A Voyage of Discovery through an Island of Courage

by Venkatesh Parameswaran (India)

Making a local connection Sri Lanka


“Parakrama” -- Bandula gave me a new Sri Lankan name, as he drove us up the Knuckles Mountain near the city of Kandy. Imagine my thrill to be named after this great Sinhala king, who unified the whole of ancient Sri Lanka under one rule. The word ‘Parakrama’ means courage. This is what kept me going on my dream trip to Sri Lanka. I had intended it as a family trip in 2018, but my parents refused to come along. The next opportunity came in February 2019, but I ended up fracturing my left elbow soon after booking my flights. Strangely, the doctor gave me the courage to make the trip. And courage is what Bandula displayed that afternoon as he navigated his car on a narrow hill path through heavy rains that blinded the view ahead. The conditions were wet and rough. It would have been easy to give up on the plan to trek the Knuckles Mountain. Instead, Bandula voluntarily started walking with me, which gave me the confidence to complete the trek. Later, the soft-spoken Bandula shared how he had won a tough human rights case against his former employer in the Middle East before returning to his homeland Sri Lanka. It left me wondering what gave people like Bandula such mental strength. Along the way, I met some foreign tourists whose travels in Sri Lanka helped them accomplish a life goal, overcome a fear, or live their passion. A German girl I met in Colombo told me that by volunteering in Sri Lanka she proved to her family that she could stay independently outside Europe. A Norwegian lady I sat with on a train to Nuwara Eliya said that living in Sri Lanka encouraged her to follow her dream of working as a turtle conservationist. A young French couple I chatted with in the tea gardens of Ella were grateful that Sri Lanka inspired them to plan their first ever family trip with their kids. An elderly English man I stumbled upon while strolling through Horton Plains said that Sri Lanka provided a great opportunity for him to spend quality time with his wife. My own ‘aha’ moment happened at Kataragama, an ancient temple complex revered by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and indigenous tribes. Experiencing a prayer ceremony here opened my mind to the possibility of world peace through a confluence of religions. History reveals that the path to peace requires great courage. After a long-fought war, the Indian king Ashoka renounced violence and sent his daughter Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka to spread Buddhism. In those days, for a woman to undertake an arduous journey by sea was a miracle. She brought with her a branch of the Bodhi Tree under which Buddha himself had attained enlightenment. That branch has since grown into the oldest Bodhi Tree in Sri Lanka in the city of Anuradhapura. People from across the world come there just to bow down before the tree. As I joined them in their quiet walk round the tree, I could feel their determination to follow the path of Buddha. It is said that Buddha himself visited Sri Lanka three times. I must confess -- my first trip to Sri Lanka was to tick off a bucket list. But, Sri Lanka as a country is far too culturally rich and naturally beautiful to experience in a single visit. So, what might inspire my second visit to Sri Lanka? A Chinese traveller told me that he came to Sri Lanka to escape the crowded cities in China. Coming from India, this could be a perfect excuse for me as well. A Swedish couple I met on my flight to Colombo said they came to Sri Lanka just to relax on the gorgeous beaches. Being a sea lover, even I would jump at such an opportunity. One person I fondly remember meeting in Sri Lanka is the Santa Claus of Finland. Yes, you heard this right. This now-retired Finnish gentleman is actually paid by his country’s airlines to be a brand ambassador by dressing up as Santa Claus. With my new Sri Lankan name, Bandula might fancy my chances of dressing up as the great Sinhala king Parakrama.