Sri Lanka; a tropical paradise, only 2 hours from Mumbai

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Have you ever travelled to Goa more than once? Visited the pristine beaches of Kerala? You could consider going back again to visit some of the more remote areas of these tropical highlights of India. However, there’s more to explore. If you’re wondering if there is a similar destination within a one or two hour flight distance from Pune or Mumbai I can help you: Sri Lanka. There are direct flights to Sri Lanka from multiple airports in India and the visa on arrival process (for many) is very convenient. And once you’re in, it takes you less than 3 hours to arrive at one of the many postcard-picture like beaches.

 First impressions: Sri Lanka feels like Kerala, India-light. Sri Lanka is one of the more ‘wealthy’ countries within Asia. As a result, you won’t see a lot of India-style slums and there is hardly any dirt on the streets. Furthermore: beggars are hard to find, especially in the rural areas. However, the general appearance of the country feels very similar to India. I’ve talked to many travellers in the country and a couple of them came up with a lot of similarities. Sri Lanka is a country on its own, and one should never make a comparison to India, but it’s not far from the reality; also during my second trip to Sri Lanka, in the last weeks of December 2019, I’d seen many things that reminded me of India. People in Sri Lanka drive on the left side of the road and there are many colourful auto rickshaws all across the country. Furthermore: women also wear very beautiful sari’s and many of the markets are as colourful and eye candy as the Indian equivalents. Apart from the many Buddhist temples and the language, the scenery and the setting reminded me of Kerala; It’s feels like a tropical green oasis, with rice paddy fields, huge number of palm trees and long stretches of sandy coastline.

Introduction and brief history; terrible terrorist attack in 2018. The country has a known bloody history with a long civilian war between the government and the Tamilian Tigers as the most recent continued episode of violence. Things seemed stable for a long period now and various solid governments have started working on rebuilding the country. Roads have been constructed and the economy has started to bloom up again, especially in the tourism industry. However, the 2004 tsunami put a huge crack in rebuilding the country, with more than 30.000 deaths in coastal parts of the country. It took Sri Lanka a couple of years to rebuild themselves and to restructure some of its vast destroyed coastlines. Luckily, the last 15 years have been stable and the economy has flourished; the yearly number of tourists have more than doubled in the period between 2008 and 2018. However, that came to an end during Easter of 2018. A group of at least 8 fundamentalists detonated their suicide bomb all across Colombo, killing approximately 259 people, which were civilians and foreign tourists. The country went into a state of shock; why attack this very peaceful tropical paradise? Some people argue local authorities could have prevented this terrible attack, if they had spent more time on monitoring the extremist groups.

Talalla; getting closer to a more tropical heaven is almost impossible than this. We spent our first four days in Sri Lanka in the south, near a small town called Talalla. Usually, when we travel, we’re always trying to explore new places. Thus, we would never travel to the same location where we’ve stayed before. While some people love the idea of going back to the same hotel – some even want to book the same room – we love to move on and see new things. This ‘travel principle’ got reinvented this time when we stayed at a beautiful eco resort called ‘Talalla Retreat’. This was our home base during a 2011 holiday in Sri Lanka and we couldn’t resist in spending some more days here. The location of this resort is amazing; amidst a huge plot of land next to the beach, with beautiful houses with airy rooms built across the green grasslands. In the centre of the resorts is a pool area, surrounded by coconut palm trees, next to a restaurant serving delicious dishes. The premium houses at the resort are located on the top floor of the bungalows, with no walls and windows. You can have a bit more privacy by lowering the shutters, but it still feels as if you’re sleeping out in the open. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of new restaurants in the area. It’s still a bit laid back, but some fortune seekers have built-up low-cost sea facing restaurants around the property.

