Monday, January 17, 2011

Sri Lankan Serendipity


That is the 1st word that I noticed when I landed the magnificent and beautifully decorated Bandaranaike International airport in Colombo and I assumed that it meant "Welcome", which is what it means in Sinhalese, the  official language of Sri Lanka. I chose to call this article Sri Lankan Serendipity as the Arabs referred to Sri Lanka as Serendib (origin of the word serendipity). And what a correct name for this exotic country!! 

Our group, which consists of many virgin passport holders was planning an International trip forever and we had decided on Dubai for Feb to witness the Grand Dubai sale and also coz it would have been easy considering many of our friends live there. However, one of us chanced on this website which offered a very lucrative deal for a return fare to Colombo from Chennai. We couldn't help but book our tickets as soon as we heard the news, to celebrate New Year 2011. Also, the fact that for Indians the visa is on arrival, really helped. Soon, the itinerary was fixed and arrangements for stay made.

We were 4 of us from Bangalore and 4 from Chennai. Our bags packed, on 29th Dec 2010, the Bangloreans boarded the train to Chennai and met up with the Chennaiites at the Chennai International Airport. I am sorry to say but the Chennai airport is quite pathetic, poor amenities, no food stalls and whatever little you get is frightfully overcharged. Thus, with hungry stomachs, we boarded the 00:30 Spice jet flight to Colombo. While some of us chose to catch on the much needed sleep, others were too excited and chit chatted throughout the journey. At 2 am, we were out at Colombo airport. I just remembered, how my poor hubby was questioned during all custom checks as the picture on his passport is of his teenage years :) I went through the custom check with some trepidation of being questioned ina  similar fashion, however the custom guy actually smiled and evn tried flirting, which I found quite hilarious at such an hour, when I was sleepwalking and somebody had the energy to actually smile and flirt!

We had hired a cab in advance, which picked us up and dropped us to Galle, which is 116 kms, south of Colombo. We had made arrangements of stay in Rampart View guesthouse, facing the sea. Rampart is a wall which is built from rocks, constructed by the Portuguese and renovated by the Dutch. This wall surrounds the fort and has two entrances to enter the fort.The Dutch fort in Galle is unique, surrounded by a wall which is 400 years old and one side of the wall is the natural galle harbor, other site is the International Cricket Ground. This fort is a UNESCO world heritage site. A word of caution here, the owner is a Muslim and their religion prohibits drinking, thus, drinking in the guest house is prohibited. They are warm and friendly people and served us huge breakfasts, however due to security issues, they close the guest house at 10:30 p.m. and also have motion sensors, so whenever you try moving in the corridoors, a light switches on.

After a much required sleep in the guest house, we went to Unawatuna, a 20 mins. drive from Galle, which a fishing village but it being a tourist season was quite crowded. My hubby, who is a water baby swam to his heart's content in the Indian Ocean, while me and a friend of mine enjoyed some yummy fruit salad with ice cream. We had a buffet dinner at Unawatuna Beach resort. After dinner, me and my friend went for a walk by the beach. It was blissful.

On 31st morning, we woke up a little early and my hubby and I decided to take advantage of the solitude and explore the Dutch fort. We walked the entire rampart and clicked some amazing pictures. The whole town is so picturesque with beautiful colonial houses. We also visited their maritime museum, which shows how the town was before Tsunami.

After freshening up, we left for Hikkaduwa, 30 mins. drive from Galle, another beach town known for water sports. We went for glass boat rides and spotted some beautiful fish and coral reefs. We also enjoyed swimming and wave riding for non swimmers (as my husband calls it) in the sea. We grabbed a hearty meal of sea food for lunch and went deep sea fishing after that. However, all we could catch were 2 fish and then a few of us got sea sick and had to return to the shore. We went back to the guesthouse, freshened up and came back to Hikkaduwa to call in the new year. We went to a shack called Top Secret, known for it's new year parties. However, we found the music better in one of the shacks, which had an open party. We danced in the new year and watched the fire crackers light up the sky. What a magical night!

On 1st morning, we packed our bags again and left for Colombo, which was the return leg of our journey. We chanced upon this place called Meetiyagoda, known for it's moonstone mine. It is the only place in the world where you get blue moonstones. The Government authority showed us around the moonstone mines and how they are polished and made into jewellery. The place also had a jewellery store, from where we bought a Sri Lankan saphire ring and blue moonstone earrings for my sisters. From Meetiyagoda, we went to Ambalangoda, famous for mask making. We were impressed with the array of colourful masks and a museum which showed the Sinhalese culture through masks. My husband and me are really into masks and have decided to buy masks from all the places we travel, that are known for mask making. We bought a few colorful masks from there.

We then went to a turtle hatchery on the way, where the turtle eggs are buried in the sand till turtles come out of them. The turtle egg shells are really soft unlike the chicken eggs. This place keeps young turtles and takes care of them till they are grown up enough to be left in the sea. They also take care of the turtles which are crippled due to accidents in the sea. We were amazed at the variety of turtles. I remember one called albino turtle, true to it's name, it is white in colour.

We reached Colombo by evening and checked in Global Towers Hotel and Apartments, wher we had booked a service apartment in advance and after resting for a while, we went partying to Rhythms and Blues. Unlike the night clubs in Bangalore, the party in Colombo starts at 12:00 midnight and goes uptil 5 am. The music was awesome and we had good fun drinking Fox Trot and dancing away to the tunes. 

On 2nd morning, we packed our bags and went out shopping. The girls were waiting for this part. We went to House of Fashions (no trial rooms and the only loo is in the basement), which the guys loved, and then to Odel, which is awesome. Odel, quite trendy and upmarket, housed everything from casual to designer labels. It also has a good food court. From Odel, we went to a Buddhist monastery, which is huge and were blessed by the head monk. We decided to have roadside dinner at Galle Face road, sat on the steps in the drizzle, with a view of the sea and enjoyed Kothu Parotha. Quite romantic it was!!

Soon, like every good thing, the trip which was planned in such a jiffy and which eveybody was excited about, came to an end. We were back to Colombo airport, doing duty free shopping, waiting for our flight to Chennai. At Chennai airport, we Bangloreans said goodbye to the Chennaiites and returned to Bangalore, back to the mundane routine life, back to office, back to my sweetiepie Lucky, who was so excited to see us that he knocked off a few things with the constant wagging of his tail.

We look forward to another short break in the daily routine and head to another unexplored destination!!

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