I often think of what to wear when I visit a new country. Being from India I would admit I am not very adventurous when it comes to dressing and in many places of the world I will pass off easily as moderately dressed. I did not bother too much before visiting Sri Lanka as I thought they would be quite similar to us and I was right in a way.
Sri Lankan Sari
This is the Sri Lankan saree and a lot of shop assistants on the airport wear it. I requested this lovely woman to pose for me as I wanted to click her lovely dress as well. Now this looks quite similar to our Indian sari Of course women in Sri Lanka wear the sari the way we do as well.
A Women in a Jeans and a Shirt at Matara, Sri Lanka
I clicked this picture at Matara at Sri Lanka but this could have been anywhere in India too. And it that sense I was right that women dress quite similarly to us Indians in Sri Lanka too.
Women in Galle, Sri Lanka
And this was from our walk at the fort ramparts at Galle and once again salwar kurta and sari are very common Indian dresses too.
A Local Couple at Matara, Sri Lanka
But then there are some differences too. I thought a lot more women and women of all age wear skirts in Sri Lanka than I have seen in India. This is not to say that Indian women do not wear skirts but I have not seen too many people in their 50s or later wearing skirts in India barring say in some North East states.
A Woman with a Surf Board at Mirissa Beach, Sri Lanka
But the biggest difference between India and Sri Lanka was about the women on the beach. A lot of tourists wear bikini on the beach and they were left alone. I don’t think I can say the same for Indian beaches. I have seen women in bikinis in Goa and to some extent in Andaman too but they got a lot of attention, most of it unwanted too.
My nephew and I also noticed that the local people seldom visited the same part of the beach as the tourists. We were quite mystified by this as well. So I asked a young tuktuk driver that how did Sri Lanka (I can vouch for only the beaches I saw and that was Mirissa and Unawatuna beach. Matara had no tourist on the beach, there were only locals and no one, absolutely no, was wearing a bikini) managed to keep its beaches hassle free for women? How come the locals did not come to the same places as tourists even though there were loads of women going around in bikini? He told me that the shack owners severely discouraged locals to come and loiter around or cause trouble for women. They could of course come but they were not welcome to sit idle and harass women. He also said locals around Unawatuna and such places see women in Bikinis since they are babies and hence they get used to it. But otherwise loud behavior is discouraged on the tourist beaches so that they keep coming to Sri Lanka.
This explanation is based on one person account but I can certainly say that I thought women were left alone on the Sri Lankan beaches generally. I did not witness a single unpleasant incident in my entire stay. And I thought that was remarkable!
I was intrigued by the pictures of stilt (also known as stick) fishing I saw before leaving for Unawatuna in Sri Lanka. Watching stilt fishing was surely on my agenda . On our second day we decided to head to Mirissa beach. When we saw Stilt Fishing near Koggala we asked our tuktuk driver to stop. I have recounted that experience in detail in another post (linked above).
On our last day in Unawatuna my nephew wanted to laze around on the beach and I was in two minds. Half of me wanted to go back to the stick fishing area and click the activity at sunset and the other half told me to forget it as I had already done it. Then I asked myself a critical question, “would I regret it later if I did not try to click it at sunset?” The answer to my own question was an unequivocal yes. So my nephew went to the beach and played football and I went in search of stilt fishermen again!
We stayed at the Thaproban Beach House and a few tuktuk drivers would always hang around our hotel. We got quite friendly with them during our stay. One of them drove me to the area. There were 4 fishermen near Koggala and when we stopped our tuktuk, the driver was once again quite apologetic saying they would ask for money. I told him not to worry, I already knew it and I was prepared to deal with it.
After our first encounter I went on asking around about the reason of the fishermen using sticks. I was told that this way they are sitting like a bird away from the fish and it is easier for them to catch it. I am not sure how true this is but it felt like a reasonable explanation. Then I asked the same question again to a waiter and he said, “it is all for the tourists, small fish do come in some months but these days it is done mostly for the tourists!” Now I was really confused.
I was also told that the stick is made of stout wood and can stay in the water for up to one year without decaying. But after an year it usually needs to be replaced.
So I paid the fisherman on the ground some money again and he let me click pictures of the three fishermen on stilts. I was not getting a good angle from the beach so I decided to enter the water with my camera again! The fisherman on the ground helped we to find my way and I was really thankful to him because I did not wish to take another expensive dip in the water with my camera. And so much so for my resolve for not taking my camera near water again!
While I was taking pictures a pair of tourists came along. I told my fisherman to go and talk to them, I would be fine by myself. That pair of tourists were surprised when they were asked to give money to take pictures. But in the end they did give something.
My fisherman came back again and stood by me. Before going he had pointed a black ugly creature in the water with protruding sharp fins and they were still lurking around. By this time the sun had gone behind the clouds and I told him that I wanted to leave. They also offered that I could go and sit on the stick but I told them I had done that before.
