Sri Lanka – Colombo to Kandy

Day 1 (Pune-Colombo-Kandy) ( View more photos from our trip )

We started off on 24th October 2011, leaving home around 4.15am. After an uneventful flight to Chennai we had some light breakfast at the airport and hopped onto the flight to Colombo, to reach by around 12pm. On the way we were treated to beautiful views of northern Sri Lanka which probably has the most unspoiled natural beauty since until a few years back that area was off limits to most people due to the civil war. The island does look marvellous from 35000 feet so we feasted our eyes with the beaches and clear waters since we had not planned to visit any of the beaches.

Once we got down, the VISA process was hassle-free. Currently, tourists get a free 30 day VISA – but this is likely to change starting 1st January 2012. After getting out we started looking for money changers and had to settle for a paltry rate of 2.15 LKR to 1 INR so we changed just 10k to get 21500 LKR – enough to cover a few days. After hunting for a bus, finally we hired a taxi to take us to Colombo Station which cost us 750INR. Most drivers and several establishments will accept Indian currency – especially in Colombo.

We’d planned to go to Kandy by train so we settled ourselves in the booking office at Colombo to inquire about the ‘Observation Car’ – a special bogie with big windows to watch the beautiful views the country has to offer. The bogie was full so we got a standard 2nd class ticket – 220 LKR each. Colombo station itself is a nice place – retaining heaps of its colonial charm right from the porches, the riveted over bridges and the train bogies themselves – Everything seems to be the way it would have been several decades ago. We had some time before the train so we got to sample the staple Sri Lankan fare – Rice with Curry. Interestingly you get lots of rice with a some dal, snake gourd (padwal) curry, a leafy vegetable and a piece of chicken or fish. A lot of the locals eat from takeaway packets, and at 150LKR each its very reasonable & filling. This was washed down with 2 bottles of local fizzy drinks – Elephant cola.

The train started off at 3.30pm and we exchanged seats with a friendly gentleman who wanted us to enjoy the fine views his country has to offer. Initially the journey was quite boring with nothing different than Indian countryside on view. However once we pass the Ranbukka station the train starts negotiating the climb and the views start getting magnificent. Most of the track sides are covered either by the mountains or trees, but once in a while there is a clearing and then you can see blankets of clouds engulfing the high mountains – something straight out of a postcard. The views start getting better as you near Kandy. We arrived at the Kandy station at around 6.45pm – a little late than the scheduled timing of 6pm, because of the rains. We had booked with Hotel Kandy View for 1 night so went straight to the Hotel. We had a top floor room with a ‘view’ which turned out to be rather boring, so Kandy View seemed quite overpriced – 3500LKR for the double room with non-spectacular views. The food too, wasn’t brilliant and overpriced than several other places. The only consolation was the excellent ‘sambol’ (chutney) served with breakfast the next morning.

Day 2 (Around Kandy)

Manali Bathing an Elephant

We had chucked plans of going to the Anuradhapura ruins and instead decided to explore what Kandy has to offer. So we checked out of Kandy view and walked towards the train station to hire a tuk-tuk for the tour. After some bargaining we had a tuk-tuk for 1800LKR to show us around and planned to cover Millennium Elephant Foundation, Spice Gardens, Tea Factory, Peradeniya Gardens and the Temple of Tooth. Around 11am we reached the foundation, and after purchasing tickets worth 2000LKR each we got to ride the elephants for some time, bathe them and then learnt about the foundation. We were also entitled to an Elephant Shower but we had to refuse since we did not carry an extra pair of clothes. Later the guide also showed the shop which was selling paper made from elephant poop. We moved on, backtracking our way to Kandy amidst heavy rain. Our driver quickly lowered the rain flaps which made it stuffy inside but saved us from the rain. Shortly after, we stopped in one of the ghats on the Kandy-Colombo road for a quick snack of a boiled corn and some nice views of the mountains around. Then our driver took us to a ‘spice garden’ where we were taken for a short tour through the numerous cinnamon, cardamom, pepper and sandalwood trees. There were also exotics like saffron & vanilla. Later, our guide took us to a small hut where a trainee masseur treated me to a refreshing massage. I paid the trainee 200LKR who was happy to receive the tip 🙂 In Sri Lanka, as like most places tipping is the norm especially due to the advent of European & American tourists since thelast few years.

One of the innumerable car refurbishing stores

Next, we headed to the Embilmeegama tea factory en route Kandy. Its a small factory where we had a quick round of the process and types of teas, then headed over to their verandah to have a fresh cuppa. They had a small shop and I was able to buy 400g BOPF tea for 360LKR. Our driver then took us to the Botanical garden, however we cancelled that part of the tour due to the steep entry fees – 1100LKR per head. The temple of tooth was next, and our driver dropped us on the road leading to the temple from the station. We had some snacks, exchanged money at a pawn shop (getting a better rate of 1=2.25 this time) and went to the temple. The entry fee here was steep too – 700LKR each. So we just entered the temple premises, clicked some snaps and went on.

For the night, we explored a unique concept – Couchsurfing. Enthusiastic locals who open their doors to travellers in a bid to learn better about the local culture and also have someone trustworthy to help plan the trip. In our case, we were fortunate to stay with the Sri Lankan ambassador for Couchsurfing – Benjamin. With just a few mails & a few calls Benjamin asked us to simply get to his home where his family played great hosts. We had booked a taxi to Sigiriya for the next day so we retired early for the day.