10 Cities, 10 Days, 1 Girl: My Story Of Chasing The Perfect Start To 2018

Tripoto
21st Jan 2018
Photo of 10 Cities, 10 Days, 1 Girl: My Story Of Chasing The Perfect Start To 2018 by Shipra Shekhar

"What did you do for New Year's Eve?" This is the top question of the month in January. No matter how disconnected our lives are from the change of calendar dates, the beginning of a new year gives us a chance to look back on the year gone by and have hopes for the coming year. It is a given that most of us choose to do something monumental to mark the occasion. Travelling to places far and wide has been my sanity keeper for the past five years and I could think of no better way of welcoming the new year than ticking off another place from my ever-growing bucket list. So I asked myself, "Where do I want to be on New Year's Eve?" The first step in figuring this out is usually this:

Photo of 10 Cities, 10 Days, 1 Girl: My Story Of Chasing The Perfect Start To 2018 1/2 by Shipra Shekhar

Skyscanner helped me zero down on a very overlooked and intriguing country – Sri Lanka.

I booked my flight to Colombo and planned to find a place that I like for New Year's Eve, in a country I knew nothing about. I made no other plan and limited my research to just weather and local transport to have room for surprise. I mean, isn't it best to let the cosmos take over rather than trying to premeditate every step?

I landed in Colombo on December 21 alone and my pursuit of finding a perfect place took me around 10 cities in Sri Lanka and I finally ended up celebrating New Year on a lagoon paradise called Kalpitiya with a bunch of people who did not feel like strangers by then. Now when I look back, I realise it was never about finding the perfect place. It was about those little sparks of magic on the road, those delicate moments where we bond with strangers, who we have nothing in common with other than being together in the same space and time, those times when we are so happy that we forget to take out a camera or even try to capture it and about every experience that makes us glad to be alive.

This is the story of how sometimes having no plan is the best plan.

Getting there

Photo of 10 Cities, 10 Days, 1 Girl: My Story Of Chasing The Perfect Start To 2018 2/2 by Shipra Shekhar

Sri Lanka is connected to all major Indian cities by airlines such as Air India, Jet Airways, Indigo and the Sri Lankan Airlines. Flying to Colombo in Sri Lanka from Chennai is the most economical option.

Round-trip fares from Chennai to Colombo start at ₹7,393 onwards. Book in advance to get the best price.

Visa

Indians need a visa to enter Sri Lanka. Though you can avail a visa-on-arrival, it is better to get one before you travel. All arrivals into Sri Lanka now require an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) document that can be obtained here for $20 or ₹1,278 per person.

Read ahead to find out how I spent 10 days chasing the perfect new year in Sri Lanka.

Day 1

After landing at Bandaranaike International Airport, I left for Mount Lavinia where I had booked my stay for the first day in Sri Lanka. It is about 40km from the airport and a good place to ease into understanding Sri Lanka. The beach is not so touristy, but has tasteful shacks all along. I spent the day at the beach, where locals were learning to surf. I also visited the Dehiwala Zoo, which is home to variety of animals and birds and was established in 1936.

Train by the sea.

Photo of Mount Lavinia, Western Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

Prawn curry and rice along with sambol.

Photo of Mount Lavinia, Western Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

Transport: From the airport, take a bus to Fort Colombo, from where you will take another bus to Mount Lavinia. This journey will take about two hours.

Stay: Mount Breeze Hotel (₹ 2,191), Evergreen Colombo (₹ 434). For more options, check here.

Eat: Enjoy world-class seafood at the Ministry of Crab, which is amongst the top 50 restaurants in Asia. Dine right on the beach at Seafood Cove by Mount Lavinia Hotel.

Visit: National Zoological Gardens, Beddagana Wetland Park

Day 2

Source: Wikimedia

Photo of Kandy, Central Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

My guide in the tea factory.

Photo of Kandy, Central Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

A very manual announcement board.

Photo of Kandy, Central Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

At Kandy viewpoint.

