Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island

23rd Feb 2017
Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island 1/1 by Sayantan Saha

Deep in the Indian Ocean there lies an emerald shaped island. Previously connected to the Indian subcontinent by a land bridge which in now submerged, the island of Sri Lanka (previously known as Ceylon) has been an important location right from times immemorial. A large portion of the epic Ramayana is based in this tiny island nation south of the subcontinent.

Today the island of Sri Lanka is a traveler’s paradise, it boasts of beautiful beaches, rolling hills and an UNESCO world heritage approved cultural trail which sets it apart from many other tourist places in the vicinity. Being relatively close to India we decided on a 5 day Sri Lankan adventure and through this article I would like to relive the wonderful days spent in this beautiful country.


Traveling without a plan and going wherever the road takes you might sound cool and adventurous but when you have only a few days to explore the country, it is always better to plan in advance, otherwise you may miss the important places. We were a group of 3 who wanted to do this trip and hence we brainstormed for a few hours over Skype and Whatsapp to come to the final itinerary which I will explain in detail in the next section.

The next thing to consider is the visa. Indian nationals do not need a stamped visa to enter the country but what they do require is an Electronic Travel Authorization or an Online visa. One can fill a form in the below link and after making a payment of 20 USD, an ETA will be granted in 24 hours:

Next in line was the transport. As we wanted this to be a backpacking trip, we decided to travel using local transport. As per our research from various travel blogs and also after talking to a couple of friends who has been to Sri Lanka, this option seemed pretty safe and feasible based on the itinerary we had chalked out for ourselves.

Day 1: 23rd Feb 2017:

We started our journey for the city of dreams Mumbai, We booked an early morning Jet Airways flight to Colombo, so that we could reach there by 5:00 AM. Please note that if you are staying in South India the flights to Colombo are cheapest from Madurai and not from Chennai as most people think. I booked from Mumbai as my friend was based in Mumbai and it made sense to travel together. The flight was scheduled at 2 AM and we reached the Bandarnaike International Airport at about 4:30 AM. It’s advisable to reach the airport early especially if one is travelling from Mumbai as there are huge lines in the emigration and security checks.

The international airport in Colombo is about 40 Kms from the city and we took the AC Volvo bus from the airport at 6 AM. The service runs from 6 AM to 6 PM and the price is 150 LKR, the road was amazing and the rising sun created an magical aura in the surrounding as the bus sped over the amazing highway. We reached main bus stand of Colombo (Colombo Fort) in about 40 minutes. We had already booked our hostel at Galle Face , so we took a Tuk-Tuk from the bus stand. The driver might try to overcharge but we insisted on going by the meter and after a bit of haggling one of them agreed. We reached our hostel in about 15 minutes, it was situated at one of the best places in the city with embassies, 5 star hotels and even the Prime Minister’s residence in the vicinity. The Galle Sea face about 5 minutes from our hostel, is also beautiful and has a touch of Dutch and Portuguese architecture. After checking in, we took a quick nap before we started our exploration of the town.

National Museum - Colombo

Photo of Sri Lanka by Sayantan Saha

Colombo is a mixture of the old world charm of its colonial past and the hectic pace of a growing South Asian city. Some of the places we checked out here are the Pettah Floating market, National Museum and the Gangaramya temple. The evening was spent sitting at a lonely pier at Galle face and watch the sun set over the endless Indian Ocean. We had our dinner at an authentic Chinese restaurant where they cooked the food we ordered on a barbecue placed on our table itself. We reached our Hostel late at night and slept off quickly in anticipation of the long journey we had in store the next day.

Floating Market -Pettah , Colombo

Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha
Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha

Day 2: 24th Feb 2017:

After a date with the sea and city life it was the time to immerse ourselves in the serenity of the mountains. The destination was the tiny hamlet of Nuwariya Elia deep in the tea country, We took the 9:45 AM train from Colombo railway station to Nanuyoa, the nearest railway station to Nuwariya Elia. Please note that the reserved compartments in the Sri Lankan trains are very less and you would need to book at least a day in advance. As we did not get any reserved seats, we booked the 2nd class seats for 290 LKR per head. Although it was a 2nd class coach it was unexpectedly clean and quite empty, we easily got seats as the train chugged out of the station crossing towns and villages, racing towards the mountains. A little after the station of Rambukkana, the view started to get mesmerizing as the train started to climb the steep gradient. Beautiful vistas greet our eyes as waterfalls, jungles and tea gardens came into the picture, along with multiple tunnels built thru the mountains. The stations in the hills are also a thing of beauty, a tiny building, with a beautifully manicured garden is commonplace in most of the stations. Hatton is an especially likeable station. The railway ride to Nanuoya is considered amongst the most beautiful railway routes in the world. We reached Nanuoya at about 4:30 in the afternoon, From there we took a tuk-tuk to cover the 7 Kms distance to Nuwariya Elia, After some haggling he agreed to take us in 500 LKR, We had already booked our stay in Hotel Himawari Hills, a beautiful property atop a ridge overlooking the majestic Gregory Lake, We spent the evening walking along the lake and had our dinner on a floating restaurant in the lake itself, we spent the night stargazing and discussing topics ranging from the creation of the universe to the degrading lyrical quality of Bollywood songs.

