3 days in Goa

The what and why

Goa is the smallest state in India. It is on the Western coast bordering Maharashtra and Karnataka. Goa was under Portuegese rule from the 16th century and the culture, language, monuments and food are heavily influenced by Portugal.

Goa was made famous by the hippies in the 60s and 70s and is now a big party destination. It has loads of beach parties and has also been featured in bollywood movies. Having grown up in India, our travel around India would not have been complete without visiting Goa, so we spent 3 days in Goa.

The beach

We arrived in Goa out of season – it was either raining cats and dogs or the clouds were preparing for a downpour. At dinner in a local restaurant, we were told that most beach shacks were still closed and the watersports were off until the end of the month. Not the best start! However, this being India and due to a long weekend, Goa had enough Indian tourists. We still managed to visit some beach shacks and chilled each night under grey clouds.

Baga Beach, GoaGoa’s beaches aren’t as clean and pretty as Australia’s but they are certainly very lively through the day and night. Each beach is known for it’s music genre. Baga and Calangute beaches are big for Indian tourists so most beach bars played Yo Yo Honey Singh, while on Anjuna beach there was electronic music played all across. We managed to enjoy beers while listening to music on a beach, true Goan style, on Baga as well as Anjuna beach. Definitely double tick for us!

On our final day in Goa, the Goan Gods were very kind to us and shined in form of the sun. We spent the entire afternoon chilling in a beach shack with a parasol for the sun. After a couple of dips in the sea, few beers and a massage on the beach, we felt like our holiday in Goa was complete.

Baga Beach, Goa

Riders of the storm

Scooty in GoaWe hired a scooty for two days as the public transport in Goa is relatively expensive as compared to other places in India (by expensive I mean Rs. 40 for 12km, it is still cheaper than taxi!). We decided to indulge a little and live it up Goan style. Our plan was to see the beaches, history and the interior of Goa.

To be honest, I hadn’t ridden a scooty since I was 12 and it took me around half an hour to get a complete hang of it. Sometimes though it was a tough task as there was a bit of a road in the middle of a pothole and yes, a cow too!

After filling up the fuel, our first stop was Fort Aguada. Built by the Portuegese as a watering station, Aguada means ‘place of water’ in Portuguese. The ride itself was great and Aguada is only a short distance from Baga and Calangute. However, the fort, in our opinion, was quite boring. Maybe the grand forts in Delhi, Agra and Hyderabad set the bar too high.

Aguda Fort, Goa

Our next destination was Panjim also called Panji. We visited Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church, which has been shown in many bollywood movies. Continuing the bollywood trail, we headed up North to Chapora Fort.

Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Goa

The Chapora Fort, unlike Aguada Fort, had an amazing view. It sits high on a hill overlooking the sea and Vagator beach. This fort was made famous through the movie Dil Chahta Hai, which came out in 2002 and became the voice of a generation. A few key scenes from the movie were shot here and so, it was a must visit for Shruti.

Chapora Fort, Goa

The next day, we rode again to old Goa to see the old churches. It was over an hour ride. We saw the church of Bom Jesus where the remains of St Francis Xavier are on display. Miraculously, his body hasn’t decomposed in 400 years.

Church of Bom Jesus, Goa

 

We saw a few more Portuegese churches and then rode towards some lakes and the Pandava caves. Riding through the countryside of Goa is a special experience. The paddy fields with hills in the distance are a beautiful sight. The narrow lanes twist and turn everywhere with bright and colourful Goan houses next to them.

Check out our Insta video clip of the scooty ride!

Interiors of Goa

Once at Pandava caves, we had a small lunch and admired the excavated caves. Somewhat unexpectedly, we stumbled upon a waterfall only 100m ahead of the caves. Due to the heavy rains this week, the waterfall had a great amount of water falling off it. The sound and the water flying around was just astounding. We were pretty happy as the waterfalls were totally unexpected.

Tip: Rent a scooty and ride around Goa – because that’s what everyone does. Also, do not fill up the tank. The scooty is meant to be rented with close to no fuel and the extra money spent on petrol can be utilised for beer.

My friend Ganesha

Ganesh Chathurti, GoaThe day after we arrived in Goa happened to be Ganesh Chaturthi festival. It is meant to be the birth day of the Elephant God, Ganesha, which is huge for Hindus in Western India. On this day, Hindus keep a small idol at home, pray to it between 1 and 12 days and subsequently immerse the idol in a water body.

Though the weather was depressing, the festival lifted everyone’s spirits. Everywhere we went, people were lighting firecrackers. Most people had taken the long weekend off to pray with family and we heard prayers while riding the scooty and prayer bells in the distance.