Photo of Kandy, Central Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

Kandy is one of the prettiest cities I have visited. There is so much greenery all around. The view of the Big Buddha statue overlooking the city is surreal. This place is quite touristy and there are plenty of sights you can visit. The temple of tooth, which is home to the tooth relic of the Buddha near Kandy Lake, is quite a sight.

Transport: Take a train from Colombo to reach Kandy. This scenic train journey will take about four hours.

Stay: Bee View Home Stay (₹2,296), Hantana Home Stay (₹2,296). For more options, check here.

Eat: Try fried ice-cream at the Cool Corner and enjoy delicious food at Licensed to Grill restaurant.

Visit: Temple of the Tooth, Sigiriya

Day 3

Chasing waterfalls in Nuwara Eliya.

Photo of Nuwara Eliya, Central Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar
Photo of Nuwara Eliya, Central Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

Nuwara Eliya is the highest hill city located at an elevation of 1,868m. It is even prettier than Kandy with beautiful tea gardens and waterfalls around, complete with the tranquil Gregory Lake. Owing to the high altitude, it gets pretty cold at night. I visited Pedro tea farm here which was more touristy than the one I visited in Kandy, and also visited the waterfall near it.

Transport: Take a bus from Kandy to reach Nuwara Eliya. This scenic journey will take about 3 hours.

Stay: Heidi's Home (₹2,239), Panorama Accommodations (₹1,366). For more options, check here.

Eat: Enjoy the view of the scenic Gregory Lake when you dine at the Lake Inn Floating Restaurant.

Visit: Horton Plains National Park, Adam's Peak

Quaint station on the way to Ella.

Photo of 10 Cities, 10 Days, 1 Girl: My Story Of Chasing The Perfect Start To 2018 by Shipra Shekhar

Pedro tea estate.

Photo of 10 Cities, 10 Days, 1 Girl: My Story Of Chasing The Perfect Start To 2018 by Shipra Shekhar

Hitchhiking on the way back to the hostel.

Photo of 10 Cities, 10 Days, 1 Girl: My Story Of Chasing The Perfect Start To 2018 by Shipra Shekhar
Photo of 10 Cities, 10 Days, 1 Girl: My Story Of Chasing The Perfect Start To 2018 by Shipra Shekhar

The scenic train journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is as beautiful as the destination. Ella indeed is my favourite place in Sri Lanka. Take the vibes of Old Manali, with the misty weather of Kodaikanal and the serenity of Shillong. Put it together and you have Ella. This is the place I celebrated Christmas and met people who I eventually ended up celebrating New Year's Eve with as well.

Transport: Take a train from Nuwara Eliya to reach Ella. This scenic train journey will take about three hours.

Stay: Golden View (₹1,332), Forest Homestay (₹957). For more options, check here.

Eat: Enjoy the great ambiance and food at Cafe Chill.

Visit: Ravana Falls, Nine Arches Bridge, Little Adam's Peak

Day 5

Source: Wikimedia

Photo of Tangalle, Southern Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

The lagoon I had to cross to reach my homestay.

Photo of Tangalle, Southern Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

This place is pretty offbeat and is famous for the Turtle Conservation Project. There are seven species of turtles in the world and five of them visit the southern beaches of Sri Lanka to lay eggs. You can visit the conservation centre at night and if you get lucky, you might get a chance to observe a turtle laying eggs on the beach.

Transport: Take a bus from Ella to reach Tangalle. This journey will take about three hours.

Stay: Peacock Garden Cabanas (₹1,563), Natural Holiday Inn (₹1,021). For more options, check here.

Eat: Savour delicious seafood at the Dream Family restaurant.

Visit: Turtle conservatory, Rekawa Lagoon

Day 6
Photo of Unawatuna, Southern Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

I made Unawatuna my base for exploring the beaches of southern Sri Lanka. I initially thought that I would stay here for New Year's Eve, but I did not eventually. I spent the day just riding along the beach road and eating delicious street food on the way. There are several beach shacks here, some of which host parties at night.

Transport: Take a bus from Tangalle to reach Unawatuna. This journey will take about two hours.

Stay: Bedspace (₹2,828), Gloria Grand Hotel (₹3,143). For more options, check here.

