How about a holiday outside India? In fact, how about a holiday in a country where the currency exchange is less than half our Indian rupee? Yes! Imagine getting twice as much the money you take at the foreign exchange counter, for a change! Sounds exciting already? This is just one very small benefit of all the wonderful things that Sri Lanka has to offer.
Yes, it is Sri Lanka we are talking about. A land so rich in history, a land endowed with nature’s beauty in abundance and its people, the most welcoming and warm hosts you’ll ever come across. Sri Lanka is one such neighbour of India that must make it to every traveller’s holiday program.
A country that is enriched with a varied landscape, pristine beaches, beautiful cascading waterfalls, lush green tea gardens, the most exciting wildlife, flora and fauna, eternal ruins and ancient architecture; this island nation offers a potpourri of vistas and experiences to a willing traveller.
Expenses if carefully planned, turn out to be quite affordable. Flight ticket rates starting from as low as Rs. 6500 (one way) to home stays, service apartments,, budget hotels and luxury 5-star accommodations; Sri Lanka is accessible to every budget group.
The region is vast and every part of the country is a sight to behold, but there is only so much that a person can explore. Though every traveller creates a list of things that needs to be done, we have created a checklist of our own to make sure that none of the important places are left unvisited.
NUWARA ELIYA: For its old British charm and sweeping tea plantations.
Known as the ‘Little England’ of Sri Lanka, Nuwara Eliya was once the summer retreat of the British. Located in central Sri Lanka, this hill station is known for its tea estates and factories and British style bungalows. Needless to say a visit to a tea garden and factory, in a country famed for its tea, is a must! There’s a beautiful park at the centre of the town called the ‘Victoria Park’ with its gardens, colourful flowers and visiting birds that make it an ideal place for a relaxing stroll or just lazing around in its serenity. The picturesque ‘Gregory Lake’ can be best experienced through pedaling boats or houseboats that are available easily. Sitting by the lake and enjoying the food from the nearby stalls can be equally relaxing. The UNESCO world heritage site ‘The Horton Plains National Park’ is a must for hiking, bird watching and wildlife enthusiasts. The spectacular cliff with a sudden drop of 800 metres called ‘the world’s end’, the beautiful ‘Baker’s Fall’; there is much to see at the National park. Adam’s Peak (where Adam first set foot) also known as Sri Pada (Buddha’s footprints or Shiva’s) or Samanalakande (a mountain where butterflies go to die) is a sacred mountain with large footprints and is a famous pilgrimage site for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike. Nuwara Eliya also has the famous Seetha Amman temple which is the place where Sita was held captive at by Ravana according to mythology. Not to mention the various beautiful waterfalls, farms and the Hakgala Botanical gardens; Nuwara Eliya has much to offer in terms of sightseeing.
• The Elephant Gathering at Minneriya
In north-central Sri Lanka, at the receding banks of the Minneriya Reservoir, every year there takes place a mass gathering of Asian elephants. It is known to be the largest naturally occurring gathering of elephants at one time, in the whole of Asia. Probably going on for centuries ever since the reservoir was created in 1700, this is a sight to behold. The peak time is during the month of August-September when large hordes of elephants from the surrounding areas and afar, approximately 300-400 gather to socialize, mate and feed in the receded tank bed of the reservoir.
• Yala National Park
The most famous National Park in Sri Lanka, the Yala National Park is a wildlife enthusiast’s paradise. It boasts of a varied ecosystem with thorn forests, deciduous forests, grasslands, freshwater and marine wetlands and sandy beaches. It is no surprise, therefore, that it is home to about 44 species of mammals and 215 species of birds. It is known to have one of the highest concentration of leopards in the world, thereby making it a big cat paradise. The safaris in the Yala National park are bound to be most exciting and thrilling with its wide range of birds and animals.
Located in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It offers a glimpse of history as ancient as the 11th -13th centuries through its architectural ruins, fine arts and carvings. The tombs, temples, statues and other archaeological finds are not just a treat to the eyes but a reflection of a life that once was in this old commercial and religious hub. Do not miss the 12th century, 14 kilometres long, reservoir Parakrama samudraya, built by King Parakramabahu.
