Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Sri Lanka trip - Old friends reconnecting

Now that I am in a mood to write, I think I should use this new-found enthusiasm to write as much as I can.

I was planning a holiday with my friends Puneet and Paras for a long time and we zeroed in on Sri Lanka as the destination. September was the month - not the tourist season, but we decided to go ahead to have a more relaxing trip.

The only things on our wishlist were beaches and Adam's peak - as there was no cricket in the country during out visit.

After some rescheduling to our flight schedules - courtesy the busy consultant Paras, me and Puneet left for Colombo, with Paras expected to join us a day later.

We took the Sri Lankan Airways flight from Mumbai to Colombo.

We had done some basic research on the train network in the country and zeroed in on the railways as our primary mode of transport (which was enough for the places we wanted to cover).

We got down at the airport at around 5.30 am and made our way towards Colombo Fort railway station. Taxis as well as public transport is available for the same but we preferred a taxi which cost us close to 3500-4000 LKR.

The railway network in Sri Lanka is reminiscent of what one would imagine the Indian railway network would have been in the 70s or 80s, though with a lot less crowd. Though, according to me, it still is the most efficient and cost-effective way of traveling in the country.

Colombo Railway station with its old trains
Still using old bulbs to light up the compartments

The best beaches in the country are to the south of the country near Galle - which became our first destination. There are regular trains from Colombo to Galle and one can purchase tickets at the station (2nd class - LKR 180, 3rd class - LKR 100)

The journey to Galle was enjoyable - the sea by the side almost all the way through making it one of the most picturesque journeys that could be.

Made our way to Unawatuna beach, some 6 kms away on an auto-rickshaw (around LKR 300-400 from Galle to Unawatana) and rented a cottage. It was a calm, quiet beach, which we learnt was destroyed in the tsunami of 2004. We spent the entire evening lazing around on the beach - taking a nap, enjoying the huge waves and hopping from one shack to another.

Unawatuna beach - Just relax

We checked out the next morning and made our way to Galle to meet up with Paras and make our way to the 'most-happening' beach in Sri Lanka - Hikkaduwa. Galle to Hikkaduwa was again a 15-20 km auto ride (one could also take the train - but autos give more flexibility timing wise) which cost us LKR 750.

Since it was the off-season, we there were no parties around, but I have to admit, that it was the most beautiful beach that I have seen in my life - the weather adding to the beauty of the place.

Hikkaduwa - the most beautiful beach
Then it was time for more of the same lazing around, long rounds of coffee on the beach reminiscing old college times and taking long walks from one end of the beach to another in the light drizzle that was a constant companion during our stay in Hikkaduwa (we also witnessed a rainbow as a result of the drizzle).

After the beaches, the next destination was Adam's peak. So, we took the train from Hikkaduwa to Colombo, killed some time in Colombo and took an overnight train to Hatton, the nearest railway station to Adam's peak. The train reached Hatton at 2 am.

For people who are interested in taking this train, the advice would be to book this train in advance as in the holiday season, the tickets might not be easily available (1st class - LKR 500, 2nd class - LKR 260). The bookings can be done at the Colombo station (the only issue currently being no option of booking train tickets online, maybe some tour operators could help)

Now, in our research, there were reports of autos/taxis readily available outside the station - which we found to our surprise was only valid during the tourist season. We managed to find a lone shared taxi that agreed to take us to the base of the peak.

Another surprise awaited us when we reached the base of the peak. There was no lighting on the trail and the place was a lot colder than we had imagined. The only people awake at that time at the place were the police officers. We contemplated sitting at the police station till dawn.

While having a chat with the police officers, they asked us if we had lights in our cellphones, which we had. They then offered us their spare jackets so that we could start our ascent - a gesture that was truly amazing.

We began our climb in pitch darkness with only our cellphones through a mud path with puddles of water. We reached a Buddhist monastery after a trek of about 2-3 kms. This coincided with the break of dawn and we were started to witness the breathtaking visuals surrounding us.

Buddhist monastery with waterfalls in the background 
Then began the steep 6 km climb to the peak. It was not an easy climb - especially for such unfit people like the three of us. The first couple of kms were OK after which Paras became the first victim of fatigue. We pulled him through the next couple of kms after which even Puneet became a victim of fatigue. By this time, we were walking through the clouds.

Stairway to heaven - May be not ready to reach heaven yet !!!

We pulled though a km more, when we met some German tourists coming down who told us that there was still a km to go and it would take us atleast one more hour and there is zero visibility due to the clouds. This is when Paras and Puneet rebelled. I also did not protest as I was also feeling the effects.

So, we began climbing down and reached Hatton station totally tired. We took the train to Colombo and reached at night and checked into a hotel for the night.

Our flight next day was at night. Hence, we had the entire day to spend in Colombo.

I woke up early to take a walk down the streets of Colombo. The location of our hotel was awesome - with the main road in front, right besides the railway tracks and the sea for company next to the tracks. Clicked some photos and returned to my hotel all fresh from the morning walk.
Railway tracks right besides the sea (in front of our hotel)
Since all three of us were huge cricket buffs, we decided to visit the Premedasa stadium. There was an U-14 match going on and we spend an hour at the stadium enjoying the match.Our next stop was the posh Galle street where we visited a mall and did some souvenir shopping, relaxed at a cafe and discussed our entire trip.
The beautiful Premedasa stadium

In the evening, me and Puneet decided to take a walk to the beach which was a great recreational area - people playing Kabaddi, flying kites, hanging out and eat out. I wish India had some similar areas where one could spend a lazy evening.

It was 7 pm and it was finally time to take the taxi back to the airport and end what was another great holiday.

Useful tips
1. Bargain a lot in everything - from Auto rickshaw fares to hotel rates
2. Try and keep schedule flexible - Sri Lanka has a lot to offer
3. The modes of transport have not kept up with the times but have a vintage feel to them - do experience the trains (train schedules can be found at
4. Do book the hotels in advance if you are traveling during the tourist season (October-March)
5. Exchange some currency at the Airport to get started. The options to exchange currency are limited in the country - can be done at banks across the nation.

Must visit places
1. Beaches - Hikkaduwa and Unawatana
2. Adam's peak
3. Kandy - for the more religiously inclined
4. If in Colombo - visit Marine Drive
5. Elephant farms if you like wildlife


Empty Rucksack said...

We were planning a trip to sri Lanka next Jan reviews but your posts makes us rethink

Abhijit Raja said...

It is a nice place to go and January is definitely the more happening time. Do message me in case you require any more details.