A Travellerspoint blog

The Fruits and Flowers of Sri Lanka

sunny 31 °C

The warm tropical climate, monsoon rains and fertile soils of Sri Lanka are a godsend for plants of all kind and it is difficult to imagine a more fruitful and productive land. Extensive forests of teak and other hardwoods survive despite generations of cultivation, but many areas have been cleared for tea, rice, vegetables and fruits. Vibrantly green rice paddies fringed by coconut palms are ubiquitous in the lowlands and there are many plantations of bananas and pineapples...
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However, most of the fruits we spotted in the forests and by the roadsides were seemingly growing wild. These are passion fruit...
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And this is a jackfruit...
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These enormous fruits weigh up to 80lbs and grow directly out of the trunk of the tree. Each tree can produce up to 200 of these giant fruits annually.Tender young jackfruit are used to make a starchy vegetable that is either boiled or fried. However, the sweet, juicy fruit inside a mature jackfruit is heavenly.
Citrus fruits grow in the cooler climes of the Central Highlands but we particularly love the exotic fruits that grow in the steamy jungles nearer the coast. Bananas, passion fruit, papayas, dragon fruit, prickly pears, avocados, custard apples and mangoes are all here in abundance, as are one of our favourite tropical fruits...
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These flamboyant little critters are actually rambutans.

Throughout Sri Lanka ramshackle roadsides stalls are laden with piles of inexpensive fresh fruit, while these exquisitely displayed selections are actually meant to be used as offerings at Hindu temples.
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There are many tropical fruits here that are rarely, if ever, seen in northern climes including wood apples and the hard spherical fruit of the aptly named cannonball tree. In Sri Lanka's Buddhist tradition, Buddha's mother Maya held onto the branch of a blossoming cannonball tree while giving birth the him. These trees are therefore sacred to Buddhists around the world.

All manner of semi-hardy flowers grow in the Highlands, especially roses, hydrangeas and wild rhododendrons, but the tropical flowers in the lowlands are particularly spectacular. These propagated orchids in the botanical gardens at Peradeniya were amazing...
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However, there are flowers everywhere in Sri Lanka, especially the brightly coloured bougainvillea and the delicate lotus blossoms that are used as offerings in the Buddhist temples...
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Many of the forest trees have delicate flowers in their canopies, while enormous kapok trees are smothered in a thick white blanket of cottony down. Our pillows and mattresses have been stuffed with synthetic materials for decades, but here in Sri Lanka there is no substitute for the natural kapok...
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Maybe the Sri Lankan's have the right idea!

Posted by Hawkson 04:01 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (7)

The Vegetarians of Sri Lanka

semi-overcast 24 °C

Although the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka are best known for its tea plantations, the relatively cool climate, coupled with frequent rains, provides perfect growing conditions for almost all of the fruits and vegetables that are common in Europe and North America. Subsistence farmers have cultivated every inch of land between the tea plantations and, while the women pick the tea, the men grow all manner of vegetables on steeply cut terraces around their meagre homes...
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Most of the vegetables are sold on makeshift stalls scattered along the roadsides...
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The stalls offer as great a variety of fresh vegetables as we might expect in even our largest supermarkets and the quality appears superb. Leeks are a big favourite...
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Owing to its proximity to the equator the temperature remains fairly constant throughout the year, with just an occasional light frost at altitude, so crops can be grown continuously. Just take a look at what was on offer in the market at Nuwara Elyia - Sri Lanka's highest city...
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Almost everything on sale here is familiar... except the incredibly low prices.
This is the main wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Dambulla where much of the produce is destined for the capital, Colombo, and for export...
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Meat is relatively expensive so for both financial and cultural reasons most Sri Lankans are largely vegetarian. We, however, have been enjoying very high quality meals with lots of chicken and fish throughout this trip and have paid roughly eleven Canadian dollars for a full dinner, and about a dollar for a vegetarian snack lunch on the road. However, whenever we have stopped to eat we have been immediately surrounded by little people looking for a handout for the baby...
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And this enormous wild male elephant has learned to get meals by politely begging from passing vehicles while blocking the road....
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We were next in line and stopped. The gentle giant quickly lumbered up to us and carefully took bananas from our hands with his trunk. It was a magical moment.
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After a few days cooling off in the hills we are heading south; back into the tropical lowlands; back to the jungle.

Posted by Hawkson 17:36 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (7)