Train Journey to Nuwariya Elia

Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha

Nuwariya Elia

Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha


Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha

Day 3: 25th Feb 2017:

This was the day we decided to scale Adam’s Peak, the fifth highest peak in Sri Lanka, We took a 7 AM local bus to Hatton railway station. We reached the station at about 9 AM, where a friendly shop keeper agreed to keep our luggage for the time we needed to scale the peak. The start of the trek is located at a place called Delhousie about 30 Kms from Hatton, Regular buses run from Hatton station to Delhousie, By the time we reached the base of the peak it was already 12, We knew we were late but nevertheless we attempted the trek, but unfortunately due to the paucity of time we could not complete the trek as we had to catch a train from Hatton to Kandy at 4 PM, so we were back at the station at 3:30 PM and the train arrived by 4:15 PM. Now this was a journey which was through the beautiful Sri Lankan mountains, but it was somewhat marred by a group of college students in the train, who tried to be over friendly especially with the ladies, bordering on harassment, a couple of drunk guys also left a sour taste in the mouth. By the time we reached Peridenya Junction it was quite late, but thankfully we managed to get the train to Kandy, which took about 10 mins to reach Kandy station from Peridenya Junction. We took a tuk tuk to Cherry Tree resort, a beautiful bunglow situated at the top of a hill surrounded by dense forests, our host was also very gracious and we had an awesome evening in Kandy.


Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha

Himawri Hills Hotel

Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha

Kandy lake

Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha

Day 4:26th Feb 2017:

We checked out early next morning from our bungalow. We had planned to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pinnewala Elephant Ophanage but before that we quickly covered the Kandy city, lake and the Tooth Temple where supposedly a tooth of the Lord Buddha lies. Please note while entering the tooth temple, you are “appropriately” dressed and “NOT” wearing knee length skirts or shorts as then you would not be allowed to enter the temple premises. The temple is situated beside the beautiful Kandy Lake, and the temple itself is also a work of amazing architecture.

Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage

Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha

The Cherry Tree

Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha

Tooth Temple, Kandy

Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha

The Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage is located about 40 Kms from Kandy and tuk-tuks can take you there, but we preferred to take the Colombo bound bus and got down at Pinnewala Junction from where we took a tuk-tuk to the orphanage. Keep in mind that there are multiple smaller elephant parks near Pinnewala and the tuk tuk drivers may try to misguide you to some of these smaller parks as they get a commission from these. Don’t get fooled and make sure they take you to the main park i.e. Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage. Pinnewala is a huge area where a number of orphan and injured elephants are treated and fed. Between 2 PM to 4 PM the elephants are bathed every day and that’s a visual treat and also a treat for photographers. It is advisable to schedule your visit according to this time. After a quick lunch we headed back to the Pinnewala Junction and caught the bus to Colombo. This was a tough 2 hour bus ride as it was over crowded and we needed to keep standing the entire way.

We reached Colombo Fort bus stand at about 6:30 PM and then took an AC coach to Bentota, a beautiful beach town in the Southern part of the country. This town is the preferred destination of honeymoon couples. It took us a couple of hours to reach Bentota after which we checked into “Bentota Beach by Cinnamon” a majestic hotel situated right between the Bentota river and the Indian Ocean. We selected this hotel as we planned to chill the entire next day. We had a sumptuous dinner and took a walk along the beach, it was a beautiful setting with the palm trees swaying in the cool ocean breeze as the sky was painted in a multitude of stars and the choice of hotel was totally vindicated.

Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha

Finally our Sri Lankan sojourn was coming to an end, so with heavy hearts we started our journey back to Colombo, from where we intended to directly go to the airport. This journey was a comfortable one with the road running alongside the ocean giving us glimpses of astounding beauty. We reached Galle face in time to witness the final sunset in Sri Lanka as the sky turned crimson one last time for us in this beautiful island.

After a light evening snack and cups of Ceylon tea in the floating market at Pettah, we were on our way to the Airport, in Bus 187. We reached the International Airport in about an hour and then started the procedures. The flight was scheduled early next morning so we had to wait the entire night in the airport and had a lot of time to catch up on some conversations before we boarded the flight back to Mumbai.

Quick Facts:

The places we stayed at:

1.Colombo: Hostel at Galle Face

2.Nuwariya Elia: Hotel Himawari Hills

3.Kandy: The Cherry Tree

4.Bentota: Bentota Beach by Cinnamon

The cost of the trip was about Rs 15000 INR excluding the tickets.

We missed the northern culture trail of Anuradhapura, Polonaruwa and Srigiya due to paucity of time, but it is a must visit in Sri Lanka

Day 5: 27th Feb 2017:

We got up early next morning after and went for a swim in the ocean, the property had a private beach and the sea was amazingly calm. In fact this was one of the best beaches I have ever seen. The water was crystal clear and the temperature was also ambient making it the perfect setting for the swim. After a couple of hours we had our lunch by the poolside along with a couple of glasses of Jack Daniels.

Photo of Sri Lanka - The Emerald Island by Sayantan Saha

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