By Devika Chaturvedi
I have learnt that there are times when it is just better to acknowledge defeat. This is a lesson that is going to stick with me for this year. Everybody loves a good Kuwaiti winter of course, but come summer and you’ll spot the wise hearken the change in the wind and head off to cooler pastures. This year, however, I had decided I would avoid playing the tourist and brazen out the summer at home here in Kuwait. But soon enough, the books got boring and airy malls were unable to keep boredom at bay. Two days later, I found myself surfing travel sites. That’s when Sri Lanka happened.
I booked Sri Lankan airlines and waited patiently on a five hour long flight. When the coconut trees and thatched roofs mounted into view, I knew my destination was arriving soon. A brand new Sri Lanka waited to be explored, where fishermen float on stilts above the waves and turtles skulk up onto moonlit beaches.
I checked into Taj Samudra, overlooking the Indian Ocean where I finally got what I came here for…a cool breeze.
One often judges the character of the country by its capital city, but it does not hold true here. There is more to Lanka than Colombo’s colonial boulevards. You witness a more cosmopolitan side with stylish eateries, galleries and museums here. The capital is an excellent start though, for the shopaholics in particular. From the myriad masks of traditional significance to the glitzy labyrinth of designer stores, you can find everything here. My recommendation is that you visit Odel for shopping, but keep it towards the end of your trip.
The next day I started for the delectably named town of Kandy, a mere four hour drive to the mildly cold climate. It was a pleasant change to skip the coastal humidity. Our stay was at a rather luxurious Amaya Hills resort (KWD45-50 per night for standard room), nestled atop a hill and overlooking the lush mountains of Hanthana.
Lankans love their cricket. Read up on some names and trivia and watch the smiles unfurl with just a mention of names like Muttiah Muralitharan, the famous off-spinner who grew up playing cricket here.
The massive, Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth is not to be missed either, said to contain a tooth belonging to Buddha himself. The beautiful temple plays host to the annual festival with lavish costumes, cultural procession and adorned elephants, held around July-August. If your visit coincides with one, it will definitely be the highlight of your Sri Lankan journey.
Up until sometime back, Sri Lanka’s hilly countryside was largely unexplored. But then, the British came and their love for a great cup of tea, on cool misty hills made the Ceylon tea famous across the world. The tea estates developed, cottages were built and soon it became one of the great pleasures of travelling in Sri Lanka, and what better way, than sipping a cuppa at a little tea shop amidst the plantations.
Further ahead from the tea estates is this toy-town of a bygone British era. The rose-tinted English country side could be recognized in Nuwara Eliya or Little England as they call it. Pack in your tweeds, waistcoat and ties with a pair of formal shoes as most of the well-to-do restaurants follow the English dress code for dinners.
The lively center of town is thoroughly Sri Lankan, but underneath you sense a very English character with pretty rose-gardens, Victorian architecture and a great English breakfast. Back in the day, Nuwara Eliya was the preferred escape for the hard-drinking English and Scottish civil servants of Sri Lanka’s tea industry.
On the cuisine front vegetarians can hold their fort with a speciality called kottu which consists of chopped roti stir-fried with vegetables and a profusion of flavorings. The creamy cashew and coconut curries were quite memorable too, to go with dosai or chapatti. Seafood though, is available in abundance with the freshest fish and crabs made in traditional Sinhalese style. The jewel shaped island, also boasts of spices with abundance of peppers, ginger, cinnamon — and a plentiful supply of coconuts.
My last stop was Bentota, a coastal town bristling with luxury resorts and turtle farms, before we head to the airport in Colombo. On the way we crossed a river near the sleepy village of Kitulgala, two hours’ drive from the capital. It is more famous for the bridge scene from the classic Oscar-winning film The Bridge on the River Kwai. In the present times Kitulgala has become famous for white-water rafting and waterfall abseiling.
The ten days were over soon and the barometer back home was still not going down, although I had many pleasant thoughts, to keep my cool in the sweltering heat.