Only a short hop across the water from India, our Southern neighbour is a compelling destination for so many reasons. This island nation has only just achieved peace after a brutal 30-year civil war (it ended in 2009), but it is settling into a post-war mood that is impressive and inspiring in equal measure. Three decades of unrest have had, one would be forgiven for thinking, little impact on the sunny dispositions of the people of Sri Lanka. But perhaps it takes knowledge of the dark to bring true appreciation for the sunshine.
A teardrop shaped island that is lush with jungle, seaside, and mountains alike, it is hard to not be won over by Sri Lanka. That name, Sri Lanka, translates to ‘resplendent land’, and it has worked its way through as many names as it has varieties of banana (many) or sambol (god, so many). In his memoir “Running in the family” Michael Ondaatje wrote: “The island seduced all of Europe. The Portuguese. The Dutch. The English. And so its name changed, as well as its shape — Serendip, Ranapida (“island of gems”), Taprobane, Zeloan, Zeilan, Seyllan, Ceilon, and Ceylon — the wife of many marriages, courted by invaders who stepped ashore and claimed everything with the power of their sword or bible or language.”
Part of the appeal of this fantastic land was, of course, its abundance of incredible, precious cinnamon, which made it a key pitstop on the Spice Route. It is still lush with plantations for tropical crops such as rubber, cacao, and tea, but it also holds fascinating, and ancient, Buddhist temples, historic and incredibly scenic hill towns, and more climates within its small borders than most countries of far greater proportions.
“The island seduced all of Europe. The Portuguese. The Dutch. The English. And so its name changed, as well as its shape — Serendip, Ranapida (“island of gems”), Taprobane, Zeloan, Zeilan, Seyllan, Ceilon, and Ceylon — the wife of many marriages, courted by invaders who stepped ashore and claimed everything with the power of their sword or bible or language.”
There is a lot to see and do on this little island, and there is far too much to pack into one trip, which is why we went on a journey that allowed us to relish some of the island’s simpler pleasures, like a spectacular vista after a three-hour trek, or an afternoon spent in the company of the world’s biggest bamboo and some gorgeous old trees in a well-tended garden. Our new season is soaked in this mood: of sunshine, of joy, and the tropical modernism of Geoffrey Bawa and the all-round lushness of this island off our Southern coast, and this is a journey to match.
We travelled to Sri Lanka with IBEX Expeditions; this itinerary was created especially for Nicobar and booked entirely through IBEX.