Sri Lanka, the Island of Serendipity


SERENDIPITY (from the Oxford English Dictionary):
From Serendip, a former name for Sri Lanka + -ity.

 –       A word coined by Horace Walpole, who says (Letter to Mann, 28 Jan. 1754) that he had formed it upon the title of the fairy-tale ‘The Three Princes of Serendip’, the heroes of which ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’.

 –       The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. Also, the fact or an instance of such a discovery.

 Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is an island country in Southern Asia. It is located in the Indian Ocean which is south of India. Even though Jason Buzi spent two weeks in the country, he already had seen so many amazing things about it. He spent his first few days in the capital, Colombo, largest city of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte suburb (parliament capital of Sri Lanka). The capital felt like it was in Mumbai but only cleaner and with fewer beggars and homeless people.

 Although the civil war ended in May and there hadn’t been any terrorist attack on the capital in years, there were still quite a few military checkpoints throughout the city. Jason Buzi planned to do some volunteer work at a school in the southern city of Galle but quickly found out that it wasn’t a charity but a business. He also realized that he wouldn’t make a difference in a short time so he stopped volunteering after three days. However, it was fun giving magic pens, coloring books, postcards and T-shirts to the kids. Also, he made friends with two other volunteers: Amanda, a British girl and Mia, a Swiss girl.

 The beaches in the country were really nice, however being able to travel around world, it weren’t that impressive anymore. The waves were pretty big and interestingly, there were only a few surfers around. Jason Buzi did a lot of swimming, as it was warm outside and the water was very nice. He never went in too far though because of the strong currents and waves. Those waves were nothing compared to the tsunami that originated in Indonesia and reached Sri Lanka really hard exactly five years ago, in December 2004, and over 30,000 people died. He met some people who lost their family members and also their livelihood.

 There were plenty of Americans since many American groups came to help after the tsunami. In fact, one “tuk tuk” driver said the Americans bought him a new “tuk tuk”. The affected areas seemed to have recovered really well, though he is sure that many people’s lives haven’t.

 After a few days at the beach, he went to visit the highlands, where the landscape and climate were completely different from the coastal area. The place was lush and mostly green and with many rivers and waterfalls. The skies were mostly misty and it was definitely much cooler.

 Furthermore, the country is much popular with its tea and even people who know nothing about Sri Lanka knows about its tea. Thomas Lipton, a Scotsman, bought tea plantations here and introduced tea to the masses in Europe and beyond. Before that, it was an expensive drink and the ones who could afford it were the elites. Ceylon, Sri Lanka’s name until 1972, tea became very famous around the world and in turn, Lipton became the world’s leading brand of tea. Today, the country is the world’s second largest tea producer after India and it sells for a 50% premium as it is considered the best. Seeing women tea pickers up close was one of the things Jason Buzi was looking forward to on his visit.

 It turned out that most of the tea laborers were brought by the British from India until now. He asked a Sri Lankan driver and guide why the factories don’t hire local laborers but they replied that Sri Lankans are too lazy for this kind of work. Consequently, in the tea growing areas, Hindu temples were found everywhere yet the majority of the population was Buddhist.

After visiting the tea plantations and tea factories, he went to the cultural city of Kandy, the second biggest city in Sri Lanka. He saw one of the nicest botanical gardens he had ever seen and it was the largest in Sri Lanka. He was impressed that it was built by a local king, long before the British came.

 Jason Buzi saw a traditional dance show in Kandy incorporating fire spinning and fire walking. Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth was the most important Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka and one of the most important in the world. It was a giant complex containing different shrines and temples. A tooth kept here was allegedly one of Buddha’s teeth brought here in the 4th century. This is probably the most important tooth in the world and has become a symbol of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.

 On Wednesday, he visited the Dambulla caves which contain many Buddha statues and a huge rock called Sigiriya. It was a difficult and sweaty climb to the top of the big rock, only to discover that at the top, there was basically nothing. Only an old pool, two stray dogs and three unsocial Finissh guys were there. He made sure to tell everyone as he was coming down, that they should be prepared to be disappointed.

 Well, the sense of achievement was possibly worth it Jason Buzi shared. It was impossible for him not to compare Indian and Sri Lanka because there was an evident cultural similarity. Well, you could say that Sri Lanka was the lighter version of India because it was cleaner, less chaotic, less crowded and there was not much visible poverty. Beggars and homeless people were rarely seen but it was less colorful in a way.

The people and culture seem gentler, and for better or worse, you don’t get as much sensory overload. From his experience and those of other travelers, you are also less likely to get sick here, as it is more sanitary.

The landscape and climate were very reminiscent of Southern India. Little wonder since Sri Lanka was just off the tip of Southern India. The English level was also much lower here. Although also colonized by the British, and though many signs are in English, they did not retain English as an official language.

Overall, Jason Buzi really enjoyed Sri Lanka, but there were a few places, like Thailand, that he saw himself returning to again and again.