Sri Lanka – More Than a Surf TripPoint Breaks, People, Paradise

Max Hepworth-Povey


3 months ago in Sri Lanka

I’ve always appreciated the beauty of Sri Lanka, loved the waves and adored the food, this trifecta of qualities made up the Sri Lanka I knew. But over the years I have come to realise that this incredible country has a rare well-roundedness, which is unique to itself, as well as one particular special ingredient that makes it a very special place indeed…

Sri Lanka stimulates all the senses. You will have heard of the palm-fringed beaches and waves breaking over coral reefs, with blue whales and humpbacks playing offshore. You will have seen on your screens the vintage railway lines snaking their way through vividly green jungle home to leopards, elephants and more birds than Bill Oddy would be able to remember. Yogis flock to the peaceful paradise to countless studios that look like they’ve come straight from a pinterest board, foodies will have their minds blown by spicy rice and curry and the frugal travellers will rehydrate with a smile taking refreshment from an king coconut for approximately 20p.

Nine arches bridge, built in 1921 and still going strong

The visual feasts for the eyes in the form of majestic Buddhist stupas, flashy Hindu temples and sleek Muslim mosques, encompass millions of Sri Lankans following multiple religions together in harmony. This creates a culture like no other and it’s this melting pot of people and their compassion, kindness and seemingly permanent toothy smiles which make ‘Ceylon’ like no other island on the planet.

Kelum our local surf coach, fisherman, handyman, guide, all round legend

From the kindness you receive as soon as you step foot in the airport, it’s hard to imagine that the country is recovering from one of the most bloody civil wars in recent history and visually bears the scars. From 1983 until 2009, the war between the Tamil Tigers (wanting to gain independence for the Hindu Tamil-speaking population) and the Sri Lankan (mostly) Sinhalese military both ravaged the island, killing over 100,000 civilians, 50,000 soldiers, whilst literally tearing cities and towns to bits. There was also a massive tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004, which killed over 30,000, ruining most of the south west, south and east coastline. But despite these hardships, the people remain overwhelmingly friendly wherever your travels take you, are eager to chat about life, your family, their family, your plans, your country and your impressions of Sri Lanka. They’re proud ambassadors of their fragile country, for good reason and I think we can learn a lot from their outlook on life.

Nafil, our Tamil Tuk Tuk Driver in Arugam Bay

We have just wrapped up our final Sri Lanka tour for the season, ending in the Hill Country where we essentially went on a week long cultural bender. One of the experiences is a tour of the famous ‘Temple of the Tooth’ in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy, which houses the relic of the tooth of the Buddha. It’s the equivalent of a Christian worshipping in Jerusalem or a Muslim making the pilgrimage to mecca.

One of many Buddah statues in the temple

Normally we skip the assistance of a guide, as the temple’s features are quite self-explanatory, but as I was rounding the crew together mentally preparing for the shoot from the hip’esque Hepworth excursion, I was approached by a small man in modest Buddhist attire who offered his services.

He made such a faint presence, it was like being in the room with a feather and he glowed kindness and honesty.

The tour itself was awe-inspiring with carefully presented, fascinating facts, leaving me contemplating the life of a monk. It was only at the end that I realised that everyone else was touched by this beautiful soul as the group all asked for a picture with our host, who then very casually asked us if we would like to see a photo of him and the Queen, whom he chauffeured on the exact same tour 35 years ago. Now we were all totally impressed, but this wasn’t his intention and when asked how he was so happy, he simply replied “meditation is my medication”.

A few days later I was driving my tuk tuk to a little secret spot on the SW Coast to get my daily handful of waves, when I happened to notice a calm looking older gentleman sitting on a rock with perfect posture, peering out to sea.

Being a moderately devoted yogi in training and meditator in the making I was impressed by this mans stillness and thought to myself how clear this guys conscience must be, before my thoughts then trailed off onto what I was going to eat after my surf, whether my cat misses me, why fish don’t make any noise etc, then I stretched, surfed, had a coconut and headed back to camp.

I’d completely forgotten about the old man until I drove past him, in exactly the same spot, at least two and a half hours later, with the same neither concentrating nor lazy gaze sitting as still as a statue. I was thrown off my trail of thought at the time, stared for a little too long nearly crashing into a bus before snapping back into reality physically and mentally and now think about my unbeknownst personal spiritual guru most days.

Some people may have seen the old man as a bum, or maybe an old lazy local, but I took something very different from this small encounter of which he has no knowledge and came to the conclusion that in the Western World we are in fact the lazy ones.

An old man contently gazing to nothing

Western laziness consists of cramming our lives with so much compulsive activity, so that there is no time to confront reality, our true self. We will rush to our yin yoga class to be mindful, read the Power of Now whilst eating our Waitrose vegan dhal and like the Dalai Lama’s instagram posts whilst on the toilet. But without our familiar props and compulsions, we are faced with just ourselves, a person we do not know, an un-nerving stranger with whom we have been living our whole lives, but have never truly met.

Bringing this fable to some relevance, these short encounters acted as a catalyst opening my eyes to the true beauty of Sri Lanka; the people, who have to be experienced to be understood.

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