Saturday, October 11, 2014

Through the Land of Lanka

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in this case, it doesn’t even begin to do justice to what I experienced over the past ten days: the beautiful country of Sri Lanka, which, in my opinion, is right up there with some of the most picturesque places I have visited, be it Kerala, Sorrento, Salzburg or Amsterdam. For a small country marred by political tension, it offers an eclectic mix of history, breathtaking landscapes and delectable seafood. As a kid, Sri Lanka was synonymous to LTTE and cricket, but over the past few years, I spent hours researching about the country and almost knew the map by heart.


Then, just like that, we decided to take a quick flight over a long weekend: definitely the most impromptu international trip for me. Over the next week or so, we traveled over 700 Kms across the south coast from Bentota to Nuwara Eliya to Kandy to Pinnewala to Mount Lavinia to Colombo.


While Colombo was pretty much like Bombay, with its bustling city life, terrible traffic and heavy rains, it also exuded the similar charm of its skyline reflected in the sea which ran parallel to the narrow roads. Even though we spent only a day in the city, we managed to get a quick glimpse of the Galle Face Green, the Viharamahadevi Park, National Museum, Twin World Trade Center towers, Old Parliament Building, Fort district, Independence Hall at Independence Square and indulge in some souvenir shopping. But instead of staying overnight at Colombo, we decided to put up at a British Colonial theme beach resort right on the sea, at Mount Lavinia, about 30 minutes drive from Colombo. As beautiful as the hotel was, the highlight has to be the non-descript shack on the beach which served the most delicious and fresh seafood I have ever had.

In sharp contrast to the rest of the trip which was fairly hectic, our three days in Bentota was as relaxed as it can get. We soaked up the sun from our ocean view room, enjoying the sunset from the balcony, reading, sipping a cup of the Ceylon tea and just like that, falling asleep on the couch, barely aware of the rumbling of the waves, which was more like a distant lullaby. The Golden Beach beckoned to us every now and then, and we spent a lot of time walking trudging along the soft sand, sunbathing on the beach chairs or talking to the fishermen early in the morning as they showed us the fresh catch. We also took a boat ride across the tranquil Madhu River, a typical south-east Asian river cruise sprinkled with mangroves and wildlife. The visit to the Turtle Hatchery, though a novel experience, was quite forgettable and this would be one aspect of the trip I would be willing to forego when I revisit the country in the near future.

The day trip to Galle from Bentota was probably one of the most memorable excursions. With its rich colonial history, the Dutch Fort is a UNESCO world heritage site which offered a lot to visitors: be it the Dutch Museum, the Dutch Reformed Church, the Maritime Museum, the Astronomical Clock, the Lighthouse or simply the breathtaking sunset over the sea in the backdrop of the archaeological ruins. I even managed to capture a shot of the Galle cricket stadium: something I had seen multiple times on TV and the memories of Jayasuriya, Sangakkara and Jayawardena came alive for a moment. The icing on the cake was added by the fresh seafood platter which we devoured late in the day, as we stared out at the sea. It was hard to believe that this is the same place which witnessed the Tsunami a decade back, the ravages of which were still strewn across the roads as we drove by.

However, Sri Lanka was so much more than beautiful beaches, palm trees and old architecture. The long roadtrip from Bentota to Nuwara Eliya (City of Lights) was orchestrated with breathtaking views of valleys, meadows, mountains and greenery, not to mention the salubrious climate. Aptly known as “Little England”, Nuwara Eliya was created by the British into a typical English Village. The town hosted an old brick Post office, country house like hill club with its hunting pictures, trophies, an 18-hole golf course, horse race course, as well as creations of the famous British architect, Geoffrey Bawa, all of which were reminiscent of the English legacy. We visited the colourful Victoria Park, the beautiful Gregory Lake and the Macwoods tea factory, all of which concocted a powerful yet mesmerizing potion of the European flavour even in the remote hill station tucked away in one corner of Sri Lanka! The ambience at the St. Andrews hotel, yet another work of Bawa, added to the feel of the place, not to mention the awe-inspiring mountain view from the balcony of our boutique hotel. Yet, with all its European lineage, Nuwara Eliya was also home to Seetha Eliya, a Hindu temple enshrined in Ramayana as well as Haggala Gardens, which is revered as the place where Sita was kept captive by Ravana. On our way, we also stopped by at Kitulgala to take some picturesque shots of the Kelani River, where the Academy Award-winning movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed.

The next destination in our epic roadtrip was the hilltown of Kandy. Also a UNESCO heritage town and the erstwhile capital of Sri Lanka, it’s almost effortlessly elegant with its luxuriant prairie, charming lake, and misty mountains and the Mahaweli River flowing through it. On our way, we visited the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, which could very well be the proverbial Garden of Eden with its different varieties of orchids, flower gardens, medicinal plants and palm trees. The Temple of Tooth ensconced by the Kandy Lake could easily take on any major tourist attractions in the world, and as we took in the atmosphere, the world almost stopped moving. It was one of those rare experiences which completely overpowered me, like it happens when the spiritual journey overwhelms the religious one. Somehow the other attractions like the Gem Museum, the Batik Factory, the Spice Gardens or even the traditional cultural show paled in front of it. Finally, on our way to Colombo, we made a quick detour to the Pinnewela Elephant Orphanage to visit a herd of elephants bathing in the sea: an experience which can conquer you, albeit momentarily.

While the trip itself was a pot-pourri of culture, history, architecture and nature, the one thing that remained constant was the warmth, patience and jovial company of our driver Ranil, who tirelessly drove across the country, answered our million questions, took pictures as we posed in various places and enthralled us with little anecdotes. But for him, we would have never experienced the local flavour and would have remained a distant tourist who simply SAW the country without actually KNOWING it.


This time it was a whirlwind week which wetted my appetite; someday I hope I can do justice to what the country actually offers.

Sri Lanka, like its batsmen, has a style of its own: languid yet attractive, understated yet overpowering, calm yet vivacious…

2 comments:

Childwoman said...

Wow, great photos. You certainly had a great time. Where was the photos of the elephants taken?

Nefertiti said...

@childwoman
yea it was indeed awesome. Hope to go back soon. The elephants were in Pinnewala.