As of today we have completed our programs in India and Sri Lanka and are enjoying a much needed off day in Mumbai before heading to Bangladesh.
The differences between India and Sri Lanka are surprisingly stark. This was evident from the window of the plane before we even landed in Columbo. Sri Lanka has managed to preserve much of the natural beauty of its land and does not seem nearly as overcrowded as India. This has a strong effect on daily life. India, at least in the cities we visited, was one frenetic struggle after another to outrace or outhussel the next guy. This was quite taxing even in the short time we were there. Everyone you encounter is grabbing your luggage from you trying to earn a tip, selling you junk on the side of the road, or offering you an insider’s tour of whatever you happen to be staring at (always as a gesture of goodwill at first, and then only later revealed to have been for an exorbitant fee). This freneticism was only compounded by the unrelentless heat and humidity, incessant traffic, and enormous swarms of people everywhere you go.
In Sri Lanka the pace is slower, the traffic sparser, and the aggressiveness much toned down. We noticed especially in the children at the clinics a reluctance to speak or participate at all which was quite a far cry from the aggressive tone that pervades Indian culture. This slower pace was much appreciated after the first week and a half of the tour. This is not to say that Sri Lanka is some kind of idyllic paradise. All along the streets we saw trash piles on the ground, often accompanied by groups of cows grazing over them. We also saw a large stretch of barren land along the coast on the drive to Galle that had been devastated by the tsunami of 2004, still yet to be rebuilt almost 6 years later.
However the visual highlight of the tour for me so far was the Lighthouse Hotel in Galle, situated above a bluff of rocks overlooking the ocean. Here the sound of waves against the rocks is a constant soundtrack to the views from the balcony of endless ocean. It’s the kind of place you can just sit and stare and completely lose track of time, which was the perfect prescription after the freneticism of that first stretch in India.