If you are thinking of a scenic place that has natural beauty, the luxuries of the East and does not leave a hole in your pocket, Sri Lanka is definitely a place worth exploring. It was on this note, that an all-women trip to Sri Lanka was planned. We were seven Delhi women, friends for over 20 years, travelling without family for the first time and were as excited as teenagers. With some trepidation we chose to fly Air India given that the country’s national carrier is not always known to be on time, but we were pleasantly surprised. It proved to be a good choice, as both the timing of the flight, and the cost worked well for us.
The itinerary and stay arrangements were left to an AirBnB junkie in our group as none of the others had any experience in staying at a bed-and-breakfast place. We were a little reluctant, as we were used to a resort or a good hotel accommodation, not to mention room service. But we were more than pleasantly surprised, both with the amenities, as well as how beautiful and well kept some of these properties really were. Of course, my friend gets the credit for doing a great job of checking out the ratings and reviews, while making these bookings.
Our first evening in Colombo
A spanking new and very comfortable Toyota van arrived to pick us up at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo – a great start and a signal from above that this trip was going to be awesome. It had already turned dark as we started out towards our B&B accommodation in Colombo and it took us almost an hour to reach there. Even in the dark we were able to soak in the greenery of the island as we rode along immaculately clean roads. The driver made some wrong turns but managed to locate the BnB place after a few phone calls. Typically, some of us had sweated silently — after all we were an all-women group, in a new place, with zero command over the Sinhalese or Tamil languages, armed only with a cell phone that wasn’t yet activated with a local SIM card…
But we soon located our four-bedroom BnB (Serene Villa) in a quiet residential part of the city. After some initial hiccups such as no AC in one of the rooms and the sighting of a cockroach in one of the bathrooms, we decided we couldn’t care less.
Our dinner venue on the first night was pre-decided and Gallery Café on Paradise Road it was. The Gallery Café had earlier housed the offices of world-renowned Sri Lankan architect, the late Geoffrey Bawa and is a ‘must visit’ for anyone visiting the city of Colombo. They serve both local and international cuisine.
We didn’t have reservations, so we waited. And while we waited, we soaked in the ambience of an era gone by. Some of us browsed through reasonably priced creative accessories in a shop in the premises. Back at the table, we raised a toast to our independence and enjoyed a wonderful candle-light fine dining experience. I ordered a Mediterranean salad and lemon grass and ginger chicken. The aromatic spices had accentuated the flavor of the perfectly cooked chicken. There were several vegetarian exotic dishes on the menu. The bill was a little steep; but worth every penny, or rather, every Sri Lankan cent.
Next on the list was to check out a Casino and try our lady luck. The driver dropped us at Bally’s, the largest casino in Sri Lanka. Not for a moment did we feel out of place unaccompanied by men at that hour of the night. We found Sri Lankans to be very gentle and friendly. Bally’s Casino was a great experience.
Off to Kandy
We left for Kandy the next morning after a hearty breakfast of fish curry, rice and coconut (pol) Sambol. Our Man Friday stopped enroute, to show us one of the famed spice gardens.
The drive from Colombo to Kandy was absolutely scenic. Kandy, a large and clean city has excellent weather. Formerly a kingdom, Kandy is set on a plateau with lush green mountains around it. One can also travel to Kandy by rail, to soak in the most incredible views… but then I suppose one wouldn’t have the pleasure of just stopping anywhere to click magnificent shots of hundreds of bats hanging from a single tree!
To get the correct feel of a new place, one must try the local cuisine. So we chose to stop at a local dhaba run by an all-women crew, who wouldn’t stop smiling. The food was out of the world, served hygienically in disposable leafy plates. We were served chicken, yellow lentil, a wonderful concoction of local vegetables and a spicy chutney which tasted so much like fish, but was not. All this yum was accompanied by hot appams.
On reaching Kandy, we stopped for coffee and took a boat ride in the Bogambara Lake next to the Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa). This temple houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha and is a famed Buddhist shrine. One needs to dress modestly to enter this place.
