Thursday, March 17, 2011

UNDER-RATED DESTINATION: SRI LANKA

I am often asked: what is the most under-rated destination that you have been to. My reply would be Sri Lanka with its stellar combination of World Heritage sites, wildlife, history, rich culture, terrific hotels, friendly people and a friendlier currency. Over the last two years I have made several trips to this neighbouring country and would love to go back to explore the rest. My top SL experiences have been:
1. Pachyderm time at the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage: There are more than 60 elephants at the orphanage. There are volunteers here who learn the nuances of elephant care over two, three months like feeding, giving them a wash in the river and grooming them. Watch the elephants trundle down the dusty road in disciplined rows to the Maha Oya River led by their mahouts for some spa time or buy some eco friendly elephant- poo paper!
2. Climbing the Sigiriya Rock
Walkways and staircases winding their way through natural arches, this climb to the top of King Kashyapa’s pleasure palace in ruins today, is one of the top experiences of this country. The view from the top is well worth all the hard work. It’s surrounded by water pavilions and gardens like the Taj. At one point there is a spiral staircase to see the nubile beauties painted on the wall. Top tip: Start climbing early in the morning to avoid the heat and carry some water/snacks.
3. Going back in time at the ancient caves at Dambulla
Originally a place for a dethroned king to hide, this cave monastery has an enormous number of Buddhas in all sizes and some exquisite interiors with Buddhist murals. The climb to the caves gives you a wonderful view of the countryside too.
4. Staying at the iconic Kandalamma Hotel.
This is one of the most unique hotels that I have stayed in: An eco- friendly hotel built into a rock and surrounded by thick forest, it is the brain child of the famed Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Open corridors, natural light, bats and insects weaving their way past you, and a pristine lake to spot some wonderful bird life, this should be on everyone’s list of places to visit. It's location is very convenient to visit the Cultural triangle.
5. Visiting the ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
One of the ancient worlds’ largest monastic cities, Anuradhapura has bubble shaped stapes called Dagobas, a sprawl of shrines, ancient tanks and ponds and atmospheric ruins.
Polonnaruwa is the Sri Lankan Machu Pichu: it has rambling palaces, stupas, monastic libraries inhabited only by troupes of monkeys. It is one of the most beautiful places that I have visited (just imagine a neglected off- the- tourist circuit Fathepur Sikhri). There’s a stone book, a circular shrine with a riot of friezes...you have to visit this one!
6. Spending some tranquil days in Hill Country- Nuwara Eliya.
Surrounded by lush tea plantations, myriad waterfalls, this mist- kissed part of Sri Lanka is my personal favourite. There are walks, drives, treks and gardens to see. You can opt to do a Ramayana trail if you wish...We saw the Sita Eliya temple which has a footprint supposedly of Hanuman! You can visit the vista point called the' World’s End' in the Horton’s National Park here.
7. Spiritual high at the holy town Kandy.
This temple hill town is crowded, with monks, tuk- tuks, around a lovely centrepiece lake with monitor lizards basking in the sun- a true slice of Sri Lankan life. There is the sprawling Botanical Gardens, the Temple of the Tooth Relic and cultural shows with Kandyan drummers and dancers.
8. White water rafting in Kitulgala:
I have never been too fond of adventure. No roller coasters or fast cars for me. I am not much of a swimmer either: just manage to keep afloat and do a few light strokes. But, white water rafting on the Kelani River has banished my fear of adventure for life! Approximately eighty km from Colombo, on the road to Nuwara Eliya is Kitulgala, a small town whose name is derived from the ‘kitul’ tree which abounds here. Try white water rafting here...  close by  is a spot where a bridge was blown up for the movie 'The Bridge on the river Kwai'.
There are many other experiences on this island that are still on my wish-list: seeing the stilt fishermen at Negombo, the Hikkaduwa beach for some reef spotting, visiting the Yala Sanctuary and doing some whale watching off the coast. Looking forward to thatJ

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1 comments:

Great blog! Encourages one to go there....

Sunder.

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