A Travellerspoint blog

Sri Lanka

An account of a week long road trip covering 1400 kilometers - through rolling hills and pristine beaches.

sunny 35 °C

If you thought that a week long trip to Sri Lanka can just be about the sun, the sea, and the beaches - THINK AGAIN. You can squeeze in mountains, tea plantations, culture and the opportunity to interact with the local people - all while indulging in delicious but spicy Sri Lankan cuisine.


Lets start at the very beginning - We landed at the airport in Colombo early in the morning. After a quick stopover for breakfast and three interesting hours on the road without encountering traffic later we were driving through the hills of Kandy. Sitting atop a hill in a bunglow with a 270 degree view of KANDY, sipping an evening cup of tea and watching the onset of the South-West monsoon was an experience like no other. But a quick recap to the time of the day leading up to this magical evening saw me pay a visit to the renowned SACRED TOOTH RELIC TEMPLE. The heavily guarded room where the tooth of Buddha is housed is open to devotees and tourists. However, you don’t actually get to see the tooth and I heard that there is a festival once in 6 years when the tooth is displayed. Little known fact: Sri Lanka is predominantly a Buddhist country. I heard from a guide that since its official introduction in the 2nd century BC, Buddhism is followed by close to 70% of the total population of Sri Lanka.


I would definitely suggest getting away from the bustle of KANDY and retiring to one of the bunglows on the hills. The bunglows are full of old world charm - spacious rooms, lovely large beds, bathrooms with old-time bath fittings, cozy family rooms, rolling lawns, fabulous views of the green expanse and home cooked sumptuous Sri Lankan food. There is little more to do here in the evenings apart from going for long walks and spending evenings in the company of other travellers over a drink around the campfire. It helps to carry a stole or a light sweater, it gets quite nippy in the evenings.

A long drive along winding roads brought us to our next destination – Tea Country – NUWARA ELIYA. The drive to get there is a bit challenging, especially for people like me who succumb to motion sickness. Once you are here, do take a tour of a Tea Factory. It is an experience by itself to walk between rows to Ceylon tea plants in a plantation and walk out of the factory with bags to tea, knowing exactly how that tea got into the bag. Unfortunately, once you visit the tea plantations and take a tour of the tea factory, there isn't much to see and do in Nuwara Eliya. I heard wonderful things about a Strawberry Farm but due to some political rally, the road leading up to this place was cordoned off on the day we were here.


Along the drive from Nuwara Eliya to Bandarawale we stopped at the SITA TEMPLE which according to some locals has gained popularity in recent years, especially among Hindus since they are specifically making it a point to pay a visit when they are in this part of the country. The atmosphere made me transition to the days of my childhood listening to my mother telling my brother and me tales from the Ramayan. I saw with my eyes all the elements from a mythological story that I had heard her describe - the beautiful Ashok Vatika where Sita was held captive by Raavan, a stream flowing next to it where she performed her puja - the temple almost brings to life the story. I understand that everyone is entitled to believe what they choose to but, to a practising Hindu girl finding a connection to one of the greatest literary works of ancient India composed approximately during the 5th century BCE, is pretty mind-boggling. Fun Fact : The temple is overrun with monkeys.


UDAWALAWE is home to a wonderful National Park which according to the information listed on Google spans 119 square miles. I didn't see a leopard here, but I did see plenty of elephants and other forms of wildlife - especially birds. The highlight of the safari was when we reached the river bank hoping to see a few animals quenching their thirst and saw no form of life for miles around. Just when we turned our jeep around, we saw 2 groups of elephants approaching from opposite directions, greeting each other like old friends and getting into the water together with a splash. I heard an elephant trumpet and it made me feel like as if it was saying goodbye.


From the hills we drove straight to the beaches. The first day was spent lounging on the sands of Tangalle. The beach is gorgeous but a bit isolated so, didn’t venture out much. Next day we drove to Beruwala and spent as much time as possible on the beach which was lovely to wander along and even though not crowded, had enough people to make you not feel isolated. I noticed that the sea here was brown which I later figured was due to the sea churning up the sand constantly. The beach is full of shacks selling batik print clothes, local cuisine and things-you-would-catch-yourself-buying-only-when-you-are-on-a-beach-vacation.



