visit down the mountain was closed, a major bummer at the time, as luck would have it, we followed the music emanating from the foothills of the mountain on which we stood. Wandering into a small tea picker village we were welcomed to observe the rituals of the day after which we were welcomed into their homes to meet the whole community.
We were so overwhelmed by their generosity of time and spirit that we exchanged addresses and, when we returned to Australia, sent packages of stationary for the children and printed photographs we had taken together.
For us these are the experiences we travel to find. I will always remember the wafting sounds of the call to prayer, from the Muslim mosque below our guest house, winding it’s way up the green valleys of Haputale. I will look back with fond memories to all those people we met there and the gratefulness that filled us.
That is why I say Haputale is one of my ‘happy places’, it is a place I go to when my day at work feels burdensome, when a task feels insurmountable, or when I need to feel peace in busy surrounding.