I started this trip without a wishlist because when I was first told to go here, I didn’t exactly expect to find backwaters like Kerala and beaches like Andamans at the same place. But the more I explored it, the more it seemed that the waters were in love with this island! They swarm it with their glorious waves at Talpe, they charm it with all their splendour at Unawatuna and they soothe it with all their tranquillity at Koggala. Oh and yes, they do treat the island with all the deliciousness that thrives within them, the seafood. Those who ate it, swear by it. (Partly for its delectability and partly for setting their mouths on fire!) Blend this perfect setting of beautiful beaches, hidden lakes and wonderful food, with a bit of Hindu and Buddhist religious lore and then add to it a dash of a superb cricketing tradition. What you get in return is a pleasant surprise called Sri Lanka.
Quite delightfully, when you hail from India, the distances in other countries seem relatively smaller, as it proved in Lanka, where Colombo to Galle is just 2.5 hrs. It’s on the first expressway in SL. And there is another road from Colombo to Galle, which goes right around the coastline of the island to the south and has some of the most amazing beaches in SL beside it. Galle, in itself, is like Kochi’s next kin, only that there actually IS a FORT in the fort area :). The architecture, the dutch style fort area cafes, the presence of foreigners, all remind so much of Kochi. The Galle cricket stadium looks small but it is right besides the fort, which means that all matches are perhaps watched by hundreds of spectators from the ramparts of the fort apart from the ones in the stadium. Quite a location, for the fort I must say. :)
Just a few minutes further from Galle is Unawatuna, which looks like a beach in South Goa, only better. The waters are far clearer and with shacks lined all around. Talpe, a few more miles ahead is even more splendid, with several hues of blue visible in the sea. The waters are shallow and conjure up some beautiful waves. No wonder the place attracts several surfers year round.
Further ahead is the Koggala Lake which gives you a feel of the backwaters in Kerala. The lake is vast enough to bear some islands within, which can be visited on boats. We spotted some small villas on the islands and kept wondering how tranquil would staying there be. The most amazing thing about the Koggala Lake area is that a backwater lake and some fabulous beaches are both just 5 mins away from most of the accommodations. Mirissa, the southernmost point of the island is only half an hour ahead and is known for its whale watching excursions and for another beautiful beach.
Thing is, that in this part of Sri Lanka, you don’t have to look for a good beach; you just take a car along the coastal road and stop wherever you think the beach is best (you may have a tough time deciding that or you may just end up stopping after every 10 minutes, like it happened with us). Driving back, as we watch the sunset from the Hikkaduwa beach, the coastal road and our driver tell the story of a huge loss from the tsunami. Numerous houses lie derelict, abandoned just besides the sea. Several of them were never rebuilt or re-inhabited. Wonder what it takes to rebuild a country torn by a decades long war and a massive tsunami all over again.
As we join the expressway on our way back to Colombo, our driver lightens the mood by playing a ‘rap’ version of ‘Sawan ka mahina‘(!!), followed by a few more Indian songs. Indian songs seem fairly popular and even the roads are frequented by Bajaj & Hero motor bikes and the breakfast comprises dosai at several places. The Kiribath with dal and sambol is a delectable Lankan nuance to the rice and dal prominent breakfast dishes in South India. Most vegetarians will have an easier time around the place than in other Asian countries.
Perhaps, the India connection will never make you feel out of place here.
Have you been to Sri Lanka lately? Write a comment with your experience if you too had a great one!