An account of a week long road trip covering 1400 kilometers - through rolling hills and pristine beaches.
20.01.2015 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.