Bentota has a number of TURTLE FARMS which provide a unique insight into the turtle conservation project. You must see it to believe what an incredible sight baby turtles are as they benignly swim around in these tanks. I would highly recommend picking them up for a minute (if the caretakers allow it). The tour is fairly short but informative. I heard later that if you visit late in the night, you can watch baby turtles that are hardly 3 days old make their way down the beach and disappear into the ocean, hopefully to swim in the ocean for a few centuries.


I am not one to sit by the pool all day but, in Bentota I was mesmerised by the dramatic landscape and the endless crashing of the waves against beautifully natural formed rocks that I stayed put in the same spot for hours. I distictly remember thinking in that moment that I will never have my fill of that view. The sound of the ocean rocking you to sleep is something I wish I could experience every single day. Without further gushing about the experience, I will just say this and then hold my peace - Bentota is one of those phenomenal places that you very rarely come across, and that you quite simply never want to leave.

But leave we eventually did, in order to spend a few delightful hours wandering around the inspiring gardens and estate of Geoffrey Bawa. A walk through the property lets you see the foresight with which these gardens were laid out by this genius architect. There is a gorgeous colonial style house on the property too which I heard from the guide was available for visitors to stay. The place filled me with endless ideas about designing my vacation home ;)


A quick drive later I found myself back in Colombo where I spent the afternoon shopping until it was time to head to the airport and fly back home.

Ayu Bowan. Until next time.
Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 23:48 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (1)

Paris in spring

C'est Magnifique!

overcast 4 °C

There’s nothing quite like Paris on a day in spring. As I walked down cobbled streets looking at beautiful buildings dotted with a terrace here - a balcony there sporting beautiful flowers in bloom, I found myself falling in love with what is arguably called the most beautiful city in the world.


As I sat on park benches in the warm sunlight that was still attempting to pierce through the last remnants of winter, watching the parade of Parisian life go by - it dawned on me that the only way to truly discover this city was by walk. I made it a point to stroll over the bridges that cut through the Seine especially at dusk most evening. I loved the sight of the wrought-iron lamps flicker to light and the way the streets look in that golden glow. Every single time I have gone for a walk back home after this holiday, and I mean EVERY TIME - the joy I felt walking on the cobblestone streets keeps coming back to me in waves. It never ceased to amaze me that everywhere you turn in gay Paree, there are two things in abundance - ART and BEAUTY. It is said that it will take several lifetimes to unravel all the things this city has to offer. I'm taking a shot by compiling some of the most famous places I visited during my stay at the City of Lights and the most beautiful sights I saw.

Louvre Museum

Standing in the courtyard you already get a sense of what to expect inside.


If anyone ever wanted to understand the meaning of the term "a wealth of history", they need to just step into the Musee de Louvre. There are 3 wings at the Louvre - Richelieu , Denon and Sully. Denon (where the most expensive and famous residents are housed is easily the most visited). The description under all the works of art is written in French, so the Nintendo audio guide in English that we procured at the information counter was very helpful. I'm sure there are works of art and artefacts in this museum to keep any historian happy for years.

Most people have a tendency to make a bee-line to visit the Louvre's most famous resident - THE SMILING LADY, but in my opinion - there are so many other works of art displayed within the same walls which are breathtaking, especially in the French and the Italian Renaissance sections. Throughout my childhood I've been obsessed with Greek mythology and still remember reading about "Nike" and learning to my surprise that it is not only the name of a famous shoe brand but the name of the Greek Goddess of Victory. I believe the day I laid eyes on “The Winged Victory” was almost a moment that brought me a full circle.


Before we move forward, let me describe my visit to the smiling lady's chamber. The Mona Lisa is tucked away in a distant corner of the Denon wing past the Da Vinci paintings in the Renaissance wing. My reaction upon seeing her for the first time was how small the painting is (atleast in comparison to all the other works of art housed at the Louvre). The section is partially cordoned off and the painting is housed behind enforced bullet proof glass.
A small bit of caution - You will never have a moment alone in peace with this famous lady. The Mona Lisa will always be crowded regardless of whatever time you choose to visit and you will definitely be pushed around.

