SRI LANKA is nothing like what I’ve imagined it to be. It has pleasantly surprised me in many ways. Colombo is clean and organised (well, during my half day there!). Roads are generally good tho many are under construction (we were caught in many slow one-lane traffic due to road works). The national parks are surprisingly clean and well maintained. Kudos to them! There are not much touting, beggaring or haggling. The people appear reserved but are friendly when you smile at or talk to them. Not too sure about asking them for direction tho… Everyone pointed to different directions when we did!
THE DELIGHTFUL POT OF TEA. The drive to NUWARA ELIYA was long and winding. It took us close to 7hrs from Colombo (expected 4hrs) due to rain and roadworks. Had we known better, we would have taken the train and enjoy the scenic, and probably more comfortable ride (8hrs). The rain, however did not dampen the beauty of this lovely English town with its rolling hills of tea plantations, quaint colonial houses and cool weather. Tot I was in Europe… Scones and tea please! We wanted to stay at Trevene but it was fully booked. It has a nice little courtyard at the front of house. Would have been nice to sip a cuppa tea and read a book while enjoying the morning sun.
THE WORLD’S END. It was misty and freezing cold when we drove to HORTON PLAINS at 5am. We planned to reach the world’s end before the fog comes in and covers the view. So it’s best to get there between 7-9am. What an awesome morning hike! Not too difficult, just jumping from rock to rock. Mushy trails at times due to the rain. Sky was perfect clear when we got to the top. Needless to say, the view was breathtaking with its vertical drop cliff.
A surprise awaited us when we made our way out. A deer stood in the middle of the road with 2 birds perched on its antlers. It stood there nonchalantly as we winded down our window to take photos. Safari in Sri Lanka checked! What a cool hike, in every sense!
INTO THE WILD. Standing tall on a jeep, enjoying the thrill and breeze, ducking the tree branches (like computer games!) as we sped thru, watching elephant herds in the wild, absorbing the goodness of nature. Simply amazing. KAUDULLA NATIONAL PARK. One unforgettable experience!
We went at 2.30pm, which was perfect as there weren’t many jeeps around. We were even alone with the elephants at some point, enjoying the serenity of mother nature. By 5pm, there were over 20 jeeps surrounding the poor elephants and snapping away like hungry paparazzi.
THE ANCIENT CITIES. 1/ANURADHAPURA. Loads of dagobas (stupas). If you are not into ancient archaeology, half a day is more than enough before you get dagoba fatigue. Make sure you dress decent and cover your shoulders and knees (even for guys), as this is an active (and busy!) holy site.
RUVANVELISAYA DAGOBA. Guarded by hundreds of elephant statues, the white dagoba stood magnificent with clear blue sky as the backdrop. We were really lucky with the weather despite the monsoon season. The locals walked around it clockwise as they made their pilgrimage. No footwear was allowed and we had to walk barefooted on the scorching hot ground. God’s way of teaching us to appreciate our flip flops!
Nearby was SRI MAHA BODHI – the sacred bodhi tree, also the oldest in the world! Doesn’t look old and wrinkledly to me at all! Well protected by 4 walls and Buddha statues, many locals walked around it and prayed.
ABHAYAGIRI DAGOBA. Almost engulfed by a blanket of green moss and under re-construction. Made interesting by the scaffolding surrounding it. It’s truly fascinating how ancient people, without any modern machinery, could build such impressive structures. Pure labour and faith. Amused by the only visitors, the friendly workers smiled and say hi as we walked past them.
JETAVANARAMA DAGOBA. Previously stood at 100m and now 70m as the tip fell off. We did our due diligence of walking round it clockwise and… Next please. THUPARAMA DAGOBA. Surrounded by slender pillars, it is the oldest dagoba in Sri Lanka. If not for dagoba overload, we probably would have gone in for our “round of duty”.
2/POLONNARUWA. Love this P. city more than A. (we can never remember how to say these names!). QUADRANGLE. Interesting ruined statues, carvings, moonstones… vs just dagobas! Another must-visit: GAL VIHARA, where 4 Buddha sculptures are carved out of a single granite stone. The scale of these sculptures leaves you in awe of the ancient people who created them with primitive tools. Unfortunately, an unsightly modern roof now sits above them.
3/SIGIRIYA. We could have avoided the crowd if we had known that the SIGIRIYA ROCK opens at 7am instead of 8.30am as stated in Lonely Planet! By 9am, the place was packed with tourists and local families, including mums carrying their kid, climbing up the narrow steps. Took us an hour to climb (200m tall granite rock) as we maneuvered around the crowd.
It was undetermined if it used to be a palace or monastery tho the latter seemed more credible to me. Why would a king live in isolation and climb thousands of steps to get anywhere? Interestingly tho, there were some topless women paintings on the rock.
4/DAMBULLA. The exterior white wall that houses the 4 CAVE TEMPLES is a stark contrast to what lies inside – colourful Buddha sculptures and intricate paintings on the cave surfaces, like pretty wall papers. This whole place is a piece of art and the faded colours add a nostalgic touch. You could almost feel the undying faith of those who created this place of worship.
5/KANDY. The rain did not stop throng of devotees or us from visiting THE SACRED TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH RELIC. Walking in the rain barefooted, we were lucky to be part of a local ritual that morning.
SPECIAL MENTIONS. EGG HOPPERS! Yes, i’m an egg lover. I think i’ve just tasted the best egg dish (that costs less than USD$1 by the way). The runny egg sits in a bowl made of rice flour, like a crepe bowl. How to best savour it: add a little curry sauce, roll it up like a wrap and take a big bite. The runny egg, together with the spicy curry seeping into the pancake-like base, plus the crispy side… HEAVEN!
SHARON’S INN in Kandy is by far, the best guesthouse we stayed in Sri Lanka. Nice, clean room with a cosy setting. Only USD$60 for 4 in a room! Also the best meal i’ve had in this trip. Even if you dont stay there, you can go for their buffet dinner that costs USD$11 each. Pricey by Sri Lankan standard but worth every single cent. Meat curries aside, it served an array of awesome veggie dishes – garlic kangkong, deep fried bittergourd chips (surprising good!), pumpkins, lady’s finger, etc. Drooling now, as i write.
6 days. 1 city. 1 town. 2 national parks. 5 ancient cities. THANK YOU Chuckles, for planning the itinerary! Beautiful sceneries, amazing wildlife, fascinating ancient sites, relaxing tea plantations… SRI LANKA. JUST MY CUPPA TEA. Lots to explore, plenty to experience. I’ll definitely be back, for the beaches, more hikes (Adam’s Peak!) and maybe ‘pop by’ Nuwara Eliya via train to enjoy a cuppa tea. For a country that just ended a civil war, it is well on its way to recovery. I just hope that it does not succumb to the pitfalls of tourism.
ps. Stay tuned for my Sri Lanka photo post next!
sri lanka ♥ 24 – 29 october 2012
btw, LIM TEH = DRINK TEA in Hokkien dialect