Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Lovely Sri Lanka

November 2006

it never occured to me that my 2-week holiday in sri lanka will make me fall in love with the place many times over. this was far from what i felt 5 months ago when this holiday was being planned and the height of the Tamil conflict was reverberating in news headlines. as always, when political conflicts are reported in a country, this usually put visitors off and i wasn't spared from that initial reaction because i immediately thought of the risks involved in traveling to sri lanka. moreover, it did not help that my impressions of sri lanka are still the depressing pictures of the tragedies caused by the 2005 tsunami.

but i looked on the brighter side and thought that this will be my first south asian country to visit! aha! another country in my list! this should be something new. suddenly i became excited!

i arrived in sri lanka around 10:30 am on nov 5 and managed to get a cab easily (oh yeah i was in luck, the mob of taxi drivers waiting in the que was a challenge!) from one of the stalls that lined the exit path of the airport. i instructed the cab driver to take me to Golden Star beach resort in Negombo. as we got nearer to our destination, the laidback atmosphere gave me a reassuring feeling of the adventure ahead of me.

the following day, we set off for Colombo and stayed at Globar Towers where we got a room with a fantastic view of the sea!

i spent my first day in colombo shopping for batiks. while other tourists would flock to go to Bare Foot (a popular touristy store selling sri lankan batiks and other novelty items), i opted (of course after getting the advice from our sri lankan friend Ruvanthi) to go shopping at the street markets of Pettah.

by this time, while my eyes were busy observing my surroundings, it struck me how sri lanka is indeed (very) patriarchal. well, the attendants at the hotel were all men, the crew at restaurants were all men, and the street shops were all run by males!

but despite the male dominance, i didn't feel intimidated at all because the people were just friendly. i didn't even get hassled by the shopkeepers (something unusual in developing countries' street markets). my tuktok driver was even kind enough to grant my request of stopping at a temple that we passed by on our way back to the hotel. how can i not fall in love with such a place whose people are nice and friendly?

next stop was in Kandy. Kandy is an upcountry found in the central part of Sri Lanka. we stayed at Randy's Place, whose owner we met at the train station and promised to give us a room with a view. when i woke up the following morning, i got what we were promised and saw an exhilirating view of the mountains and the nearby lake from our room terrace. we spent the rest of our day walking inside the compounds of the Temple of Tooth (where the ancient tooth relic believed to be of the Buddha's is housed.)

we traveled further north and reached Dambulla. this was where we went to see ancient paintings on the walls of 5 caves situated on top of a hill. at the foot of the hill was a gigantic golden Buddha that welcomes every visitor on the hike up. up in the caves, i found it overwhelming to see different types and ages of Buddha painted on the walls. no space was left on the walls!

before going to our next stop, decided to become posh for a day and stayed in the famous Kandalama Hotel. this green globe awardee hotel is set in the midst of a forest overlooking Kandalama Lake. the hotel was designed by the famous Geoffrey Bawa who is known for his exemplary architectural designs of various structures all over Sri Lanka. the best bit in this hotel is its infinity pool (that from one's vantage point, gives one the illusion that the pool extends all the way to the lake! amazing!) and so for more than a day, we were sampling a luxurious holiday at Kandalama that started from our room being upgraded from de luxe to a suite (complete with a jacuzzi, the feeling of showering with the nature because you walk into a shower with a glass wall so you can see the wonderful nature outside), a buffet dinner that served Italian and Mongolian barbeque, use of all facilities and a free bird watching trip (which we missed because we were too lazy to wake up early!)

we traveled to our next destination and set off for Sigiriya. the highlight of which was our climb to the fortress of the Sigiriya rock mountain. the hike up to the summit shows you the one-of-a-kind-water gardens that adorn either sides of the mountain. as you reach the top, you will see a pair of a giant lion's paws that serve as the entrance before the final ascent to the fortress.

The last week of the holiday was spent lounging in the beautiful and idyllic beach of Mirissa where our mornings start with yoga at the beach followed by eating Sri Lankan breakfast composed of hoppers and curry. then we would just nestle in the hammocks set under palm trees and would while away the time reading our books. afternoons were spent swimming and body surfing and more walking on the beach.
yes, Sri Lanka was such great fun! lovely people, great food, the touristy places are remarkable, plus going around is relatively cheap!

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