Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice. The first time was for 3 weeks, and the most lucid memory of that trip involved a baboon grabbing me by my dress in Kandy. Oh, and food poisoning of the worst kind. I also distinctly remember lying on a metal surface, staring up at a rickety ceiling fan. That was 20 years ago. Also, I was too young to know that the country was torn apart by a turbulent civil war back then. But I went back to Sri Lanka, and I never wanted to leave.
I had the privilege of going there for one week in February. I had no idea what to expect when I finally landed in Sri Lanka. I had seen enough travel documentaries of Sri Lanka post civil war, but what awaited me was an interlacing of two beautiful different worlds.
I was blown away by her cascading and verdant tea plantations, misty peaks veiled in billowy clouds, the bumpy terrains that were more mud than asphalt, the stark contrast between slightly derelict but magnificent colonial bungalows and haphazardly built houses. In the city auto-cars deftly negotiated winding alleyways, and a train chugged along the main road en route to Kandy. She’s a country emerging from the rubbles of her bloodied past. I saw resilience in every concrete buildings and every dilapidated fort. Gumption is etched in the smiling faces of her people. Sri Lankans are genuinely friendly people. I felt the intangible touch of hospitality everywhere.
Colombo is bustling with so much zing, that it’s impossible not to love it. I fell in love with it the second I got lost in its heritage. The city is intertwined in a marvelous patchwork of antiquity and sudden modernity. There are colonial forts erected every few miles; her battle scars stand proudly amidst developing buildings. It’s easy to spend an entire day walking around sprawling temples filled with ancient relics and intricately sculpted Buddha statues. If like me, you love getting lost in history, culture, and places, go without an itinerary. Just go armed with a bottle of water and sunglasses if you’re there around February.
The scorching sun and sticky humidity gave me an excuse to seek refuge at one Colombo’s famous hotel, The Galle Face Hotel. The historical architecture is reminiscent of its proud colonial era. From the verandah I could see the Galle forts along the rocky seaside, threatening to crumble into the waves thrashing against the concrete walls.
After a refreshing mojito, pensive moments and some pictures of the stunning views of the Indian Ocean, I left with a tinge of reluctance. I had stepped into its glorious past and I wasn’t ready to leave. Plus, at that time I had no idea it was listed in the book “1000 Places to See Before You Die”. In fact…I don’t think I was ready to leave Sri Lanka at all. That’s another story for never actually.
After a day in Colombo, we drove up to Hill Country. It took us around 8 hours on the road to reach Hatton. Words no matter how ardently and skillfully used, aren’t sufficient to describe Hill Country’s exquisite beauty. After a warm and sumptuous lunch pitstop at a restaurant in Kitulgala overlooking gorgeous views of the famous Kelani River (The Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed there), we continued on our way up. Sri Lankan cuisines are quite similar to Indian food, spices and all. But they use a lot of coconut shavings.
It was a slightly precarious car ride, our driver was gingerly negotiating hairpin bends to Hatton. But every turn unveiled a delightfully different view; a stunning panorama of flora and fauna that beckoned us deeper into Hill Country. It’s a different country there. Wild and free; Hatton is infused in the smell of nature. There was an air of sanguinity in every town as we drove through Hatton. It also became chilly, but that’s normal. I just needed a shawl. We skipped Adam’s Peak unfortunately, but we caught glimpses of it while driving up. We didn’t have time to stop at Hortons Plains either. I really want to explore the rest of Hill Country on my next trip.
We stayed at a place somewhere near Castlereagh Bungalows. I can’t remember the exact name of this place, but if I go back to Hatton, I’d get a similar bungalow. The view from my room cannot be summed up in a single word. Stunning? I woke up to lacustrine views every morning, reflecting the soul of Hatton; its tea plantations. At night, the sky was a velvety canvas of twinkling marvels. I sneaked out on both nights with a drink to stargaze with only my wondering thoughts as company. And some pesky insects, of course. On one of the nights, I saw a few blinking orange orbs amidst the plantations across the lake, on the other side, that would twinkle for a while and disappear and reappear. I found out those were actually the headlights of vehicles. Driving in darkness. That is ballsy.
I’ll continue with the other half of my trip soon.