By Pritha Banerjee (L&T MHPS)
Payel and I, best friends since college though always connected via technology, could not meet up since 2010. We were planning to meet after six long years! She is settled in Pune and I am in Delhi/NCR now. Instead of visiting each other’s city, we thought why not go for a holiday together? Considering our budget for an international trip and also from the safety point of view of two girls travelling, Sri Lanka was the best of all the options that we could think of. It offered us a complete platter of sea, mountains and city. And undoubtedly, it is diversely beautiful indeed.
We booked our package around January 2017 through MMT. Flight tickets were booked separately as we found that to be more cost effective. However, we requested for some customization in the land tour package. Given our work commitments, we decided to combine the long weekend of Holi with three more working days.
My journey began on Friday, 10th March from my office. I boarded a flight for Mumbai in the evening and reached there at around 10 pm. My friend reached Mumbai from Pune and waited for me at the Domestic terminal of Mumbai Airport. It was an emotional reunion for both of us. After having dinner together at a nearby restaurant outside the airport, we departed for the International Terminal. Our flight to Colombo was at 3.10 am. We did our emigration formalities and exchanged currency at the airport before boarding the flight. Here, I would like to share some information regarding flights to Sri Lanka. The most economical, shortest duration and 0-stop flights to Colombo are mostly from Mumbai or Chennai or Bangalore. A Sri Lankan Airways flight on a Friday Night (technically, Saturday early morning) was best suitable for us. So we chose to fly from Mumbai. We reached in two and a half hours. So by 7.00 am we were done with our immigration and On-Arrival Visa procedures.
For SAARC countries, the cost of On-Arrival Visa was 20USD. You can apply for Visa On-line also. I will suggest you to do that, to avoid long queues.
Regarding currency, please note that 1 INR is equivalent to 2.3 Sri Lankan Rupees. But at Airport Exchange counter you will get only 1.8 Sri Lankan Rupees (as on 11th March 2017) for each INR.
Suggestion: It’s better to carry a VISA Credit or Debit card for transactions there in the shops and restaurants. Bank deducts based on 2.3 rates only. So that’s profitable. But do carry Sri Lankan rupees for local markets, tourist spot entry fees. US Dollars are accepted everywhere in Colombo, but not in any other cities.
Coming out of the airport, we found our tour guide cum driver waiting for us holding a placard with my name. His name was Karan, a Tamil guy, fan of MS Dhoni and Shahrukh Khan. A white, comfortable Toyota Sedan car was waiting for the two of us. We were provided with a local Sim-card with Rs 100 Balance in it. And we started…
Our first city was Dambulla. On our way to Dambulla from Colombo, we visited Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. A huge number of elephants are provided shelter here. We watched them bathing in the river. The caretakers feed them and take them back to the caves. Though tired from the night journey, we didn’t compromise on a single fun factor. We went for an exciting elephant ride. All our cameras, phones and other belongings were kept in a locker before we headed for the ride. The reason being, the elephant was supposed to throw water on us while crossing the river. It was so much fun. Wish, I could click a picture of that moment. It was a 20 minute ride on the huge animal. He crossed the river, sprayed water with his trunk and we fed him with some local fruits. It was an amazing experience! A must-do for everyone! Though, it was costly, 3000 Sri Lankan Rs per person.
Photos of Pinnawala Elephant orphanage
After freshening up, we had our breakfast at a local restaurant. Then we headed for our next spot – Dambulla Caves. There were at least 80 caves containing pictures and sculptures of Lord Buddha. It depicts thousand year old history of the inhabitants. It is said that these caves were used by monks to reside at a time for meditation and to study. Founded, redecorated and inhabited by various kings at various times, the rock temple is locally named as “Rangiri”, meaning golden rock in Sinhalese. All the caves depict magnificent histories of different era.
Photos of Dambulla Cave
With this, we ended our first day tour. We stayed at a hotel in Sigiriya.
