9 reasons to visit Sri Lanka when Covid passes

While deciding for a tropical beach holiday with a mix of culture and adventure sometime around J’s birthday thats in November, the choices were varied that year! We often face such dilemmas, and perhaps its most often the flight tickets which plays the veto. In the current scenario however, it will be wise to stay home, and avoid all leisure travel until the world can get a free pass from the deadly corona virus that has got every country by the horn.

The calling of a neighbouring country that topped the Best Country to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet was hard to ignore. It was an easy choice too given the budget constraints and its proximity to India.

We spent 10 days in the island nation and explored what we could fit in our itinerary, that only left us craving for more. If you are intrigued by the vast natural beauty, improved tourism and cultural diversity of this once war torn country, here is everything you need to know!

  1. It has a 1340 KM long coastline!

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Imagine the sheer number of pristine beaches that you could explore, for kilometres on foot! When in Sri Lanka, explore white sand beaches of Ahangama with stilt fishermen or walk along the beautiful coastline of Tangalle, take surfing lessons at Arugam Bay or Hikkaduwa, have a romantic wedding shoot at Hambantota or hit the eastern coast for the gorgeous Trincomalee, beaches are plenty in this country!

2. Ancient history and Buddhism

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Meditating Buddha at Aluviharaya Temple, Matale

Buddhism is in the heart of Sri Lanka while sharing a cohabited religious space with Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. It is the oldest Buddhist country with India being wiped off of Buddhism virtually, and preserves the most original and pure form of Buddhism – the “Theravada tradition”. Ancient stupas and ruins conform to this and you as a traveller can find a million pieces of Buddhist tradition strewn across the width of Sri Lanka. The country has been constantly warred since centuries due to it’s vulnerable geography and it’s richness in natural resources inviting invasion by colonists and kings and traders. However, it managed to preserve deep roots to Buddhism alongside other religions. In fact, it was at the Aluviharaya Rock Temple in Matale where the revered Pali Canon (sacred scriptures with teachings of Buddha) was inscribed for the first time in history. 70% of the population are Buddhist in Sri Lanka and you will find it to be a peaceful, disciplined way of life with the locals. We could not squeeze in a visit to the Cultural Triangle apart from a visit to Sigiriya, which only gives The Moonchasers more reason to go back!

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Gate to the Rock temple

3. Strict Laws

If you are planning on going on a ‘let loose’ trip, better be in the city and more touristy locations than venturing into the local side of Sri Lanka. The nation is very strict against any form of drug abuse and if you are caught with even a wee bit of marijuana, you can be in serious trouble. Travellers sporting tattoos of Buddha, remember to cover them up because you will be disrespecting their religious faith when in Sri Lanka. And that, causes even more trouble, including deportation.

4. Food

This is the part I was looking forward to writing the most!

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Food is delectable, gorgeous and flavorful in Sri Lanka. Indians may find some similarity with the style of dishes but the taste buds are in for a surprise! Europeans and Americans might find the food a bit spicy but for Australians who have travelled to Asia before, its a treat. Bananas are there in every meal as dessert, you can have a choice of vegetables that taste brilliant or meat (chicken/pork/fish/duck). Vegans too will find wonderful appetite here inland. Some of the places like Nuwara Eliya and other remote locations may not be fancy but if you grow a taste for egg hoppers and sambhal, you will have a great time.

5. Transport

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World’s most scenic train ride – Kandy to Ella

Traffic is generous outside the cities and the roads are scenic, so if you are driving through, remember to have your DL along with an IDP and a permit from the Colombo RTO. Local transport is extremely cheap and effective. You can take buses to most places, and where not be sure that the train will take you. For booking tickets you can check at any station and get it yourself. For big groups, booking through an agent will be better however avoid paying exorbitant rates for the same.

6. Ceylon tea

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Damro Tea Factory – Nuwara Eliya

Tea was brought to the island country by the Portuguese and British colonists from China and since then it has been a flourishing industry. The famous Ceylon Tea is grown, processed and packed in tea estates and factories spread around the Knuckles Mountain range and has high aromatic taste. A visit to a tea factory is a must if you have a nose for varieties of tea. Till today, the little town of Nuwara Eliya wears the hat of a British Tea Colony and is called ‘Little England’ by the locals. You can pack a bag of flavoured teas, BOP tea and silver leaf tea on your way back home if you like. There are about 15 other varieties to choose from.

7. Natural reserves and wildlife

Sri Lanka houses and protects 26 national parks covering 5734 square kms! Its basically the size of Norfolk in England.  The most prominent finds will be peacocks and so many of them, the junglefowl and elephants. If you are out in the sun you will find plenty of land monitors lurking about in search of warmth and food. On a good day one can spot a majestic Srilankan leopard or a rare sighted sloth bear.

While traveling to Srilanka keep separate budget and time for jungle safaris as you can get lucky or spend hours in the jungle looking for game. The jungle camps are steeply priced than normal accommodations, more so due to the remote locations and challenges of over tourism. For wildlife enthusiasts and jungle lovers it is a paradise though as there are special camps that allow you to stay inside the core area even at night. We experienced luxury glamping with Ruhunu Safari Camping and would highly recommend their services for anyone wanting to spend time in the wild.

