When I found myself in Sri Lanka a month ago for a conference for a week, I wasn’t really expecting to get a lot out of it. To be honest.
What I was hoping for was an introduction, a teaser, a reason to come back one day. While this definitely was the case, I was really surprised when I got more than I bargained for with a few beautiful moments and memories to take home with me.
I am already thinking about when I can come back.
One of those moments was when we visited the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. I had zero knowledge of it going in and literally no expectations. Kandy was the last capital of the kings of Sri Lanka, and the temple holds a sacred relic, a tooth from Buddha.
As we piled off the bus and were herded towards the temple under the blazing sun, I started to notice the crowds of dozens of people of all ages dressed in white, pulling their shoes off and making their way inside the temple.
The crowd in white surged forward through the entrance and us bloggers were swept along with them. Here and there the colors of tourist t-shirts shone through the white crowd, but for the most part, it was all local.
Each person carried a flower offering, beautifully arranged petals in their hands, like a pink and purple lotus.
I tried to take in all of the gold and ornaments of the beautiful temple, but was pushed along with the crowd upstairs. We arrived at a beautiful long room intricately decorated with a table sweeping the length of it piled high with the flower offerings facing the shrine.
Everyone passed down the row praying and leaving their flowers, with many seated on the floor praying and moving about.
It was a place of beautiful chaos, and I had no idea what was going on.
I snapped one photo of the table but it felt wrong so I put my camera away. The room was so crowded and everyone brushing shoulders while praying, it didn’t feel right to shove my camera in such an intimate, sacred place.
This will probably be the death of my photography dreams but I don’t care.
Instead I looked around and tried to take it all in. The noise, the prayers, the flowers, the white. It was an experience that was so unfamiliar and foreign to me you just had to observe and take it in as it was, do you know what I mean?
As I discreetly people watched from the corner of the room, I noticed a pair of big brown eyes staring back at my from behind the waist of an older woman. As soon as I caught her eyes, she hid behind her mom.
Playing her game, I glanced away back to the shrine before looking back and catching her staring at me again. This time I smiled and she smiled back before hiding again.
As one of my friends started talking to me, I almost forgot before I saw them passing by me. She gave a little wave and I mimed that I liked her dress. Cackling with her little sister they grabbed hands and darted down the stairs.
It made for a beautiful little moment. People are people, kids are kids, and girls are girls, no matter where you are in the world.
Eventually I made my way downstairs with our group only to see the same family waiting in a corner. I waved and they waved back, so I plucked up my courage and went over to meet them. An introvert at heart, I rarely do this but I was so curious I couldn’t help myself.
And I didn’t want to have any regrets about not saying hello when I had the chance.
Of course I had momentarily forgotten that I can’t speak Sinhala so I looked like a bit of an idiot. Luckily, as I learned in Mongolia, language isn’t everything, and as long as you try with a smile on your face, that’s all that counts.
As it turned out, it was a group of just women, with two sisters and their three girls who made the journey to Kandy. Their mom spoke a little English which made things a bit easier.
We chatted for a few minutes in the most basic English, I learned their names, which I promptly forgot, before I had to set off to catch the bus.
But before I walked away, I plucked up the courage again to ask if I could take their picture, something I am really uncomfortable asking. I rarely take portraits but I want to improve and be able to share the stories of all the beautiful souls I get to meet while traveling. Fighting an internal battle, I finally burst out, “Can I take your picture?” to which they all smiled and nodded enthusiastically trying to pose and rearrange themselves.
I knew if I didn’t have their picture I would have regretted it a little bit.
Only afterwards on the train as I flicked through the shots on my camera did I notice the youngest sister’s cheeky grin. You can just tell she’s a handful.
Do you ever talk to strangers when traveling? Do you take portraits? Want to travel to Sri Lanka one day?