Our tour started with the visit to the Sigriya Lion Rock Fortress – one of the major attractions of Sri Lanka. As told to us, the rock fortess was built by King Kasapya and was once used as a palace and also as a fortress. The rock is visible for miles from all directions. There, due to rains, we avoided climbing till the top. But the view was mesmerizing even from the lion entrance. It is unofficially considered to be the eighth wonder of World.
Sigriya Rock Fortress (Photo courtesy: Internet)
From Sigriya, we headed to our next city, Kandy – the hill capital, once it was the kingdom of the Sinhala Kings and finally surrendered to the British in 1815. It is a city of Buddhist temple, shrines and monasteries. It took around 3 to 4 hours by car to reach Kandy. In between we stopped at a royal spice garden.
Some plantations in the spice garden
In the garden, other than spices all kinds of Ayurvedic medicinal plants were also grown. We were offered free massage with Ayurvedic essential oil along with spice tea. It was very relaxing.
After that, we had lunch, this time at Pizza Hut. We reached our hotel in Kandy at around 3 pm in the afternoon. The hotel was in front of the lake and we were fortunate enough to get a room with a wonderful view of the lake.
View of Lake, Kandy from the hotel room
After enjoying the view for a while, we got ready for our evening plan – a cultural dance show after a visit to the Gem Museum. Sri Lanka is very famous for colorful gems. Amethyst, Blue Topaz, Yellow Topaz, Ruby are very commonly found there. Jewelries made of precious stones attract tourists there from across the world. I personally found them pretty expensive and beyond my budget and hence, didn’t buy any.
Pictures from the dance show in Kandy
The cultural dance show ticket was complimentary in our package. It was a thrilling experience to see their different styles of art and culture. At the end of the show, I got a chance to click a picture with one of the performers. I observed that the locals are respectful to Indian Tourists there. Many of them are fans of our Bollywood and Tollywood stars as well as our cricketers.
While returning to our Hotel, we visited a Buddhist temple on top of the hill opposite to the lake. It has a huge statue of Lord Buddha. The whole city of Kandy was visible from the top. We were fortunate to see a rainbow in the sky. No words can express the beauty of that view.
We returned to the hotel and enjoyed dinner in our hotel at the rooftop restaurant. For the next day tour, we were strictly asked to wear full sleeves and full length covered dress, preferably in white or any light color shades. We were to visit the Sacred Tooth Relic Temple.
From the top of Kandy Hills
We started late at around 11 am today. We first reached at the lake side and spent only some time there watching the beauty of the mountains surrounding the lake.
The upper lake, Kandy
Next we went to the Sacred Tooth Relic Temple, also known as Sri Dalada Maligawa. It is situated near the royal Palace of the former Kingdom of Kandy. It houses the relic of the tooth of Lord Buddha. Though the tooth is actually not visible as it is kept inside a Stupa or Dagoba, as they call it, but the devotees offer their prayers in front of the room which stores the tooth. Since 4th century A.D. it has been stored here. It is considered to be the most prized possession of Sri Lanka. Entry fees to the temple for tourists from SAARC countries are 750 Sri Lankan Rupees per Head.
From there we went to visit a museum which has restored the history of Buddhism in different parts of Asia. It has various rooms showing different Buddhist cultures followed in different ways in those Buddhist countries.
That was all for the day. We went through the shops in the market. Went to the local super market there and bought chips, cake, water etc. Here, I must tell you that since Sri Lankan Rupees is 2.3 times of that of ours. It will be wrong to expect that you will find things at cheaper rates. Instead, they are highly expensive. For instance, a Lays packet of chips that cost you here 30 INR, in Sri Lanka costs around 230 (I don’t remember exactly how much) Sri Lankan Rupees. So even if you calculate with exchange rates 2.3, its 100 INR. So that was sad for us.
Tooth Relic Temple and Buddhist museum, Kandy
Returning to the hotel, it was our party night inside the room.
We checked out from the hotel at Kandy and started our journey to Nuwera Elliya, our third city, a city famous for its golf course, green mountains and Lake Gregory. On our way we visited a tea factory, tea garden, Haggala botanical garden, a waterfall.