9.  Shortcuts for a 10 day trip

It is a great idea to travel locally using trains and buses or ride a tuktuk on your journey. If you are on budget, restrict the number of stops you’ll make and pick places which can act as a base for multiple activities. This way you’ll spend less time in commute and more in exploring. Set aside a day to enjoy the world’s most scenic train route between Kandy to Ella. Smart travellers hop on at Peridaniya station to avoid crowds and travel in second or third class as tickets are mostly available. Do not listen to guides who try to tell you otherwise. The most scenic part is actually between Hatton and Haputale, two perfectly pretty mountain hamlets that could be worth a visit. Here are some shortcuts we found helpful on our trip, hope you find them useful!

  • Take a cab outside the airport in Negombo, negotiate. If headed to Colombo city, don’t pay more than 600 LKR.
  • Do not ask questions about the war, they don’t appreciate you meddling with their terrible past. Militants are employed as helps, cooks, tuktuk drivers in search of a living. It may upset them.
  • Cover your knees and elbows when entering a sacred temple. The Buddhists are not staunch or violent but it’s great to respect their way to earn theirs while you are in their country.
  • You will save a lot of money traveling by buses and trains. Its a tad bit time taking but if you are interested in exploring the country, take that time out and enjoy the ride.
  • World Heritage Sites and protected monuments do not allow drone photography so be sure to check your airspace before flying. We managed to fly early morning at Sigiriya but did so from a great distance from the gates.
  • Research well because it can be overwhelming. We felt we didn’t see 30% of Sri Lanka in 10 days, traveling like maniacs everyday. Prioritise your kind of places and have a great time.
  • While you cant fit everything in an itinerary, for your first visit, do not miss out on Sigiriya Rock, Ella train, willowing tea estates and waterfalls, Portuguese lighthouses and pristine waters on the southern coast and the fort city of Galle. Couple it with beautiful mix of modern and traditional architecture in Colombo and great coffee, you have yourself a very inviting vacation in Sri Lanka!

Watch our Sri Lanka in 5 minute video to know what we are talking about:

How to make the most out of your travels

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

The world today poses complex challenges to the average human being, more than what it used to be 10 or 20 years back perhaps. The constant need for staying connected to the world propagates through generations like a wildfire and we all are into it, all the time.  Traveling has opened up new avenues for those seeking clarity by untying themselves from the mundane, city life. In the age of Instagram and Snapchat, instant information sharing is standard practice, and traveling is a necessity to keep up with the lifestyle definition of a millennial.

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Traveling does open up the horizons of our mind, by showing us differences of lands, cultures, practices and offerings. If only our kind was more cautious to inculcate more of nature in the standard definition of a city life, this need would have never arisen. However, it is the age of seeking the world, ticking places off the bucket list that proudly sits on your fridge door!

So what can one do to ensure that they make the most out of every travel experience, no matter 100 kms away or 10,000?

Here is what we have tried and tested in our journeys. Hoping it would help you gather the best of wherever you go and what ever you do!

Find your perspective: Each new place that you set foot on, has something to offer that is only yours. Most often we rely on the internet, friends who have visited to know what to do, where to go. Each traveller is unique just like the place. Find out your likes and to-do when traveling to a new destination, own it and embrace the explorer in you. That way, you will have a great story to tell back home.

Rajwada Corridor

Have an open mind: Whether it be the food, language, clothing, markets or the people, have an open mind. Don’t let preconceived notions cloud your choices. Try new things. If you like it, great! If you don’t, let it become an experience. Observe your surroundings and try to absorb the vibe, you don’t have to always act like the others are, but it never hurts to welcome new experiences!

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A bit of knowhow: The history and traditions of a destination adds to the richness of your holiday extravaganza. Reading a little on the history of the place you are visiting will help you assess the do’s and dont’s, understand why something is there or is popular. It will also help you feel less like a tourist and more at home.

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Best time to visit: It may so happen that you end up missing out on the best things to see, best activities to do if you land in a bad season, at a gorgeous destination. Off season travel comes cheaper, but assess your priorities well and ensure you get to see what you want. Don’t end up burning a hole in your pocket only to find everything closed or inaccessible in the off season. A bit of research on the best time to visit a place will also keep you safe from the perils of a treacherous winter or harsh summer or worse, monstrous monsoons!

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Idols of Gauri Mata and Isar Maharaj

Interact with the natives: The best way to explore a new place is by interacting with the locals. Always remember you are a tourist in their home land, and approaching the locals for help on local timings, places to see, best eateries etc. will help you make a regular plan into something extraordinary. Traveling is nothing without the essence of the lifestyle of a place, so try to get the best ideas by talking to friendly, approachable locals. What could go wrong by asking a few touristy questions. Right?

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Be immersive, don’t just be a tourist: Gather memories via curating your own experiences. It is very important to make yourself and others feel comfortable with your presence. Try everything and only then you will be able to share your experiences with friends and family back home. Exploring a place like its your home will not only save the environment, but also add unforgettable memories to your travel diary.

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Be responsible: Vacationing like a mad tourist, destroying property, harassing others and being rowdy will not go well and may land you in serious trouble. If you have the opportunity to see a place in all its glory, its only fair that others after you get to experience the beauty in the same way. Try to carry your own water, eco-friendly alternatives to plastic and always remember to pick up your trash and dump it in a bin.

Lastly, take pictures! Take as many as you want, capture videos of happenings and add them to your travel diary. A good photo speaks volumes about a destination. What better than visual memories to transport you back to the same spot when life seems all mundane, again!

Published on Nationalviews.com