Taking the Tea Train

semi-overcast 20 °C

Six thousand feet up in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka the dense tropical mists slowly roll back under the equatorial sun to reveal a stunningly beautiful landscape...
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This is tea country; a land sculpted by man from the rainforests nearly two hundred years ago to satisfy the tastes of Europeans – first with coffee and later with tea...
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However, beauty is only skin deep and this Garden of Eden has a less attractive side – the lives of the tea pickers...
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Working in a beautiful landscape doesn't make up for the Dickensian living conditions of these poor people and their families, and it is difficult to see a brighter future for them. So, the next time you casually toss a tea bag into a cup, spare a thought for the women who daily struggle up these steep terraces in all weathers to gather the tenderest of leaves until they wilt under the weight of their sacks. Only the three tiniest leaves are plucked from the tops of the bushes and it takes a million or more to fill a sack... and their reward for a day's work is just five Canadian dollars...
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The new growth is plucked every seven days and the pickers painstakingly work their way across the plantation in a never ending cycle. The giant tea factories have an insatiable thirst and it takes many millions of leaves a day to keep the wheels turning...
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The newly picked leaves are first withered by fans in enormous vats until they lose three quarters of their weight. And then they are crushed, fermented, dried, chopped and sieved in a process that takes a day or more until they are separated by size and colour into a range of teas to satisfy all tastes. All teas come from the same plant, a camellia, and it is only the processing that produces the numerous differing strengths and flavours. And here is the finished product waiting to be shipped to Mr. Lipton, Mr. Twining or Mr. Dilmah...
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We love taking English High Tea and there is nowhere better to experience this time-honoured afternoon tradition than at the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya, an iconic Colonial watering hole in the midst of tea country...
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Smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches, scones with Devon cream, and a pot of the finest Orange Pekoe, has been served to homesick Brits and well-heeled travellers since the Grand was built as a lodge for the British governor in the 1830s...
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Another tradition here in Central Sri Lanka is to ride the train on the rickety tracks built by the British to transport the tea to the auction houses in Colombo and then, by the fastest sailing ships in the world, the renowned Tea Clippers, to the tea houses of England in the late 1800s.
The train to Ella, in the heart of the mountains, winds its way along steep escarpments and through multitudes of tunnels, giving us a grandstand view of the densely forested hillsides and the tiny farming communities that are scattered along the tracksides.
All manner of crops grow abundantly in this sweet land and next time we will show some astounding displays of vegetable. For now – here are a few leeks...
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Posted by Hawkson 03:31 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (6)

On Our Way to Ceylonese Tea

semi-overcast 29 °C

Much like the Turin Shroud, Buddha's tooth has been around a bit since it was first discovered in  Kushinagar, India, after he died in 800BC at the age of eighty. Legend has it that eleven centuries later, in about 300AD, the tooth was smashed with a hammer and it became a star. When the tooth returned to earth sometime later a special temple was built for it in the Kandian capital city of Pollonaruwa. This ancient city was built about 1,000 years ago and this is all that remains of a seven story temple building...
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The Kings of Kandia lived in Pollonaruwa for centuries and bathed in one of a number of lotus shaped baths. This is the only one that remains today...
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The city of Pollonaruwa covers a vast area with many ruined buildings that are little more than piles of old bricks. However, three magnificent statues of Buddha, all carved from a single block of stone, are clearly the highlight of this site...
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Hundreds of schoolchildren were visiting at the same time as us and these elegantly dressed teachers were taking a break from their charges when they posed for us...
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After Pollonaruwa we visited the Hindu city of Mathale. While Buddhist temples can be a little over the top when it comes to the number of Buddhas, they pale in comparison to the sheer garishness of Hindu temples. There are exuberant paintings of gods everywhere and many of them could be mistaken for decoration on fairground rides...
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The Buddhist temple in Kandy, in the very centre of Sri Lanka, is a much more reserved, and revered, place because it is the current resting place of Buddha's tooth. This is the Temple of the Tooth...
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And behind these golden doors is the tooth itself – although no one is ever allowed to see it for fear of taking away its spiritual power...
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Thousands of adherents bring fragrant flowers every day to this, the most important, shrine in Sri Lanka and it was interesting to see the strength of devotion of the many worshippers who spend hours praying to this relic.

Kandy was an important city in British colonial times as it is a relatively cool place in the central highlands. It was, and remains, the centre of the Ceylon tea trade and we will be visiting the plantations and factories in the next few days. In the meantime we took in an an entertaining evening of traditional Sri Lankan dancing, plate spinning and fire-eating at the Kandy Lake Club...
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Now we are headed to the hills for tea.

Posted by Hawkson 17:43 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (5)

Jeep Safari in Northern Sri Lanka

sunny 31 °C

The roadsides around the town of Minneriya in Northern Sri Lanka are littered with billboards offering Jeep safaris so we thought we should give it a try.
After almost an hour driving on rough tracks through a dense jungle of teak and bamboo our guide spotted a lone Jeep at a watering hole...
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We approached cautiously, but the Jeep seemed skittish and took off before we could get our cameras properly trained. We quickly forded the shallow river at the same place and hoped to pick up the Jeep's tracks on the other side. Unfortunately, it looked to our guide as if a herd of Jeeps had recently passed the same way and he was unable to identify the tracks of the one that had fled on our approach. Undaunted, we pressed on. The Jeep tracks were quite fresh and we still had a few hours before nightfall.
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A large monitor lizard slithered off into the bush at our approach, but there was still no sign of the Jeeps. But then we stopped to listen and to our delight we heard the purring of Jeeps just ahead of us. We crept silently through the undergrowth, cameras at the ready, and there, in a wide clearing by the side of a lake we found a group of 50 or 60 Jeeps of all ages and species...
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We watched for awhile and marvelled at their agility on the mud that had been churned up by the pack leaders. We were so engrossed in admiring these magnificent specimens that we didn't notice a commotion behind us. Finally a warning shout went up and we turned just in time to see a herd of wild elephants charging towards us...
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Caught between the Jeeps and the elephants we had no choice but to stand our ground and take photographs...
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A female with babies was clearly not happy at our presence and flapped her ears aggressively as a warning...
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We began backing off but our path was blocked by some belligerent Jeeps and for a few moments we seemed trapped, then the Jeeps slowly backed off and we were able to get several more shots of the elephants...
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In no time we had counted more than a hundred wild elephants – many with young - What a bonus – two herds in one day. And when we finally got back to civilization in Minneriya we found a wild elephant wandering along the highway...
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Maybe he was going to the tourist board to get them to change the roadside billboards from “Jeep Safaris” to “Elephant Safaris”. Just a thought!

Posted by Hawkson 17:43 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (8)

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