Sri Lanka is a paradise of pleasant distractions and pursuits. The country offers so much to explore and discovere. Every visitor to Sri Lanka can have a taste of local experience even from the simplest wayside tea kiosk or among the green bounty of paddy fields. Here’s a guide to five things to do while in Sri Lanka; get a feel of local entertainment, embark on a culture-voyage to the rhythmic beat of the drum, experience a spiritual carnival of piety and a journey in indulgence with nature.
Watch a Sri Lankan movie
A political satire, the sordid and sleazy life in the slums of Sri Lanka, a story from the life of the Buddha and the triumph of good over evil or the unusual tangled love-story in post-war Sri Lanka, feel the ambience of a local cinema while watching the talent of local artistes at their best. Ditch the Hollywood blockbusters that shout out loud with gigantic hoardings in Colombo and the suburbs, opt to watch a Sinhala movie with English subtitles, a part of experiencing the country’s culture, the realities in the social milieus of a stratified social structure and of course the ever entertaining theatre of politics satirised to depict the wiliness of politicians.
Show times are generally spaced, starting at 10:30 in the morning followed by another at 01:30 and 04:30 in the afternoon and 07:00 in the evening. Movies are screened on all seven days of the week, except on the monthly Buddhist religious day of Poya. A visitor can simply walk into a cinema to obtain a ticket from the counter or make an online booking, while also taking a sneak peek at the movie’s online trailer. Cinemas in Colombo are air-conditioned and well equipped with digitised sound systems and comfortable seating.
Tickets are priced according to the placement of seats, which are in order of balcony, ODC and gallery seats, the first being the preferred choice for a better view. There is plenty of titbits with popcorn being a favourite with a fizzy drink, of course a tad pricey than outside. A week day would be ideal to watch a Sri Lankan movie when theatres are less crowded, with plenty of tickets available. Rain or shine, holiday or working day, one spectacle someone visiting a cinema for the first time in Sri Lanka is sure to see is loved up couples, choosing the confines of a cinema to spend time together. A little over two hours at a local cinema, watching a Sri Lankan movie will open up a new vista of experience on the local cinema, a glimpse into Sri Lankan people, lifestyles and language; it will be an encounter in a different public space.
Get taste of Sri Lankan coffee
Colombo is dotted with homely coffee cafes and café restaurants. Many are infused with the desired atmosphere and aromas to complement servings of coffee with cream and flavourings. Colombo has been swept by a coffee culture that has a blend of Sri Lankan and international brands. Coffee being the most consumed beverage universally, it is not surprising that prime area of Colombo 3, 4, 5 and 7 are alight with many cosy coffee shops boasting international coffee blends and brands. The compulsory classics of espressos, cappuccinos and lattes are served in these coffee shops that often have separate breakfast, lunch and dinner menus and sweet dessert of brownies, tarts and cakes.
It was coffee before tea that was the foremost economic crop of Sri Lanka. Before Sri Lanka lost its lead in the coffee trade, by 1867 more than 160,000 acres of coffee were being cultivated and more than 67 million pounds exported. Today, Sri Lanka is back in the saddle of brewing coffee, accommodating the growing popularity of coffee around the world. Coffee drinkers in Sri Lanka like their counterpart coffee aficionados around the world have become more aware of and particular about the type of coffee they drink. Coffee enthusiasts look beyond the generic instant coffees that are found in supermarkets towards better quality coffee. Rather than looking overseas, Sri Lankans have developed a fondness for locally sourced coffee in addition to international coffee blends and brands. So, try out some of the coffee shops serving Sri Lankan coffee in a blend of classics, where the ambience is defining. Whight & Co is just such a cafe serving home grown Ruby Harvest Arabica Coffee. Perfect for unwinding after the pressures of work and life or for a pick-me-up before heading to that all important business meeting.
Visit the hallowed grounds of Kataragama
Kataragama in the south-east of Sri Lanka is one of the holiest sites for Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. It is a hallowed ground dedicated to the deity Skanda, a manifestation of god Kataragama, where people throng in thousands to consecrate a new vehicle, to seek blessings before embarking on a new course of life and to make vows in return for a good deed.