At the tea factory. We bought Ceylon Masala tea dips from the factory outlet. We learnt about various health benefits of different types of tea leaves. They described the procedure and showed us the machines used to produce different tea leaves. We were offered different varieties of tea to taste the flavor and the quality.
At around 2 pm, we reached Nuwera Eliya. Quickly, we got dressed up again for Haggala Botanical garden, Gregory Lake and the city tour. The view from the hotel room was lusciously green.
Here are a few snaps of Nuwera Eliya.
View from the hotel room in Nuwera Eliya. It had the race course at the front, the golf course at the back
We visited the Haggala Botanical Garden, a unique garden having different trees, shrubs, flower gardens, medicinal trees and many more. The most beautiful thing about the garden is the path that guides you to the different sections. It was always surrounded by different unique trees. There was a pond at the center of the garden. Roads moving up and down through the various sections. With very few tourists at that time, we had a walk on the calm roads feeling the silence of the garden on a rainy day. It felt so relaxing to walk together. I must tell this, it can be a memorable walk for the couples. But, do remember, good memories have a cost. The entry fee was 1500 Sri Lankan rupees per head.
At Haggala botanical Garden
While coming back, we visited Seetha Eliya and a Hanuman temple. Seetha Eliya is the place mentioned in Ramayana, where Sita Devi used to bathe during her stay at Ashoka Vatika. The stream of water runs through the hills and catered there. Footprints of Lord Hanuman can be found by the side of the river. Among the other temples to visit, one was Gayathri Peedam. It is believed that at this place, Lord Shiva granted Ravana’s Son, Meghnadh with supernatural powers due to his continuous propitiation with penance and prayers.
At Seetha Eliya, Hanuman Mandir and Ram Lakshman Mandir, Nuwera Eliya
That day ended with our city tour of Nuwera Eliya. We visited a monastery and the market place. We saw the government office there.
The Government office at Nuwera Eliya
We had our breakfast from the hotel at Nuwera Eliya early in the morning and checked out at 7 am sharp to proceed to Colombo, our fourth City. On our way to Colombo, we experienced the beauty of greenery in Sri Lanka again. A few more green mountains and waterfalls made us stop again in our way.
Then we stopped for white water rafting in the Kelani River. It was a thrilling experience through 3 major rapids and 4 small rapids. It was more than an hour’s ride. We jumped in the water after the rapids were crossed and enjoyed thoroughly with our life jackets on. After rafting, we changed and started again to reach the hotel. At around 6 in the evening, we reached our hotel.
Going for Rafting
This night was the Casino night! We went to the city’s one of the best casinos to try our luck. In Colombo, the casinos accept INR, USD and other currencies as well. To play, you have to buy coins worth 5000 Sri Lankan Rupees as minimum. Food and drinks inside the casino was free and unlimited. We bought coins and won coins worth 900 Sri Lankan rupees. It was 11 at night. So we left for the Hotel Orelse. We were so excited after winning! We got our coins encashed. So it was a profit of 900 plus the food was free. We were so happy about that.
At the Casino in Colombo
In the morning, we saw that local trains were passing by through the tracks laid in between the hotel and the beach. In Colombo, we found out that major railway lines are lying parallel to the beaches. It was so cool to watch trains and waves together from the balcony.
Today was our last day of the tour and we were already upset about it. We wanted to enjoy till the last moment. So before checking out from the hotel, we enjoyed ourselves at the private beach of the hotel. We woke up at 6 am in the morning and went to the beach. There we enjoyed to the fullest swimming in the sea, clicking few more selfies and playing in the waves and sand, like kids.
Sea beach in Colombo
After freshening up, we checked out from hotel at 1 pm to head towards the airport. While going, we did our city tour in Colombo. We went shopping. We visited National Museum, Twin World Trade Center Towers, Independence Square and finally our journey in Sri Lanka ended at the Colombo Airport at around 8 pm in the evening. Our flight was at 11.50 pm at night which reached Mumbai at around 3 am.
I came back to Delhi in the evening. Thus the tour ended, very much in budget and with some awesome memories with my best friend.
Hope you will love Sri Lanka through my photos and would plan to visit the place soon!