Amit Paranjape’s Blog

Sri Lanka Trip – 10 Interesting Memories

Posted in Travel by Amit Paranjape on February 10, 2010

We recently made a short 3 day trip to Sri Lanka. Thoroughly enjoyed the visit. Great Nature, Nice People, Good Food and Cost-Effective! Yes…with the current exchange rates - the prevailing prices for hotels, food, transportation, etc. seemed to be a lot cheaper than in India.

Also, in the increasingly painful international visa regulations, Sri Lanka is amongst the few countries where an Indian Passport holder can get a Visa on arrival, if travelling for tourism purposes (with a stay of under 30 days). So you can literally board a plane and get there. And note, the Chennai – Colombo flight roughly takes the same time as Mumbai – Goa.
 
In this blog post, I am highlighting 10 interesting memories from this trip. Frankly, we ran short on time. My recommendation is you plan for at least a 5-6 day trip. We are also looking forward to another trip there soon!

 

 
Old Cars/Vans & Repair Shops
 
Upon landing, as you head on the road from Colombo Airport to the city, you cannot help but notice a series of old-car repair shops. Various car brands (mainly Japanese) replacement chassis are laid out in the front. You also notice that the cars and mini-vans are a lot older than what you would see in India. I guess given the depressed tourist economy during the past 2 decades of civil war, not many new vehicles were imported. Hence these repair shops seem to thrive.
 
Traffic Discipline
 
Most roads are quite tiny, even by Indian standards. Even the major roads, like the Colombo Airport to City Highway, are 2 laned undivided roads. However, the traffic discipline is definitely a notch higher than in India. And the Helmet Rule is extremely well followed! In our 3 days there, we didn’t see a single motor-cycle rider or even the pillion rider, without a helmet. Honking is also quite uncommon (though not as uncommon as in EU/US).
 
Security
 
The long civil war, the Presidential Elections (we were there a week before the elections)  are probably the reasons why we witnessed a lot of security presence in Colombo. Add to that, our hotel was near the Central Business Area that houses a lot of Government Offices. The sight of security personnel with automatic weapons, can be a little disconcerting for a first time tourist!
 
 
Nuwara Eliya – Quaint Old Hotels
 
Nuwara Eliya is a fabulous hill station and an important tea plantation region in Sri Lanka, perched up at an altitude of over 6,000 feet. A 5 hour drive from Colombo through continuously winding roads gets you there. The landscape changes quite drastically as you ascend from the sea-level, into the mountain slopes lined up with tea plantations.
 
The British clearly loved this place and setup quite a few retreats here in the 19th century.  These include the summer residence of the British governor-general. This royal residence has now been converted to a beautiful hotel, quite aptly named ‘The Grand’. Upon entering it, you literally experience the grandeur of the British Era. In this remote place, they have built an amazing place with huge halls, lobbies and regal rooms. The Hotel has done a great job in maintaining the historic residence – with the artifacts, wooden floors, fire places and decorative glass windows.  The grand ball room is quite impressive.
  
This royal residence literally transferred me to that era, and I couldn’t help but draw parallels between a similar residence in Pune – the British Governer’s mansion that is now the main building of the Pune University. Unfortunately, the Pune University Building is not anywhere in the same state as the Grand Hotel – given that both were probably identical in 1947.
 
We stayed at the St. Andrews Hotel – a much smaller hotel but equally beautiful. This was built initially as a residence by a Scotsman who was clearly a Golf Fan. No prizes for guessing the origin of the hotel’s name!
 
This hotel’s main lobby also dates back to 1875 and is very well-maintained. The multi-course European Dinner served at this seemingly remote Hotel/Town was simply exquisite! This hotel also has its own garden where they grow their own herbs and vegetables.
 
Nuwara Eliya – Tea Estates
 
Nuwara Eliya has many tea estates, and we visited one of the more prominent ones – Mackwoods Tea.
 
They provide a nice tour of the tea-making process.  They also have an excellent tea tasting room, as well as a great gift shop.
 
Shopping/Prices
 
While I am not much of a shopping enthusiast myself, couldn’t help noticing the attractive prices of various items: especially apparel. Two large stores/malls that we visited (recommended) in Colombo were: House Of Fashion and Odel.
 
Promenade by the sea  in Colombo
 
The central business area in Colombo has a beautiful promenade by the sea – somewhat like Mumbai’s Marine Drive. The major hotels (Taj, Intercontinental,Hilton, etc.) and Government Offices are in close proximity. There are street food vendors that sell seafood and other local snacks (no BhelPuri/Chaat here :)  ). This place is quite popular with tourists as well as locals.
 
Friendly People
 
Based on our experiences (many tourists I spoke with concur!) – Sri Lankans are nice and friendly people. Our first experience started at the airport. The immigration officer was very friendly – not a common experience :) . Maybe we were there during the peak wedding season…wedding celebrations were everywhere. Our hotel had 3-4 wedding related events everyday. Got a chance to understand a bit about their unique wedding customs that differ by religion/ethnicity/etc. Though irrespective of these differences, the weddings were grand parties in general!
 
I asked our car’s driver about the cricket – clearly Sri Lankans are very passionate about cricket and their team. Was a bit surprised to hear that the most popular player in Sri Lanka right now is not Sangakara, Jayawardhane, Jayasuriya or Murali… Its Dilshan! Also, the most popular Indian cricketer in Sri Lanka right now is Sehwag.
 
