Last October, I traveled to Sri Lanka with my friend for nine days.
Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is a small island nation situated in the Indian Ocean. For someone born in Nepal, Sri Lanka feels like a distant cousin – someone you always know is there and close, but still you don’t get to see often. Therefore, most of us Nepalese do not travel to Sri Lanka. It was only after one strong recommendation by a friend of mine (who had placed Sri Lanka in 3rd in his list most beautiful countries) that I decided to finally travel to Sri Lanka.
Before traveling to Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka mostly meant the beautiful beaches and the sea for me. It was only after traveling there (and researching about the place a little before) I realized Sri Lanka was much more. Brimmed with lush nature and varied wildlife and deeply embedded in rich history and mythology, Sri Lanka truly is the mix of everything (and hence the title Island of Everything!)
As we had only nine days with us, we planned to cover three major aspects of Sri Lanka – historical monuments (and temples!), lush hills and tea fields, and its beautiful beaches and coastal villages.
I am going to narrate my travel experience with the help of my itinerary in Sri Lanka.
Day 1: Reach Colombo and Colombo City tour
We mostly spent our time in Colombo around the famous Galle Face Green, situated on the coast of the Indian Ocean. It is famous for its golden sunset and night food street, and luckily we were also able to capture one enchanting semicircle rainbow. We also traveled to one Hindu temple made out of South Indian Dravidian architecture (which looked a bit like the famous Meenakshi temple from Madurai).
Day 2 : Colombo to Sigiriya via Dambulla
Sigiriya is famous for the Sigirya Rock Fortress. Created in the 5th Century, this giant rock once had a Palace at its top, with its ruins and paintings still present today. Often referred to as the 8th wonder of the world, Sigiriya is the most exquisite piece of Sri Lankan art, history and ingenuity.
But before reaching Sigiriya, we made a stop at Dambulla for few hours to travel to the Dambulla Cave Temple. The Dambulla Cave Temple houses more than 150 statues of Gautam Buddha inside its caves. The paintings and the statues depict the life story of Gautam Buddha, and the whole temple is a World Heritage Site. After that, we took a 1-hour ride to Sigiriya via an auto (tuk tuk) which passes via a beautiful lake (known as Kandalama).
Day 3: Sigiriya
Day 3 was supposed to be the longest day of all. First, we had to travel to the Sigiriya Rock Fortress and then reach Kandy in the evening. To add to that, we decided to see the Sigiriya Rock Fortress from a distant point, so that we could see it in the middle of nowhere (dense forest) first. For that, we hiked to another famous rock called Pidurangala Rock (40 minutes hike), at 5 am in the morning.
After that, we made our way to the main Sigiriya Rock and climbed to the top of the rock via a heavy queue (as this is a super touristic destination). At the top of the rock, one could still see the relics of the fortress, reminiscent of what was once a huge palace on the top of the rock in the middle of the forest. Sigirya Rock fortress itself deserves a separate article because of its significance and magnificence.
After Sigiriya, we took a bus to Kandy (4 hours journey). At Kandy, we got a warm welcome by a Sri Lankan friend of ours. Kandy is the second biggest city in Sri Lanka and is considered as its cultural capital. We visited the famous Temple of the Tooth in Kandy.
Temple of the Tooth is one of the holiest places for Buddhism all around the world. The temple houses the most important Buddhist relic of all – a tooth of Gautam Buddha. After visiting the temple, we walked around the main street of Kandy and headed to our friend’s home (in a town called Kurunegala, 1.5 hours from Kandy).
Day 4: Kurunegala (Kandy) to Nuwara Eliya
Kandy to Nuwara Eliya is considered one of the most scenic train routes in the world. It feels like traveling in and out of forests, with streams and waterfalls all along the way. The journey ends in Nuwara Eliya, a beautiful misty hill town in Sri Lanka famous for its tea fields and verdant landscape. The last hour or so of the journey (before reaching Nuwara Eliya) is easily the most beautiful train experience I have had in my life, where you pass through never-ending stretches of tea fields.
Day 5: Nuwara Eliya tour
Apart from its tea fields (and the famous tea estates where you can learn about the art of tea manufacturing), Nuwara Eliya is also famous for its beautiful Gregory Lake and the nearby gushing waterfalls. We did a typical city tour in Nuwara Eliya, covering all its lakes and waterfalls and the famous tea estates tour.
Nuwara Eliya is also known as ‘Little England’ because of its cool climate, surroundings and colonial-era architecture. Here in the picture is a local Post Office, built in the colonial era.
We also visited two famous Hindu monuments in Nuwara Eliya. First the Hanuman Temple and second the Ashok Vatika, where it is believed Sita was kept (according to Ramayana).
Day 6: Nuwara Eliya to Ella
Nuwara Eliya to Ella is an extension of the same popular train route but a little different in terms of landscape in between. It starts with the sight of the tea fields at first, but then passes through tropical hills and forest, drilling numerous tunnels in the way.
Ella is a small mountain town known for its numerous short hikes and the famous Nine Arch Bridge. Nine Arch Bridge is a unique piece of architecture hidden between the lush green tea fields – unique as its entire structure is built from rocks and bricks, with no use of steel or metals.
Ella is also famous for its happening music bar and restaurants and is filled with mostly foreigners in party mode, which gave us the vibe of Pokhara from Nepal (except this happened to be on a top of the hill and not on the side of a lake).
Day 7: Ella to Mirissa
Ella to Mirissa is a perfect 5 hours ride from the top of the hill to the absolute bottom that is the seaside. There is always this particular vibe I feel whenever I am about to reach the seaside. Maybe it is the change in the air around or just plain change in landscape, there is something that always makes me happy from the inside, and this is what I felt when we were about to reach Mirissa.
Mirissa is a small coastal village situated in the southern tip of Sri Lanka. It is also the furthest point in Indian Subcontinent from the Himalayas, with the next nearest land in the same direction being distant Antarctica.
We wasted no time in hitting the sea right away and in the evening enjoyed the party vibe of Mirissa.
Day 8: Mirissa and back to Colombo
The following morning, we took a one-hour coastal walk to reach what was/is for me the most beautiful point in Sri Lanka. After spending a good few hours in and around there, we checked out of our hotel and headed back to Colombo.
Day 9: Flight back home from Colombo
Last day in Sri Lanka, we just managed to buy souvenirs for our friends in the morning time and then headed back to the airport.
Looking back, Sri Lanka is a destination that offers everything for just about everyone.
Most parts of the country are very easily connected. So it is not at all expensive to travel around Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan food is mouthwatering and delicious and the Sri Lankan tea is world famous for a reason. But the most special thing about Sri Lanka is its people. Sri Lankans are some of the nicest people you could ever meet on your travel – very friendly and always welcoming. This is a special opportunity for me to thank every nice person I encountered on the trip, especially my Sri Lankan friend and his family.
There are a host of other activities one could do in Sri Lanka (which we had missed) – from wildlife safari to hiking and trekking; from deep-sea diving to surfing and whale watching.
To sum up, traveling in Sri Lanka is like traveling inside one big National Park the entire time. I can not recommend a place more, especially to the people from Nepal and the Indian Subcontinent.