Sunday, August 26, 2012

Amazing Sri Lanka...

This year's anniversary trip was to the neighbouring island country Sri Lanka. Our first international holiday so to say...Jeev and I were pretty excited, as we started planning our itinerary. Courtesy MakeMyTrip our flight was booked. Thanks to the National Geographic site and multiple other blogs and travel sites, we could plan our trip without an agent. We have done this in our travel earlier, but doing this for a holiday outside India was challenging...we loved every minute of our trip :)

We started on 15th August, and before we realized we are in air it was time to land...and lo we were already in Sri Lanka. Hot and humid Colombo was considerably tolerable given that we landed at around 11 pm and reached our place of stay about 12 midnight. We had booked the cab from airport until "Indra Regent Hotel" through the hotel, so this part of the trip was taken care of. The cab driver had been an officer with the Sri Lanka Marine Cops and had been to Mumbai for a few months. He could barely contain his excitement while talking about India, cricket and old Bollywood classics. He was also part of this Hindi Songs Club in Colombo. Well we realized that we were fleeced soon enough, coz we shelled out 2700 LKR for this ride whereas on our way back, we paid only 1200 LKR...we did get smart through the stay and the art of bargaining just got better :). About the hotel, this is strictly a place to spend minimal transit time between your journey.

Colombo Fort Railway station
On 16th we started early to take the train at 7:00 to Kandy. We had booked the exporail tickets online. The distance from Indra Regent Hotel till the Colombo fort train station is only about 3 kms, and the rickshaw charged us 300 LKR. It was raining and was really difficult to find a rickshaw at this price. I had to wait at the station for a good 45 mins. while Jeev figured out the counter to get the ticket. The language problem kicks in, not everyone speaks English. While waiting I realized the tight security in all the major places. We had seen this on our way from airport too, a well guarded place must say. I really liked the cool bicycles that the commandos were using to take turns to go around the Colombo Fort to ensure the security of the place.

Temple of Tooth - Kandy
As we stepped onto the Colombo Fort railway station, it was like a flashback in India. The station had the old world charm and to add to it our train was pulled into the station by a Steam Engine. The 2 hour 30 mins ride to Kandy was nice, the last 30 mins especially gives you good glimpses of the terraced tea gardens. We spend a few hours in Kandy town and saw the "Temple of Tooth" and "Kandy Lake" before moving onto our resort in "Deltota". The Temple of Tooth was well kept and I noticed a mix of south Indian and Chinese influence in the carvings. Their way of praying also seemed very similar to ours.

Deltota is 30 kms from Kandy town and we got a good bargain of 1600 LKR for an auto ride. As we climbed up the hills the temperature dropped considerably and the view kept getting better. We stopped in between to click as many pics as we could, the expanse of green hills was extremely soothing. We stayed at "Mandira Taylors Hill Bungalow", a 120 year old colonial Bungalow, at the edge of the hill, deep inside a plantation. You could hear the wind gushing all the time. My first impression about the place and the care takers was not that great, but this changed completely in the next 2 days and at a point I wanted to extend our stay. If you go there do not miss the "Lamprais","Sambhol and Rice Hoppers". "Kandy Tea" all cooked by Mr. Gamini.

We took many walks around the Bungalow  to the Sandalwood Project nearby, Deltota Town and also to Galaha. Green and fresh air were the biggest advantage of being in Kandy, yet away from the regular tourist spots. We were drenched in rain a couple of times, but that did not deter us from going out again. We also found an Indian shopkeeper from Tirupur, I brought a Sri Lankan saree from his shop and he gave me a nice discount too :)

In the 2 days we figured out how to reach our next destination "Nuwara Eliya" and the bus to take us from "Deltota" to "Peradeniya Junction". On 18th we started at 5 to catch the bus, the security escorted us until we reached the main road. As we walked we could see the dawn approaching, the transformation from a silhouette of trees and hills to the pale orange of the dawn was beyond description. Though not a trek this short walk of about 2 kms was a memorable one.

As we approached Peradeniya Junction, we could see The Peradeniya University buildings stretched over an expanse of a few 100 acres. It was absolutely magnificent and full of manicured lawns and huge trees. This time we booked tickets in the observatory car. This is the last compartment in the train with huge glass windows and a full view of the rear, perfect for tourists to take pictures. This journey of 4 hours to Nanu Oya is a nature treat, especially the last 1 hour. At a point you only see hills until the horizon and all full of green, with of course the ugly mobile tower once a while to spoil the show. We passed by stretches after stretches of tea estates, water falls, a reservoir, those long roads placed beautifully between hills, tiny temples with multicoloured figurines decorating the roof...the list was long.

We took the state transport to go from Nanu Oya to Nuwara Eliya. It got much colder by then and had also started to rain, we only had 1/2 a day to spend here, so we decided not to rest. We spend some time in Nuwara Eliya town, the botanical gardens, golf course, and some old colonial buildings. Our stay here was in "Hill View Resort". This was about 2 kms from the town and was up on the hill, we were actually amidst clouds :) I couldn't believe this. We could barely see things a few meters from was heavenly.

The same night we started on our journey back to Colombo. As we waited for our train at "Nanu Oya", it was nice to interact with a few the locals. They helped us find the right compartment. We were back in Colombo by 7 am. We spent time at the Galle sea face, and headed straight for our last aim this!!!  We shopped like crazy at Odelle, picked clothes, tea, souvenirs and so on.

Contented by the 4 days of nature and shopping we headed back to the airport. The cab driver this time too was a big fan of India. His son had been to Bangalore for a cricket tournament and wanted to know all about our vada, religion, different states...the list was long.

A word of caution to all who plan to use credit card for their transactions. We got messages from our bank stating that the card was used in a high risk location and that it would be replaced. I did not realize that I had to sms to get this done, and in the meanwhile my card was already skimmed and swiped in the US. Thanks to citibank for recognizing the fraud and for reissuing my card.

I would want to go back again...the northern and eastern provinces could not fit into our agenda this time...Jeev are you listening??

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