Here’s my second post of my Lanka Diaries series. I just cannot seem to get over the vacation I had. Hoping you have read the last one featuring the best of Sri Lankan food and where I found it. (Read it here). Lanka is so raw, beautiful, and untapped – it has everything from surly mountains, to bustling cities, to pristine waters, to clear blue skies. It has the potential to become THE next tourist destination. But I sincerely hope it does not. I rather prefer a quiet, less commercial holiday over a fast paced, ‘touristy’ one.
In this post I jot down my ‘Must Do’ recommendations while considering a holiday in the land down south. Remember this does not even cover a fraction of the actual list. This is just a list of the some of the stuff I did there, and enjoyed so much; so I thought I’d share the love. There are only so many hours in a day, after all.
1. Feed a baby elephant at Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
A half hour drive from the main city of Kandy in the Central Province lies a quaint little town known for it’s elephants. The elephant orphanage in Pinnawala is known for having the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. Over here you can see daddy, mummy and baby elephants in their natural habitat prancing around, or even bathing in the nearby river. The elephant bathing happens only at a particular time during the day, so make sure you research that beforehand because it is quite an experience. We went during elephant feeding time in the evening, where the grown ups were munching on leaves and branches. The babies on the other hand were being bottle fed (awww). Pay a little extra and get to bottle feed a baby elephant yourself. Don’t forget to touch the little fellow’s wrinkly, tough trunk while you’re at it. Accompanying elephant stalls try and sell elephant rides to you but we didn’t do that. These gentle giants are supposed to be admired from afar, not ridden.
Guaranteed: Maternal instincts towards the little one as you see him gulp his bottle down, and holds your hand with his trunk asking for some more feed.
2. Release two day old turtles into the sea at Bentota Turtle Sanctuary
There are a number of turtle hatcheries and sanctuaries in the Southern Province of the country, namely at Bentota, Hikkaduwa, Kosgoda and more. We visited the tiny Bentota Turtle Sanctuary. Here I got to see adult turtles lazing around in tanks, and boisterous adolescent teenagers swimming around hyperactively. The hatchery is where you can see the turtle eggs, and if you’re lucky like I was you can see one just hatching and hold him in your hand too. The staff is okay with you lifting the babies gently; the adults you do not touch, if you’re fond of your fingers.
We saw an all-white albino turtle who they sheltered because his chance of survival in the sea would be really low. Also living there is a handicapped old guy, with only one pair of flippers, whose spirit you will salute. What you must do is pay 1000 LKR per head, and you get to release two day old babies into the sea.
The feeling of seeing the little one struggle to walk towards the sea with immense determination, and the sense of joy you feel when the wave envelopes the baby into his arms is indescribable. All you can do is weep a silent tear in your heart, and hope for the little fellow to have a happy life at sea.
Guaranteed: To give you a memory that will last with you for life. Releasing the turtles in the ocean has been one of the best experiences, and something I will narrate to my grandkids.
3. Spot an adult turtle swimming in his natural habitat
The waters of the Lankan coastline are so clear you can see through and through. During our meal in a sea facing restaurant in Galle we spotted a moving rock. Only when the moving rock put his head out of the water we realized it was a giant turtle. Our turtle encounters continued at the beach in Hikkaduwa – a coral reef beach with gentle waters that you can atleast attempt entering. I spot another ‘giant moving rock’ one evening – a friendly fellow who allowed me to pet his rocky back, and even ate seaweed from my hand.
Life came a full circle for me right then from releasing two day old babies, to seeing grown up turtles in their natural habitat. Maybe when I return back to Sri Lanka ten years from now, I’ll see the little guys I released into the sea swimming happily.
Guaranteed: Experiences and pictures that will make your friends so so envious. Where else can you click a Turtle-fie?
4. Travel by the Sri Lankan trains
One of the best decisions I made was to travel back from Hikkaduwa to Colombo by the local trains instead of taking our cab. Not only did it cost us a fraction of the price, but we had such a wonderful experience – waiting at that old school station for that old school colonial train, sitting alongside locals and tourists from other nationalities, and a spectacular view which was the highlight. The entire train route ran parallel to the coast line, with the view of the sea being a constant for most of our journey. At a given time, the train actually ran on the beach, with the waves greeting us through the train window. Very strongly recommended!
Pro Tip: There is an even more scenic train route from Colombo to the hills of Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, which is supposed to be mind blowingly gorgeous in the monsoons. I’m going to have to complete that during my next Lanka trip. *wink*
Guaranteed: To take a trip back in time as you travel in a rickety, vintage train through sleepy coastal towns, tiny cottages, and the sea breeze through your hair.
5. Shop in Colombo
No, seriously. Look at the labels of your high street clothes and accessories, a lot of them will have ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ written on them. A lot of high end brands get their designs tailored and made in Sri Lanka, which results in a lot of export surplus as well. A lot of stores in Sri Lanka retail such high street fashion brands – export surplus originals, slightly defective originals, or really good first copies. We bought Tommy Hilfiger shirts and Levi’s jeans at a fraction of what they would have cost in the store. If you want local stuff such as handicrafts and local produce, Colombo even has a floating market. But we were unable to cover that because of lack of time.
Do not come back without buying bag loads of Ceylon Tea in different flavours from the hills of Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. Sri Lanka is also one of the largest exporters of natural gems, and here you’ll get a variety of semi precious stones. They don’t call the island ‘Ratna Dweep’ for nothing. Recommended only if you’re interested in splurging, these beauties come with a price tag.
Recommended stores: House of Fashions, Fashion Shop, Odel, Fashion Bug. House of Fashions is where we went, and ended up getting a lot of discounted brands.
Guaranteed: ‘Itna paisa main bahut kuch milega’.
6. Get spoilt silly at the GVK Lounge, Mumbai Airport
One of the many perks of being a blogger is checking into the T2 Lounge at CSIA, Mumbai, and being immediately invited to check out the GVK Lounge – by TFS and Performa. I am so glad we detoured and decided to spend some time at the business lounge before MumbaiFoodLover and I boarded our fight. They were running a ‘Mumbai Food Festival’ (how apt!) and the entire VIP space had small elements of the city depicted. Right from a cycle serving ‘chai and khaari’, to cocktails spiked with ‘kacchi kairi or imli’, and the servers dressed in traditional wear. I had a gala time sitting in the first class lounge eating dahi puris, kheema pav, and sipping on my kacchi kairi martini. Cheers! Check the pictures below, let them do the talking.
Guaranteed: To start your vacation even before you board the flight. And make you feel like such a VIP!
Gosh, I’m really enjoying writing about my vacation. Everytime I type a sentence or look at a picture, it is like a trip back in time. There’s so much we did, saw, and ate that’s it impossible to fit it all in a post. But I try. Hope you enjoy reading about it too. Cheers!