A rich and interesting country with a diverse culture and traditions resulting from the long history and the geographical position that puts this island on the trade route between East and West that dominated the seas for centuries, resulting in a mixture of various influences: religious, cultural, gastronomic and social.
A country where in addition to the natural religious divisions, the society is also stratified by caste, which influences the level and quality of education, the marriages, the jobs as also the position in society, which is clearly dominated by the Sinhalese, mostly Buddhists, where little space left for minorities like Tamils and Muslims.
A country where the climate provides plenty and variety in terms of food, which is visible in the markets as also in the Sri Lankan cuisine, and where tourism plays an important role in the economy of the country.
A country where the majority of the 20 million of inhabitants live away from poverty, and where the literacy rates are around 98% and the life expectancy is 75 years old.
Despite the proximity to neighboring India, the dominant religion in Sri Lanka is Buddhism, followed by 70% of the population; 8% follows Hinduism; 7% are Muslims and the remain can be divided by the various currents of Christianity left by the Portuguese, Dutch and British presence.
Buddhism clearly dominates the religious map of the country, occupying the entire central region od the island, both mountain and the plains areas, with the exception of the north of the country, a region where the Tamil presence makes clearly Hindu.
The Muslim community is quite apparent on this coast, predominantly in the areas surrounding the Trincomalee and further south in the Pottuvil area.
Christianity has taken root in some parts of the west coast north of Colombo.
From this results a particular organization of society in Sri Lanka, which is divided by religions that roughly correspond to the different ethnic groups, and hence resulted in a civil war that lasted for 25 years and only ended in 2009, opposing the majority Sinhalese ethnic group to Tamil, mainly Hindu, whose presence on the island date before the British rule, who during the 19 century, created a strong migration of population from southwestern India, to work in Sri Lanka tea plantations.
According to the Sri Lankan Buddhist tradition the full moon days are considered sacred, called the Poya days, being a national holiday; ie every month has, at least, one holiday, adding to other holidays corresponding to the Hindu religion, practiced by the Tamil community, by the Christians, like the Christmas and Easter, as also the historic day that marks the independence from the British.
But despite being a holiday, in these days is not difficult to find the commerce to work normally, as well as markets and other services. The exception is the official services such as embassies, post office, etc …
However these holidays, whether is the Poya day or any other religious day, especially if it is on a Friday or Monday, are chosen to visit relatives and friends, as for peregrinations, so use public transportation, either bus or train, is a difficult task, which may require travel two or three hours of walking… no space even to sit on the floor, or even make it almost impossible to get space on a bus or a train.
On the east coast of Sri Lanka, particularly in the towns of Batticaloa and Trincomalee centers a distinct community of dominant ethnic groups: the burgers.
By Burghers identifies the descendants of Portuguese and Dutch who by family ties have been mixing with the Sinhalese population, creating an ethnic group with their own language, Creole, and professing the Christian religion, which still remain despite the presence of the British that left the Protestant religion here.
From the Portuguese remains the names like Silva, Perera or the Pereira, Fonseca… in the signs of commercial activities, street names or inscribed on plaques that identify doctors offices or law firms … showing that this small population of Burgher holds a high status in Sri Lankan society.
In Batticaloa is the “Lourenço de Almeida Social & Cultural Centre”, a cultural association belonging to the “Sri Lankan Portuguese Burgher Foundation”, which provides a number of social and cultural activities in this region of Sri Lanka.
The presence of the Burghers, representing about 0.3% of the Sri Lankan population is discrete but extends beyond the names and surnames to fair skin tones and the blue and green eyes of some of the inhabitants.
Language or languages …
In Sri Lanka, there are two official languages: Sinhala, Tamil, with the English as a link between all population, regardless of ethnic, religious. Despite, the English being currently taught in schools, not the entire population, especially of the lower castes, have the opportunity to learn English. Yet, virtually all the population speaks basic words which are usually enough to know prices, directions or schedules.
In fact, Sri Lanka is the country where more easily find people speaking English, compared to other countries of the Indian subcontinent, previously visited, such as India and Nepal.
It is quite often things are also identified with Latin characters, along with Sinhala and Tamil writing; different languages but both using complex and rounded characters.
In terms of pronunciation is not difficult, as reading the words (like, for example, name os places or food) when written in Latin characters, is not far from the local pronunciation, with one or another exception.
Cricket vs football
No doubt the cricket dominates in terms and sport, not only for what you see in newspapers and television but also by the improvised cricket fields that pop up a little everywhere that attract the younger population, exclusively boys.
Little or no room left for football but where the name of Cristiano Ronaldo is not totally unknown.
In Sri Lanka coexists western wear with the more traditional clothing, with men choosing mainly of pants and shirt, especially in cities and urban areas, but where it is not uncommon to find men wearing the traditional lungi, a clear influence of India that is a light and fresh outfit, suitable for hot and humid climate.
