Can you believe that August is already coming to an end? Since my last post earlier this month, I had one of my most adventurous trips so far. I experienced Sri Lanka, the home country of one of my best friends and roommates from college. It was my first time visiting Southeast Asia, and I had an eye-opening cultural experience in Qatar for a layover on my way to Sri Lanka.
The main purpose of my eastbound journey was attend my friend, Chami’s wedding in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which was held in the Sri Lankan Buddhist tradition. My college roommates and I used to imagine going to Sri Lanka for this wedding, and it seemed surreal that it was actually happening when I arrived.
Little did I know that the wedding would also include an incredible itinerary, which I wanted to pass along to you in case you would like to visit Sri Lanka one day.
Before the majority of the wedding guests arrived, my friend, Stacey, and I stayed in a modern, hip hotel called Cinnamon Red in the center of Colombo. We tried traditional Sri Lankan food, including Hoppers, Pol Sambola, Kottu, and Curries at Kaema Sutra with the bride and groom. The cuisine was exciting to try because we had to use our hands rather than utensils and enjoyed flavors and spices unfamiliar to our taste buds. We shopped at the popular Odel mall and experienced glorious foot massages recommended by the groom. We also spent time relaxing at the Cinnamon Red rooftop infinity pool overlooking the Indian Ocean and even had the motivation to go to the rooftop gym because of the spectacular views! We enjoyed our first evening at the Bathiya and Santhush concert, which Chami described as the Backstreet Boys of Sri Lanka. Stacey and I were likely the only non-Sri Lankans there, which was definitely an out of body experience. I was reminded, though, that music is a unifying force and I very much felt like part of the crowd while at the concert.
Over the weekend, we traveled to Negombo for lunch and a beach visit. The beach looked exactly like your desktop background, with palm trees swaying in the breeze, golden sand, and waves of the Indian Ocean crashing. While swimming in the ocean wasn’t safe at the time, I did dip my toes in the water and it was surprisingly warm. Stacey, Chami and I ended up crashing the groom’s bachelor party, which was an interesting way for us to see the party scene and try the local drinks. Balancing out my mantra, I had the fascinating experience of visiting my first Buddhist temple, Gangaramaya. I entered barefoot in all white clothing and was greeted by a friendly regular who offered to give me a tour and explain the history. A few words were lost in translation, but I was grateful to learn about the temple from the perspective of a local.
I also did a solo trip to an astrologist, which was one of the best fortune telling experiences I’ve ever had in an exotic and tropical small town outside of Colombo. The astrologist reviewed my horoscope, my life trajectory, and my compatibility with my boyfriend. I was happy to learn that all insights affirmed what I have envisioned for my life and there were no surprises or deterrents. I hope that the astrologist is right! He also recommended that I wear a yellow sapphire on my left pointer finger to promote good things happening in my life – if you know of any good places to buy a reasonably priced yellow sapphire ring, please let me know!
Once the wedding guests arrived, we had an incredible guide and bus which quickly became called the “American bus.” We took a long trek to Minneriya, the famous safari park with dozens of elephants, birds, insects, and other safari animals scattered around marshes and green mountains in the distance. We experienced the safari by Jeep, which was such an adventurous way to explore, care free with our hair blowing in the wind and all smiles as we were all getting to know each other and preparing for the week ahead. We spent our evening at the Habarana Village, which was a series of bungalows in the middle of the wilderness, with a beautiful pool and marsh in the distance.
Our next day was action-packed. We spent the morning climbing over 1,200 steps to visit Sigiriya, an ancient Sri Lankan village which is now a World Heritage Site with amazing views of nature in the distance. We then traveled to the Kandy City Centre to visit the bride’s family’s mall. It was so fun to be able to explore the mall freely and try the most extravagant food court I’ve ever seen. Kandy was incredibly busy because of the famous Perahera Festival in honor of the Buddhist tooth relic. Our tour group walked through the streets where the parade was going to take place (we felt like part of the parade!) in order to visit the Tooth Relic Temple. We were amazed to see elephants outside the temple who were waiting to be dressed for the parade. We spent the evening watching the Perahera Festival from a balcony overlooking the street, and enjoyed traditional music and dance performances, and elephants dressed elegantly with lights and tapestries. I began to feel like a local watching the festival that is so sacred to the Sri Lankans and enjoying traditional Sri Lankan cuisine with the bride’s family. We had a very late evening before returning to Colombo to begin the wedding festivities.
Chami’s wedding celebration was one that I will never forget. The day before the wedding, the close friends and family were invited to the Chami’s family’s home to watch the Buddhist wedding blessing and enjoy a homemade dinner. This likely became my favorite experience of the trip because I was able to truly understand and be part of the spiritual union of my two close friends. The monks were very friendly, helping the bride translate the blessing into English for many of the guests to understand. They asked us to all hold one string at the same time while they chanted, which was a strong symbol of unity and love that made me feel the power of the Buddhist philosophy. The monks placed string bracelets on all of us (which I am still wearing over a week later!) and encouraged us to try holy water. After the blessing we spent time on the family’s complex rooftop patio, again with beautiful views of Colombo and refreshing cocktails. For dinner, there were live chefs cooking Sri Lankan dishes to order. I had so much fun meeting the bride and groom’s family and friends and learning about the local life in Sri Lanka.
On the wedding day, I had a blast with the American girls getting my hair and makeup done and having a designer help me put on my first sari. I had no idea what to expect and was so happy with the results. Wearing a sari was surprisingly comfortable (except for having to “disrobe” in the bathroom) and I felt like royalty. Speaking of royalty, the true royalty of the day was the bride and groom. Chami was dressed in gorgeous gold jewelry over her stunning white dress, and the groom wore a handsome gold suit in the Kandy tradition. The wedding was outside, with a beautiful flower-covered trellis, a choir, and adorable photos and signs greeting the guests. My friend Stacey and I had the exciting experience of carrying the wedding ceremony gifts down the aisle. We were surrounded by Kandy drummers and greeted with tropical drinks. The ceremony was delivered in Sinhala, so we couldn’t understand the literal meanings of the words, but we could see and feel the spiritual meanings of the blessings. The reception was out of this world as well. We had dinner options representing cuisines from around the world, the largest dessert room I have ever seen, a 30-person orchestra, and a DJ for entertainment. We had so much fun soaking in every moment, watching the gorgeous newly married couple, and dancing to a blend of Sri Lankan and American hits. It was a night that will go down in my personal history as one of the most unique, exciting and fun experiences I’ve ever had.
On our last day, Stacey and I joined some of the other Americans at the Colombo bazaar, which was jam-packed with shops, signs, cars, and a beautiful red mosque. It was very interesting for me to visit a mosque for the first time and I was warmly welcomed by those in the mosque. I also purchased a few souvenirs, including elephant pants and teas to share with friends and family. I spent the rest of the day by the pool, watching the sunset, and enjoying one last oceanside meal before heading to the airport at midnight.
Combining these experiences, I am reminded of the importance of living and traveling with an open mind and an open heart. I experienced a part of the world that was incredibly foreign to me, but I was eager to learn, see, listen, taste, and feel. I was grateful to learn more about Chami’s heritage and to understand traditions like Buddhism that are so fascinating to me. I strongly suggest all of you to go out of your comfort zone in your travels and experience wonderful places like Sri Lanka.