An Island of Gods and ample nature surroundings, this Silk Route which has seen the advent of Ravaan to the Dutch Colonization to the British rule.
Sri Lanka has always been a fascinating Island for me, majorly due to the mythology we have grown up surrounding Ramayan. It’s difficult to forget the description of the nation being made of Gold (Hence known as Sone ki Lanka) where the Demon God Ravaan took our Lady Sita and kept her captive. The thought being able to see a glimpse of that era attracted me towards this very short trip towards this Island.
My very short trip to this part of the world consisted of visiting Colombo – Capital of Sri Lanka, then a sleepy town of Bentota – stretches of golden sand and sea, and finally towards the legendary city of Galle.
The topic is very vast and to be able to maintain some brevity i have decided to divide my narration into the following parts, People of Sri Lanka, Food, Culture & Faith, Landscapes and the Cities i visited, Things to Know
People of Srilanka:
The warmth and graciousness that our neighbors showed, is something to be learned from. Mostly everyone I met was well versed in English and if not then they still didn’t leave any stone unturned to help me out. They are genuinely Happy to welcome guests and that too especially from India. This may be due to the immense struggle they have gone through in the last 30 years when they were subjected to the worse kind of civil war, which recently ended in 2009.
Whoever we met, wanted to visit India once, but was not able to do so due to monetary constraints. Mind you, Colombo is a rich city however the outskirts which are coastal towns have people earning meager incomes. Nonetheless, their warmth made up for every other thing they didn’t have. Srilankans are very open hearted and will get personal with you, and share their life stories if you are keen on. Dont hesitate to ask them for any kind of help. They are the best ones to make an Itinerary for you !
Cities of Ceylon
The capital city of Sri Lanka, is an upscale town with the feeling of a Marine Drive in Bombay and a Bangkok combined. With Huge sky scrappers and a road called Galle Road completely dedicated to shopping and malls, Colombo lives upto its expectations. But mind you along with the good comes the bad, which is TRAFFIC. Colombo is congested and it took us 2 hours to reach the center if the city from the Airport due to the traffic.
Rest of the Colombo is not at all a Bumpy ride. The roads and infrastructure are smooth and there were cops around every corner. Traffic rules are followed to the T (something which my country needs to learn) and the best part was that they respect the Pedestrians much more than what we do in India. Even smaller towns in Srilankan coast does so.
Places to stay in Colombo:
Numerous places to stay in Colombo, and you can get great deals online as well. Point to be noted that the Sri Lankan currency LKR is lower than the INR hence you can get very good rates on everything. We tried AirBnB for the first time and we were not disappointed at all. Our Hosts Mr. & Mrs. Chamal took care of our needs and their house was lovely to stay with. The morning was even better when we decided to take a stroll in the surrounding. We stayed in Battarmulla in Star Class Comfort Inn BnB through www.airbnb.com and on our return we stayed in Renuka City Hotel, just on the Galle Road and in the hub of the city.
An awesome place in Battarmulla is Waters Edge where you get world-class cuisine, an open Aquarium park, Local shops and a beautiful place called Board walk a kind of a Joggers park with 3D Street art. Going there early in the morning was a treat to the senses. I would recommend 1-2 days stay in Colombo where visiting small shrines and pretty local markets are enough.
Points of Interest in Colombo
• Gangaramaya Buddhist Temple
• Galle Face Green (just like Choupati of Mumbai)
• Town Hall
• Dutch Hospital – for some lip smacking food and souvenir shopping
• Pettah (local shopping but can be given a miss)
• Waters Edge
• Independence Square (again some lip smacking food and high class branded shopping)
In total Colombo is only 37 Kms which can be covered very well in a Tuk Tuk also. However there are options of Hop on Hop Off buses also but I found them to be exorbitant. My recommendation would be to just grab a map and set off your course, 1 day is enough to see this city.
Bentota – a small coastal town of Sri Lanka
It’s a small town located in the southern province of Sri Lanka and is famous for its beaches. We reached Bentota by a private taxi which took 3000 LKR for the drive. There are numerous buses available as well as a very pretty coastal Railway line (which if we knew earlier of, would have reserved the tickets) We were told that Train is worth the ride and the time.
We checked into a 5-star resort named Temple Tree Resort and boy we were surprised, it had its own beach, 2 swimming pool, bar, restaurant and every room with the unhindered view of the ocean.
The people were humble and there were n number of Tuk Tuks outside the resort to take you to any place within Sri Lanka. Yes, you heard it right, according to the locals, you can take a tuk tuk ride to anywhere. And that’s when we met our handsome driver Jaba ,extremely polite, funny, energetic and very well versed in English. He became our personal driver (of tuk tuk) and took us to a 2-hour ride across the country towards Galle Fort and back.