After spending entire day wandering around the Denon wing we decided to spend the evening being Parisians, sipping wine accompanied by cheese and crackers and conversation. At about 7:30 PM we left the Louvre and found ourselves at the closest Monoprix where we proceeded to pick up by some wine(bad!) and some cheese(yum!). We wandered back towards the Louvre and found ourselves a nice sunny spot in the Louvre gardens(yes sunny even at 8:30 PM!) and later in the evening we were treated to the sight of a distant Eiffel Tower flickering to light as we sat on the compound surrounding the Louvre which was also by then lit up and immediately reminded me of the setting from Dan Brown's DaVinci Code.


Arc de triomphe

When you see this magnificent monument up close, you can only then fully appreciate its beauty and begin to understand why it has such a significant place in French history. The ornate carvings that adorn the walls and ceilings are intricate and makes one wonder at the depths of the artists talents who created this monument. It takes 284 steps to get to the top but I’ve heard that views over Paris are breathtaking from the top. It also forms the perfect setting for the most exclusive shopping destination in the world - Champs Elysées. Oh one walk through this entire street is enough to make you feel that there is not enough money in the world to buy everything that you little heart might desire.



I finally found the peace to immerse myself in prayer at this 800 year old chapel. No matter what religion you follow, I'm sure at this cathedral you will experience emotions that touch the core of your being. The architecture of this cathedral is truly marvellous and the stained glassed windows are absolutely beautiful. Sitting in the courtyard listening to the church bells was an experience like no other and the memory of which I will carry in my heart for the rest of my days. We wanted to go up the tower to visit the famous gargoyles, but were told that it is only allowed at certain times before 4 PM.


After long days spent on foot, I still found enough strength in my legs to explore these beautiful stalls filled with old books(most of them in French), near Pont Neuf on the banks of the Seine. There are postcards along with books and posters for sale. Some of them are used postcards and letters with addresses written in the most beautiful handwriting and posted decades earlier.


Eiffel Tower

What can I say that’s not been said before about the Eiffel tower? It is afterall Paris's signature monument :) . I would highly recommend going here in the evening when there is still sunlight and have a small picnic on the lawns of the Eiffel tower and make pretty pictures. If you stay long enough, you get to see the lights come on "twinkling" and light up this beautiful monument.


À tout à l'heure Paree!!! Looking forward to be back meandering around your cobblestone streets along the Seine to sit on the lawns of the Eiffel, laying in the grass, sharing a kiss, sipping some wine and reading a book. Hopefully to stay and explore whatever you have to offer for a full year :)

Wish You Safe Travels
Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 14:28 Archived in France Tagged paris eiffel spring path cafe seine notre lamps cobblestone paree Comments (0)


....... the perfect setting for a nautical adventure

sunny 10 °C

Summer hadn't quite arrived when we did late April and it wasn't 'high season' so not everything was available or open on the island. As it turned out, it was just PERFECT for us. We stayed at Imerovigli as against choosing Oia or Fira. Imerovigli is rightfully called “The Balcony to Santorini” for wherever you are on this part of the island, there is no escaping that view. The entire island is dotted with houses that have whitewashed walls and beautiful blue doors that overlook the Aegean and every single time you open your eyes and look out over the Caldera it never fails to bring on a smile.


You know you are living a dream when the door to your suite opens up to one of the most breathtaking natural views in the world - a volcano outside your front door in the middle of the Mediterranean for goodness sake! I've not come to terms with that memory yet. During sunset its a common ritual for people to gather on their balconies or terraces all over the island with a glass of wine to take in one of the most magnificent sunsets in the entire world.


