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:

Goa Travel Guide: Experience culture with these Art cafes

Living in Mumbai always posed one silver lining to both of us – its proximity to Goa! Despite being the most frequented holiday destination in India, Goa holds a very special place in our hearts. You must be wondering why Goa of all places is special to us when we have visited so many other, supposedly more exotic locations. Well, it is a unique love story between The Moonchasers and the offbeat Goa through our tinted glasses.

Goa happens to be the birthplace of our blog, vlog and everything that we do today for travel. It might sound like a fairytale but sitting on a deserted fishing boat, parked loosely in a tidal creek, watching as the moon casts its light on the shoring phytoplanktons is one of our favourite things to do in this union territory.

Today, tourists are taking a deeper interest in understanding the culture of the natives in Goa and engaging with them while on vacation. Nearly 80 lakh tourists visited Goa in 2018* and according to Goa Tourism, the numbers have jumped tens of lakhs every year since 2012.

Goa tourism arrival statistics

Source: Goa Tourism

You may want to not recognise that despite all the charm, Goa also attracts a strange segment of rowdy tourists who visit with zero respect and responsibility for their actions, demeanor and impact on Goa. They go for the nightlife and cheap booze, with shady intentions of misbehaving with women and with a sad motivation of sleeping with a foreigner woman during his stay. You read it right, we are saying it aloud. Goa attracts uncouth travellers too, who not only stop at being rowdy but cause enough problems for those around. We have made such wonderful friends with people we have met, stayed with, travelled with and explored with in Goa that it deeply saddens us to hear about their experiences with such crowds, quite alarmingly frequently!

This blog post is to provide insights to the better traveller on what’s new in Goa that can make for a great holiday destination still very much! Trust us when we say, Goa continues to be our favourite beach destination in India and will be for years to come!

In our 17 or so visits to this gorgeous beach state, we have explored more than 30 beaches, ate at homestyle cafes and made hundreds of friends who always welcome us with warm hearts and epic Goan food. More and more locals are opening up their homes to guests, taking cooking classes for them, or showing them around the fishing villages from the view of a native or simply helping them find Instagrammable spots on the mountainous terrains or lush village roads. Goa is not about just the beaches any more. Goa has evolved.

In this article, we bring to you 6 cafes that will make your trip to Goa extra special just by their simplicity and craft. If you visit any of them after reading this, don’t forget to tell us about your experience!

Artjuna Cafe, Anjuna

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Artjuna cafe is a hub for expats in the North Goa area and is located on the road to
Anjuna Beach and Wednesday flea market. The café is situated outside an old
Portuguese style house in a beautiful garden, with a trendy lifestyle store inside the
house and a popular covered event space offering regular yoga, mixed martial arts
and other workshops. Their coffee is a good accompaniment to the delicious desserts they serve in partnership with couple run Patisserie Delicieux. It remains open in the monsoon and people come in regularly for activities such as mixed martial arts, yoga classes, movie nights and a well stacked bookshelf. 

Our choice: Shakshuka and Chia Seed pudding with Watermelon feta salad for an appetising breakfast.

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Jamun Smoothie for a healthy breakfast

Cafe Bodega, Altinho, Panjim 

This cafe is not only a cafe but an art house offering classes for children to adults. The beautiful courtyard and gallery housed within a Portuguese bungalow makes for a great space for conversations and art appreciation. Do check out their fresh baked desserts for your sweet tooth!

Bodega UrmiBodega wall

Caravela Cafe & Bistro, Sao Tome, Panjim

A hidden gem in the heart of Panjim! Run by a father-son duo, Caravela Cafe is cosily tucked in the by lanes of Sao Tome and also has a beautiful homestay, on top of the cafe that serves the best coffee and amazing food. Try out the prawn rissois or beef xacuti to taste the sensationality of their recipes! When at Caravela, say hi to Carlos Uncle and ask him to give you a little tour of Goan history. His warmth and knowledge makes us go back every time we are in Goa!

