We spent 7 hours driving across Sri Lanka, stopping and starting, overtaking at a speed there is no way my mother would approve of, desperately wishing that I’d worn a sports bra.
As we passed through an incredibly varied and beautiful landscape, which had cows wandering across the road, bright colourful houses and trees everywhere, I quickly realised that I know very little about Sri Lanka. This makes me angry as it used to be part of the British Empire and so I should have been taught about this stunning country while I was at school. And then as I wasn’t, I should have educated myself long before now.
We drove and drove and the list of questions I had about Sri Lanka grew and grew. I jotted them down (I always seem to have my camera in one hand and a notepad in the other) and between the locals I chatted with and the research I did online, here are the answers I found and some of the pictures I took 🙂
What does Sri Lanka mean? What is the deal with Ceylon?
Officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka; Sri Lanka literally means Venerable/Blessed Lanka. Lanka being the name it has been called since ancient times. Then the Portuguese, Dutch and British got involved and it was known as Ceylon, until they gained independence in 1972.
When was it under British rule? Do they hate us now?
I had no idea how complicated Sri Lanka’s past is. Check out this site if you want a great concise history, in terms of the Brits, we took over in 1815. Everyone we spoke to asked where we were from and no one flinched when we said England. In fact most of the locals we chatted with had family that are in the UK right now. I don’t know if anyone else worries about this kind of thing, or if it’s just me.
What language do they speak here? They have the best looking alphabet.
There are two official languages; Sinhala and Tamil and both of their alphabets look great. English is very widely spoken.
Why are there so many schools offering Japanese language lessons?
Couldn’t really find an answer to this, but I saw quite a lot of signs about learning Japanese and I didn’t see anything for any other languages – apart from a couple for English. So, if you have any ideas, please let me know!
Who are Ashok Leyland and why does every other truck have their name on it?
Ashok and Leyland are an Indian automobile company and it turns out they are the fourth largest manufacturer of buses in the world (seriously gang, what did we do before Google?!) Seems they make most of the vehicles in India and Sri Lanka.
What is the name of the long ‘skirts’ that the men wear? And why do men in the western world freak out so much about not wearing trousers or shorts?
Turns out it is basically a sarong – though they are sometimes called a dhoti or pancha. Traditionally sarong’s aren’t worn by women in Sri Lanka, who wear a sari instead.
And the second part of that question is rhetorical… or because they are idiots, or both; whichever you prefer really.
Do you actually need to pass a driving test to get a licence in Sri Lanka? Because I seriously have my doubts.
Yes of course you do that was just my trite way of saying that the driving across Sri Lanka was like nothing I have ever experienced before. Lane markings are definitely more of a guideline than a rule and don’t even get me started on overtaking.
It seems perfectly acceptable to attempt to overtake a lorry and the seven cars queueing behind it, while going up a hill and round a blind bend. Should another car come along in the opposite direction, well that’s OK. You can just pull in, right in front of another car, causing everyone to brake sharply.
Then there is the beeping of the horn. Used mainly to let the vehicles around you know that you’re there. Nothing wrong with that, except in the UK, we only use our horns if we’re angry with someone. So quite the change for me!
What is the main religion here? I’ve seen as many churches as I have temples and giant statues of Buddha.
Around 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhists and the other 30% are made up of mainly Hindu’s, Muslims and Catholics.
I’ve seen quite a few cows, are they sacred here, like they are in India?
The simple answer to this is Yes and the complicated answer, is, well, complicated. But take it from me, if you’re driving across Sri Lanka, you’ll be seeing a lot of them!
We stopped at a restaurant that had a sign out front saying ‘hotel’ but it wasn’t a hotel – explain please.
From what I can gather historically the restaurants had guest houses attached to them. So people would be able to get something to eat and then have a place to stay. That seems to have stuck and even though a lot of the guest houses have gone, the term hotel is still commonly used for what most of us would call a restaurant.
Why does so much of the farm land look like it has been burnt?
It seems this is a common agricultural practice called Slash and Burn (not something I’ve really stumbled across in London or Dubai). Where the natural vegetation is cut down and burned as a method of clearing the land ready to plant crops.
So there you have it. Sri Lanka is an incredible place (more coming on Trincomalee soon) and I will definitely be back 🙂