After some quick shopping at the local mall to get stuff to cook for dinner, we headed to our Kandy BnB (Mountain View). This BnB was what heaven must be like. It overlooked a valley, and in the dark we could see the twinkling lights of the houses below. It was so peaceful. We could have sat in the balcony the entire night. (The owner of this B&B is an architect living in New Zealand and had the wooden floor from Kiwi land.)
We sent the caretaker away and gathered in the kitchen to make sandwiches for dinner. Later, we sat out in the balcony overlooking the green and lush valley and talked and talked as only women can. The liquor ran short but the musings wouldn’t end.
The caretaker served us idli-sambar for breakfast the next morning. Like in typical coastal areas, all food was coconut based. So for us Indians, the cuisine of Sri Lanka is easy on the palate as it is so much like South Indian food.
Very reluctantly, we left this beautiful house in the morning.
Drive to the South-West coast of Sri Lanka
On the way to Galle, we stopped at the Pinnawala elephant orphanage. It was a real delight to see the elephants bathing in the river. The heat could not dampen the spirit of our group.
We had lunch at a small, local restaurant, frequented more by foreigners than by the locals. The drive to Galle too was amazing. We sang loudly all through the drive. I really wouldn’t be surprised if the driver swore he would never again drive a bunch of loony women from India! We did, of course, tip the man at the end of the trip for being so patient with us.
Our BnB at Galle (Moonstone Villa) was right on the beach and we had our very own private outdoor Jacuzzi. The garden had wooden reclining chairs and was surrounded by tall coconut trees. As we looked up, we set our eyes on orange coloured coconuts for the first time.
Needless to say, Galle turned out to be another heaven on Earth. After feasting our eyes on the sea for a long while, we headed out to one of the more expensive shacks for dinner. We had even dressed formally but the dinner was a big disappointment.
The next morning saw us at the magnificent fort area in Galle. The 400 year old fort is located in the Bay of Galle on the South West coast of Sri Lanka and was built by the Portuguese and Dutch. It’s on the sea-side and a little hot if you reach at noon. Here we gave in to every woman’s eternal need of indulging in some default shopping at the quaint little shops that lined a long cobbled street, picking up beautiful semi precious stones and the famed Sri Lankan tea.
It was authentic Sri Lankan cuisine for lunch and afterwards we headed out for the Jungle Beach. We had to walk through a little jungle on the hillside to reach the beach. The track was a bit steep in places, but once we reached the beach and started to soak in the clear water, we forgot the strain. We had tea at a shack while we waited to watch the sunset.
Not having had enough of the sea, we spent our last night in Galle on our private beach until the wee hours. The whole set up was so safe that we didn’t feel nervous for a moment.
Back to Colombo
Now there was only one more day in Colombo. We stopped at the Turtle Farm and Hatchery on our way back to Colombo. It was fascinating to see the old, sick and infirm turtles looked after so lovingly. The newborn, day-old babies were adorable.
Arriving in the evening (stayed at Serene Villa), we decided to make a stop at the shopping paradise ‘Odel’. We, also couldn’t have left Colombo without having dinner at the famed ‘Ministry of Crabs’. To dine here, one needs to make a reservation. We decided to dress in our formals and were glad because a certain sophistication was expected, albeit with a casual air.
Set up in a 400-year-old Dutch hospital, this restaurant was started by Chef Darshan Munidasa along with legendary cricketers Mahila Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. The restaurant mainly serves crabs — delectable crabs, cooked exotically. The drinks menu came to us rolled in a bottle. We ordered Rose wine with our meal. We were given quirky bibs to wear while dining. The dinner was a grand finale to this fabulous trip.
We loitered around the complex after the heavenly meal. We wanted to enjoy every minute of our final few hours in this exotic place.
Goodbye Sri Lanka
Our early morning Air India flight took off on time without a glitch. We sat more or less in silence through the flight, rejuvenated and satisfied, wanting to imbibe and relive the entire trip in our minds before we got back into the humdrum of our daily routine.