A Sun-Kissed Hiatus In Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, tropical land of endless beaches, timeless ruins, mouth-watering food and legendary tea. With iconic temples, gorgeous rain-forests and friendly, disciplined locals to boast of, the country sees scores of travellers all throughout the year. Ushma Jani explores “The Undiscovered Country”.
Arriving four hours prior to the departure of a domestic flight, our travel to Sri Lanka was the most awaited one, literally! Little did my friend and I know that the next 24 hours of our vacation would be spent waiting for, well, transportation! While my friend decided to take a nap, I was determined to maintain personal sanitation. I got myself a manicure and a pedicure.
The next four hours were dedicated to my senses, watching ‘feminist cultural perspective’ soap operas, avoiding hot air-conditioned zones, resigning ourselves to low wi-fi zones, comparing mineral water prices to gold prices, raising eyebrows at babies who thought it was cool to howl continuously, deciphering announcements that sounded like some Martian dialect, gagging at people bathed in perfume and smirking at rather hopeful messages from guy friends, “bring me Jacqueline Fernandez”.
Aboard the Mumbai-Chennai flight, my dominant senses were subdued by the fear of high altitudes. The window seat acted as a catalyst. I chose it because I believe that you should “Never say never to free samples and window seats”.
Landing in Chennai airport led me closer to my vacation but meant another two hours of waiting. Finally aboard the Chennai-Colombo flight, the dwarf-sized, twin aisle aircraft, made my gut twist tighter. There was little comfort from the attendant who reacted to my expressions with a “Don’t worry; you will have a safe flight”!
Somewhere hundreds of feet over the much legendary ‘Ram Setu’ I was expecting the turbulence to subside and created a little soap opera of my own with naps coming in as never ending commercials. After a trance-like filmy saga, we finally landed at Bandaranaike International Airport at 2.30 am.
Approaching the land of mythology, ancient prosperous cities, the soil of unsurpassed beaches, tropical forest trails, the territory of the prolific bowler Malinga and the abode of the great King Ravanna, I felt a sense of unrest and excitement. Soon we would be walking on the paths treaded by Lord Ram.
But before that we had to wait for another 4 hours for the airport bus to take us to Colombo Bus Station. From here on we started our journey to North Central Province of Polonnaruwa, the ancient city of the mighty King Vijayabahu I. The local bus ride from Colombo to Polonnaruwa was rather a jerky one, owing to our speeding driver who zoomed into sharp turns and hustled through thin air. Sinhalese songs sung to Bollywood tunes, and a few Sinhalese Bhangra numbers kept us entertained. Our periodic naps were taken holding each other by the elbow to keep from falling off the tiny seats. Soon my transcendental meditative state was broken by a folk musician who played the tambourine with a beautiful repetitive verse and the bus passed through the highlands of Kandy and the cultural triangle of Dambula straight to Giritale, Polonnaruwa.
The six hour fatigued drive was soon relieved by our hotel overlooking the tranquil Giritale Lake. Sipping on Three Coins and Lion, the local brew, that afternoon was accompanied by our first Sinhalese meal, Sri Lankan Rice and Curry with mango pickle, stir fried brinjal, curry leaf potato sabji, papadum and beer. Polonnaruwa was to be our base for the next two days and Sri Lankan Rice and curry my staple, twice a day, for the next 7 days.
Dawn broke, happy tummies filled with fruit and rice; gloss, sunscreen, keys, money and pepper spray; Check! Two women then set out to see the glorious ancient city of Polonnaruwa once conquered by the Chola Dynasty. This royal city witnessed a golden age from the 8th century up until the 13th century under the Chola Dynasty which was later conquered by King Vijayabahu I.
We explored this ancient civilization on a bicycle in the blazing sun. The World Heritage Site benefitted from booming trade and agriculture, and sophisticated irrigation systems during Vijayabahu’s rule. The royal capital was also one of the best planned cities of that time. After 3 hours of dehydration, a bicycle ride, an awe-inspiring historical visit and an irreversible tan later, we retired to the hotel with bags filled with more brews. We spent the day sipping ‘Lion’, watching monkeys, a million lizards out to feast and fire flies illuminating our spirits.
After two tuk-tuk rides and two bus changes, Giritalle-Kaduruwela-Baticalao-Pottuvil, we reached the Southeast coast of Kottukal beach near the Famous Arugam Bay. I was in awe of the many graveyards with frolicking peacocks. Moved by the two realities of life—beauty and death—these graveyards belong to civil war victims and tsunami casualties. The devastating presence of graveyards almost every 500 meters was heart wrenching.