Sri Lanka is the best place for Wildlife. On one of our days in Talalla, we got up really early to visit one of the nearby wildlife parks. The recent rains had washed away some of the roads in Yala park, so the driver advised us to visit to another park. Unfortunately, it was the Udawale park and we’d been already been to the park during our 2011-visit. However, with no other option open and already in the car at 4am in the morning, we decided to visit this park for a second time. Visiting Wildlife parks in the early morning is the closest way to feel connected to all the beauty that nature has to offer. And this time, we were lucky. We spotted a huge number of elephants, multiple jackals and a large variety of tropical birds. At the end of the three hour ride in our private jeep the driver brought us to a small lake with a carcase of an antelope, just killed the day before by crocodiles. We waited for 15 minutes and noticed two huge crocodiles, sunbathing on the borders of the lake. How cool was that!

Heritage from the Dutch, British and Portuguese. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country, with temples all across. There are only some minorities of Christians/Catholics and Hindus. However, religion plays a less significant role in the daily life when compared to India. Thus, religion doesn’t (only) identify the culture of Sri Lanka. Of course It plays a key role in the day-to-day life, but there is much more. Like India, which was been a British colony for long, Sri Lanka also has a colonial history. The Portuguese had been in Sri Lanka for long. There are a lot of houses and churches that remind you of this era, some of them still in pretty good condition. The Dutch VOC, the Government run Trading Company from The Netherlands, who sailed to The East in the 16th and 17th century with their wooden vessels, battled against the Portuguese and took over some parts of the country. We’ve travelled to Galle during our holiday and the old centre with the ‘Dutch Fort’ offers plenty of reminders of this era. The Dutch were thrown out of the country by the British and eventually Sri Lanka became an independent country, with a socialist government.

The Sri Lanka bakery; fresh white bread. In the current era of gluten-free food and Keto diets, eating bread almost feels like committing a crime to humanity. For some people it might be a surprise to hear about our forefathers bread habits. I was surprised to see flourishing bread businesses in Sri Lanka. I couldn’t find out why and how, but apparently this country has adopted a bread culture, probably brought to them by the former colonists. A lot of very good bakeries can be found all across the country and they all have one thing in common: they sell oven fresh white bread. The price for a full loaf is around 40 INR, 50 Eurocent. They even sell their oven made delicacies by driving around in small tuk-tuk-like motor vehicles.

100 reasons to visit the country. Sri Lanka has so many things to offer. The beaches are pristine and the sea is deep blue. We went snorkelling and were stunned by the beautiful marine life. I could almost touch the baby shark in front of me and the large sea turtle close to our boat wasn’t shy at all. In comparison to India, it’s so much easier to find a cool resort. A lot of large Sri Lankan houses have been converted into small oasis, with a pool, beautifully designed rooms and the kindest staff one can imagine. And hiking around is a wonderful experience: almost everywhere are the greenest rice paddy’s you’ve ever seen, surrounded by tropical rainforest. Up in the trees are numerous monkey families. I had’nt seen so many monkeys in such a short time, including some rare species. If you’re travelling on a budget, it’s very easy (and cheap) to cover longer distances by bus or train. Most of the trains we’de seen were powered by old-fashioned diesel loc’s and if you like railways Sri Lanka is a must -see country. The beach life in the south of Sri Lanka is cool and unique and some villages have completely converted themselves into trendy surfing spots. You can find cool Australian surf dudes (and girls) hanging around many beaches.

Come on now, they need your money. As a result of the devastating attacks in 2019, everyone within the tourist industry is complaining. A lot of the earlier planned trips have been cancelled and the hotels and beaches are empty, even during the normally busy period around Christmas. The Sri Lanka government is doing everything they can to lure back the holiday goers. They’re now offering a free visa on arrival. Before the attacks, travellers had to pay up to 50 dollar per person to get into the country. However, even through all this, some of the restaurants and hotels seemed full when we were there.

Other than travelling to the Wildlife park and using a scooter to explore the areas near the beaches, we’d not been to many other places. Some of the inland areas of the country has lots to offer and we will definitely be back to see more of this magnificent country.

 

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