Aindra Ratwatte - Travel Engineer at ArTravele
Sri Lanka to many people is best known as the producer of Ceylon tea or the destination which Lonely planet named as the best place to visit in 2019, however to me, this is the little teardrop shaped island located under the Indian subcontinent that I call home. Seven weeks into lockdown, I can’t help but reminisce all the travelling which I did back when we were able to move so freely. The lack of free mobility is a constant reminder of all the things I wanted to do but took for granted. I’ve decided to pen down my list of top 5 things about travel in Sri Lanka which I miss the most during this lockdown.
Here it goes bottom up..
5. Hillside hikes
Located off of Nallathanniya, close to Hatton, the Sri Pada (means Holy Footprint in Sinhalese) or sometimes known as the Adam’s Peak attracts many locals and foreigners alike. With the hopes of seeing the foot print located in the center of the temple at its peak, many pious locals travel between the months of December to May to begin their 04-07 hour long ascend. The legend amongst the locals proclaims that the footprint that is found at the peak is of Lord Buddha, while various religions have their own beliefs to who’s footprint can be found at the peak. Some Christians believe the footprint is of where Adam first set foot after being exiled from Eden while others believe it is the footprint of St. Thomas. Hindus believe that its is God Shiva’s while Muslims believe its of Al-Rohun. Nonetheless, the mountain remains an attraction to all pious travelers.
There are many routes that you can travel along to get to the peak, however from the few times I have ascended, I’ve come to believe that the first route i took was the easiest. However the other routes are in fact longer and offer different experiences during the journey.
After hiking for about an hour along the initial gravel pathway through roadside shops and tea plantations I couldn’t help but feel extremely proud of myself as I powered through, passing fellow travellers. Once I arrived at the towering steps, did I realize my mistake, and decided that I had taken nothing from the age-old tail of the tortoise and the hair. As I trudged up the never ending stairs with the only hope of catching the amazing sunrise from the peak, along the route I found elderly men probably in their early 60s carry 12kg gas cylinders on their heads and hike up with amazing speed without even the slightest discomfort, Mothers carrying their children, and other devotees signing songs of praise to ease off thoughts of this tiresome climb. With my ego shattered, I continued on with my journey to the peak, as the peak came into my vision and the line of lights along the pathway shone in contrast to the darkness around, I knew it was all worth it. As I reached the peak it was crowded with smiling weary faces. Complete strangers would go around offering food and water to the travelers around them while others would go around with their religious activities before the sunrise. As the sun emerges over the mountain range ahead and covers the hill with its golden rays, the warmth washes over you like a bucket of warm water. Those few minutes of seeing the sun making a grand appearance to greet the world over the mountain range is worth the whole climb!
4. A day in the South
The Galle Dutch Fort is filled with things to do and places to see or even to just lounge around. The Dutch hospital offers a range of restaurants and boutiques while the fort itself is filled with exciting shops to choose from. After enjoying the morning and the afternoon at the Galle Fort, willed with fort exploration and cliff jumpers, I said my goodbyes and headed back along the coast. Along the way I stopped by the side of the road to take in a deep breath as the sea spray enveloped my face and I couldn’t help but notice the number of stilt fisherman trying to make their daily income by fishing on an uncomfortably long pole standing 7 feet in the air. Nonetheless I managed to convince a fisherman to show me the ropes. Simply put, it was not an easy task. I had a new found respect for the fisherman who got on that stilt everyday and not only balance on it all day in the hot sun but also managed to catch fish in the meantime.
There was no better way to end the day than to feel the excitement of a child as I stopped near the Dalawella Beach to swing into my youth on the rope swing. A picturesque photo opportunity with the thrill of swinging into the ocean. Thus, I ended my day and returned back to city life. After all, who doesn’t like a beach day?
3. Teatime with a View
Waking up early morning in the hill is always a daunting task. Cozily huddled up underneath my quilt at 15C temperature I hear my alarm go off at 4am, washing off the sleep out of my eyes and envying the birds that are still in their nest I hopped on my scooter and made my way towards the Lipton’s Seat in Haputale.
As I made my way through roads flanked by oceans of tea plantations and forests of pine, I couldn’t help but notice the refreshingly fresh air embracing my body. The cool breeze in the less polluted greener hills of the island was like a spa day for my lungs. Nonetheless, I raced towards my destination in the hopes of seeing the picturesque sunrise over the tea plantations. I reached Mr. Thomas Lipton just in time to see the sun wash over the lush green tea leaves and the infinite mountain range ahead. The sight of the sunrays filter through the tea leaves as the birds chirp in the background and perfect cocktail of the cool breeze and the warm sun on my skin is a feeling I’d never forget!