Eat: Drink pango and eat all you can at the Bedspace Kitchen.

Visit: Jungle Beach, Koggala Beach, Japanese Peace Pagoda

Day 7

Galle lighthouse.

Photo of Galle, Southern Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

The Galle Fort is a world heritage site and it will instantly remind you of Pondicherry with its architecture, vibes and great cafe culture. This area is pretty touristy, but a great place to shop for quirky handicrafts.

Transport: Galle is just 4km away from Unawatuna. You can hire a tuk-tuk or rent a scooter to explore the area. Local buses also ply on the route frequently.

Stay: River Park Inn (₹1,021), Galle Nest Villa (₹2,870). For more options, check here.

Eat: Enjoy sumptuous seafood at the Shack Beach Cafe and Sri Lankan food at Coconut Sambol.

Visit: Galle Fort, National Museum of Galle

Day 8

Source: Maxpixel

Photo of Weligama, Southern Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

Weligama is another beach town located near the more touristy beach of Mirissa. This is the place you need to head to if you are interested in whale spotting. The boat for whale-watching leaves early around six in the morning and costs around ₹2,000.

Transport: You can rent a scooter and drive to Weligama from Unawatuna, as it is just 30km away. You can also take a local bus.

Stay: Surasa Beach Resort (₹957), Tinara River Inn (₹2,684). For more options, check here.

Eat: You can buy your own fish and get it cooked at the fish point on Weligama beach.

Visit: Snake Farm, Midigama Beach

Day 9
Photo of Kalpitiya, North Western Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar
Photo of Kalpitiya, North Western Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

I never thought I would feel it, but I had enjoyed my share of beach life by then and wanted to experience something different. The friends I made while in Ella were headed to this place in the northwest side of Sri Lanka called Kalpitiya for New Year's Eve and they told me great things about it. Intrigued, I decided to join them. Reaching Kalpitiya was a challenge with very slow Sri Lankan public transport, but the place was worth it. With a lagoon, beach and several windmills in the middle of the village, the landscape of Kalpitiya is a loaded sight. It is world-renowned as an ideal kitesurfing spot too. We welcomed the new year while partying the night away near the lagoon and the full moon night made it perfect. I cannot not even imagine a better start to 2018.

Transport: Take an express bus from Matara to reach Colombo. Then take another bus from Colombo to reach Puttalam. From Puttalam take another bus to reach Kalpitiya. This journey will take about six to seven hours, so it is better to start early.

Stay: Gloria Guesthouse (₹638), Luna Laguna (₹2,679). For more options, check here.

Eat: Enjoy a cold-brewed coconut coffee at Kite House Cafe by the beach.

Visit: Kalpitiya Dutch Fort, Kalpitiya Lagoon

Day 10

Source: Wikimedia

Photo of Negombo, Western Province, Sri Lanka by Shipra Shekhar

I had an early morning flight to catch on January 2. So I made my way to Negombo from Kalpitiya, as it is pretty easy to reach Bandaranaike International Airport from there. I stuffed my mouth with delicious Sri Lankan food for the last time and simply walked around the beautiful town before I said goodbye to this incredible country with a promise to come back again for more.

Transport: Take a bus from Kalpitiya to Puttalam, then take another bus from Puttalam to reach Negombo. This journey will take about three hours.

Stay: Villa Paragon (₹638), Hangover Hostels (₹765). For more options, check here.

Eat: Enjoy mouth-watering seafood at the Lords Restaurant.

Visit: Angurukaramulla Temple, Negombo Lagoon

When to go

The best time to visit the west coast, south coast and the Central Highland is from December to March, while the best weather on the east coast is from April to September.

Getting around

Sri Lanka is a small country and the only way to travel from one city to another is by local bus or train. Try to reach early at the bus station to save yourself a seat, as there is no way you can reserve in advance. This is also applicable for the trains. You can also rent a car to explore this incredible country.

Costs

Flight from Chennai to Colombo: ₹7,393

One-way ticket on local transport: ₹60

Accommodation: ₹800

A meal: ₹284

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