Malaysian family takes last flight home before lockdown in Sri Lanka

The writer dubbed her family tour group ‘Cinnamon Hunters’ after they went on a hunt for the spice. — Photos: HARBANS KAUR

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I enjoy travelling to different countries to learn and experience new cultures. Seeing the world from the television or pictures is just not the same as experiencing it yourself.

Some time towards the end of 2019, my aunt asked me to plan for a family trip to Sri Lanka; we decided to go during the school holidays in March the next year.

There were 14 of us in the group. I took care of getting a tour agent and planning the itinerary while my aunt’s sister-in-law, Pammi, booked all our flights.

This was the first time I would be travelling with relatives – uncles, aunts, cousins and in laws. All of us were from different backgrounds and we did not seem to have much in common.

We left on March 13, a few days before the movement control order came into effect (March 18). Initially, some had thought about pulling out of the trip, but in the end everyone decided to just go along with the plan. However, one person ended up not joining because her leave was cancelled at the very last minute.

Even though we were worried about the Covid-19 situation, everyone was still excited about the holiday. So much so that we were behaving like giddy schoolchildren, when in fact, the youngest in our group was actually 50!

Our tourist guide welcomed us at Colombo Airport and took us to our hotel at Katunayake. We were lucky to see a beautiful couple taking wedding photos around the hotel. My husband and I even posed for a photo with them and wished them all the best. This was definitely not in our itinerary.

Inside the Gurdwaras the writer and her family visited in Colombo last year.Inside the Gurdwaras the writer and her family visited in Colombo last year.We also stayed at a lake hotel in Dambulla, something that none of us had experienced before. And since all our rooms were near one another, we felt like we were staying in a small village.

We made a trip to a tea plantation and factory, which proved to be an eye opener for us as we learnt so much about the different types of tea available. All of us became instant tea lovers after watching the whole process of processing tea leaves.

The next day we went on a train ride that went past the beautiful tea plantation, and visited a Buddhist Temple. It took quite a bit of energy to walk up the steep steps that led to the temple, which not everyone in the group was able to do.

But for those of us who did manage, we listened intently as our tour guide talked about the temple’s historical background.

We later visited a herb garden and attended a short talk about the benefits of the various herbs we saw. Everyone enjoyed this very much because it was so interesting and educational.

After learning all about herbs, some of us decided to go on a cinnamon hunting spree – I cheekily named the group “Cinnamon Hunters”. It wasn’t that easy to find the spice by then as most of the shops had closed because of Covid-19.

A cultural show that was on our itinerary was also cancelled to prevent the spread of Covid-19, which, by then was a worrying global problem.

We were anxious to return to Malaysia but still continued with our trip as we only had a couple more days left in Sri Lanka.

We went on bullock carts and then on a boat to visit a village to savour some local delicacies and learn about their way of life. The boatman showed us how to make a necklace using a water lily which he picked from the river. He made necklaces for all the women on the boat.

On our last day, we stopped by a Gurudwara to pray for our safe journey home. The tour guide and driver joined us in our prayer as they were just told that they would need to be quarantined for two weeks after sending us off.

Our prayers must have worked because our flight to Malaysia was the last one to get out of Colombo before the lockdown began in Sri Lanka. Many flights were either cancelled or postponed after that.

We had a pleasant trip even though we did not manage to see or experience everything on our itinerary. But that just makes me want to go back to Sri Lanka for another visit in the future, when it is finally safe to do so.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.

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