In this Matador photo essay, photographer Nick Kuchmak bypasses the tourist attractions and shifts the lens to the real Sri Lanka — its people.

WITH CONSISTENTLY NEGATIVE news of protests and the threat of terrorism plaguing Sri Lanka’s capital over the past 25 years, not to mention the 2004 tsunami that hammered the south coast, tourist numbers have been at an all time low. But with the civil war over as of May 2009, and access to the war-torn north increasing, more and more travelers are making the journey.

Sri Lanka’s beaches, tea plantations, and archaeological sites are all good reasons to visit, but it is the gentleness of its people that touched me.


Sri Lankan surfer

Surfing brings many tourists to Sri Lanka but seems just as popular with the young local population on the south coast around Hikkaduwa and Mirissa. Arugam Bay, on the east coast, is Sri Lanka's best-known break.


Fishing net maker, Sri Lanka

While the beaches may be a tourist playground, for many Sri Lankans they provide a livelihood. This man makes fishing nets using empty coconut shells and rope.


Man on a bus

Don't expect to find a seat on the local buses, but friendly conversation helps pass the hours.


Buddhist monk

Buddhism is the most prevalent faith in Sri Lanka, at 70% of the population. The Hindu Tamils make up 15%, and Islam and Christianity account for the rest.


Portrait of a Tamil man

With the civil war over as of May 2009, the future of many ethnic Tamils and their role in society is left uncertain.


Sri Lankan children on the playground

It is now up to the government to create a stable future for the next generation, and hopefully one without war.

Sri Lankan tea picker

A Tamil lady picking tea flashes a smile despite the tedious manual labour, and often wages far below the country's minimum.


Sri Lankan tea picker

Sri Lanka has passed Kenya as the world's second-largest tea exporting nation behind the global leader, India.


Children on the train tracks

Outside of the beach resorts Sri Lanka sees only a trickle of tourists, and a foreigner will always attract attention from local kids excited to converse in English.


On the train, Sri Lanka

Taking the slow train through the lush tea plantations and misty mountains in the hill country is one of the quintessential experiences in Sri Lanka. Without advance reservations, don't expect a seat.


Kandyan dancer, Sri Lanka

A Kandyan dancer prepares for an organized show involving drums, costumes, and a fire show. Historically only men participated in this art, but today woman are allowed in most schools across the country.


Fire eater, Sri Lanka

Fire eating and fire walking are an exciting and intense element of Kandyan cultural performances.


Monks, Sri Lanka

Young monks are found wondering amongst the ruins in Anuradhapura -- a popular temple complex located within the country's "cultural triangle."


With the monks in Sri Lanka

While Sri Lanka's sites are grand, it's the warm and genuine people that make this country such a warm place to visit.