Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Travel diaries : Sri Lanka

About a month ago, I embarked on a journey to Sri Lanka. I have traveled quite a bit in India (and a few kilometers into Nepal's border once), but this was my first proper visit to a foreign country.  I was accompanied by 11 other people from my work place. We were to attend our boss's wedding ceremonies in Colombo, after which we would go on to explore a few other parts of the country.

DAY 1 : BURN-OUT

Yes, I am talking about day 1! All thanks to a flight delay, which had us land Colombo around dawn, and some confusion regarding availability of rooms after we reached the hotel. It meant we did not get any sleep whatsoever and the beds were so comfortable that we decided that we like Colombo from there better.

Around afternoon though we woke up (all groggy) and went for a walk to some nearby place for lunch. The first look of the streets of Colombo left me wide-eyed. It looked something like this.



And I am used to something more like this



It was nice to see some traffic rules for a change, vehicles letting pedestrians cross the road and the road itself (sometimes we can't see it due to a blanket of vehicles over it).

We went to a tiny shack by the side of the road and had the first taste of local food. Damn it was spicy! And good too... but damn spicy!

For the rest of the day I remember seeing a lot of my pillow whenever I would wake up, before dozing off again.

DAY 2 : WEDDING CEREMONIES

A glutton that I am, I was looking forward to it. Sounds very crude, I know. But you see, I love feasts! So we went and I did a good job of eating and we all came back to the hotel pretty full.

In all the excitement of food, I forgot to mention that we also visited the Independence Memorial hall, which commemorates Sri Lanka's independence from the British rule on February 4, 1948.

Independence Memorial hall, Colombo


We found some time in the evening to walk towards the sea-front across the hotel. It was nice and breezy, kids were playing football and flying kites. We decided to join in and have some fun ourselves. We bought a kite, and struggling and fighting the odds (ironically a nice breeze), we managed to fly it.




Another feast at night followed. This time I decided to drink heavily. That I did, except I woke up after the party somewhere not in the party hall, having no recollection of the last few hours, and managed to walk back (quite unsteadily) to my room to sleep it off.

DAY 3 : SOME MORE CEREMONIES
With great difficulty, I surprisingly managed to eat a whole lot of food, even after having a funny (but unpleasant) stomach ache and an equally unpleasant headache. It makes me really happy when I exceed my own expectations and do my job well.

Thereafter, we checked out and bid goodbye to our boss and his to-be-wife. We would now travel in a mini-bus we booked off for the entire trip and our first stop was Dambula.

DAY 4 : THE RUINS OF ANURADHAPURA


As it always happens when traveling with a group of 12, things got off to a slow start. Every one had their own way of going about things. But we finally managed to leave for Anuradhapura just before noon (as opposed to the pre-decided time of 9 AM!).

Anuradhapura is an ancient capital of Sri Lanka and it is known for its well-preserved ruins of ancient Sri Lankan civilization. It is an hour and a half drive from Dambula.

We visited the museum in the beginning, which contains various artifacts and tools of the civilization. Then we took a tour of the city which were full of brick plinths and erect stones, narrating a story of the civilization which stood tall hundreds of years ago. The city also consisted of 3 major stupas, which have been well-preserved to this date. Here are some of the pictures from Anuradhapura













The ambience of Anuradhapura is serene and peaceful. After exploring every nook and corner, we headed back to retire for the night.


DAY 5 : MORE HERITAGE SITES (BUT WHERE IS THE BEACH YOU PROMISED?)
Being architects, we have to go see a few places known for its architectural beauty (at least to tell other people that we went). So we made a stop at the Heritance Kandalama, a hotel designed by the great Geoffrey Bawa.

The place was nothing extravagant, but it immediately touched a chord. What brings it close to nature is the ample greenery, along with its simplicity and openness. It was my first experience of a Bawa building, and I have to admit, it made me realize why he is regarded so highly all over the world.


A view of the infinity pool in the Hertence Kandalama,overlooking a river 


After that we headed out for Sigiriya. It is an ancient palace, with the massive 200 meter high rock serving as the center of attraction. Sigiriya is a UNESCO World heritage site and 
is the most visited site in Sri Lanka.

