I was in the middle of my daily routine, doing nothing in particular, when I got a text from my friend saying “Trip to Sri Lanka. In or out?”. Without thinking twice, I replied “In”. And that’s how I started planning the first international trip of my life! Later when I learnt that there’s gonna be just 4 girls going on the trip, I was super excited to have my own version of 4 more shots please! 😛 This blog post will bring to you my Sri Lanka travel chronicles, so read on…
The first thing we did was to book the flight tickets. Since our plan was during the Christmas week, the cheapest and least time-consuming flights we could find (without layovers) was from Chennai, so we booked a round trip from Chennai to Colombo. We applied online and obtained an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) for Sri Lanka and got an approval within 24 hours. VISA on arrival was also available. We planned the itinerary on our own, booked hostels to stay in, got currency exchanged, packed up our things, and were all set to go!
Pic: Here we come, Sri Lanka !
Fast forward to the day we took off from India. We left Bangalore early on Sunday morning, and reached Chennai International airport by noon. Our flight was scheduled for 4pm, and we landed in Bandaranaike International airport, Colombo, by 5pm. That’s right, just an hour’s flight! One of our friends knew a friend who knew a friend who knew a friend who lived in Colombo (:-P), and she was real sweet and helped us a lot! She had arranged for a couple of SIM cards of Mobitel network, so that we could get internet during our trip, and had graciously invited us to stay at her studio apartment that night. She and her mother were amazing hosts, they had even cooked authentic Sri Lankan dinner for us which included steamed rice, vegetable dal, coconut sambol and chilli paste. So, our first night on international land was spent in getting to know our lovely hosts, eagerly discussing and refining our itinerary for the days to come, and just chilling on her terrace from where we could see Colombo’s famous Lotus Tower, and the occasional local trains passing by. Our friend there was an artist, and her work was simply amazing. She had immense knowledge about the history and culture of her land, and it was a treat getting to know her. We all finally tired ourselves out and went to sleep.
Pic: The 4 of us, with our Sri Lankan friend and her mother !
The next day was our day to try and live like the locals, trying their local food and using their local transportation. We had breakfast cooked by our friend’s grandparents (it was delicious!), and caught a bus in front of her house and headed to Fort Railway Station, Colombo. The local languages spoken by the people are Sinhala and Tamil, and since we did not even remotely know Sinhala, and our Tamil was limited to one friend’s knowledge of it through watching Tamil movies, our artist friend decided to accompany us so we wouldn’t get lost there 😀 The buses were just like the BMTC buses in Bangalore except for the reservation; the front seats in the left row was reserved for aged people or for women with little kids, and the front seats in the right row reserved for monks. On our short bus journey, she pointed out to us the Pettah Floating Market, where there were all kinds of stalls on little boats which were floating on water. The place offered boat rides as well, with cool swan-shaped boats. With the vibrant food stalls and little game stalls lining the water, the place looked lively and inviting, and we made a mental note to come back and visit it later. We also caught glimpses of the Lotus Tower.
Pic: Pettah Floating Market
Pic: Lotus tower
We caught a train from Fort Railway Station to Pinnawala, which took us around 2.5 hours. The train looked like Bangalore’s metro trains, with seats on the sides. One interesting piece of information I learnt there was that Sri Lanka being a small country where we could reach from North to South in just around 8-9 hours, they had no overnight trains! All their trains and even buses were during the day. When our friend’s mother visited India, she was awed to see sleeper seats in the trains and buses! Cute, right?! We caught a tuk tuk (the local name for auto rickshaw in Sri Lanka) from the railway station till the Millenium Elephant Orphanage, Pinnawala. The tuk tuk driver was very friendly; on learning that we were from India, his excited response was “Madam! My tuk tuk, made in India!”
Pic: Local train ride in Sri Lanka
At Millenium, there were elephants of all ages everywhere, walking around without a care in the world! The mahouts got elephants to come and lie down in a small lake there, where we could go and give them a bath. We rubbed them behind their necks and on their backs with coconut husks, which they thoroughly enjoyed. If we lay down on their backs, the elephants playfully showered us with water using their trunks! One of the elephants was naughty and a bit of a rebel, refusing to listen to his mahout and giving a stubborn smile. When we asked the mahout what’s the matter, he said “what else can you expect from a naughty teenage boy?!”, which made us all smile; it was very endearing to realize that animals sometimes think and behave like humans too! We went around the orphanage, learning about the different elephants and how they got there, their age, their lifestyle and habits, their playfulness, and we enjoyed every moment of it. Millenium elephant orphanage also had an elephant museum, where we visited and got to see their bones and teeth and skulls and what not. We learnt of the different commands the mahouts use, the medicines used to take care of them, their use during the annual parade, etc. Just outside the orphanage, we visited a factory where they made paper using elephant dung! It was amazing to see them at work, right from pressing and drying elephant dung, mixing it with pulp to give consistency, packing and compressing it to make it paper-like, and then cutting, painting and refining them to make books, diaries, bookmarks, pages, frames and a lot more items. There was a store which sold these items. The business was going very well, since a single elephant produces around 90kg of dung every day! Crazy 😛
Pic: Bathing an elephant !
Pic: A pic with the naughty elephant
Pic: Elephant skeleton
Pic: An elephant’s tooth !
Pic: Books made from elephant dung paper
After this amazing experience, we went back to the station and caught a train to Kandy. This train was similar to an intercity express in India, and was a beautiful ride. Kandy is a hill station, and the amazing hills, valleys, greenery, houses and scenery we saw on the way were a treat to the eyes! The train even went through some tunnels dug under some hills. We reached Kandy at around 4pm, and walked around the city a bit. There were roadside stalls where we got snacks akin to the bonda bajjis in Bangalore, they even had prawn pakodas which the non-vegetarians said were very yummy. We saw many shops lined along the streets. The local people were very friendly and greeted us politely. We visited the Kandy lake, which had the famous Temple of Tooth Relic on the other side of it. The view of the lake and the hills behind it was amazing. We visited a local eatery and tasted their local fast food, refreshed ourselves with some fruit juices and headed to our stay for the night, the Kandy City View hostel. The hostel was located on top of a small hill, and the rooms seemed to be built underground. It was a cozy place with a great view of the Kandy City from the lounge area. We could see a huge Buddha statue from there, which we decided to visit the next day. They had fairy lights hung around the dining area, which looked very pretty. We had dinner there and turned in for the night.
Pics: View from the train on the way to Kandy
Pic: Prawn Pakodas
Pic: Kandy lake
To be continued…. Stay tuned !!