When you are on your holiday you go with the intention of documenting everything and coming back with full gusto to open your blog and write ALL of your experiences. Then life happens. You come back and dive neck deep into work, and then you drown in your kid’s class tests and when you are done dunking yourself in all sorts of excuses #Mumbairains wash you and all your intentions of blogging about your holiday. Which by the way feels like it was in another lifetime, when it was just about 15 days old! Thats when you want to go back and relive those memories and THEN gives you a good reason why you want to write your blog.
My last holiday was with my mom and son to Sri Lanka. And was one of the most unexpectedly fabulous holidays i had taken. Unexpected because EVERYONE i knew told me Sri Lanka was like Kerala…save for the predominant skin colour around me, nothing really reminded me of Kerala. Fabulous because you felt you were in India but the sheer beauty of the pristine beaches, the clear skies, hospitality and the delicious food reminded you that you were in another country. BUT before i ramble on without any structure and make this blog thoroughly unhelpful to those wanting to go to Sri Lanka let me divide this blog into – where we went and stayed, what we did, what we ate (well of course) and a special mention to the people of Sri Lanka.
Living in Lanka
We planned to go to Galle Fort (South of Sri Lanka), Kandy and to Colombo. Colombo airport (Bandaranaike International Airport) isn’t as flashy or massive like most others you might have experienced but has everything that you need at an arms length. And yes very helpful airport staff. The travel to Galle Fort was easy thanks to the Expressway. Took us about 2 hours with a stop for breakfast on the way. Our trip from Galle Fort to Kandy was a wholly traumatic experience though – it took us 4.5 hours without a break for lunch because we had to get to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage by 3.30 pm which was an experience we didnt want to miss. It would have been easier if we had gone to Colombo back and then proceeded to Pinnawala the next day. If you are travelling with a child, Galle to Kandy via Pinnawala should be avoided. I can say the same for Kandy to Colombo which was not as bad if the roads werent winding and if my son wasnt throwing up his lunch, enroute..
But when we stayed Galle Fort, it was such a beautiful experience.
Galle Fort is essentially a Dutch Fort surrounding a town. Quaint bylanes, dainty restaurants, the fort to walk along, and the dreamy sea made for not only beautiful pictures but calmed us down into a state of happiness and contentment. We stayed at an Airbnb homestay called Muhsin Villa with wonderful hosts who gave us the right guidance of how to get around and what to do around Galle Fort. Breakfast at Muhsin Villa was the best part of the day for us. More on that later.
At Kandy we stayed at the Safe Haven Family Villa. Beautiful place and good service. Wish we could have stayed there longer. Kandy is known most for the Kandy lake but the rest of the city actually gave me #Mumbaifeels and therefore i was actually quite glad i didn’t spend too much time there.
The last place we stayed at was nothing short of luxurious. Service was impeccable, the host really was kind, considerate and went out of his way to retrieve my luggage that was almost lost, apart from comforting us that he had the situation under control. Villa Raha is one place i would recommend out of the three not only because of the location of the apartment which was quite accessible and central, but also because of the gracious host.
Galle Fort: Walking along the fort all day, experiencing the sea and getting all melancholy is pretty much what we did on day 1. We also visited local shops, spoke to our hosts about their property and the colony, went to the beaches close by, museums and the lighthouse at the Fort. But what really stayed with us was the scenery that surrounded us everywhere we went in an around Galle Fort. The clean seas, the dramatic rocks, the grandeur of the fort took us to another time and space.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage: We literally raced from Galle to Pinnawala to see 27 majestic elephants taking baths in the river. And it was all worth it. The locals cordon of restaurants, people stay safe behind gates and there is a siren that goes off when the elephant train goes to the river and comes out to go to the orphange across. Seeing these wild elephants up close when shooting this video ran some chills down my spine.
Kandy: Kandy was all things cosmopolitan and that’s where we had a real sense of what it is like living in a city in Colombo. Although not as fast paced as Mumbai, Kandy does have a quaintness about itself that is fast fading away. The lake is central to everything in Kandy and we were quite impressed by its expanse and well as everything a Mumbaikar will notice…how clean was it! Kandy is also known for its ‘expensive’ shopping destinations. But hey you can’t really compare it to the ‘expensive’ shopping in Mumbai. In my opinion, don’t shop. You will get all of it in Mumbai anyway!