A view of the Sigiriya rock


I decided to make the climb. Carrying a DSLR, a couple of bottles of water and your passport, (and of course making the climb on the side) is not a very easy task. The steps got steeper and narrower the higher I went. On the way to the top, there is the lion's paw (huge stone-cut paws), the mirror wall and the famous rock paintings. It is a wonder how the people in ancient times made such a climb and created such wonderful pieces of art at such heights.


The tiring 35 minute climb was worth it though! The view from the top was breath-taking. I spent another half an hour going to each corner and looking around, before I finally got hungry and decided to climb down.


A view from the top of the Sigiriya rock


Our plan (not mine) was to visit the Pinnawala elephant orphanage after that, but due to heavy rains (not too unfortunate, just fate), we had to call it off, and proceed to the beaches (finally!) of Hikkaduwa.

DAY 6 : SUN TAN MINUS SUNSCREEN EQUALS SKIN ON FIRE
Waking up to the sound of the breaking waves is a delight only to be experienced and not described. The beauty of the early morning sun reflecting off the lapping waves like jewels in water, made me almost run towards the water. This day was just to have fun and I wouldn't come out of the water for anything, I thought, no matter how important. But apparently, for me, food is more important, and I went back for some lunch.

After lunch we went to the Dutch fort, which is about a 20-minute drive from our hotel. Only the a part of the wall and a lighthouse remain. The view of the ocean is majestic. The streets and architecture have a Dutch flavour to it and it was overall a short, but enjoyable visit.




After a day full of jumping around in the water (yes, jumping) and walking around the Dutch fort, I was ready to sleep like a baby, except my back wasn't. The back of the neck and the upper back was on fire, red as a ruby. I forgot to use sunscreen and the sun did the rest. Tossing and turning, I managed a few hours of sleep with great difficulty.

DAY 7 : SCUBA DIVING
One of our major goals for the trip was to go scuba diving. I was the only one in the group who had experienced it before. Some of us in the group couldn't stop gleeing at its prospect. I was like 'eh.. whatever', just because I had done it before, but the child inside me was dancing like Drake.

We went, we trained for it, we jumped in. It was a great experience (honestly the one I had done in the Andamans was better), but sadly, the camera broke down that very day and we had to settle for taking back just memories. I think the merriment was compounded by the fact that 12 people went on a boat together and did it. Every one had their own stories to share later on and our joy notched up a new high.

The evening went mostly into booking our tickets back, as due to the Chennai floods, our flight got cancelled. In the end we managed, but a flight next afternoon (instead of the earlier booked midnight flight) meant we had to leave for Colombo early next morning.

DAY 8 : SOME LAST MOMENT ARCHITECTURE


We left Hikkaduwa in the morning amidst lots of rush and confusion. As is tradition, we left the most important place to be visited in Sri Lanka, for the last! A couple of hours from Hikkaduwa, lies Luna Ganga, the country home of one of the greatest architects ever, Geoffrey Bawa (ya, the same guy who designed Heritence Kandalama).

We had limited time, but we took a (hurried) tour of the estate anyway. It was actually mind-boggling. Nothing fancy, nothing ethereal, just simplicity and purity. The estate was full of gardens and greenery all around and is the kind of place which we dream of. It is synonymous to being one with nature. Take a look at some of the pictures instead.








We reached the airport on time thankfully, and as if my traveling Gods weren't happy enough, I traveled all the way to New Delhi, to take a connecting flight the next day to Bangalore.


The trip was a successful one and very enjoyable. As we were a large group of friends, things were more fun. The people who I see everyday typing and clicking from 10 to 6, seemed to have conjured different avatars. Again, by comparison, I think my trip to the Andamans a year before was better in many ways. But going for a trip after getting the first ever stamp on my visa has to memorable.

WHAT I MISSED
-The ruins of Polonnaruwa would have been a great addition to our itinerary, provided we had more time of course.
-Trincomalee, on the north east is supposed to be a place full of nice beaches.
-Adam's peak. We would have required even more time for that, but it seems like a nice place in google images.
-A safari in the Udawalawe national park.
-Pinnawala elephant orphanage... no actually never mind, I did not say that!

WHAT I WILL MISS


-The view of from the top of Sigiriya rock is something I would like to experience again. The climb too actually.
-Luna Ganga. The highlight of the trip for me.
-The amazing feasts and the food. Actually on second thoughts, that was the real highlight!

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