(Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days!

25th Jul 2014
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 1/13 by Masala Foie Gras
Yep ALL of this in 4 days!
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 2/13 by Masala Foie Gras
Gangaramaya Temple
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 3/13 by Masala Foie Gras
Sigiriya, the island mountain
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 4/13 by Masala Foie Gras
Natural gateway, Sigiriya
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 5/13 by Masala Foie Gras
Frescoes on the fort wall
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 6/13 by Masala Foie Gras
Mighty Lion's paws entrance
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 7/13 by Masala Foie Gras
braving wasp attacks!
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 8/13 by Masala Foie Gras
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 9/13 by Masala Foie Gras
peace at Trincomalee
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 10/13 by Masala Foie Gras
up and close with a Sambhar
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 11/13 by Masala Foie Gras
Baker's Falls
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 12/13 by Masala Foie Gras
to the end of the world
Photo of (Almost) Around Sri Lanka in 4 Days! 13/13 by Masala Foie Gras

In terms of preparatory logistics, Sri Lanka was has been one of the easiest and hassle free trips ever! A round trip ticket from Bangalore to Colombo cost us a little under INR15000 when booked a month in advance. Applying for the VISA online, I kid you not is easier and faster than shopping on Amazon! You just need to go on the site, fill in your details, pay the fees (around INR 900) and voila! You’ll get a confirmation email in the next few minutes and you’re set to fly!

Day 1: Colombo : Pettah & Fort

Right outside the airport there are several buses waiting to take you to the central bus stop. We hopped onto one of those for the almost 1 hour long journey to the centre of the city. We had pre-booked two beds in the City Fort Rest Hostel (near the Old Dutch Hospital), so we headed there to keep our stuff and start exploring!

Before I even start off with the 4 days, I must mention about the hospitality, kindness and generosity of the Sri Lankans without whom our trip would not have been half as enjoyable as it was! We got our first taste of the hospitality when while wandering on the streets looking for a place to eat, a kind gentleman took pity on our faces with hunger written all over and took us to a small eatery that he owned. We were served several short eats and hot bakes (basically lots of samosa-like things stuffed with potatoes, eggs, meat etc) and super sweet and milky Sri Lankan tea to wash it down with.

With a full stomach and an ever growing hunger to start exploring, we headed off to our first destination – the Gangaramaya Temple. The temple is said to be the most important Buddhist temple in Colombo. The complex has a museum which houses an eclectic mix of Buddha statues and all kinds of gifts given by devotees.

After spending a quiet hour reflecting in the temple we headed to the National Museum, a couple of blocks away. This premier cultural institution houses relics from the ancient kingdoms and it is worthwhile to go early and spend a few good hours soaking up the history!

Finally to give ourselves a short break from the continuous travel, we took a tuk-tuk to Mount Lavinia, a suburban beach retreat located a couple of kilometres away. With the famous Sri Lankan Lions beer, and clear ocean waves crashing almost at your feet, it was just the perfect mid day break!

The next day, we managed to pull ourselves out of our bunk beds at some 4am and trudge along a 15minute walk to the central bus stand and catch the next bus that would take us to Sigiriya. With whatever possible communication we could manage, we got into a rickety local bus to Dambulla from where we were told to take the next bus to Sigiriya.

The only peculiar thing you’ll notice about Sri Lanka is that apart from the usual vendors and hawkers, there are plenty of people selling and buying lottery tickets! It is some sort of craze that the entire nation is a part of and does not matter how little money you have in your pockets, you always have enough money to buy a lottery ticket!

Anyway, after a 5 hour long bus ride we finally got dropped off at the Dambulla bus stop (which like other bus stops in most of Sri Lanka is just a designated spot on the road that you get off at). After a few minutes worth of waiting and a quick breakfast of vadais squeezed in, we got the next bus to Sigiriya, which took us another 1 hour or so to cover.

The moment we got off at Sigiriya and set our eyes for the first time on the island mountain we knew we would have some amazing memories to take away! Quickly we became friends with a tuk-tuk driver (which is surprisingly easy if you’re an India, or so it seems), and he took us to a nearby home stay which would be our mecca for the day. We washed and left for the climb, which little did we know would test our fitness, grit and courage to quite an extent!

The first few minutes is just walking around the fort gardens and enjoying the hilarious signboards that pock mark the area. Examples: we saw a sign board saying “Do Not Walk on the Grass” plonked right in a middle of an area of land that was dug up and strewn with hay! We saw another sign which said “Do Not Swim in the Water, Beware of Crocodiles”, definitely would have made sense if the moat had enough water!

Anyway, we marched on and started climbing and gasping to breathe every few steps! The first point of attraction is the Mirror Wall and the spiral staircase dangling mid-air that you need to climb to reach this wall. While climbing the stairs you can see some of the supposedly more than 500 frescoes than adorn the western face of the fort. The Mirror Wall when built more than 1600 years ago was apparently polished so highly that the king could see his reflection in it!

