An adventure off the beaten track reveals the rich history and culture in Sri Lanka’s unspoilt northern regions

South China Morning Post writer Paul Niel found a lot to like among our hidden treasures, where “an adventure off the beaten track reveals the rich history and culture in Sri Lanka’s unspoilt northern regions”.

With his wife Esther and baby Zaya, the adventure included the Sri Maha temple in Anuradhapura with its sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree, “said to be oldest human-planted tree in the world, which has been tended by an uninterrupted succession of guardians for over 2,000 years”.

Travelling north, “we find the provinces retain their refreshing off-the-beaten-track charm. Sri Lanka has, in recent years, become a trendy tourist destination, with double-digit growth in visitor numbers, but the focus has remained on its southern shores.”

Temples dot the countryside and Hindu festivals colour the calendar year round.

Paul notes that “while most of the country is Buddhist, Sri Lanka’s north is settled predominantly by Hindu Tamils. Temples dot the countryside and Hindu festivals colour the calendar year round.

“At a roadside temple en route to Jaffna, the capital of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, we come across a group of young men worshipping and chanting.

“One of them has two metal hooks protruding through his shoulder blades, thighs and calves. Minutes later he is suspended from a tractor, his entire body weight held only by the hooks.”

Tourists are missing out ‘not just on warm hospitality’

Tourists are missing out, he says, “not just on warm hospitality, but also great food. The local cuisine has a distinct southern Indian influence, and plenty of seafood due to the vicinity of the sea. Zaya digs into crab curry and a poppadom with both hands, not at all put off by the spices.

After taking a wooden boat operated by the coastguard to Nainativu island, “sharing the sweaty 30-minute ride below deck with more than 100 worshippers on their way to a large Hindu complex”, they head for Mannar’

Sri Lanka’s name was originally Serendib—‘the Island Jewels’

“The provincial capital, still feels sleepy, with local fishermen showing off their catch on the roadside. Gigantic baobab trees, planted by Arab traders 500 years ago, serve as reminders of how this region once was at the centre of transcontinental trade.

“But we have come here for the wind – the constant trade winds that are perfect for kitesurfing and have recently given the region a new boost. At the far western end of the peninsula, local entrepreneur Dil has opened Vayu Resort, a few simple but idyllic cabins in the midst of the sandy dunes.

“In Arabic, Sri Lanka’s name was originally Serendib—‘the Island Jewels’. Serendib later became the root for the English word serendipity. Watching the sun sink over the dunes, I wonder how many more jewels we’ll find in Sri Lanka’s north.”

Read more here.

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