Visiting the little boutique at the corner of the street that serves fresh Coconut Rotti with the spicy Onion Sambol (Visit the ArTravele Instagram Page to see how this can be made) and a warm cup of freshly brewed Ceylon tea to go with while overlooking the stupendous views of the hills is the perfect end to an early morning hustle to catch that sunrise.
2. Safari at Yala
Yala is a location that always held a special place in my heart for its authenticity. Watching how the locals conditioned their lifestyle around the rich wildlife in the region never fails to amaze me.
The Yala National park is open from 6 am to 6 pm with a slight break between 12-2. As a personal preference, I prefer to go in the late hours rather than the morning. Therefore, we devoured our lunch by 12 and headed into the neighboring town of Tissamaharama. Tissamaharama, Tissa for short, is a town known to many as the mellow base between the Bundala and Yala National Parks. However, Tissa has a bigger role to play rather than just a stop between parks. Tissa is known for being a popular producer of Buffalo Curd. A quick visit to a few shops to get our dessert fix before making our way to the Yala National Park.
After heading down the long road towards the park you can never miss getting the pungent smell of elephant droppings not far off, and with that you begin your Yala safari. After hopping into a 4×4 vehicle and collecting our expert tracker and naturalist, we made our way into the deep wilderness in the hopes of seeing the great beasts big and small. Herds of spotted deer and the strutting peacocks are common sightings but if you visit the park during Spring through early summer, you will be lucky enough to see a peacock do its iconic dance. Elephants can be found in herds or even the dangerous lonely males and despite their size, can be extremely silent, so be weary of the surroundings. Nonetheless, the most exhilarating feeling you get is when you see the king of the jungle, The Sri Lankan Leopard, known to grow larger than most other leopards found across the globe due to the lack of competition and being on top of the food chain. Watching the leopard walk majestically along a pathway without a fear in the world and the confidence of a king, sends an impressive electrical surge through your body. When the sunsets painting the sky with its vibrant colors and the day begins to close, one can only adore the sighting of the day and enjoys the atmosphere.
1. The Street Food
As an avid foodie, I wouldn’t be doing justice if I did not reserve the number 1 spot of my top 5 things I miss the most during this lock-down for the street food of Sri Lanka. Home to a wide variety of cuisine from sweet to savory to sour, street food is no doubt the most popular. Be it a late night at work, a random craving, or even after a night out! no matter the occasion, street food is the go-to comfort food for many.
The thought of street food takes me back in time to a day where I decided to explore the streets of Colombo. Walking through the Galle Face Green I stopped at a cart on wheels to have a quick bite of freshly made prawn fritters (Locally known as Isso Vadai). A fried snack prepared at the beachside with the garnish or onion and carrot with a spicy sauce to top it off. This appetizer made me head towards the bustling streets of Colombo Fort. After navigating myself through the dense crowds, I found myself in front of a little shop by the side of the road that serves the sweetest milk tea for miles. A mixture of Ceylon Tea along with sweet condensed milk with a little pouring entertainment to go along with it. Despite standing by the side of the road while sipping a cup of sweet milk tea while watching the world move at such fast pace, I found a sense of calmness to my existence.
Afterwards I hopped on over to a famous sweet shop at the heart of pettah market to gather a few local delicacies to enjoy after my dinner. The first thing that caught my eye was the vibrant colors and the variety of sweets oozing its flavour. Managing to gather a few sweets I was quick to return to the Galle Face Green to catch that amazing sunset through the horizon. I knew it was time for my main course as I started to hear the sound of metal hitting metal as the most popular dish was being made – the Kottu Roti. A mixture of shredded flat bread (known as godambha roti) mixed with vegetables and spices coupled along with a meat of your choice dances to a rhythmic beat while the chef pours his magic over it, and this is a signature in Sri Lanka. After devouring my hot kottu and precious sweets, I retired to a near by bar to enjoy a locally brewed beer before calling it a night to remember.
The end of this global lockdown will mark the beginning of my re-exploration of Sri Lanka! I’d also know never to take for granted every opportunity to explore the beauty of Sri Lanka.
Until then, I shall live through these memories…