“Ayubowan’ – which means Welcome in Sinhalese language – is the first word we learnt during the tour of this magical island country of Sri Lanka. As soon as we entered the airport in Sri Lanka, we were greeted by Sri Lankan ladies elegantly dressed in their traditional wear, welcoming us with a polite Namaste gesture and greeting us “Ayubowan”. Straightaway I could feel the warmth and the welcoming nature of this country and all the apprehension or fear that I had in mind about this new unknown destination took an instant backseat.
Last summer I and my girlfriend Nina, from Slovenia, planned out an eighteen-day tour to this lovely beautiful country. Although, we did not have any scheduled itinerary for the trip and had decided to go with the flow, at the end of the trip, this is how our trip map looked:
We had our flight to Sri Lanka from Madurai, Tamil Nadu, as that was one of the cheapest option we found at that time. A very small airport, with limited number of flight options, Madurai ended up to be quite convenient and easy for us. The flight duration was about 45 minutes and we just had enough time to finish our in-flight snacks before we saw the Sri Lankan coast line.
Sri Lanka, the charming island country, has a lot to offer for all kind of travelers and can be truly called as a traveler’s paradise. Whether it is the natural flora and fauna, or the historic architectures, or a beautiful hill station or just a leisurely beach vacation, this place can be a one-stop destination for everyone. Of all the many places that we visited, below are the best five places that is a must see for anyone who visits this country.
Kandy is a beautiful hill city that is about 100 kilometers from Colombo. We took an express train from Colombo which reached Kandy in about 2 and half hours. The place welcomed us with fresh cool mountain breeze and although crowded, it still felt quite charming. Kandy is one of the popular destination among the tourists and has lots to offer. Apart from the charming weather and the beautiful picturesque hills, the famous Temple of Tooth, the beautiful Kandy Lake and a nice candid market place are few of the many attractions of this place. Self-drive two-wheeler are available at few places. The city of Kandy has a number of Buddha statues and temples all around. There is also a huge and extremely beautiful Royal Botanical Garden with a large variety of plants, trees and flowers. There is a cultural auditorium near the lake where they perform their authentic Kandian dances and other cultural programs which is definitely a worth-going experience.
DAMBULLA, SIGIRIYA AND POLONNARUWA
Dambulla and Sigiriya, is about 85 kilometers from Kandy. Dambulla has a huge statue of Buddha and a series of cave temples, with hundreds of statues and paintings of Buddha and other gods and the whole structure located at a height of about 160 meters gives a spectacular view of the plains around. Sigiriya, about 8 kilometers from Dambulla, is a huge rock structure and one of the most famous tourist attraction. The rock is about 200 meters high. A series of steps took us around the rock, where we saw beautifully inscribed frescoes and paintings, and then led us to the top of the rock through the Lion’s Paw. The view from the top was absolutely sensational and out of the world. The archaeological city of Polonnaruwa, about 150 kilometers from Kandy is a huge complex full of stunning ruins and magnificent structures of palaces, temples, viharas, pools, auditoriums, and statues and idols of Buddha and other gods. It is a place of huge historical importance and definitely a must-see place. There is an option to rent a bike to go around the huge complex which is a really nice experience.
Me posing near the famous Sigiriya Rock
Nuwara Eliya is a beautiful hill city covered with tea estates and with the most amazing picturesque landscapes. There is a train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya which goes through one of the most scenic routes, however, one has to book the tickets in couple of days in advance. Alternately, buses also runs which takes about 2 hours. Nuwara Eliya is one of the coldest place in Sri Lanka with the temperature just about few degrees over zero. It is not as crowded as Kandy and is quite calm and peaceful. Gregory Park, which has a nice lake with water sports and boating activities, is a nice place to go strolling in the evening. Pedro Tea Factory is another popular spot where they give a tour of the factory and explain the complete process of the manufacturing of the Tea from the tea leaves produced in their estate. Also, just near this tea factory is a trail which leads to a lovely waterfall called “Lover’s Leap”. Horton Plains National Park which is about 30 kilometers from Nuwara Eliya is also a must-go place for nature lovers. This place has a 10 kilometer walking trail that goes through a variety of forest trees, bamboos and grasslands. The trail passes through couple of viewpoints called “Little World’s end” and “World’s end” which is at the height of 2000 meters and has a spectacular view of the surrounding area, a beautiful waterfall called Baker’s Fall, and few small water bodies. One can hear the musical chirps of lovely birds and sometimes the distant cry of monkeys or other animals.
Bundala is about a 4-hour bus ride, and is about 150 kilometers from Nuwara Eliya. This place is comparatively quieter and feels more like a local place than a touristic place. This place is famous for the Bundala National Park, Hambantota. A huge park, with its breathtaking views all around, is a paradise for birds and a lots of other wild animals. We had sightings of huge varieties of birds, crocodiles, elephants, foxes, dancing peacocks, monkeys, langoors, tortoises, reptiles and many more creatures. Also, one end of the park opened up into the sea with lovely rocky beach and it felt as if we were in some secret unknown paradise. It was truly the one of the best natural wonders I had witnessed ever. Another nearby popular place is Tissamaharama which is famous for its large artificial lake.
Galle is about 150 kilometers and about a 4-hour long bus ride from Bundala. Galle Fort is the most popular site with its mesmerizing views of the sea, and the lovely fort area. There are a number of beaches that one can visit around Galle. Unawatuna is a small beautiful beach town near Galle which is famous for its lovely beach and a very popular local market. About 60 kilometers away is another beautiful coastal town called Bentota with its magnificent beaches. Also along this route there are a lot of turtle hatcheries. It is quite interesting to learn about how they find and hatch the turtle eggs and breed them and then finally put them away into the sea. Also on the way are a number of Ayurveda farms where they explain about various types of leaves and plants that are grown there and describe their medicinal values. Hikkaduwa beach is also a popular beach on the way.
With these and many more exciting places to visit, Sri Lanka is definitely one of the hottest destination among most of the travelers. At the end, we felt that even the eighteen-day long tour was over in a blink of an eye, and the spirit and magic of this place will call us back again very soon.