Sri Lanka | Finding Eelam

The landscape burns out and flattens the farther north you travel. The rolling hills of lower tea country turn to shallow wetlands and the ancient cities crumble into nothingness as the train travels on its long slow route out and away from Colombo. The sun shines golden and harsh. The trees are a pale green.

On the Jaffna Peninsula the light refracts off the dusty streets and shallow blue waters, scattering and illuminating. It’s a strange land, far removed from the more touristed corners of Sri Lanka. The civil war that raged between the military and the Tamil Tigers for over 25 years decimated the economy and the population and the countrysides and for decades Jaffna was little more than the forgotten homeland of the few. Buildings crumbled. Time passed. Life found its way.

This trip was little more than a research mission wedged between a vacation in tea country and a job in southern India. I wanted to see what the landscape looked like 10 years after the end of the war. Earlier, our train ride to Ella was packed with backpackers with little room to stand or sit. The ride to Jaffna was comparatively empty and had no more than a handful of westerners on board at any given time. It felt like traveling to the edge of the known world. In a way it was.

I saw the fabled Elephant Pass and Hindu temples built on the sandy shores of small islands, their caretakers stewing lentils in large pots as the waves crashed behind them. I met worshippers at Nallur Kandaswamy temple, fishermen steering their boats home in Palk Bay. Musicians and families and friendly old men in Point Pedro. Shopkeepers and cricket players in the town center. Lovers and soldiers haunting the more shadowed corners of the fort. The ocean-fed waters of Keerimalai Springs.

The whole of the Jaffna Peninsula is a magical place. Still recovering from a generation of carnage, but like all places that have seen terrible years and terrible rulers and terrible saviors, the air there is of optimism and peace, not of war’s wreckage and exhaustion. It’s a flat and sunburnt land and its golden and harsh light does shine brightest. Thus.

In the Hills of Sri Lanka

From the verdant hillsides and rolling tea plantations of Ella and beyond to the temples and lakes and busy streets of Kandy, there isn’t much about this part of Sri Lanka that hasn’t been written about before. I was lucky enough to have some time for a quick stopover earlier this year on my way to an assignment in southern India. These tourist trails are well-worn and at times a bit worse for wear, but the overall sensation of being in the mountains is still overwhelmingly positive. The air is cooler in tea country and the sun just a bit more golden in the early hours when it crests over the distant horizon. It’s almost enough to make you forget about the 8-10 hour standing room only train ride up from Colombo.

This isn’t much of a narrative post. There are plenty of other blogs that can tell you about how to travel in Kandy and Sri Lanka. It’s an incredible country, but one that defies easy description, even in its most innocuous and traveler friendly form. So in lieu of any grand statements or ponderous observations, I’ll leave you few viewers with a few photographs from the trip. The world is a beautiful place, and I’ve always had an easier time of showing than describing it.

Travel Photographs | Galle, Sri Lanka

Here are some photographs from a recent trip to Galle, Sri Lanka. It was an amazing time. The country is ridiculously beautiful and the people are crazy friendly. Except for the ones that kept trying to saddle up next to my fiance on the fort walls. But really kind of even them, in all of their misguided faltering and fumbling.

It was a quick trip. A vacation after attending our friends’ wedding in India. We arrived in Colombo at midnight, and left first thing in the morning on the train for Galle. I was walking around the station when the train started to pull out about 45 minutes ahead of schedule, so my first foray into traveling in Sri Lanka involved dashing across two rail lines and pulling myself into a moving car. And it all went uphill from there. Cliff jumpers, rooftop restaurants, men buried in sand, fully-clothed children stepping into the ocean, birds on wires, really big trees, fresh seafood on the beach, curry shops, sing-a-longs, beach-side hotel rooms, tsunami warnings, motorbike rides, and more. All in a few quick days. So yeah. Here are some pictures. I can’t wait to go back.