Travelogue
Travelogue
Sri Lanka: The Indian Ocean magnet for explorers

NITN | @notintownlive | 18 Jul 2022, 04:18 am

Sri Lanka: The Indian Ocean magnet for explorers Sri Lanka

Image: Unsplash

Sri Lanka is in the news for all the wrong reasons these days. But this tourist magnet reeling under economic and political turmoil is sure to make it back on the bucket list of global travellers for its innate beauty and spirituality, says Supriyo Hazra as he completes a weeklong visit to the island nation which began in Colombo and ended in Galle

Standing at the top of the Lotus Tower, the 350-metre-tall structure located in the heart of Colombo, I was relishing a silence which was only broken by the strong winds crashing on me. A 360 degree view of Colombo from the top is sure to be etched in my mind forever. You can sense that unlike the picturesque destination of Nuwara Eliya, which is a creation of God and was in my itinerary in the coming days, Colombo is one  modern city built to perfection by the Islanders over the passage of time.
 
The Lotus Tower, the aerial view and everything surrounding Colombo, will create a magical spell in your minds on the very first day of your visit to the island nation.
 
Lotus Tower, Colombo. Image: UnsplashLotus Tower, Colombo. Image: Unsplash
 
Colombo: A city of varied colours
 
Getting a visa to visit Sri Lanka from India is a fairly easy task. As you arrive in Colombo you should surely try to put up in a good hotel that suits your budget. I was lucky to be hosted by one of the finest hotels in the city- the iconic Galle Face Hotel. Built in 1864, the hotel is one of the luxurious properties located in the east of Suez. After checking-in, I headed towards my first destination in the city- Pettah Market.
 
Pettah Market. Image: UnsplashPettah Market. Image: Unsplash

Like any other busy city, Colombo too hides within its heart a busy marketway where you should move around and be amazed by the hustle and bustle of it. If you search in the internet about the must do things in Colombo then visiting this market remains one recommendation. 
 
There is surely a charm hidden in the winding roads of the market. You will find that every corner of it holds one unique surprise. Once you reach the centre of the market, you will find  myriad shops, eateries, street vendors, playing their own parts to add to the unique charm of the spot for the leisurely traveller.
 
Once you complete your quick shopping, you may walk towards one of the train stations and witness the serpentine movement of the trains that connect hundreds of people who arrive in the Sri Lankan capital everyday from the nearby regions. 
 
Image: UnsplashImage: Unsplash
 
Infact, in many cities across Sri Lanka, you will find railways playing an integral part of the lifestyle and transport system.
 
Red Mosque, ColomboRed Mosque, Colombo
 
If you look up the Sri Lankan Railways website then you will find rail was introduced in Sri Lanka in 1864 to transport coffee from plantations in the hill country district of Kandy to the port city of Colombo on its way to Europe and the world market. So, once you reach one of the railway stations, you should not forget to sit for a while and reflect on a bygone colonial era.


In the late evening, once you are done with your visit to the Pettah Bazar and a railway station, you can finish the day by visiting the nearest shopping mall and enjoy the way today's people in Colombo love to buy their products. 
 
The bright coloured, multi-storeyed plush shopping malls, like in any other capital cities across the world, keep within it a leisurely charm for shoppers to quench their shopping thirst. 
 
 
Galle Face Mall was the place where I  visited to experience the vibe of a late Sunday evening in Colombo when shoppers were seen busy striking the last moment deal to choose their favorite merchandise. Located close to the city centre, this shopping mall was a 15-minute walking distance from my hotel, with the sea accompanying  all throughout the walk.

In Colombo, you should also visit the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara, a popular pilgrimage destination in the city. You may also visit the Vibhishana Temple present inside the premises. 
 
Even though Kelaniya is a Buddhist Temple in Sri Lanka, there is a direct link between mythological tales of Ramayana in Sri Lanka and Kelaniya Buddhist Temple.
 
Ramayana states that after the death of Ravana, the demon King as mentioned in Ramayana, Vibhishana was crowned by Lakshmana (brother of Hindu deity Rama). Kelaniya is the place which had been ruled by Vibhishana.
Hence, Kelaniya Buddhist Temple is also considered as an important site of Ramayana tour of Sri Lanka.

King Vibhishana, who was considered a righteous king,  had supported Rama against his own brother’s injustice. Many devotees that visit king Vibhishana ’s shrine even today also pray to him and ask for his intervention in solving their problems.


 
The Kelani River has been mentioned in the legends of Ramayana by Valmiki as Vibhishana ’s palace was said to be on the banks of this river. King Vibhishana is still considered as one of the four guardian deities of Sri Lanka. Vibhishana is even respected by Sinhalese Buddhists as a God.