Located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is also a UNESCO world heritage site. Sigiriya which is also known as the Lion’s Rock is a rock fortress and palace situated in the Matale district. These ancient remains contain beautiful water gardens and remarkable frescoes.
The view from the top of the rock is panoramic with the dramatic view of the hills and the jungle below. One simply wonders how all the construction material could have been carried to those epic heights.
• Dambulla Cave Temple
Located in the central part of Sri Lanka, the Dambulla cave Temple or the Golden Temple of Dambulla is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These are cave monasteries, more than 80 in number which are carved out of a huge rock. These caves have been built over the subsequent centuries, with the oldest being carved out in the first century B.C. These caves are adorned with elaborate paintings and statues of Buddha depicting his life. The murals in these caves cover an area of 2100 square metres. Dambulla is undoubtedly the most magnificent set of cave monasteries that Sri Lanka has to offer.
THE OLD DUTCH FORT AT GALLE
Founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Galle was further developed and fortified by the Dutch in the 18th century, just before the arrival of the British. The Galle fort contains within it a fortified city with cobbled streets and buildings that stand proof of the elaborate colonial architecture. Most of the colonial buildings have been restored and have been converted into luxury hotels, guest houses, restaurants, cafes and shops. The fort is surrounded by sea on three sides and houses a lighthouse, the old Dutch hospital, a gemstone workshop and ruins of an old Dutch clock tower. There are organized fort walks for the tourists to the lesser known parts of the fort apart from its evident ones. The Galle National Museum is located in the oldest building of the fort and contains artefacts from the Portuguese, Dutch and the British periods. The Dutch Reform church, the National Maritime Archaeology Museum, are also not to be missed. Walking around the Dutch market that is known to sell fruits and vegetable can be quite an experience. Galle also houses shops and markets that sells antiques, jewellery and gemstones. Galle and the fort bring to life the phrase, blast from the past.
Mirissa is a small village located on the south coast of Sri Lanka. Unlike the highly commercialised beaches in Sri Lanka, Mirissa beach is peaceful as it is beautiful. Soft powdery white sand, crystal clear blue water, clean shoreline and absolutely no vendors trying to sell their goods to the tourists; the beach is ideal for people looking for some relaxing me-time by the sea. There are a very few bars, restaurants and shops on the beach, so all your needs are met without the hubbub of a typical commercial beach.
The waves of the beach are ideal for surfing and the reef nearby is perfect for snorkelling.
But what sets Mirissa apart is the fact that it one place where you can spot different species of whales and dolphins. A short boat ride into the Indian ocean and you could find blue whales, killer whales, sperm whales, spinner dolphins, bottle-nosed dolphins and Riso dolphins if you are lucky. The best time to visit is from October to May when you are guaranteed to spot these beauties with your own naked eyes.
THE HOT AIR BALLOON EXPERIENCE
Imagine gliding above the beautiful landscapes of Sri Lanka in a hot air balloon. Floating gently over its forests and wildlife sanctuaries watching animals go about doing their usual business, a bird’s eye view of its pristine beaches and famous ruins or its the villages; a hot air balloon ride is definitely a wonderful way to absorb the beauty of Sri Lanka. Hot air balloon services are offered in the north-central plains of the island. An annual hot air balloon festival is organized wherein ballooning enthusiasts from all over the world are invited to navigate through Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. Watching so many balloons adrift in the air is an absolute pleasure to the eyes. For visitors, the hot air balloon is not just a way to experience the sites of Sri Lanka but they also present an opportunity to celebrate your birthday, exchange vows or get engaged mid-air. Oh! Now that’s out of the box, right?
Places of interest in Sri Lanka are way too many and all of them are equal in terms of their charm and beauty. But as you make your travel list, you could tally them with ours if you like, for the places we have mentioned are definitely going to make your trip worthwhile.