We climbed further to finally reach the bottom of the fort, the entrance flanked by a lion’s paws. There used to be a sculpted lion’s head on top as well, however that collapsed many years ago. Just standing there, so many feet above the ground and at the feet of a lion was an immensely humbling experience. It turns out, we had reached right in the middle of a wasp-attack (yes, that apparently happens and is very common), so we had to put on these space-suit like well, suits which cover you head to toe, in that sweltering heat and climb up multiple flights of rickety stairs till you reach the fort on top. May have been an easier climb had my glasses not fogged up with every 5 steps! But then once you reach on top, the panoramic view makes you forget all the breathlessness you had to endure!

Finally we came down (which was again a jaunting task for our old knees!) and headed to the Sigiriya Museum. The museum, which is superbly maintained, contains all tit-bits of information about the ancient city and of course it makes more logical sense to actually visit the museum before you climb, to fully appreciate the history you’ll be in the midst of!

We spent the last few hours of the day being pampered by our hostess at the home stay and watching the sun set behind the spectacular Sigiriya mountain.

Day 3: Trincomalee

The next day we took another really early morning bus and headed to the Eastern province of Trincomalee, known for its pristine beaches, coral reefs, colourful ocean life and a multitude of water activities. Once you reach Trinco, you need to take another bus (or tuk-tuk if you may please) and head to Nelavelli. From Nelavelli you take a ferry to reach the Pigeon Island and that’s where all the action happens! We managed to sync up with a couple (from Turkey – United States – FrancePortugal) and shared the costs of spending the day at Pigeon Island. Since I am a hydrophobe I pretty much spent the entire time there lying on the beach and soaking up the sun, but the others went snorkelling and even saw baby sharks!

Shila and I came back to the mainland to look for food and as luck would have it, we got invited by one of the locals to have food at their home! So we ate our hearts’ full of some amazing Sri Lankan fare and headed back to Trino from where we were supposed to travel through the night to Nuwara Eliya for our last leg of the trip.

Day 4: Nuwara Eliya

We roamed all day in Trincomalee and the beaches thinking that we could happily catch an overnight bus to Nuwara Eliya. We felt so proud of our impeccable planning! Turned out, that there are no such buses that operate! Hah! So much so for our planning!

So we went for the next best option, took a 5 hour bus ride to Kandy, from where we were supposed to take a bus to Nuwara Eliya. At some time past midnight, the bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere (that’s how bus stops are remember), while it started drizzling and we have to look for a tin shed for shelter and the bus driver very matter-of-factly said: “Just take the next bus in that direction’ while pointing towards somewhere in the darkness! So we stood there, in the rain with stray dogs for company, hoping for our knight in shining armour on four wheels!

And our knight did arrive, only 40 minutes later, but very happily took us on board to Nuwara Eliya!

Finally we arrived at some 4am (yeah 4am was our “lucky time” through the trip), and found a small hotel to bunk for an hour and then head for our trek in Horton’s Plains. Horton’s Plains in itself is almost a 1.5 hour long drive away and once there, it’s another 9km trek that takes around 2 hours to cover. The plains are said to be remnants of the ancient forests and are covered by wild grasslands, dotted with waterfalls and lakes. Just when we started our trek we came face to face with a huge Sambhar deer, who clearly did not give us a second look while we kept standing there and staring at its magnificence. We moved further on and again we saw a small bunch of deers prancing across the path.

The trek loops through the gurgling Baker’s Falls and comes to a sudden end at the World’s End. It is said that on clear days, you can almost see till the ocean from there! Though we were not that lucky, but lucky enough to not have clouds obscure most of the view. We walked the rest of the loop to finish our 9km trek in less than 2 hours on empty stomachs and less than 1 hour of sleep! *so proud*

We spent the rest of the day in the enchanting little town, buying souvenirs for families back home, walking to the lake and spending time there watching horses graze and hitchhiking to the neighbouring tea estate at Labookelie and getting a tour of the tea factory.

And thus, with the always smiling and willing to help locals, interesting strangers we met on the way, lip smacking food, mind boggling sites Sri Lanka has definitely been a first time back packer's paradise!

We came back for a quick shower to our hostel and went out again to discover the markets around the Pettah area. If you like bustling places and with people haggling for lottery tickets, fruits, meat, clothes, shoes all at the same place, well then yeah the Pettah market is the place to be! Since we already get that in plentiful doses in India, so we headed to the Old Dutch Hospital for some peace and quiet. This is basically the quarters of an old hospital which has now been converted into a commercial complex, housing quirky shops, fancy cafes and eateries.

And thus we drank some more Sri Lankan beer and prepared to bid adieu to the (commercial) capital for a while and head towards the rest of our desinations.

Day 2: Sigiriya

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