When you are not lazing around and drinking in the endless view I recommend you try and explore the island a bit. We particularly enjoyed the cliff top walk to Fira one morning, which took approximately 2 hours. Fira is a port town, where all the cruise ships come in to dock and it gets very busy when they do. In my opinion - Fira, although interesting and fun to visit felt more touristy with a lot more hustle and bustle and way too many people to squeeze past in the busy narrow streets. I guess it all depends on what each person is seeking while on a holiday. Fira is a great place to explore with loads of pedestrianised alleys, lots of nice shops and taverns. I met an Australian artist who lives and paints in Santorini for 300 days in a year and goes back to Australia to exhibit her work once a year.


NOTE OF INTEREST : Wear a pair of good walking shoes or sandals, the paths are often cobbled with very uneven steps and steep paths. Santorini is not a good destination for anyone with mobility issues.


Spend a day on a boat trip which will take you the volcano and the hotsprings. A visit to the excavations at Akrotiri is a must as so is a visit to the beach at Perissa . You can even scuba dive off the cliffs and most hotels can set you up with diving instructors.

As I turned my head around to breathe in the view one last time during my trip, I remember thinking that this is definitely not going to be my last trip to Santorni. I would return here in a heartbeat and recommend that if you get the chance, you should do so too :)


Catch the wind in your sails :)
- Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 12:32 Archived in Greece Tagged sunset santorini fira caldera imerovigli Comments (0)

A Greek Escape

A highlight of the few days spent in Athens before we got to the islands....

semi-overcast 9 °C


An amazingly vibrant and old neighbourhood still in action after a few thousand years! Everywhere you turn from the square, there are wonderful items of every kind to find, to buy, to eat and savour. Spent almost an entire evening walking around this neighbourhood, tasting authentic Greek cuisine and shopping for trinkets and souvenirs. Spending an evening here gave me an insight into the life of a modern day Athens resident which seems to combine a heady mixture of the modern and the traditional with the ever present backdrop of the ancient. Literally!! (The Acropolis looms in the background of this old town).

I attended the evening service at a Greek Orthodox church at the entrance of the Monastiraki square which incidentally seems to be where the name of the town is derived from. It makes you feel like you are in a timeless oasis within the hustle of Athens.


There are lots of bars and restaurants in the small streets off the square, we however found a picturesque back alley eatery and with a little help from our friends at the adjoining table who happened to be locals, ordered a rustic and delicious Greek meal.


Acropolis - Athens

THE BIRTH PLACE OF MODERN DEMOCRACY - There are quite a few stairs to get to the top of the hill where the Acropolis is built but, the view once you reach the top is truly humbling. There’s nothing that prepares you for the feeling that comes with the realisation as to how much history lies beneath your feet and all around you. It is a definite journey back in time and is a surreal experience imagining that something of this magnitude was built by hand nearly 5000 years ago.

Visiting the Acropolis took me back to the time when I studied Greek Mythology in school and like me if you are fascinated with Greek history, Greek gods and goddesses, then this is bound to be a surreal experience. There is a lot of restoration work going on at the site and its heartening to see the Greeks doing everything they can to preserve and restore the buildings on the Acropolis.

The Parthenon that stands proud even in its ruins seems to tell stories as to how it shaped up to be the seat of modern day democracy. It must have been an unbelievable sight all those years ago when the structures were still in their original form. Even like it is today, it is an impressive sight. The carefully calculated spaces between columns, the overall symmetry of these huge marble structures built all those years ago just goes to show how advanced the ancient Greeks were. It was cloudy and windy for the greater part of the time I spent here, but just for a minute the clouds parted and bathed the entire Acropolis with bright sunlight, which if you ask me is probably the only way this wonder has to be viewed. Was lucky to get a good picture of the Parthenon before the sunlight disappeared.


The Porch of Maidens was another sight that was just a treat to the eyes. The statues of 6 women are used as structural pillars are beautiful to say the least. I heard the guide say that the statues on the site are replicas and that 5 of the maidens are housed at the Acropolis Museum and one of them is at the British Museum in London.