Our experience on the final night, however, was incredible. Many families brought their Ganesha idols to Baga beach for immersion. The kids enjoyed with firecrackers while the Adults prayed. As a sign of respect, the clubs reduced the noise while the immersion went on.

Ganesh Chathurti, Goa

In addition, it was an emotional experience for us watching the kids playing with firecrackers and their older cousins letting off larger fireworks. Neither of us have enjoyed firecrackers with the family since we moved overseas. This Diwali will be different, Dhamakaaa (explosion)!

Summary

Transport

Being a prime tourist destination, taxis and autorikshaws are crazy expensive. There is meant to be a government rate but taxis don’t follow it. Buses run between most towns in Goa but getting to beaches can mean changing buses a few times as well as using autos.

Tip: When you arrive in Goa, check for public buses or ask your hotel for pickup and dropoff. The hotels are likely to provide the best rate.

Seeing around Goa is best done on a scooty within Goa is the best option. They can be hired for Rs 300 a day and give you complete freedom to go anywhere in Goa. However, ride slow and watch for buses and crazy drivers.

Accommodation

Goa has every range of accommodation. From budget to luxury, you can find homestays to hotels to resorts. Be mindful though that prices will vary depending on the time of year.

We highly recommend staying on the beach as you are likely to spend most of your time around it. As different beaches play different music, select the one you are likely to enjoy the most so we can save on late night transport cost.

Final thoughts

Goa, as expected, was fun though the weather wasn’t perfect. The scooty ride through the interiors was definitely the highlight for us, though we thoroughly enjoyed the beach and the culture as well. Like Hyderabad, we saw Hindus, Muslims and Christians living together and celebrating each other’s festivals.

We highly recommend Goa if you are looking keen to party or just take in the culture. Also, do try Fenny, the local alcohol make of cashew nuts. It is best enjoyed with sprite.

3 days in Goa Gallery

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Visiting Hampi

Hampi is a picturesque group of villages in Karnataka state. To be honest,  I don’t remember where or when I first discovered Hampi. Perhaps, it was on my random wikipedia browsing or an image on the Internet. Since it made a nice little stop over between Hyderabad and Goa, we kept it in our list.

Getting to Hampi

We arrived in Hampi onboard an overnight train from Hyderabad. This was our first experience of Indian trains on this tour and we weren’t disappointed. We arrived at Hospet station at 10:10am sharp and took an auto rikshaw (tuk tuk) to our resort.

Tip: Karnataka Tourism Board runs perfectly new buses from Hospet railway station to Hampi bus stand. Its around 30 rupees per person to Hampi which is quite cheap.

The resort, Vijayshree HVijayshree Heritage Village, Hospeteritage Village, itself was beautiful and grand. A sign of modern India, it was a North Indian Rajasthani themed heritage resort in the middle of Karnataka in the South. It had been visited by Bollywood Stars and Indian Politicians of all parties as well as famous Religious Gurus. We were welcomed traditionally with a tikka, maala (necklace) and welcome drink.

After a brief rest,  We left to go to Hampi but first we had to Hospet to Hampi Bus figure out where exactly the bus stop was. Everyone we asked,  pointed like a Bollywood hero pointing
to his diva towards the road. We later realized that the bus stops wherever you want as long as you flag it. Phew!
The bus ticket was around 20 rupees for the both of us and we mentally enacted Brett Lee’s chainsaw at the saving! On the way, we saw beautiful paddy and sugarcane fields as well as crazy bus driving. I think every bus driver in India thinks they are part of NWA. Shieeeeeeeet!

The hills are alive…..

Nothing could prepare us for visiting Hampi. At the first sight of huge boulders, We knew that we had made the right decision. As far as the eye could see were hills with rocks the size of buildings.

Visiting Hampi

That experience from the bus was shortlived. Even before we got off the bus, the auto wallahs were at the bus doors like a group of zombies. Auto sir! Auto madam! Full day tour! Half day tour! Lunch place! We were offered everything from day tours to good quality marijuana. One autowallah, Raja however was nice, calm and informing. We told him we may use his service the next day and he pointed us to a great lunch place.

Hippies

We don’t know when hippies discovered Hampi but we can certainly say there’s a lot of people there to “discover themselves” in India. It has its side effects, good and bad – but the great thing is chill out spots. Mango tree restaurant is a great chill-out restaurant for tourists while it offers amazing food for very little cost. At this point, our tummies were burning from the Andhra food and we needed something bland. The menu had falafel and hummus thanks to the Israeli customers and I jumped on to it, while Shruti enjoyed her roti with coconut curry. We highly recommend this great little restaurant if you are in Hampi.

