Caution: Long post ahead! :P
Tear drop shaped island country, one of the nearest neighbors of India - Sri Lanka holds the same historical relation with India in context of Ramayana. Covering Sri Lanka in 7 days under INR 20,000, that too Solo trip from India needed a bit of planning. Although in size it is smaller than a state of India, Sri Lanka has diverse flora and fauna, food and culture. The innumerable National Parks, beaches and hills make its an ideal holiday destination for people across the world.
I started from Mumbai on a Friday and reached Sri Lanka on Saturday. It is not much of a distance but my layover was for around 4 to 6 hours at Chennai.
Colombo - Negombo
Since I reached in the morning, I had booked a homestay at House of Le Meridien at Negombo through Booking.com. The distance was very close to the airport, hardly 30 mins. Traveling to short distances is really cheap using the cab services like Uber and PickMe.
The Colombo city can be visited in a day and you may spend sometime by the ocean near all the big hotel chains. Especially in the evening the Ocean line looks beautiful!
Lots of sea food available anywhere that you travel.
Since I have seen lots of beaches, I wanted to see something other than beaches hence visited other locations.
Traveling is cheap by local transport across the country, but it is quite time consuming. I took a bus from Negombo to Dambulla (there are AC and non AC buses, both with reasonable cost Ask the locals/ at the bus station about the AC buses if you want to travel in that). And from Dambulla to Habarana another bus (here only non AC buses).
Accommodation : Jungle Paradise
I would especially like to mention about the accommodation here. All nature lovers would love this place! It is simply amazing! There is a tree house, mud house, camping. All in the lap of nature. Everything there is eco-friendly...in literal sense! The electricity is generated through the owner, Rukmal's personal solar panel. The food, stay everything will give you an authentic experience about how we should treat and respect Mother Nature. He is an amazing person who would help you in deciding your further journey and also might accompany for an adventure trip!
A special memory - Since I didnot have any company for Minneriya National Park where I wanted to see the 'gathering' of Elephant herd, it was too costly for me to have the Safari alone and most importantly I wanted to see Elephants in a natural way. Hence decided to go on a real raw adventure...at night, in the jungle!
Rukmal has his tuk tuk(auto vehicle). Around 9:30 pm we decided to go in the middle of the jungle (this accommodation is just beside another small National Park) to see Elephants.
Next moment, we found ourselves in the pitch dark path of the Jungle with just a torch to spot Elephants :)
Within 5 minutes, the 1st small Elephant family was spotted - 2 big and one small kid. As soon as we were looking at them for around 30 seconds, the largest Elephant among them started to move towards us! Next micro second, we vanished from there!
Within next 2 minutes, we spotted another single Elephant who was waiting like a gentleman just on the footpath to cross the road. We waited in front of it just hardly 5 metres away until it smoothly crossed the road.
Next within another 5 mins, we spotted two Elephants together. We paused, they paused. We moved, they moved. It was as if we were playing 'copy-me' game :D Next second, one of them started to advance towards us and again we ran from there within a micro second!!
The final Elephant we spotted was a bit scared of us it seemed. It moved away instead of coming towards us.
We could get this experience just within a few metres at night without any guide or restriction. We just saw them and came back! It was a great feeling and experience! Not disturbing or using Elephants as in Safari and getting the real experience of simply watching them in their natural behavior is something I was looking for, and see...got it! :)
Ritigala-Pink Quartz- Sigiriya- Pidurangala
There are some places in Sri Lanka which are extremely famous tourist spots and you will find those everywhere on the internet and most of the people visit only those. Due to this the entry of foreigners to these specific tourist spots are extremely expensive!
But there are certain places where only a handful of travelers go and explore. I did that. These have equal importance and significance in history and are some of the most beautiful and adventurous places you can go for.
Ritigala - This is one of the places where parts of the Himalayan mountain fell while Hanuman was carrying it to cure Laxman, as per Ramayana. It is the ruins of an ancient monastery with beautiful ambiance and environment. It has around 70 rock caves that were believed to had been inhabited since first century B.C.!
