Sun, Sand And Sri Lanka

Lying off the southern tip of India, the tropical island of Sri Lanka has attracted visitors for centuries with its natural beauty
An aerial shot of Colombo. Photo Credits Shutterstock
An aerial shot of Colombo. Photo Credits Shutterstock

As you walk out of the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, the air is suddenly heavy and humid , laden with the smells and sounds of the Indian Ocean, located a few kilometers away. It was my first trip to the capital of this island nation, and as we proceeded towards the city&mdashseated in an expansive caravan arranged by Walkers Tours, a leader in the Sri Lankan tourism industry for over 50 years&mdashthere was the familiar hubbub of modern living coupled with a genteel colonial vibe.

We stayed at the iconic Galle Face Hotel, an architectural marvel on the seafront that used to be a Dutch Villa. Built in 1865, the hotel is located on Galle Road and was originally built by four British entrepreneurs. Most interestingly, for fans of historical artefacts, it houses the first car Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, owned and several pieces of memorabilia from the hotel's history, including a gallery of famous guests.

On our first day in Colombo, I woke to the ocean waves crashing against the hotel's exterior walls. The spacious room with old yet glossy wooden flooring opens into a small balcony where you get a clear view of the azure ocean.

After breakfast and a quick stroll around the hotel, we set out for a relaxing massage. Siddhalepa Ayurvedic Spa, located in a quiet and green alley in Horton Place, offers authentic treatments to purify the system and relieve stress. From its calming interiors to the super-relaxing massages, Siddhalepa delivered what it promised. Using different kinds of herbal oils&ndasheach having specific properties&ndashthe masseuse targeted the fatigued tissues of our bodies, giving us instant relief.

With our bodies and minds rejuvenated and a quick change of clothes, we set out to explore Colombo in the evening, when the temperature becomes soothing and cool breeze starts to caress your face. We opted for a tour of the city offered by tour operator Colombo By Jeep. The open-air WWI and II jeeps give you unobstructed visibility during the evenings when everything seems to get coloured in warm tones of amber. Halfway through our ride, it was time to climb the 350m tall Lotus Tower, located in the heart of Colombo. Often referred to as a symbolic landmark of Sri Lanka, it's the perfect place to see the sunset over the horizon.

After the jeep ride, we headed towards one of the most famous eateries in Sri Lanka&mdashthe Ministry of Crab (MoC). Located in the Old Dutch Hospital Complex, the restaurant is an absolute haven for seafood lovers. From oysters to clams to freshwater prawns to the famous Mud crabs, MoC has them all. Plus, the meal won't burn a hole in your pocket if you possess a Mastercard, which gives you an instant 15 per cent discount on food and non-alcoholic beverages. If you are lucky, you will get to chat with Chef Dharshan Munidasa, the founder of MoC, whose mine of stories and anecdotes about anything and everything food are simply incredible.


The ride from Colombo to Bentota takes roughly two hours. But since it passes through scenic verdant landscapes and beaches, the journey ends in a flicker of an eye.

Our second lodging was at the Avani Bentota Resort, located on the best beach strip along Sri Lanka's western coastline. Designed by renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa, the hotel has 75 ocean-facing rooms.

Our exploration of the coastal town of Bentota started at the Turtle Hatchery. The pristine golden shores of Bentota that drew us to the city also provide an enticing nesting ground for several endangered turtle species, including the Olive Ridley and the Leatherback turtle. The Turtle Hatchery, under the supervision of the Sea Turtle Protection Association, aims to conserve and protect the eggs from predators and other dangers. Our guide took us around the hatchery while briefing us about the centre's activities. From being an egg to a fully grown turtle of 20 years, you can see the entire lifecycle of these endangered graceful sea creatures.

After the crash course on turtle conservation, we headed towards the banks of the Madu River, where a boat safari was scheduled for us. The river is home to 14 mangroves from a total of 24 species in Sri Lanka. During the two-hour safari, the boat traverses through thick mangrove forests, home to many aquatic birds, animals, and plant species. It also stops at a few islands in between, where Ceylon cinnamon, one of the most famous varieties of the spice, is produced by hand. We were welcomed by a local who showed us the complex yet the beautiful task of preparing the cinnamon from scratch. If you are a spice connoisseur, buy the reasonably priced cinnamon bark, powder, or oil&mdashit helps the local economy. With that, it was time to head back to Avani and rest well before embarking on our next destination one considered the most important location for tea production in Sri Lanka&mdashNuwara Eliya.

But before that, we also made a quick stop at Ella, located 200 km from Colombo. Situated at an elevation of 1,041 metres above sea level, Ella is surrounded by hills covered with cloud forests and tea plantations. The main attraction here was the Nine Arch Bridge, flanked by verdant forests and tea plantations, standing proudly across the valley below. Completed in 1921, the Nine Arch Bridge is built entirely out of brick, rock and cement, with no metal used in its construction&mdashan engineering feat back in those days.


Nuwara Eliya, situated at an altitude of 1,868m, is known for its temperate, cool climate&mdashthe coolest in Sri Lanka. The drive to the city was full of twists and turns as the altitude increased. Though it made us dizzy, the breathtaking landscape cheered us with its many mountains and valleys.

When we reached the Grand Hotel, where we were supposed to spend the night, it felt like we had been transported to a town in England. With Christmas around the corner, the over 200-year-old institution was adorned in green, red, and white. A home-away-from-home for British tea planters in the early 19th century, Nuwara Eliya and the Grand Hotel are testimonies of the times gone by.

With the temperatures having dipped, we were forced to abandon our beach-ready clothes of Bentota and put on some thick jackets to be Nuwara Eliya-ready. The high tea at Grand Hotel was in fact so grand and filling that it was nothing less than a heavy dinner . Among the live soulful renditions of several Christmas carols, soothig sips of Sri Lankan tea, and bites of snacks, our eyelids began to droop, forcing us into our rooms, where we dozed off instantly.


In the last leg of our journey, we travelled to W15 Hanthana Estate in the city of Kandy. The estate in the hills is the perfect definition of colonial charm. The exquisite surroundings of undulating tea plantations and emerald, green woodlands wonderfully complement W15, a beautifully renovated bungalow from the days of the British empire. If you ever plan to stay at the charming property, a Mastercard will get you an instant discount of 10 per cent.

After going on a tour of the estate and a jeep safari in the surrounding areas, we bid farewell to the warm and welcoming staff of W15 and proceeded towards Colombo, where our flight awaited to take us back home. On the way back, we also stopped at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (also known as Sri Dalada Maligawa), a Buddhist temple in Kandy. Since the beginning of time, the relic has been crucial to local politics since it is thought that whoever controls the relic controls the nation's government. The artefact was once in possession of Sinhalese kings.


Back in the hustle and bustle of Colombo, our only stop before the airport was Odel, the first department store in Sri Lanka. After all, what trip is complete without souvenir shopping for family and friends Whether it's Sri Lankan handicrafts, cosmetics made of local produce, or traditional clothes, you get it all at Odel. Not only this, the store also houses several international brands, making it a one-stop-shop, quite literally. After swiping our Mastercards for payment (Yes, you get 15 per cent off) and a quick meal, we left for the airport.


Having been dropped off outside the Bandaranaike International Airport, I realised that the sweat and humidity I experienced upon my arrival in Sri Lanka weren't there anymore. Was the weather cooler Or had I become more Sri Lankan in the last four days

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