Monday, November 25, 2013

Travel Monday: A visit to the ancient citadel of Yapahuwa

A few years ago I had the good fortune to accompany a group of friends to visit the ancient citadel of Yapahuwa. Yapahuwa is located between Kurunegala and Anuradhapura about four kilometres from the nearest town of Maho. Historically, Yapahuwa was once the ancient capital of Sri Lanka and home to the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha during the reign of King Bhuvenakabahu (1273 to 1284).

At the time I was a little uneducated about the history of Sri Lanka. This can be defended as both a good or bad thing. Good because you can visit and observe (or experience it) with fresh eyes and no filters. And bad because you lack the information necessary to fully comprehend the historical and cultural significance of what you're visiting.

On my first ever holiday to Sri Lanka and also in my first year of living in Sri Lanka, I hadn't read a great deal on Sri Lanka, its history and culture. So when I visited many places in my early travels, I literally experienced both the good and bad. I was uneducated and relied heavily on the kindness of friends and fellow travellers to inform me. In hindsight, I wished I had "read up" or acquired knowledge to appreciate the history and culture as I visited those places. That said, I still enjoyed my travels.

Friday, November 15, 2013

An attempt at sugar detox in Sri Lanka

A few months back I made an attempt at trying a sugar detox diet. Some of you who follow me on twitter remember my moans and groans as I gave up sugar, carbohydrates, sweets etc. for three weeks. It was a definite challenge, especially living in a country like Sri Lanka where sugar is almost like its own dietary food group! Do you remember my blog post My Sri Lankan Food Diary - Just an average week of eating? Well, see my write up on "Thursday" and my little sweet note on sugar intake (or maybe it's more like addiction) in Sri Lanka lol

The average diet for Sri Lankan families has the food staples of rice and curry, tropical fruits, pastries or shorteats and sweets. I've become quite accustomed to this kind of diet over the past few years, though I've added my own favorite British and European dishes into the dietary mix. One of the things I recognized early on with the changes in my diet, was the requirement to either reduce my food portions or include a good exercise routine to burn the calories.

My intention in trying the sugar detox was primarily associated with cleansing the body of toxins as well as giving myself a break from the sweet stuff. However, I actually learnt a whole lot more about dietary food groups, lifestyle, food preparation, sleep quality and much more from the experience. It was challenging to attempt the sugar detox because a lot of the meals served by my friends, colleagues and at local establishments contained a lot of sugar or carbohydrates which convert to sugar.

For example, items you would take for granted in everyday meals, such as rice, bread, potatoes, noodles, pasta... could not be included in meal plans during the sugar detox. Do you know how hard that is? Suffice it to say, I eventually realized after a couple of days, I cooked many of my meals at home and had to reduce my visits to have dinner at friends' houses during this time. Yeah, I'm not the sort of person to dictate the meal plan and/or my dietary "issues" to people kind enough to invite me over. It's a surefire way to ensure you are never invited back for a meal again!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Travel Monday: Pilgrimage to Kataragama

Kataragama is located in the south-east of the island about 230km from Colombo. It is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka and holds significance for Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. The town itself is relatively small in size but receives visitors and pilgrims throughout the year. Hindus make offerings and request blessings at the Maha Devale (or temple) which is dedicated to Kataragama Deva, while Buddhists primarily visit the ancient Kirivehera dagoba (though they are also known to visit the Maha Devale as they believe Kataragama Deva is a guardian deity of Buddhism in Sri Lanka), 500m north of the Hindu temple. I've heard Muslims associate Kataragama town with the prophet Moses and visit the Khizr Takya mosque located within the sacred area.

The most popular time of the year to visit Kataragama, and also the time for the most crowds (!!!), is during the Esala full moon period (July/August). Thousands of pilgrims make their journey to Kataragama, particularly to the Maha Devale to participate and celebrate the Kataragama Festival. During this time period you will observe pilgrims coming to perform penance for sins - sometimes you'll witness people going into a trance, undertaking scenes of self mutilation, fire walking and water cutting ceremonies and more.

There is also an ancient tradition, known as the Kataragama Pada Yatra, where pilgrims make a two month journey by foot from Jaffna, in the far north of the island, down the east coast to Kataragama. Pilgrims undertake this annual journey with an intention for purification and travel very simply on this journey. More information on this ancient tradition can be found at this website.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Handy tips for making the "big move" to live long-term in Sri Lanka

The most popular question I receive by email from foreign expats is about moving to Sri Lanka to live permanently or medium to longer term. I can still recall the myriad of emotions with my own impending move to Sri Lanka almost six years ago. It ranged from feelings of anticipation, excitement, fear, anxiety, expectation and more. 

One could liken some of it to going on holidays to some exotic and far off foreign country and stepping off a plane and feeling lost in a new culture and place. Except, in this case, the huge difference is you're not on holidays, but settling into a new country for the long haul. And for all intents and purposes, it is a daunting experience as you won't have your usual safety net (i.e. family, friends, colleagues and environment) to provide support and security. However, the leap of faith certainly presents different opportunities and challenges if you're up for it...

The feeling of anticipation and excitement usually comes from an inherent sense of adventure, and a gravitational pull towards all things new and shiny. This expands to feelings of optimism and discovery - an openness to embrace new things, places, people and culture. For me, these are all really positive qualities, because if you didn't have these, you'd never feel the compunction to leave the place where you're currently living. You'd convince yourself it'd be far easier and more comfortable to stay put and never seek out anything more. I always believe the hard work you put in to move countries pays off when you realize the opportunities to grow, change, embrace, learn and tolerate. It's a truly beautiful experience…

In a similar fashion, anxiety, fear and doubt stem from leaving what you know and leaping into the unknown. This is particularly heightened when moving to a foreign country where the people, culture and language are completely different to what you're familiar with. There is nothing wrong per se with these feelings. It's natural for them to arise. Essentially, it all comes down to how you deal with these feelings and all the changes that arise with the move. My view is to take these feelings and transmute them so you utilize the energy to get things done. And, remember to take one day at a time.

I have a few handy tips for the move to Sri Lanka. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but offers up some gems from my own personal experience (and some from my expat friends in Sri Lanka).