After the long trek back to the bottom of the hill lined with a zillion olive trees and fat lazy pigeons who prefer to walk after a meal instead of fly, I now know for a fact that no matter how familiar with the sight of the Acropolis you are and how much familiarity you may credit to your knowledge owing to your school work or just because you browsed through the internet and read everything possible on the subject, nothing (absolutely nothing!) prepares you for the astonishing scale of such a structure that was built millenniums ago. I strongly advise you make the effort and hike up that hill. It is an experience like no other.

NOTE : Its extremely windy atop the Acropolis. The best time to visit would be in the morning or evening. Wear sensible shoes as the path winds and is uneven.


As you make you way down from the Acropolis you can see the fully intact Temple of Hephaestus built in honour of the Greek God of Blacksmiths and Metalworking (pictured above). Did not visit it to the Temple of Hephaestus, but instead paid a visit to the ruins of the Temple of Zeus which is at the base of the hill.

On reaching the city square we found ourselves outside the imposing structure of the Academy of Athens. Took a couple of pictures and walked on, only to find out later that that if we had taken ten steps towards the building, we could have also seen the statues of Socrates and Plato near the base of the pillars supporting the statues of Athena and Apollo.


This city is truly MYTHOLOGICAL.

Safe Travels
Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 12:12 Archived in Greece Tagged athens parthenon acropolis monastiraki porch_of_maidens Comments (0)


Truly Asia - (hmmmm …. Still thinking if this is an apt description )

all seasons in one day 28 °C

TOUCHDOWN KualaLampur - Watched the most beautiful sunrise from the plane :) The pilot for the day informed over the intercom , “Ladies and Gentlemen, its sunrise over beautiful Malaysia. If you are visiting us then we welcome you to our country and if you are Malaysian - THEN WELCOME HOME !!!! “(I had tears in my eyes when I heard that). I cannot imagine the times when I have returned back to my homeland and nobody has bothered telling us anything that sounded remotely as wonderful.
Good Morning malaysia

Good Morning malaysia


We caught our transportation and were swiftly driven towards KL. The airport is 60 kilometres away from the city.

Now for everyone who pictures Malaysia in their head - Kuala Lumpur in particular, the first thing that pops into the mind are the Patronas Towers and yes, the towers dominate the city skyline, but does not mean you get to see it from every place in KL. We were lucky to get a room with one of the most beautiful views of the Patronas Towers and the Minara!!!

Now the fun part of my trip lasted 4 days ,so I will only concentrate on the fun part

Day 1:
We had to pay a visit to CHINATOWN to kick-start the adventure. We did something very local, we hopped onto a bus, bought tickets for 1 Malaysian Ringgit (RM) and got dropped off at Chinatown. Our stomach’s were collectively shouting their displeasure, so we decided to pay heed and put their complaints to rest…. AND HOW!!!
DSC00222.jpg DSC00226.jpg

Note to self - ALWAYS CHOOSE FOOD ON STICKS. Now they come at varying prices, the duck was 2.5RM, Chicken 2RM, OCTOPUS - 5RM. It is served two ways - Barbecued or Steamed. We chose to get them barbequed. We loved it and went back for another round of "food on toothpicks" (as I conveniently chose to call it ) ….Tried Claypot Rice and proclaimed that I could have died and gone to heaven that instant - Love love loved it!

Now that the stomach was put to rest , we kicked of the next important to-do-item on the itenary - SHOP. Now I’ve seen imitation wallets, bags, satchels in Thailand, but the quality of the imitation stuff in Malaysia is far superior.

Found the coolest hoard of T-shirts ever, including a store that sells vintage T-shirts. Cash is the only accepted mode of payment and as I discovered to my enormous surprise - I loved haggling. Imitation designer shoes, watches, bags, jewellery, belts and trendy clothes - Oh so much to buy!

DAY 2:

Destination : GENTING HIGHLANDS ….
About an hour and a half drive from Kuala Lumpur amidst the drastic change in terrain, climate and skyline I first laid eyes on the highlands. You can reach the place by either of 2 ways - Cable Cars or by Winding Roads. We decided to get to the Genting Highlands by Cable cars. I am scared of heights so it goes without saying that I was freaking out quite a bit when 6 of us piled into the cable car, but then I saw that the view that immediately put all my fears to rest. The sight of the natural valleys and high hills shrouded in mist and as you go higher up and the rain forest beneath your feet, is truly BREATHTAKING.