The colourful festival time in July and August is a pageant of intense spiritual fervour and is not for the faint hearted. However, Kataragama is a spiritual place that can be visited during the quieter periods as well for a more pensive and reflactive experience. The Kiri Vehera, Maha Devale and Devales of Sella Kataragama and Wedihiti Kanda (the hill where Skanda is believed to have lived) are significant places in and around the shrine. The spiritual journey begins with a bathe in the Menik river that flows nearby, a process of cleansing, followed by offerings at the Maha Devale. The sights at Kataragama are worthy of a study in religious fervour as people make vows and perform perilous acts of penance that include acts of self-mortification where cheeks and tongues are pierced with spikes, as men and women hang on ropes attached to hooks. The sound of drums and trumpets in the midst of the scent of offerings is overwhelming.
Fire-walking, another display of piety is where believers walk fearlessly on a bed of burning coal, where their devoutness has transcended to a high point of denying them pain. Muslims visit Kataragama to worship at the shrine of their saint at the Masjad-ul-Khizr mosque. The Kataragama temple dates back to Third Century BCE and is believed to have been built by Dutugemunu, a revered monarch of Sri Lanka’s past. The Bo-tree in the premises is also believed to be a sapling from Anuradhapura brought during the same period.
Get acquainted with Sri Lankan dance
The jingle and jangle of bells accompanied by the rhythmic and acrobatic prowess of the Sri Lankan dancers adorned with colourful costumes is another encounter with the country’s roots. The diverse dance forms of Up-country, Low-country and Sabaragamuwa have all originated from an elaborate ritualistic dance known as the ‘Kohomba Kankariya’. Most Sri Lankans have learnt at least a few steps or dances as children and students, and the local dance traditions are very much alive as a form of leaning and entertainment, with many dance troupes and academies spread throughout the country. It is not difficult to master the movement and coordination of hands and feet in rhythm to the sound of the drum, in fact it will be another indulgence in Sri Lanka’s culture and ethos.
The Up-country or Kandyan dances are based on stories inspired from mythical legends, nature, history or religious tales. The performances are accompanied by singing, and the costumes depict elements from the story. For instance a dancer will be dressed like a cobra, with the entire costume, head gear and accessories accentuating the features and characteristics of the cobra. The southern dance tradition known as Low-country dance is very ritualistic, performed to appease evil spirits which cause ailments and suffering to humans. The dancers wear masks depicting birds, demons and reptiles. A much more relaxed and carefree approach to dance is found in the Sabaragamuwa dances, originating from the central region of Sri Lanka. The costumes are simple, with a cloth worn at the waist, jingles at the feet and headgear made of tender coconut leaves.
Wherever one may be staying, there is sure to be a dance instructor in the vicinity and hotel staff will certainly oblige with information. The rhythmic movements accompanied by music is captivating and connote a great deal of meaning; more than anything the swift movements are sure to keep one fit after savouring a multitude of succulent Sri Lankan delicacies.
Explore the paddy fields
Find yourself courting a daredevil exploit taking a scooter ride along the paddy fields of Sri Lanka. Wherever you are, in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kurunegala, Badulla or Hambantota, Sri Lanka is a patchwork of paddy fields. Paddy cultivation being the life blood of the natives, one can view the communal collaboration, alongside buffaloes and tractors ploughing the land in the sweltering heat. A journey through paddy fields will be more than a display of nature’s verdant harvest; it will be a spectacle of national culture where elaborate rituals are performed from the preparation of the field to the harvesting of grain.
November will be an ideal month to view the seeding process for the Maha crop or the major crop that begins with the northeast monsoon, which wets the soil for a bountiful harvest in February-March. Riding through rugged roads running through paddy fields during this time will have folks preparing the soil for seeding. The first seeding is ritualistically placed in the centre of the field by an older farmer. Vast expanses of paddy fields sometimes beside main roads are surrounded by mountains and greenery, with sleepy hamlets tucked away in the nearby jungles and amidst vegetation. Take time to sit under a tree in the threshing floor to take in the breathtaking and calming scenery, watch-huts perched high above the ground, birds and buffaloes in plenty feeding off empty spaces in the paddy field. Men and women attired from head to toe to escape the glare of the sun work briskly at their tasks assigned for the day. In the midst of the heat cast by the sun, the caressing wind brings a sense of freshness to the fertile surroundings as the journey exposes the elaborate ritualistic practices of piety associated with cultivation.