I requested my tuktuk driver to ask a few questions on my behalf as the fishermen didn’t speak much English. But the session didn’t go too well. When I wanted to ask how old was the activity I was told they started in the morning, they took a few hours break at the noon and then came out again in the evening. After a few such attempts I gave up.
In the end the experience did seem to be more for tourists and less about fishing. I also feel we tourist are so crazy about the photographs that the fishermen have sensed a business opportunity and are using it as such.
When I was about to leave they asked me (in a few broken words) if I was from India? When I said yes they asked me what was my age. When I quoted four decades they were quite surprised. Then they asked me if I had kids. I told them I have a daughter. The next question was if my family was around and I said no. My nephew was not there and it would have been a long explanation anyway. They thought I was a weird Indian woman going around without my family!
Will I do this again? For sure I will, the money they asked for was a small amount and they were genuinely concerned about me when I went into the water with my camera. But it did leave me wondering about the impact of tourism. I am not judging it but it has left me wondering for sure!
I never thought exchanging Indian rupees would turn out to be such an adventure in Sri Lanka. I was carrying Indian rupees and some British pounds left over from previous trips to UK. I have a credit card and a debit card that work internationally. I thought this was enough for me to survive in Sri Lanka. I was right on every count except for the ease of changing Indian rupees. I am a little surprised as Indian rupees exchanges favorably with Sri Lankan rupees. You get anywhere from 1.90 to 2.20 Sri Lankan rupees for every Indian rupee.
Our first stop for trying to change the Indian rupees was the Bandarnaike International Airport . My nephew went in search for the hotel taxi that we had booked and I went to exchange money. I casually said, “can I change some Indian rupees?” And I was really surprised when I got to hear, “Sorry ma’am we don’t change Indian rupees, you can change it in the city.” The problem was we were not going to the city but straight to Unawatuna. Then I asked him to change some British pounds and that he readily did.
Galle, Sri Lanka
Galle is a big city near Unawatuna, it is approximately 8.5 kilometers away. We headed there on our second day and we were having a late snack in a restaurant near the fort (which is ruins of the fort actually) area. We asked if we could exchange Indian rupees anywhere in the city? And the young boy who was waiting on our table said he would exchange it but only 5K, they didn’t have more than that at the moment! I was reminded of Shantaram and the illegal money trade in Mumbai but I did went ahead and exchanged the money. We got the rate of 2.20 and I was not complaining.
Then my nephew tried to change the money at the bank at Unawatuna and once again he was told that they would exchange pounds but not Indian rupees! I wonder what was the reason. Informally we were told by many people that the jewellery shops would exchange money. I wonder why this was the case.
Matara, Sri Lanka
Our last try was to try and exchange money at a jewellery shop at Matara, another big city but we once again got a blank. They told us of other places that would exchange Indian rupees but we had money so we did not try any further. In the end my nephew did exchange Indian rupees at a jewellery shop in Unawatuna but overall this made for a strange experience.
I don’t think this would happen in a city like Colombo but it is beyond me that the airport and the bank didn’t exchange Indian rupee when a lot of cars/trucks on the Sri Lankan roads are Indian!
Even though I am a mountain person I do like to take beach vacations as well. In South Sri Lanka we visited three beaches in all. We stayed at Unawatuna and did Mirissa and Matara as day trips. As I prepare to take the connecting flights back home tomorrow, I will leave with images from each of the beaches we visited.
As we stayed here we spent most of the time around Unawatuna. It is a lovely beach which was terribly affected in the tsunami of 2004. If you go to the restaurants they show pictures of the beach and the nearby areas after tsunami and what a horror they are! Tsunami stories are very common here. I saw pictures where buses were lying upside down. But enough about it. Today it is a beautiful beach again which does roaring business.
Mirissa Beach, Sri Lanka
Mirissa is about 30 km from Unawatuna and any tuktuk driver would drop you there. It is quieter beach than Unawatuna. It has one big hotel and rest smaller ones. There are plenty of shacks to eat and almost all of them have sunbeds where you can laze around. I tried reading a book but most of the times I failed. I was happier gazing at the sea than anything else. I saw many beginner surfers at Mirissa.
Matara is a local beach about 40 km away from Unawatuna. It is a beautiful place. It has none of the shacks of Unawatuna and Mirissa. In fact it seems to be very popular with local couples We arrived here mid day and it was blazing hot. Given that there were no places to sit we soon gave up on it. In this picture you do not see the couple’s as they are sitting in the shade of the coconut trees most often with an umbrella in the hand as well.
Tomorrow we head back. How I wish we had time to explore a few more beaches in Sri Lanka. After reaching I am almost immediately heading back to Guwahati and Shillong for work. But somewhere I will find time to tell you detailed stories from Sri Lanka.