We stayed at the World’s Largest Hotel - First World with 6118 rooms. The waiting area has more than 50 counters to help you check in, but be warned, this is a tedious part and it takes anywhere between 2 to 4 hours to get you checked in. The hotel management is quite intelligent and has arranged for live entertainment at the waiting area Clowns, Street dancers etc.

The rooms are not impressive and in the effort to pack as many rooms as possible ended up in making them minuscule. They do not even offer complimentary WATER !!! The 8th floor of the hotel connects to the mall and what a mall it is. Toy Trains, shopping mall , karaoke Bars , Ripleys Believe it or not museum , haunted houses - everything packed into the mall :D
and before I forget - CASINOS TOO. The guys wanted to hit the slots immediately, but we girls went shopping 

We went back, left our loot in the room and went to the Ripley's Museum and it qualifies as one of the more interesting hours I have ever spent in my lifetime.

Next stop : CASINOS.
It was the first time I ever entered a casino and I think I finally understand the draw that gambling holds. We decided to try the casinos at the other hotel too … We had to take a shuttle to that hotel that runs every half hour between the hotels.

The food in Genting is terrible to say the least. (Trivia : Alcohol is extremely expensive in Malaysia .. A 650ml bottle of Carlsberg costs 20RM.. almost 3 times its original price, so we bought alcohol at duty free stores at the airport and kept it with us through the duration of the trip) If you wake up early enough to watch the sunrise (or in our case, you could stay up late enough to see the sun rise) - The sight is unbelievable. large_IMG-20120407-00383.jpg

DAY 3:
Theme Park in the facility
I've been to Disney so I will not attempt a comparison. But it is if viewed independently and without bias - quite nice.
We drove back to KL almost feeling like we were KL natives who had gone to Genting on vacation. Looked like KL was growing on us.
We got back to KL and had the most lovely Indian dinner at the Grand Seasons. I've usually hated Indian food served outside India, but theThere’s a lovely Indian restaurant at the hotel.

Day 4:

We knew we had to pay a visit to the Patronas Towers atleast once before we leave Malaysia. But a girl somehow looses track when she goes shopping. Anna our lovely Malaysian friend took us to the Central Mall and we girls shopped to our hearts content, brooches, clips, Chinese fans and a gorgeous painting of koi fishes by an artist who had her baby sitting in a high-chair playing with water colours . Interesting fact - This market has been in existence since 1888 - WOW!

Chinatown closes by 3PM on Sundays and we didn't have a clue about that. Our transport arrived and we went to the Minara Tower which has an observation deck built to see the Patronas towers . The observation deck is at a height of 286 meters and has a 360 degree views of Kuala Lampur and the sight is amazing. This is truly a beautiful city.

In the midst of all this, we never did one thing that we all had wanted to do all along - visit the Patronas Towers … With only 5 hours left to take-off, we had no choice but to scrap the plan and leave for the airport.

I’ve been a life long fan of graffiti, so when Abhay saw a wall full of graffiti at an open car park, we had to stop the van and jump out to make pictures ….. and guess what we saw to our left as we were sprinting towards the graffiti filled wall


THE PATRONAS TOWERS!!! It was a coincidence like no other and so we did get to take pictures with the towers after all.


Ofcourse we took pictures with the the backdrop of those graffiti filled walls. What fun, everyone was captured in various stages of flight.


We were toooo excited even after we boarded …. The girls watched rom-com movies …..while the boys downed 5 whiskeys each …. We spent the remaining flight walking to each others seats and having an unusually mad time. Will never forget A reminding J to check if the parachute was where it was supposed to be and repeating the oxygen mask wearing instructions to him :D

We landed in India and I held my breath as the captain started announcing the descent AND NO …….. Our pilot never said anything remotely sounding like “Welcome Home” :(

Till I get another stamping on my passport … C ya :)

Posted by Ceej 07:24 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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