Pink Quartz - This hill range is entirely made of pink quartz! The view from the top is mindblowing! You have got to visit this place once you are near Habarana.
Sigiriya - The famous Lion Rock of Sri Lanka. Famous for its giant structure and the ruins of ancient rock fortress at the top of it. It was formed from the magma of an extinct volcano. The entry fee here is approx INR 5000! Yes, it's pretty expensive!
Pidurangala - Climbing to Sigiriya and Pidurangala are different experiences and cannot be compared. But when I was climbing Pidurangala, the Nature was at its best! Just near the top, the incoming black clouds of the monsoon engulfing the entire green stretch in front was a mesmerizing beauty! Waited near the giant sleeping Buddha structure for around 45 mins for the heavy rain to stop so that I can climb the top of Pidurangala.
Trust me, you HAVE to climb to the top, the view is speechless! And not to forget, the 'climbing' part is more than a trek, you literally need to climb like a monkey! It's way to adventurous. Wear a good grip shoe so as not to slip.
Next day the journey from Habarana to Kandy took around 3 hours in bus. In Kandy stayed at a place near the Kandy Lake. Reached around 11 am, freshened up and went to see Temple of The Tooth. The entry for Indians or in general foreigners is INR 1000. Yes it's comparatively expensive again.
It is a Buddhist temple with houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha. It's nice inside. But personally I felt it is not worth INR 1000 to visit.
After that had lunch at . In the evening roamed around the market. There are lots of beautiful flower shops. You may buy local stuffs but see to it which are local and which are imported as lots of things are imported from Chennai.
Now when it comes to traveling to Ella from Kandy, 99.9% people would tell you to take the train from Kandy Station. It is known as the most picturesque train ride. And yes it is! The train ride took around 6 hours! Yes, traveling takes a lot of time in Sri Lanka as compared to the given distance.
Few tips for the train ride:
1. Even if you go early to book the ticket at the Station, it's of no use since there is no seat reservation system.
2. It's hell crowded. Yes, just like Mumbai local, you have to travel. If you are lucky enough then you might get a seat in between.
3. But all passengers manage to sit somewhere on the luggage or on floor given the journey time.
4. Take some snacks and water with you, although you will get some snacks on board by the vendors.
5. If possible, then get on the train prior to Kandy i.e. one stop before Kandy just to try your luck for the seats! And yes, it works for most of the people.
The people are very humble and helpful, so the train ride is not of a big problem even if you don't get a seat. Some good people offer their seat turn by turn.
In Ella, I stayed at a place known as Rodger's Hideout. It is a bit far from the main Ella center. You get bus from the station easily. But I just cannot say what an ultimate experience it was. I will detail it out in my next article. Just in brief, it is a place where you will be completely in the middle of nature - jungle, free flowing river, natural river pool, paddy fields, hills all around and a great host/owner of the place with his amazing dog named TJ.
The train ride takes about half a day, so reached Ella in the evening and explored the next day.
Little Adam's Peak, Ella Rock, Nine Arch Bridge
Started early in the morning. From Ella Station stop, it is walking distance. Trek up to the top of Little Adam's Peak. The view is mesmerizing! There's a Buddha status on the top of the hill. Climbed down and then Ella rock. It was too tiring altogether, given the weather was too hot :(
Have food at Flower Cafe. As the name depicts, the entire cafe and its surroundings are filled with plants and trees. It is a treat to the eyes and soul. They have their own Avocado tree and you get to drink the juice in the cafe made from that.
Downhill, there is a path, in a way short cut leading to Nine Arch Bridge. It is considered to be one of the best examples of colonial-era railway construction in Sri Lanka.
Finally the day back to Colombo. Took a bus from Ella since it takes less time than train. Sri Lanka in 7 days under INR 20,000 can be easily done by anyone. Go and explore for yourself!
Entire trip was a mix of adventure, relaxing, tiring and fun altogether. If you want to cover all the beaches, definitely choose to visit North eastern and Southern part of the country.
Happy traveling :)