They feel that the deity is one of the main protectors of the island, especially in its western territories.

Apart from the tales of Vibhishana, the wall paintings and statues crafted on the walls of the temple will also earn your attention as you visit different corners of the old structure.
 
Kelaniya Temple is believed to have been built in the era prior to the chronologically recorded history of Sri Lanka (since 543 B.C). It was renovated by Prince Uttiya, brother of King Devanampiyatissa following the arrival of Arahat Mahinda in 307 BC.
 
According to the Mahawansa, King Devanampiyatissa’s brother Uttiya had renovated the vihara for the first time.

Prince Uttiya also built the first ever residential quarters of the Buddhist monks (Sanghawasa) there.

Legends say, in the 5th Century BC, Lord Buddha visited the holy place in his 3rd and final visit to Sri Lanka, under the invitation of King Maniyakika of the Naga Tribe.

The King had built a unique Stupa design inspired by the shape of a heap of paddy.

According to local folklore, once a person visits the Holy Temple of Kelaniya, all their 'bad Karam' (bad acts) will decay.  

We suggest that when you visit the temple, you  must keep away your mobile phones and sit back and pray for a moment and feel the positive vibe which overpowers the place.
 
Radio Ceylon: A pearl in broadcasting web

In Colombo if you want to choose your city attractions differently, then the legendary Radio Ceylon should be in the list.

Once you reach the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation building in Colombo, you will find that it has turned more into a museum today. 
 
Inaugurated on December 16, 1925, Radio Ceylon is considered as one of the first Asian broadcasting stations. Like All India Radio, this radio service was also established during the British rule over the Island Nation.
 


During its earlier days of functioning, Radio Ceylon worked as a news service for the Allied forces during the Second World War. Later, it came under the control of the Ceylon government once the nation gained independence.
 

The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation took it over in 1972 following its formation.

However, Radio Ceylon, by that time had established itself as a queen in the world of radio broadcasting, creating a loyal fanbase even in nations like Nepal and India.
 
 
Keeping your mood to know more about the historical past of Sri Lanka, you should next visit the National Museum of the country. The Colombo Museum as it was called at the beginning was established on 1st January 1877.
 
Its founder was Sir William Henry Gregory, the British Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the time. The museum is a home to a lot of important collections which include the crown and throne of the Kandyan monarchs.
 
Mihintale: A historical journey

Once you end your visit to Colombo, you can now visit  Mihintale, a mountain peak near Anuradhapura, on the next day of your visit to the picturesque nation. In the 3rd century BC, the area of Mihintale was a thick jungle area inhabited by wild animals and was a hunting ground reserved for the royals.
 


All this changed in 250 BC when the Son of the Indian Emperor Asoka, Mahinda Arahath Maha Thero arrived at the Missaka Pauwa to meet king Devanampiyatissa for the first time and asked the famous questions to decide whether he is intelligent enough to understand the philosophy of the Buddha. 
 


Initially it was Mahinda Maha Thero’s residence, but later Mihintale (Mihinthalaya) became a main center for Theravada Buddhism and is considered the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and was developed throughout the millennia by many kings as massive monastic complex complete with hospitals for the sick bhikkhus.

When you visit Mihintale, you must leave all your anxieties away and be a part of the religious-historical journey that encompasses the rocky region.

After finishing your visit to the venue, you can finish off the day in some nice property in Dambulla to rest yourself for the night.

I was at the luxurious Jetwing Lake. The secluded property helped me relax after a hectic day as I enjoyed its natural surroundings which combine expanses of greenery, water body, forests and of course chirping of birds.
 
Sigiriya: Nature meets architectural brilliance 

On the very next day, you need to wake up early in the morning, preferably at 6 am, and start climbing up the gorgeous Sigiriya. You can really challenge yourself while climbing the tough steps to reach the top of the structure that has attracted tourists from far and wide places. 
 
 
When you finally reach the rocky structure, the first thing that will make your journey challenging is the swift moving winds that will nearly blow you away. However, the view from the top will leave your amazed, convincing your heart that the arduous trek was worth it. The dramatic rocky outcrop has been a world heritage site since 1982.

Sigiriya is famous for its palace ruins (King Kashyapa, 477 – 495 AD when he built his new capital) on top of a massive 200 meter high rock surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs and other structures.
 


It is a Fortress in the Sky. On the summit are the remains of the Royal Palace. Halfway during the trek, you find a small plateau where the King had built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. The name of this place is derived from this structure, the Lion Rock.

