This time I decided to pack my bags and explore Sri Lanka. Now, the moment I mentioned the country’s name to my friends and family, the most common response was “Why Sri Lanka?”, they all believed it is quite similar to South India. This is one point, which bothers most of the Indian tourist. The difference between the 2 countries is difficult to explain and can only be felt, once you have been to Sri Lanka. This is true we are very similar- like distant cousins, yet very different.
Sri Lanka is a haven for wildlife and you can move from mountain to jungle to beach and so on within a relatively short span of time. It is a compact and beautiful country. In India, we have to travel a lot to experience these.
I landed in Colombo and received a warm welcome from the representatives of Navmini Travels. They were punctual, courteous and helpful. They provided us with chauffer guide Kanishk, who was fluent in English and knowledgeable. This helped us immensely in understanding the country.
Sri Lanka is a very clean country and the natives take all possible steps to maintain that cleanliness. From Colombo, we were transferred to Negombo, which is a small fisherman town. Our hotel was on the beach, after checking in, I headed straight towards the mighty Indian Ocean. It is a sight to remember, the Indian Ocean is wild and rough. Even the locals would not suggest you venture alone on the beach.
Next morning we headed to Sigiriya, it also has UNESCO world heritage site Sigiriya Rock. This ancient palace and fortress has significant importance and attracts tourists from across the world. There are many myths and folktales around the rock, which is 660ft. Few believe that this is where Ravana’s Pushpak Vimans were parked, the vimans used liquid mercury as there fuel. Though history suggests it was built by King Kasyapa, who built his palace on the top of the rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescos. It is also believed that there were elevators operated by humans. Only time knows, what is true and what is a myth, but the rock is a must visit site on your next Sri Lankan trip. It has close to 1200 steps, so it is not for faint heart, spiral staircase seems bit scary and can make you dizzy. They have resting points in between, so no need to hurry up, take it slow, drink fluids and keep going. Please remember, it is not a marathon to be won, but an experience to be enjoyed. The view from the top is mesmerizing and the satisfaction, one feels after climbing the rock is immense.
One must visit Dambulla Rock Temple, if you have already climbed Sigiriya Rock then climb to Dambulla Rock Temple will be a breeze. This is also a world heritage site, located in the central part of the country. This is the best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka, it is spread over five caves, which contains statues and paintings. All the paintings and statues are related to Gautam Buddha, barring three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of Vishnu, Ganesh and Laxmi.
Next day on the way to Kandy we visited spice garden, they will give you a walkthrough and one can see vanilla orchid (vine-like plant)from where vanilla essence comes. Not only this I got to see cardamom, white pepper, red pepper, jackfruit, clove etc. They also give you a free massage, in the end, you can give the tip accordingly. They took us to the pharmacy from where one can pick up the spices, though I found them exorbitantly priced. Since we were getting late for the Sri Lankan cultural evening, we rushed towards the theatre. The show started with Magul Bera, a conch of shell was blown to indicate the start of the evening, followed by Bera (drums). It was followed by Puja Natoma (Pooja dance), Mayura dance and series of other performances. Probably the show is for specific kind of audience, targeted more towards the western crowd. It is not about glitz and glam, like the big Alcazar show of Thailand.
In the morning we left for Nuwara Eliya, now this is hailed as Little England, truly it will remind you of Europe. It has lake and race course. For me, the most moving moment was visiting Ashok Vatika, the Ashoka tree under which Mata Sita sat, is still there. The priests performed an aarti and he also showed us the spot, where Hanumanji footprints are marked. Visiting Ashok Vatika was like peeping into another yug.
The next day we moved to Colombo as we had a late evening flight to catch, so after a quick city tour, we headed towards the airport.
One very important point is, please carry good airbags or suitcases with you. If you are mostly on roads, then there would be a lot of packing and unpacking to be done a sturdy bag would definitely help. I went for Novex hard luggage, the luggage was spacious, modern looking and the chains were fabulous. Neither they got jammed nor broken the entire journey. The wheel is smooth, even a child can pull it easily.
I said Bye to this country with mixed feelings, Sri Lankans are way polite and courteous. Though I would warn you that it is an expensive country, the charges to all the museums, temples and historical places are on a higher side. Unlike India, the entry to various temples are not free. In Colombo, one can witness a lot of Chinese influence, the sea is being pushed back to make new port.
But come whatever a trip to Sri Lanka is must, it is very different from our country and by the end of the trip, you will definitely want to be there again.