'Ayubowan' and more; Sri Lankan diary of a globetrotter
Travel for me has always been about rediscovering a part of myself I never knew. It’s been about unfolding new layers to my identity. I have always followed a notion that during each of my travels escapades, I could halt the current happenings in life and take on a different course to explore. Even if it's for a few hours or a week, travelling is like zoning out when life throws a bunch of lemons your way. Travelling during such times can be like taking an off-road from the original path you are supposed to go. You can be sure that it will lead you to something magical and spectacular as most off-road scenes are. It is an analogy I could provide to explain the circumstances I took this trip to Sri Lanka. I was immersed in schoolwork and drowning in projects, barely keeping my head afloat. So taking this trip was utmost necessary to keep my sanity. Now, I knew nothing about what I wanted to explore in The Land of Serendipity hence I boarded the plane with Anton Ego's words in 'Ratatouille' "Surprise Me".
Sri Lanka, a land we might recall as Ceylon from early British and Portuguese empires, is a lost paradise having a rich history with mentions in several prominent ancient Indian texts like Ramayana. The island is commonly referred to as Lanka in the texts as the home of Ravana. To anyone who has read or heard the story of Ramayana, one thing that remains curious in your mind is Rama Setu or the bridge that Lord Rama build to crossover to Lanka. The bridge was said to be constructed using a rare stone that floats on water. Present-day, we have no such evidence of the bridge. But in ancient scriptures, it’s mentioned that one such crossover did exist between India and Ceylon until a cyclone destroyed it in 1480. If you happen to drive to Dhanushkodi - Rameshwaram, which is at the further end of India in the state of Tamil Nadu, you can visit to see the ruins of the old town as well a display piece of the floating stone. The stone doesn't sink if you try to immerse it in water. You can have a go at it. There might be a more scientific explanation regarding the buoyancy of this stone through research in future. Many people especially the senior citizens, visit Sri Lanka as a part of a spiritual journey due to its influence in Hindu mythology. The story of Ramayana etc. derives us to visit these spiritual places contributing to spiritual tourism. Sri Lanka resembles the shape of tear hence it’s also called as a teardrop in the Indian Ocean. The country has a striking natural beauty and resources. Travelling to the place is relatively simple as the Visa process is easy to obtain. Many nationalities have the option to obtain Visa on arrival but you need to apply for Sri Lanka ETA before you leave. ETA or Electronic Travel Authorization can be applied via online. This is one of the factors that makes travelling to Sri Lanka hassle-free.
Mostly I have travelled with my family. We have gone both solo and also with groups. And so far I would say I love going with groups for the sole reason that you get to meet new people usually from your country or state that you would otherwise never meet. I still keep in touch with friends I made during these trips. So I would highly recommend group travels but it's solely up to one's standard of choice. By the time I left for Lanka In October 2019, it was still recovering from the terrorist bombings during Easter services in 3 different churches at various locations in April earlier that year. So security was going to be intense this time around. An interesting observation I saw about Sri Lankan Airlines is the way the air hostesses’ dress. Usually, in Air India, we have the air hostess wearing saree which is a piece of traditional clothing in India. But the way the Sri Lankan air hostesses wore was in a particular way. Upon arriving in the country, I discovered that this was the usual way of draping saree here. Since I had a direct flight from Kochi to Colombo, the flying time was 1 hour. After all the long immigration processes, a sense of relief washed over me as I exited the airport and heaved into a bus that would transport us to Negombo for the night. Dashing through the alleys, I found an odd similarity to Goa and Kerala scenes but I remember that short way to the hotel for the magical sunset that fell upon the coast. On reaching Negombo, it felt like déjà vu as the place where the hotel was and the entire street along with the nightfall reminded me of Goan Days, a trip I had taken from my school with my friends and both the places had a similar resemblance. I remember being so excited that the hotel had a private beach and ran to capture the beautiful beach and waves bathed in red solace. But to my utter dismay, my camera didn't focus well due to which the picture didn't turn out well. Alas, it's in my memory. We stayed at Rani Beach Hotel for the night. It was a pleasant stay for the time it lasted. When you arrive almost anywhere in Sri Lanka, you are greeted saying "Ayubowan" complete with a bowing by joined hands. I thought it was a different version of how we say 'Namaste ' in India. But the word 'Ayubowan' itself means 'long life'. You are greeting another person by wishing them a long life ahead. What a beautiful and heart-warming thought! I find such mannerisms observed in different countries rather pleasing.
Negombo is a peaceful town set amidst the west coast of Sri Lanka. It is the centre for Sri Lanka’s catholic community and also home to the second-largest fish market in the country known as Lellama. As a result, the places offers fine seafood cuisine. Many local curry houses provide budget-friendly yet delicious and authentic Sri Lankan dishes. Drown it off with coconut water which is a staple here. You can explore many water sports such as diving in Negombo and shop around for souvenirs to take back with you. Lanka offers you the best vanilla and cinnamon flavourings but always make sure that they are authentic otherwise you might get tricked.
After a quick bath and unpack session, we headed down to dinner and then to the beach. A light rain was present and it was very windy too. I remember seeing small crabs on the beach and tons of ships in the faraway distance along with a handful of seaweed lying around. The wind got a tad bit strong to the point my umbrella flew away when I set it down to take a dip in the waves. My family decided to take a little night stroll down the streets. Rows and rows of tiny shops selling gemstones and various other souvenirs, handicrafts and batik clouds adored the road. On the way, we came across a church which was hosting a function. Surprisingly what caught my attention was not the festivities or carols but the number of soldiers and police present around. The tight security was a result of the earlier mentioned events. It is sad to think about such ruthless acts of terrorism. Walking around the place, we decided to look at some gemstones displayed outside a shop. The person at the shop was keen enough to let us in rather than doing window shopping even though we mentioned we didn't want to buy anything. Soon enough, I got curious about rings and decided to look for one with my birthstone, Amethyst. At that time I was not aware of the fact that Sri Lanka possessed some of the best gemstone collection in the world. They were inexpensive if you buy it at such small shops instead of going to huge stores where you will have to pay multiple taxes along with the actual product. I would recommend these if you are keen on buying minimal accessories or birthstones. Eventually, I bought the ring in case you are wondering! I always wear it on my hand as a reminder of the peace I achieved within myself during the stay.
Eventually steering back to the hotel, gleaming at my new ring, we found our way to our rooms. Excited to meet our fellow travellers and to ravish what Lanka has to offer, I wandered off to sleep.