This rock  is a lava plug left over from an ancient long extinct volcano. It also boasts of ancient paintings (frescoes), similar to India’s Ajanta Caves.
 


Climbing the stairway along the vertical walls of the rock is an uphill task indeed. As you reach the flat-topped summit of an ancient civilization, what you see is a sweeping vista of emerald forests and faraway mountains, making your day truly special.
 


As per Sri Lankan tourism, Sigiriya was used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 5th century BC, with caves prepared and donated by devotees of the Buddhist Sangha.
 
Minneriya National Park: Hati mere Sathi
 
After you finish your date with Sigiriya, it is time for you to tie up your shoes once again, but this time to enjoy a 'wild safari' in the  Minneriya National Park in Habarana.

Significantly, Minneriya National Park is known for Asia’s largest Asian Elephant gathering in the world. 
 
 
During the season (August-September) period herds up to 350 elephants are seen at the 8,890-hectare park within a few square kilometers of the Minneriya Tank. When we visited the park, we also saw a large number of elephants peacefully eating the grass, giving a chance to photo enthusiasts to click a few pictures with the jungle and greenery in the backdrop. The place surely offers you an opportunity to see a larger number of elephants together in a somewhat natural setting.
 
Nuwara Eliya: Little England of Lanka

On your next day of the trip, you can start the day by undertaking the tough task of travelling all the way to Nuwara Eliya district. The hill station is popular among travellers for its colonial charm, rolling hills and famous Ceylon tea gardens. 
 
 
On your way, you may spend some time at the Sri Baktha Hanuman Kovil in Ramboda. It is run by Chinnamaya Mission of Swami Chinmayananda. Sri Baktha Hanuman Kovil has Hanuman as the presiding deity. This is thought to be the place where Hanuman was searching for Sita Devi. Amid the golden coloured temple, you will find peace when you will first look at the statue of Hanuman deity that looks majestic.

Once you reach Nuwara Eliya, you can straight away move to Jetwing St. Andrew’s, which is six acres of highland luxury and heritage for your perfect way to stay in the hill station. 
 
But, before packing your bags for Sri Lanka, do not forget to keep some warm clothes as the mercury will be quite low in Nuwara Eliya and the cold winds blowing in the evening will surely give you a challenge during your stay in the famous upcountry town which is located at 1868 meters (6128 feet) above sea level.
 


Nuwara Eliya is also shadowed by Sri Lanka's highest mountain Pidurutalagala (a height of 2,527 m or 8,292 ft).

While the lovely tea plantations are a big draw of Nuwara Eliya, the town also offers a breath-taking view of Gregory Lake.
 


This is a man-made lake constructed by the British in 1873 and named after Sir William Gregory. The beautiful waterbody against the backdrop of lush green hills is your perfect getaway for a walk or riding a bike or boating besides other water  sports it offers.
 
A walk tour of Sri Lanka's "Little England" is highly recommended to savour its lush green hills, tea plantations and the British era buildings with colonial and Tudor architecture.
 
Remember, Nuwara Eliya is famous for its colonial-era bungalows and Tudor-style hotels, so when you walk on the roads of the city, find some time to click the best photographs and selfies for you to keep forever. The buildings, the mountain and of course the winding roads will create a sonata of its own  which you will surely not find elsewhere in this world.
 


During your stay in the hill station, you should also visit the Damro Labookellie Tea Centre and know about the various stages passed till you get a packet of tea and prepare your daily quota of the favourite drink in your home. You can also interact with the tea planters and click selfies with them to fill up one more colourful page of your Sri Lankan travel album. Before leaving, sit back and relax at the Damro Tea Lounge and cherish a cup of your favourite warm drink.

If you want then you can also buy a packet of tea from the store located in the lounge for your family and friends.
 
Gayathri Pedam- Seetha Amman Temple: Tracing the roots of Ramayana
 
After spending a day in Nuwara Eliya, you can once again trace the roots of Ramayana in Sri Lanka by visiting the Gayathri Pedam. It is the first temple dedicated to Hindu Goddess Gayathri in the country.

The temple was built enshrining a lingam brought from River Narmada built at the place believed to be where Meghanath - King Ravana's son was blessed by God Shiva.

 According to some folklore King Ravana's mummy lies hidden somewhere in this region.
 


Continuing your journey through the tales of Ramayana, you should next visit  Seetha Amman Temple, which is located close to the Gayathri Pedam.  It is considered as the main place where Seetha (Sita, the wife of Lord Rama) was kept in hiding by Ravana.

