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Photo Essay: Sweet, Sweet Sri Lanka

We recently had the chance to spend two weeks in Sri Lanka. Known long ago as Serendib, more recently as Ceylon, and colloquially as the pearl of the Indian Ocean, this beautiful country offers quite a lot to do, particularly with only fourteen days, so our schedule was packed. Between relaxing on the beach, hiking in the central highlands, whale-watching, going on an elephant safari, eating (and cooking!) delicious curries, taking what is regarded by many as "the most beautiful train ride in the world," soaking in the ancient history, and exploring the bucolic countryside by motorcycle, this idyllic island nation appears to teem with excitement and activity at every corner.

We explored ancient cave temples carved into a mountain, summited the 5th century palace of a patricidal king, hung out the door of a speeding train over roaring waterfalls and endless valleys, climbed up 800 stairs of doom to an empty Buddhist temple overlooking a dramatic sunset, and contemplated the Indian Ocean from a breathtaking mansion-cum-hotel built on a cliff. Between all of these adventures, we were able to haggle with our fair share of tuk tuk drivers, fix a broken-down motorcycle with the help of some generous locals, keep our wits about us behind quasi-suicidal bus drivers, and read a bit about the history of the diverse nation in the process. I hope you enjoy the pictures of this all too brief journey in sweet, sweet Sri Lanka.

Galle - Sri Lanka is an aesthetically pleasing country; not only in the colorful saris the women wear, but also in the manner they hold their umbrellas to shield from the sun.

Galle - You can't tell from the frame, but this picture was taken at an incredibly busy intersection near the train station; however, I only had to wait a few minutes to capture the frame I had in mind.

Ella - Pictured here is the famed Nine Arch Bridge, built by the British when Sri Lanka was still known as Ceylon. It is a fine example of British railway construction and engineering, and is surrounded by elegant tea fields (tea is Sri Lanka's number one export). Shortly before taking this shot, I looked down in horror to find two small leeches stuck between my toes.

Ella - Right around the Nine Arch Bridge were several tuk tuk drivers killing time. This man is one of them. He is chewing betel, a red leaf that is often mixed with tobacco popular in South Asia, that, when chewed, gives a sort of a buzz, and when spat out, marks a deep red stain on the pavement. For this reason, it is illegal in many countries, but evidently not in Sri Lanka.

Kandy to Ella train ride - Many will swear this is the world's most beautiful train ride, and despite my limited train experience, I can say it would be hard to argue with that. Speeding over steep mountain passes, endless valleys, rolling hills of tea fields, and mighty bridges over roaring waterfalls, the locomotive journey from one town to the next is a real treat. Seldom does a six-hour commute generate so much excitement!

Kandy - Tuk tuks, or rickshaws, are ubiquitous in Sri Lanka, and part of the every day scenery. It gives a sort of romantically retro feel to the roads, but you must be careful to not get ripped off by some of the more brazen drivers.

Sadly, street dogs are also ubiquitous. There is a law in Sri Lanka that prohibits spaying and neutering, and also prohibits putting dogs to sleep. The result is lots and lots of furry friends running around, many of which are in poor health.

Have I mentioned that I love the trains in Sri Lanka? The open doors gives you ample opportunity to enjoy the wind in your face and take in the breathtaking landscapes.

Somewhere between Kandy and Colombo - Women in saris waiting for their train. Sri Lanka is mostly Buddhist, but has sizable Hindu and Muslim minorities. It was interesting to compare the dress of the Hindu women (colorful saris, wild designs, and openings at the shoulders and bellies) with their Muslim counterparts (shapeless and somber black coverings). A peacock next to a crow might be a comparable sight.

Dambulla - Another man with beautiful features, another portrait! There is a space to take off your shoes at the Dambulla Cave Temples, and it costs 50 rupiah (about $0.33) to store your shoes. This man was kind enough to let me take his picture, despite the crowd of tourists and thieving monkeys around us.

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