Alisha Nicole Carvalho
A tropical island country off the Indian coastline and close to the equator, Sri Lanka is nothing short of exotic. Having survived numerous colonial conquests, a civil war and a tsunami, the country is still licking its wounds. Yet the people of the land are warm, hospitable and charming. The beauty of the island lies in its culture and tradition that seems to be untouched by the vulgarity of modernity.
An unconventional road-trip in the south-western region of the country began with waking up in Pinnawala – a village in the Kegalle district, known for its elephant orphanage. It isn’t uncommon to indulge in a local breakfast spread with elephants bathing in the river just a few metres away from the hotel. A quick walk up the road leads tourists to the elephant orphanage, where at noon one can witness and participate in feeding elephants. For a few more Sri Lankan rupees one can also enjoy elephant rides.
A two and a half hour drive leads travellers to Kandy, the hill city which was once the capital of the Kandyan kingdom. Walking around is all it takes to explore the pleasant city. Sri Dalada Maligawa is the temple that holds the sacred tooth that once belonged to Buddha. Many pilgrims flock to the temple, hands filled with lotus flowers and incense sticks as offerings. The tooth is unveiled every evening at 7 p.m. Situated right beside the temple is the beautiful and man-made – Kandy Lake.
There are many old world buildings and constructions in Kandy that have stood the test of time – Queen’s Hotel, was the summer abode of the Queen of England; and several churches and mosques also adorn the streets. In the evening, take a short drive to the YMBA (Young Men’s Buddhist Association) and witness a cultural dance performance where dancers dressed in red and gold dance to the beats of drums.
The Royal Botanical Gardens are located in Peradeniya, a suburb in Kandy. The hundred and forty seven acres of lush green is home to numerous species of flora and one can spend close to two hours here. The garden has a cable bridge, spice garden, well manicured lawns, fir avenues that were planted in the 1950’s, an orchid house and unique plants like the double coconut palms to name a few. Before leaving Kandy, it is a must to visit a batik factory and check out how locals dye fabric and create marbled effects on the same.
Next stop Galle – the city in the southern tip of the tear drop island. Galle is perhaps best known for its fort, which was constructed by the Dutch. These days the fort has tons of little shops selling trinkets and antiques. Every evening the sound of Muslim prayers reverberates in the now ‘Old Dutch Town’. Within the corners of the fort, colonial homes and structures have been restored and cater to tourists.
The Old Dutch hospital has now been converted in to a shopping and dining arcade. A walk in the lanes and by lanes reveals the rich heritage left behind by the Dutch. Galle light house is particularly popular amongst tourists because of the picturesque backdrop of the Indian Ocean.
Three kilometres away is the secluded Jungle beach. Stumble down the hillock, a mere five hundred metres and you get a sprawling white shore with crystal clear waters where tourists can snorkel and sip on beers under palm fronds.
On the way to Colombo the drive along the coast is mesmerising. Stop at a sea turtle sanctuary and research centre at Kosgoda. Learn about the painstaking work being undertaken by a local who along with the government strives to protect sea turtles. The coastal drive also has on display ruins and cenotaphs of those who perished in the 2004 tsunami.
In Ambalangoda, make a quick stop at the Ariyapala mask museum. Here one can witness the art of hand crafting masks from a block of wood. Every mask is unique and represents a certain illness or state of mind. Placing a raksha asian mask painted in blue in one’s home is considered good luck.
The last leg of the journey is the vibrant capital Colombo. Although an ex-colony, Colombo has managed to preserve its heritage and embrace modernity. There are several boutique cafes and galleries, with cuisines from the world over catering to suave clientele.
Places of interest in the city are located in Colombo 01 which has an old world charm about it. Viharamahadevi Park in the city is lit up in the evening and is great for relaxing. The best way to end an evening in the city is to sit back and enjoy the sun setting at the historic Galle Face Hotel’s patio.