When you visit the legendary venue, that connects India closely with the neighbours, you will see a stream flowing beside the temple. Legend says that Sita used to bathe in the stream during her stay at the Ashok Vatika.
 
Close to the banks of the stream,  you can find footprints akin to Lord Hanuman’s. While some of them are smaller in size, the rest are bigger, a sight which might leave you amazed.
 
The statues of Ram, Sita, Laxman and Hanuman at the entrance of the temple will surely take you back to the childhood days when listening to the tales of Ramayana was a part of any household in India. You can sense the connection shared strongly between India and Sri Lanka over the loved mythological tale which has played an integral part in shaping up the culture of the neighbours.

Ramayana, thus, binds two nations and these places have the potential to attract more Indian travellers to Sri Lanka which is fighting hard to cope with its own political and economic crisis.
 
Ravana's Cave: Rockstar spot of mystery

After completing your visit to these two places, the next thing that you must accomplish is surely climbing up and reaching the dark Ravana Cave. A hike to reach the cave will end your quest to understand more about Ramayana's deep connection with the Island Nation. Located in Ella town, you must keep some time in your hand while visiting this thrilling destination.

Legends say that it was in this cave where Ravana had kept Sita as a captive after taking her away from today's India.
 


The mysterious cave is located 1370 meters above sea level. You need to once again climb over 600 steep steps to reach the cave. Once you end your tiring journey, we can assure you that the cave will truly end your search for  experiencing a thrilling moment of adrenaline rush. 
 
The darkness inside and the green grass seen outside the cave, challenging your climbing expedition, will make your journey to Ravana's Cave the pinnacle moment in your trip to Sri Lanka.
 
Once you reach down and look back in wonder to see the cave for the last time, you will surely feel happy inside by completing your journey to find the roots of Ramayana which might have started from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh and gone down south to even reach Sri Lanka.
 
After completing your visit to the Ravana's Cave, your next destination will be the grand Ravana's water fall, which is located closer by.
 
Bentota: Time for some beach relaxation  

You may prefer closing your tour in Bentota, before heading back to Colombo to catch a flight. In Bentota, after a long day's travel on the road, I finally visited the soothing and relaxing property named Ekho Surf. 
 
 
The hotel remained a perfect venue to say 'goodbye' to Sri Lanka, a nation which not only houses charismatic beaches and hill stations like Nuwara Eliya but also can attract tourists searching for adventure and spirituality.
 
Bentota beach was on my bucket list from several drone images I saw and so it felt like heaven to be in a lagoon set in the tropical greenery.
 
Located in the Galle District of the Southern Province, Bentota is  on the southern bank of the Bentota River mouth with a ribbon of golden sands forming the seafront.

The name of the town is derived from mythology where a demon named 'Bem' ruled the tota (river bank).

River Bentara Ganga is dotted with islets rich in birdlife. Bentota is also a spot of luxury resorts with spa facilities.

From swimming and water skiing on the rivers or estuaries to snorkelling, scuba diving, windsurfing, parasailing or fishing, Bentota packs everything.
 
Galle: A Colonial magic
 
Image: Unsplash
 
After enjoying the stay in Bentota, you can move to Galle to taste another must visit destination of Sri Lanka.
 
If you are in Galle, you are  just 116 kms away from Colombo, a distance which might make you feel a bit burdened at your heart as your trip is finally nearing to an end.

Galle on the southwest coast of Sri Lanka is known for Galle Fort, the fortified old city founded by Portuguese in the 16th century.
 


Now teeming with cafes, restaurants, the architecture of Galle is an amalgam of the Portuguese, Dutch and later the British.

Overlooking the Galle Fort is one of the world's most picturesque stadiums as it is fringed on two sides by the Indian Ocean.
 
You may also visit a mask making museum and workshops and see how the local artists are preparing colourful masks, unmoved by the political uprising going all around the country.  You can buy one of them as a souvenir and keep it hanging in your home, giving you a chance to look back and remember Sri Lanka.
 
In Galle you can stroll down the cobblestone streets of the old city while the Galle Fort remains the slow beating heart of history since the 16th century.

The Portuguese conquered Galle from the Sinhala kings in 1587 and erected the first fortification, a single wall fronted by a moat extending from the sea to the harbour. Then came the Dutch in 1640. They defeated the Portuguese after a four-day siege.

Time passed but Galle retained the flavour of its past, marked by old houses with ornamental doors and windows, pillared verandahs and cool inner courtyards and gardens.

At the end of your journey to Galle, you will find a deep sense of gloom overtaking your heart as you finally head towards the airport to catch your flight to India.
 
(The writer's tour of Sri Lanka was conducted by Sri Lanka Tourism Board)

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