Uncharted Beauty

Helga-Folly-Hotel-Kandy

There are times when it’s the places much closer to home that we fail to make an effort to explore. However, that wasn’t the case for the Jet Set Eat food and travel blogger Vishal Fernandes, who made his way to this southern island in the Indian Ocean in the company of his friends. Read on to find out more, as the writer shares with You & I the places he experienced, sights he marvelled at, and the delectable cuisine he relished.

Work-save-travel-repeat; this has been my mantra ever since I started blogging about travel. And in the process of making memories all around the world, Sri Lanka happened! With its 2,000 years of culture, fascinating ruins, endless beaches, scores of elephants, Buddhist temples, ancient monuments, famous tea and delicious cuisine, this was one destination that was a perfect choice for a much-needed holiday.

Srilanka-The-glowing-Temple-of-the-Tooth

The trip lasted 10 days and the cities my friends and I visited included Negombo, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Ella, Mirissa, Unawatuna, Galle, Hikkaduwa, Bentota and Colombo. As the southwest coast and central province of Sri Lanka are at its best in December, my itinerary was more focused on traversing these areas. Delving right into an exploratory mode, the trip was split into two segments. First we decided to visit the places that were packed with history, culture, and the popular UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This was followed by beach hopping along the great arc of the sun-baked coastline and sleepy villages of South Sri Lanka.

We then flew into Colombo and headed straight to Negombo – a quiet beach town located close to the airport. The next morning I visited the popular Katuwapitiya Church, Angurukaramulla Buddhist temple, St. Mary’s Church, Dutch Canals, the fish market, and the Negombo beach in the evening for a sunset view. The nightlife of the little town was equally fascinating.

Over the next few days we covered Kandy – the cultural capital of the island nation – the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, possibly the most sacred Buddhist shrine in the world. We also took in Bogambara Lake, Ranweli Spice Garden, Nuwara Eliya – often referred to as Sri Lanka’s Little England –Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Factory, and Horton Plains National Park, a beautiful nature reserve.

The-Angurukaramulla-Temple-in-Negombo

We also hiked to the highest plateau at World’s End, took a train trip through the magnificent views of tea plantations to Ella – a little town on the Hill Country,renowned for beingabackpacker’s paradise,with spectacular views, and also hiked along the railway tracks of the magnificent Nine Arch Bridge – a century old architectural marvel!

Throughout the places that we visited, like Galle, Mirissa, Unnawatuna, Hikkaduwa, and Bentota, I am glad we opted for home stays instead of plush hotels. This style of accommodation helped us gain an authentic experience of the Sri Lankan hospitality and culture. All of our hosts were very helpful in assisting us in learning more about the local culture, history, and traditions that we might not have learnt otherwise.

When it came to the cuisine, although there are parallels between that of Sri Lankan and South Indian dishes, the Sri Lankan cuisine was distinctly different. The liberal use of local fruits – like coconut and jackfruit – seafood, and an arsenal of spices were quite evident. I absolutely relished the fish Ambul Thiyal – a sour fish curry, and Lamrais which is a one-dish meal of meat, rice and sambol chilli sauce. Egg hoppers and string hoppers were breakfast staples, in addition to the various varieties of teas on offer.

The-train-journey-from-Nuwara-Eliya-to-Ella

It is never easy to pick a favourite moment from a long trip in a vastly beautiful holiday destination. However, I think the trek to Horton Plains was one of the best decisions we made during this journey. Although the 9.5-kilmetre hike was painstaking, the unencumbered view from the World’s End was absolutely stunning. And no matter the size of this little country, missing out on certain aspects was inevitable. We weren’t able to cover the northern province of Sri Lanka – a region that is closer to southern India. The absorbing mixture of colonial charm and vibrant Tamil culture is quite evident in the north, which is something that I would definitely want to go back for.

It was Marco Polo who dubbed Sri Lanka as “the most beautiful Island in the world”, and there truly is a lot that this country has to offer. From clean waters, fresh air, heavenly beaches, tropical climate, ancient ruins, UNESCO heritage sites, and hill stations – this place ticks all the boxes for those hungry for a holiday. And it is only a two-hour flight from Hyderabad! While the warm and friendly nature of the people was reflected in their persistent smiles, with regard to the place, there is so much in so little that I would still call it an undiscovered country.  – Vishal Fernandes