Food
 
I am not any expert in Sri Lankan cuisine, but from what I sampled there, got an impression that there are distinct influences from South India and East Asia. I liked the Hoppers (a rice ‘Dosa’ like preparation, sometimes also made with rice and eggs) as well as String Hoppers (somewhat like thin rice noodles). The Curries were quite tasty and reminded me of the Thai/Malaysian Curries. No surprises that most major hotels have excellent selections of continental and Indian cuisines available.
 
The Historic City Of Kandy
 
We spent the least amount of time in Kandy, something we definitely need to rectify when we visit next. This historic city was the capital of Sri Lanka before the British Era began in 1815. There are many historical monuments, the star attraction being the old Palace. We heard that the botanical garden there is also extremely impressive – unfortunately, didn’t have time to visit.
 
 
Notes
 
Photo Credits: Sarika Phatak
 
Useful links about Sri Lanka:
 
 
 
 
 

 

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17 Responses

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  1. Karthik Mani said, on February 11, 2010 at 1:09 am

    Amit:
    Thanks for the nice writeup. I have never been to Sri Lanka though it was just a few miles by sea from where I grew up. Have to rectify that sometime.

    On cars: In the 1980s, with Indian TV solely in Hindi, for me the best TV to watch was Rupavahini; between English and Tamil, we got at least 3 hours of watchable programs. What I remember from that time was the brand spanking new Toyotas and Mazdas running around Colombo. They had liberal trade policies. I guess those vans and cars have aged now and need the care and feed :)

    Karthik

  2. Shrikant Patil said, on February 11, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    A Sri Lankan colleague observed that Indians take their cricket too seriously. They get upset and sulk when they the game is not going their way. Sri Lankans enjoy their cricket, whether we win or lose we will booze and have fun.

    A country to watch, now that the war is over and a new president with a clear mandate.

  3. Amit Paranjape said, on February 11, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Karthik, Shrikant: Thanks for your comments.

  4. Atin said, on February 11, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    Likewise never been to SL but always wanted to.. Will have to consult you for planning!

  5. Ashok said, on February 11, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Amit,
    Great writeup. We went to Sri Lanka 4-5 years ago and did a similar route as yours. Nuwara Eliya definitely is a little jewel in Sri Lanka. Worth visiting. We stayed at the Grand hotel. It was a very nice experience.
    A couple of other places worth visiting would be the Yala National Park and Galle.
    Indeed Sri Lankans are very friendly people. Warm smiles all around.
    And you nailed it about not having to apply for visas.
    All in all – great country, warm&friendly people, lots to do and see.

  6. Sam said, on February 11, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Some of my colleagues had also told me that sri lanka is one of the most beautiful places they had visited in asia/south asia. For nature lovers also there is too much diversity for such a small island. So its surely on my agenda also.

  7. Kanchan said, on February 12, 2010 at 6:28 am

    Amit,

    Great write up, one question why motivated you guys to take a trip to SriLanka? Just proximity/ curiosity or something else? Any evidence of Rama or Ravana? temples etc?

  8. Amit Paranjape said, on February 12, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Kanchan, Thanks for your comments. I think primary motivation of heading there was proximity!

    Regarding connections with mythological events -yes, I have heard that there are some attractions that reference them (e.g. A foot impression of Lord Hanuman, etc….). However, we were not able to visit any of them.

  9. Sameer Mahajan said, on February 12, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    sounds like a place to visit at least once…

  10. Vaibhav Ekbote said, on March 9, 2010 at 7:12 am

    Very nicely written!

  11. siddharth rathod said, on May 21, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    very well written amit. i am definitely adding this on my must visit place.

  12. Giridhar said, on September 3, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I was planning to visit Srilanka for the first time in Oct with my wife, kindly let me know which would be a better option – going for a package trip in Srilanka or venturing out on my own

  13. Amit Paranjape said, on September 8, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Hi Giridhar – I don’t think there’s one single answer…it really depends!

    Generally if you are travelling for the first time to a new destination, a structured package helps..but if you are adventurous enough, then you could go without it. Packages can too restrictive at times.

    Packages usually work out cheaper, than booking everything separately. You can also explore the ‘custom package’ option that many travel agencies offer these days. Here you can get the flexibility, as well as discounts/less hassle advantages of a group tour.

    Hope this helps,
    Amit

  14. CR said, on October 4, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Hi

    I am planning on a 6-7 day trip to Srilanka, can u highlight any specific route / itinerary to follow.

    Very keen to also visit sri pada, adams peak, sigiriya and other such stunning places.

    Any suggestions on travel, routes, tips etc for this trip will be useful. Thanks :).

    Cheers

  15. Amit Paranjape said, on October 5, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Hi CR – We did a fairly short 3 day trip covering Colombo, Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. Should have spent more time! Won’t be able to comment on the destinations that you have listed.

  16. Lasith said, on February 14, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Amit,
    Just stumbled on this– great post! Glad you enjoyed Nuwara Eliya, its one of my fav spots too. If you come back, please
    visit my independent Sri Lanka travel blog: discovering-serendipity.com
    to find more things to do and places to visit. I would also love to have you post a photo memory of your visit in my “Serendipity this week!” section.

    Cheers1

  17. Amit Paranjape said, on February 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Hi Lasith – Thanks for your comments. Will checkout your blog.


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