The lungi does not follow any particular style of Sri Lanka in terms of colors or patterns, but some men still wear the traditional lungi with batik motifs, with and floral and geometric designs simple and generally in gray colors.
Women mostly abandoned the traditional sahree, complex and not so practical, to wear skirt or dress generally below the knee. But sahree are still quite popular, also an influence of Indian culture, but that in Sri Lanka is used in a slightly different style in the way how it is wrapped around the waist.
Although becoming less prevalent, sahree is a popular outfit to wear on special occasions such as religious celebrations or festive days and curiously is mandatory for public school teachers.
The uniforms of the students maintain a certain colonial style, some with a tie, shorts, and shirt which brings out badges… all in white including shoes. Girls, wich hair must be braided, follow a similar style, with skirt and shirt.
Cost of tourist attractions
As usual in some Asian countries, cultural heritage, natural parks and religious site that are able to attract tourism are subject to a higher fee for foreigners.
In Sri Lanka, this discrimination is evident and extended to virtually everything from temples, natural parks, archeological sites, museums, caves, etc… The only exception found was the Dambulla Cave Temple, where the government recently abolished the entry ticket for any visitor.
This makes that for those traveling on a budget, is necessary to make a careful selection of what places to visit, or eventually considered not to visit any places of the “tourist route”. The choice of this trip was to Sigiriya, from what these considerations result…
Like any Classified Patrimony by UNESCO in Sri Lanka, Sigiriya also has a high cost of entry, 4200 LKR, equivalent to 27 €, much more expensive than a ticket to visit the Louvre Museum (15 €) or the Vatican Museum (16 €). What makes the visit to the tourist sites in Sri Lanka, such as Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, and Anuradhapura, more expensive than any of the most famous places in Europe.
Local people paid a derisory amount, that in Sigiriya is 50 LKR equivalent to 0.30€, or has sometimes entitled to free entrance, as is the case of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple at Kandy.
The high value is to preserve sites and is not available relevant information on the site, not being distributed any brochure or map that allows a better interpretation of the site.
In addition to the issue of discrimination in the entrance fee, between local people and foreigners that may be to some point acceptable, the amounts charged to visitors are indeed too high, sometimes 90 times more expensive than the local price!!!!! … and all subsidized by UNESCO, which in turn is financed by dozens of countries, including the countries of the “foreigners” who visit Sri Lanka !!!
Money, Banks and ATM
The currency in Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Rupee, locally identified by “rupee”, circulating in beautiful decorated bills with motifs of flora and fauna, mixed with ethnic and folk design, which are added some “landmarks” of national progress and development, as dams, bridges, ports, etc… all surrounded by the characters of the Sinhala and Tamil writing, which by in itself serve as decorative motif.
For lower amounts circulate notes with new design along with others with older motifs, but both maintaining the same style of color.
Coins also circulate, but is always hard to find change for small amounts, like for buy a street-food snack or a bus ticket for a short ride.
There are ATM’s all over the place, from various banks. The maximum amount of money you can get an ATM in Sri Lanka is 50,000 LKR per day. However, the maximum amount depends mainly on the limit associated with each card and defined by your bank. In Portugal the limit per withdraw is 200 € per day with a maximum of two movements a day, resulting in a maximum of 30,000 LKR each time.
Regardless of the fees and commissions charged by your bank, the ATMs in Sri Lanka charge from 200 LKR (HNB-Hatton National Bank) to 300 LKR (Commercial Bank… for example).
… About white in Sri Lanka!
One of the images that last from Sri Lanka is the white color. The white of school uniforms, the white clothes are worn by pilgrims who flock to the Buddhist temples, the white lungi of tamil conducting the puja at the Hindu temples, the white of the lotus flowers deposited at the temples…
And yet the white that neatly covers churches, temples, and stupas… the immaculate white and impeccably maintained that contrasts with the green of the tropical vegetation and the black hair of the Sinhalese population.
Tuk-tuks, tuk-tuks, tuk-tuks …
Impossible to remain indifferent to the thousands of tuk-tuk that roam the streets and roads of the country … yes thousands, because there is no place where their bright colors are a presence in Sri Lankan “landscape” and filling the air with a “symphony” of honks.
One of the popular forms of transport in urban areas as also for short distances, the tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka are modern, clean and in good condition. All have the same model, with minor variations, being manufactured locally by ubiquitous Lanka Ashok Leyland, which also manufactures buses, trucks, tractors, and several more machines.
Perhaps as a way to customize as mass production many of the tuk-tuk drivers, who generally are also the owners, choose to set shiny decorations inside, religious stickers or stick outside the vehicle, phrases or quotations whose meaning is sometimes obscure and enigmatic.
Any tuk-tuk ride must be negotiated before you jump in, and it’s unlikely that a foreigner gets less than 100 LKR, even for a short ride of two or three kilometers. But even negotiating the price, the tuk-tuk drivers in Sri Lanka aren’t receptive to make big discounts.