The Kottukal beach is a wild, theatrical and untouched beach with waves that sound like low notes of a musical instrument. On this rocky beach, we were the only ones on an isolated property of Kottukal Beach House. The house was surrounded by acres of coconut trees on one side and the open ocean front on the other. We were accompanied by a cook, a caretaker, Dan the dog and trillions of lizards, this time occupying the floor as well. The high ceiling, elegant room with canopy bed covered in mosquito net and dramatic lightning over the sea with quiet lonesome locale turned out to be soulful, relaxing and a reclusive abode that night. Not to mention I slept with pepper spray that night. The morning called for silent meditation under idyllic tranquillity and later being chased by Dan and a happy stroll on the beach.
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Kottukal-Yala National Park
The next day Yala National Park called out to us! On our way we realised we had made a futile attempt to stop our tuk-tuk driver from leading us to a hospital instead of a pharmacy. Communication is of big concern in the country. The doctor at the hospital insisted we get a full check up, and a polite ‘No’ didn’t do any good. We darted out of the hospital followed by an over enthusiastic ward boy. All we wanted was a simple Glucon D!
From Pottuvil bus station we took a swooping bus ride to Monoragala bus station, then to Weerawila junction and a haggling tuk-tuk ride to Kirinda, a coastal village in the Southern Province of Sri Lanka. After many random hand gestures and broken syllables, we finally arrived at the Kirinda Beach Resort.
Cobalt blue waters, sun kissed golden sand, clear blue sky, roaring waves and breezy locales made an adept background before we were joined by a third girlfriend. Most excited to meet leopards, we headed on a morning safari to the most awaited Yala National Park. To our dismay we spent 3 hours trying to find the spotted cats and ended up finding elephants and well, more tusks. Feeling like a child denied its candy we returned to our rooms.
Off on an exploration to South Western Sri Lanka, Beruwala. This time we chose private transport and the luxury of air conditioning. Under the experienced guidance of our driver Sanath, we passed through Mirissa, a small fishing harbour located on the southeast of Weligama on the Matara road. This was once a popular back-packing paradise but more tourists are flowing in to seek the solace of deep blue waters, once broken by the tsunami. Admiring surfers, stopping at frequent unscripted stops and passing by more graveyards by the beach, I mentally promised myself that I would surely come back again.
Beruwala is an unkempt town and is ironically called the “Golden Mile”. Apparently known for its golden sands, the rather unpleasant smell of the ocean didn’t miss offending my olfactory senses. A rather rude staff and a group of wasted Indian men dancing on item numbers was a complete put off. It is little wonder that tourists opt to see this beach before they move on to see the richer, pulsating visual delights of the city in an attempt to save the best for the last.
Off to the more relaxed locales of the Central Province of the second largest city, Kandy. The hill station has the best of both worlds to offer, the urban buzz along with a sylvan ambience. With a few hours left to spare, we had been invited on a dinner date by our Sri Lankan comrade, the educationist, zealous and compassionate Mr. Ananda Athukorala. Having our last beers in Sri Lanka, we spent the remaining hours chatting with more teachers and having a hearty home-cooked Sri Lankan meal; Yes, more rice!
There was no place on earth that could match the beauty of this tiny pear shaped island. Sri Lanka is a safe haven that inspires awe and gratitude for being a place of spirituality, unparalleled natural beauty, with beaches that makes you feel sheer stillness even amidst the sound of roaring waves and a rich ancient past. This is the land of the revered tooth relic, graveyards, civil war, smiling friendly souls and simple lifestyles. Sri Lanka ages with grace and I have fallen in love with this country; a humbling experience if I have ever known one.
Must Eat: Indiaapa (string hoppers)
Best Beer: Three Coins
Frequent encounters: Lizards in all shapes and sizes
Must See Beach: MirissaMust See Town: Polonnaruwa
Bring back: Traditional Sri Lankan Mask
Location: Sri Lanka
Official Language: Sinhalese-Tamil
Currency: Sri Lankan Rupee
Food & Drink: Rice, Prawns, Chicken, Beef , Toddy, Arrack, etc
Time zone: SLST (UTC+5:30)
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About The Author:
Ushma is a dreamer and an introvert who is often mistaken as being aloof. A scribbler, shopaholic and an avid photographer, she travels to explore different cultural ethnicities with a belly that thrives on gluttony.
Cox & Kings is the longest established tours and travels company in the world. Established in 1758, we are headquartered in Mumbai with a presence in over 13 countries worldwide. Our services include destination management, domestic and international holiday packages, luxury travel, business and MICE, NRI and foreign exchange solutions, as well as insurance.View more articles