Saraya Goa, Porvorim

Saraya was created to be a space which touches the Goan community, by helping young aspiring artists, spreading awareness on alternatives and new ways of living , by being an example on how new structures and ideas of living can be even more beautiful and enjoyable as most people are stuck with copying the tried and tested ways of construction, eating , living , etc. which are proving to not only be harmful for the Earth but are also dry and boring.  It is essentially a space created to inspire change. It is still a work in progress and  the owners have many more ideas on making this place even more harmonious with Nature, one step at a time. Founded by Architect and INterior Designer Deeksha Thind in 2014, Saraya hosts numerous workshops and events throughout the year.

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The Project Cafe, Assagao

A gourmet cafe and living space that originated from an idea of a design consortium of creators, The Project Cafe is one of the best places to take in art in the setup of a 130 year old Portuguese Bungalow. It has a residential space as a melting pot of ideas and inspiration fro creators and artists.

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The Project Cafe: Interior

Carpe Diem, Majorda

A true art gallery cum cafe, Carpe Diem houses some of the best artworks by artists from different genres. An old Goan bungalow with phenomenal artwork lining the walls, it opens up to a beautiful indoor garden serving as the cafe area. In addition to the space that serves as an Art Gallery, are a small courtyard behind the chapel, a couple of rooms, a kitchen, a larger landscaped backyard and even a stage area that go to form space that can be used for creative learning experiences of all sorts.

 

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Carpe Diem Art Cafe with its cozy ambiance and gourmet menu provides the perfect opportunity to sit back and unwind with a good book.

While waiting for a coffee or a signature sandwich like the ‘The Meat Eater’s Club’ or a sweet/savory waffle, browse  through the lifestyle store with its wide range of offerings, from apparel and ceramic products to gifts and souvenirs.

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Carpe Diem Cafe

Carpe Diem Interior

They are open 6 days a week, Tuesday – Sunday. 10 am – 7 pm. The outdoor stage provides a great space for performance based events here!

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Organic farm living only 50 Kms from Mumbai

Arwa1Retirement is somehow supposed to be a scary thought, something to plan for years. We have seen our parents evolve post retirement and become avid travellers, at least from what they used to be! They even love going on hikes despite the age and failing health. Suppose we had it in our genes to start blogging and pick travel as our genre. It is true it wasn’t the plan, but from what its worth, let’s make retirement exciting !

Living a city life becomes imposing to so many, after spending years even! A somewhat similar concern drove the owners of Arwa Farms to think seriously about the land they owned in Dahanu. Situated amidst rice fields and sparse village huts, the sprawling landmass was waiting to be cultivated. Veteran photographer and journalist Fawzan Hussain decided to dig back into his family ancestory and bring back the profession of the great-grandfathers back to life. Yes, farming. Because not only does it provide you with chemical free, organically grown fruits, vegetables and cereals; it allows them to learn on the land everyday and produce fruits and vegetables to sustain life at the farm.

Cycle Area

We were invited to visit the property and understand how a completely organic farm works. Fawzan showed us the organic dung fertilizer that they make at the farm itself to be used on the produce. The range of items he cultivates at Arwa is simply fascinating. From papayas, mangoes, custard apples and sapota, cereals and paddy also finds space.

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Whats more! The farm can accommodate 14 guests at a time, making it an ideal destination for a calm family weekend getaway or even for groups of friends. Plastic is completely banned on the premises and Fawzan ensures the guests get the right vibe of being organic in the smallest details. The bathrooms have organic soaps and shampoo, kitchen sports clay pots and pans, plates and glasses sourced from the heart of Mumbai city, Dharavi.

Lobby Area

Spending a night under a skyful of stars sitting at the terrace having hot pakodas with him gave us an opportunity to experience the real farm life. The comfy beds and especially the one with the garden view was the boy’s absolute favourite for a night time stargazing. We are so thankful to the amazing staff at the kitchen who made delicious food, made from the fresh farm produce. An equally appetizing breakfast coupled with organic green tea refreshed us before the drive back home.