Kadugannawa Tea Factory: Enroute to Colombo from Kandy, we had two stops. One at the Tea factory and one for lunch. I will capture the lunch later but the tea factory is an experience on must not miss. There was a young lady in a Sinhalese saree who explained the process of curing the tea, separating it and packaging it, the different grades of tea etc. We had two cups of lovely, aromatic, factory made fresh BOP tea with cakes and bought some fragrant tea for gifting back home.
Colombo: We made the most of the visit to Colombo by walking along the Galle Face Walk, visited the National Museum, the Independence square, walked along the Colombo Plan road which was right next to a train track, bought an artefact from Laksala, went to the Arcade for lunch at a nice Japanese restaurant and experienced the crazy Colombo rains! All of this while being chauffeured in a flash hybrid car, which a driver who gave us a crash course about living in Colombo.
Eating our way through Lanka
While i would love to describe in detail EVERYTHING that i ever ate in Sri Lanka, i realise that it might be so descriptive i would never finish this blog and i really want to catch up on my Sunday afternoon siesta. So i am listing the ones that made an impact on me and in that order:
- Highway meal enroute Kandy to Colombo: We stopped at this nondescript ‘highway hotel’ and this is where we also got the taste of Sri Lankan hospitality in its truest sense. This place served home cooked meals to drivers from Kandy to Colombo but made us feel welcome as well. This is also the only place which serve the famous Sri Lankan black pork. Apart from that, we ate something called the gotukala vegetable, the breadfruit curry, spicy chicken curry, the daal curry and radish with dried shrimp. And how we ate!
- Breakfast at Muhsin Villa, Galle Fort: A large spread of hoppers with and without half fried eggs, with the best daal curry and sambal, to be downed with sweet sweet Ceylon tea, eaten with birds chirping in the background and the sunlight streaming through the trees
- Rice with 10 curries at Lucky, Galle Fort: This is pretty much like a Indian thali but with typical Sri Lankan presentation and of course their inimitable hospitality. Served at this literal hole in the wall restaurant in Galle Fort, Lucky is run by a brother-sister duo and has a limited menu but unlimited guests! The ten curries ranged from chicken curry to fish, to sweet and sour mango curry, beetroot vegetable, to spinach vegetable. We were just hungry to pay keen attention to each flavour but it was a riot. All of this was downed by half a pint beer and some fresh lime soda.
Special mention to the avocado toast with eggs benedict at Villa Raha in Colombo, the pork miso ramen at the Tsukiji Uoichi at the Arcade in Colombo and the string hoppers with spicy-as-hell chicken curry in Kandy next to the lake.
A special mention for the people of Sri Lanka: They genuinely take care of children – i saw this in the manner they treated my son throughout. They go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and this isn’t to be said just about the AirBnb hosts but for everyone we met – right from the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, to the cleaners and all the way to the cashier at the book shop! Everyone is just kind.
A few words of caution however:
- The Gemstones overkill: Do not get carried away with people who say they are taking you to gems and jewellery exhibitions. Better still do not buy gems from Colombo or any place you go in Sri Lanka. Everyone seems to want to sell gem stones to you there
- Spicy Food: Food in Sri Lanka is hot and spicy though tasty. Ask for curds if you are travelling with your child. It might also be good to have a stash of biscuits and tetra pack milk with you if you are travelling a lot – not many restaurants stock curds. Opt for hoppers of all kinds if your child can’t tolerate spice.
- Sun screen: take lots of it. And take baths. It’s hot and the food is hot, so generally you will feel hotter than you feel here in India. Take more cotton clothing too.
Will I go to Sri Lanka again? Of course I have to. I have to go watch whales at Mirissa, go to the Hikaduwa beach, go to Nuwara Eliya, to Bentota and Ela, yet see the turtle hatchery and THEN go to the Eastern Province.So much more to see and this holiday was just too short – time to plan for Sri Lanka ver 2.0!