The road trip till Galle the next day was eventful, I really wanted to go to Hikkaduwa another small town en route to Galle, which is famous for Snorkeling but the weather did not permit so.
We stopped at various places including a Turtle Hatchery (they make a lot more money from expats who are charged 200 lkr per head opposed to locals, of course) even if you miss one turtle hatchery, don’t fret, i could count at least 50 of them along the road… seems they are very deeply concerned towards the cause of the turtles… hmmm.. a Cinnamon Plantation farm next, where i was convinced to buy the sticks (but they were worth it) not to forget a Moon stone mining factory, who again convinced me at buying a stone … ahhh well… a girl gotta do something in a jewelry shop! However, the mining pit stop was indeed very very interesting…
We then also saw the Tsunami memorial and Jaba told us the first hand account of the horrific incident when everything was under the waves and people just flowed away to the sea. The railway tracks were uprooted, houses destroyed, it took them years to come back to normal but the threat still looms of a recurrence!
Points of Interest Down South of Sri Lanka
• Bentota – Small coastal town with many sea facing resorts and villas. Most of them face the sea so you dont have to worry much.
• Water sports are available in the Bentota beach but are not that great
• For further thrill-seeking you can move towards Hikkaduwa, where snorkeling and underwater sports is a must
• Galle is another small Fort- Town with the famous Galle stadium (for the cricket lovers) however it is very small and you are not allowed to get inside the stadium also.
• Galle has a history hence the town is charming Portugal style made, with cobble stoned roads and a Fort wall (nothing except the walls are left of the fort) which is pretty for pictures and posing. You will find many beach side restaurants serving the world cuisine as well as the spicy Sri Lankan version
• If you are in a Tuk Tuk, your driver usually gets a free meal if they take you to a restaurant so let them come up till the reception.
• You can see some of the remnants of the Dutch civilization and the sri lankans have tried their best to preserve it
• Galle is a day trip, max. Nothing beyond that. Period.
Food – dee – dum
Food brings an instant smile to my face so for a person like me, Colombo was a gastronomical heaven.
From authentic Fish cooked in banana leafs called Baramundi to Hoppers of different style.. oh it was an amazing journey.
You just need to know where and what time to go.
For Authentic Sri Lankan fare, do not miss there BREAKFAST which includes, Hoppers with Egg, String Hoppers,
Spicy Prawn curry, spicy Potato curry, Various chutneys and ofcourse rice. Sri Lankans are famous for their breakfast. It might be a lil too heavy for those who don’t believe in HEAVY breakfast, but i would recommend to try it once.
If you are a foodie and you find yourself in Colombo, do not miss “The Ministry of Crabs”
More than a restaurant, its a cult. You definitely need prior reservations and the good news is that it also serves Lunch now!
A corner in the Dutch Hospital precinct is completely dedicated to the love of everything Crabs and Lobsters. We risked our flight home, and waited outside for 2 hours just to get a seat (that too after prior reservations) and it was worthwhile.
This place is not only famous because of its owners – Sangakara and Jayawardane but also due to the Fresh produce it procures everyday and serves up. Its has been consistently voted amongst the Asia’s Top.
Do visit, morning or night. But with reservations.
The other Must visit on my list was Jaquelin Fernandes’s restaurant Kaema Sutra
Now, i went purely due to its name and fame, but was pleasantly surprised with the Food as well.
It was beyond delicious.
The fish – Baramundi cooked on Banana leafs are a must.
We had Boneless Goat Curry along with Banana Leaf Barramundi and What the Hopper & Ali Gata Para Sundae for dessert.
The taste is to die for!
All in all, Colombo is a must visit for Food Lovers.
Important Points to Remember:
• The Authentic Sri Lankan cuisine is very very spicy so either adjust your taste buds or ask for the all american meal plan
• Mostly all good hotels serve American meals and Fish varieties which are suitable for the mild palate
• Big ticket restaurants, book before you go.
• Try something new, and opt for Air BnB. Check out its location before hand.
• You need to change your currency in USD before reaching Sri Lanka. Then on the airport you find many banks which deals with currency change from USD to LKR
• You can visit most parts of the city in Tuk Tuks and the drivers are reliable.
• Kangaroo Cabs is a good option for taxi as well as other cab service providers which are plenty. Budget taxi’s being one of them.
• Take ample amount of time in hand to reach the Airport.
• Carrying a Map with you is always preferable.
• Due to its coastal nature, check the weather forecast and carry an umbrella nonetheless.
• The sun can be harsh, carry a Sun Block, also mosquito repellent
• You will have ample opportunity to buy souvenirs, even if you miss buying them in the city, you can get big stores in the airport too (at a slightly higher price ofcourse)
• Last but not the least, ENJOY and make a few friends !!
Till my next trip, stay blessed and stay curious!