Zia Yoga 2

If you are interested in learning how to farm, do visit this place. Fawzan also organises workshops and to introduce kids to the idea of farming and crop cutting seasonally. A seasonal visit may also allow you to grab a bagful of ripe mangoes to take back home! We brought back some organic stevia for our diabetic parents because whats better than an organic replacement of sugar, right?

You can book Arwa Farms on AirBnB  or Booking.com

Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald is a must watch at IMAX Inox

Today it is 21 years since the first Harry Potter book was published by J.K. Rowling and it has been a world of adventures for kids and adults since then. There are probably a handful of 90’s kids who haven’t used a HP reference in their lives or been exposed to the world of magic through books or movies from the #HP series. Now, Harry’s story is over and Rowling has helped us understand the background of her magical renderings through the prequel story in her latest books.

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We have to say, it is one of the best things that could ever happen. A world of fantasy that draws comparisons with Narnia or LOTR by J.R.R.Tolkien, cannot just be left to go into oblivion, right?

We are so thrilled to have seen the second edition of Fantastic Beasts on a large screen with phenomenal surround sound in the cozy comfort of Inox theatre. While you may have your tickets booked already for the new release today or for the weekend, here is a little dope on what to expect without being too revealing.

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Drawing from where we left of in ‘Fantastic Beasts and where to find them’, the story starts with a series of events leading up to yet another adventure by Newt Scamander, obviously commissioned by none other than Albus Dumbledore. Fantastic Beasts 2 is however not so much about the younger Dumbledore, played by the phenomenal Jude Law. It is a story of untold emotions and memories, finding new creatures that will take your breath away as Newt sets on a journey to Paris to find Credence, the obscurus.

A few refreshing new faces add charm to the storytelling where you see Theseus Scamander, Newt’s elder brother come into the picture as a devoted yet headstrong Ministry Official. A turning point will come with the introduction of Leta Lestrange, played by the beautiful Zoe Kravitz. You may remember her from the role of Toast from Mad Max: Fury Road. The Lestrange family has been a key element of the plot even in the HP series and it is only admirable that the backstory is woven so well with Leta’s past having a serious impact on Credence’s questions about his identity. One more interesting addition is the character of Nagini, played here by the slender and pretty Claudia Kim. You know who Nagini is, don’t you? (Hint there)

The star-studded cast has Johnny Depp as Grindelwald who predictably does a marvellous job of being dramatic where its needed. Honestly we would have liked a little more of Jude Law as the charming middle-aged Dumbledore, but resting assured that there will be more of him in the next edition. That is all we are going to tell you about the story, period. Expect to have comic relief amidst the serious turn of events leading up to an unfathomable discovery of Credence’s true identity, as elaborated by Grindelwald which leaves us shocked and stunned. To tell you the truth, we still haven’t been able to digest, relate, emancipate or understand it. But we will leave it to you to believe or not.

Coming back to the wonderful movie experience at INOX, here is what we loved!

  1. Big screen – The Zouwu (You will know what it is when you watch the movie) looked so extravagant. The graphics of the movies is superb, which was made so much better on a jumbo screen at IMAX!
  2. Quality of the image and surround sound – A graphical, VFX heavy movies is not enjoyable if these two things are compromised. So glad we chose IMAX for this.
  3. Food & beverage – We could barely look away from the screen throughout the movie. It was keeping us hooked so thank to the staff at Inox, we had filled ourselves with huge tubs of popcorn and snacks while gorging on the crazy visuals.

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We watched Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald at Inox R-City Mall, Ghatkopar in Mumbai. It is a special theatre because of the beautifully lit lobby area which automatically transports you to a fantasy world. The interiors are absolutely gorgeous, especially the lighting design. Its a 7 star luxury experience of theatres, we would say.

So book your tickets now and go watch this much awaited fantasy film with your family, friends, kids of friends and everyone else at Inox!

Disclaimer: The Moonchasers attended a secret screening of the film on invitation and opinions expressed in the article are our own and not sponsored by the brand.