Hampi – A Lost Kingdom

Post lunch, we started wandering around the ruins. We saw the big Shiva temple, Nandi (bull) monolithic statue and the Hanuman temple. There were bazaars and other ruins which had stones cut and carved from the local area. It started raining and we met a hindu bairagi naga, a holy man, who gave us more gyaan (knowledge) about the area and India chasing modernisation.

Medival Meeting Area, Hampi

Hanuman, Monkey God, HampiHampi is a pilgrimage for the Shiva and Vishu sect. The area is believed to be Kishkindha city of the Ramayana which was the Monkey Kingdom. Hanuman, the Monkey God, is believed to have been born here and the temple of his mother was on a hill across the river.

However, in our view, its current beauty is due to the medieval Vijaynagara Kingdom. There are lots of temples and structures built around the area amongst the massive rocks. If you looked towards the horizon, you will see massive rocks and some pillars or temple like structures on the rock top. It is truly amazing. I suppose, the Vijaynagara Kingdom invested a fortune, earned through diamond trade, in their temples.

We then started to climb up a hill overlooking the city with a temple at the top. The view from the top was simply breathtaking with a 360 degree view of the city and the hills beyond. The walk down was in the rain and the stone steps turned wet making it hard to get a grip. We did what the locals do – took off our shoes and trekked down barefoot. It was almost a pilgrimage for us as well :)

Vijaynagar Kingdom, Hampi

Royal Bath, HampiWe hired Raja the next day for a full day tour.  We visited all the big temples, such as, Vittala Temple (known for the stone chariot and musical pillars), Virupaksha Temple, as well as the ruins of the palace, like Lotus Mahal, Royal Bath, etc. It was a sad story of a kingdom built beautifully around the massive rocks. The kingdom lasted for several centuries but lost to its neighbors after betrayal by it’s own soldiers.

Vittala Temple, Hampi

Narsimha, Man-Lion, HampiThe stone carvings in this whole area were exquisite. Some temples had the entire Ramayana scenes carved on the walls while there were lots of monolithic idols around the region. Some of the big ones were of Narasimha, the man-lion and Shivalinga, Shiva’s representation made out of a single rock. Each of them were several feet tall and wide.

Once Raja left, we continued our journey on the foot. We trekked a small hill and saw some temples we had previously missed. Some of the boulders on the hill were several stories tall. We also fed a cow with a new born calf and a pregnant dog.

Feeding Cow, Hampi

We ended our day trip by looking for small change.  Small change is huge problem in India especially while traveling. While the locals couldn’t assist us, an aged uncle, tourist himself, who heard our problem decided to help us out!

Tip: Always break your big notes after food etc as restaurants would be more accommodating than transport facilities or small eateries.

Summary

Transport

In order to get to Hampi, you need to reach Hospet first. There are trains and buses from Bangalore, Hyderabad, Goa or Mumbai. Once in Hospet, utilise the state buses run between Hospet railway station and Hampi. They are comfortable and cheap.

As for seeing Hampi itself, there are two key options:

  1. Raja, Tuk Tuk Driver, HampiTuk Tuk – if you are short of time, hire a tuk tuk for the day and he will show you around. We highly recommend Raja, apart from being safe on the road, he knew the history and communicated with us very well in English. He can be reached at +91-9449420985.
  2. Cycling & Walking – if you have plenty of time (3 days min.), we recommend you to hire a bike and cycle around the ruins. This gives you the flexibility of how you want to spend time and de-rail on an unknown path.

Accommodation

We recommend living in Hampi itself – there are relatively cheap accommodations and you can enjoy Hampi to fullest. We missed out on the sun rise and a massive hill because we had to commute back to Hospet.

Final thoughts

Massive boulders in HampiHampi was magical. Period. No words can describe the terrain, ruins and the living temples. It seems like man and nature have worked together to create a beautiful place.

In addition, we managed to see various animals all around us. Goats, cows, monkeys, langoors as well as chickens and a peahen – this made us realize we were in a village.

Goats in Hampi

Our final words – if you are visiting India, please do not miss this tiny village.

Visiting Hampi Gallery

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Hyderabad

Initial planning

During our initial planning, we had a few South Indian cities on our list of places to visit. As time went by, we realised we were short of time and so we had to cut down quite a bit. Some of the major cities like Chennai and Bangalore didn’t make it to the final itinerary. Hyderabad on the other hand, we couldn’t remove. Reason – food. That’s it! Period.

Hyderabad, though it is part of South India, it has a distinct culture due to its mix of North Indians, South Indians, Hindus and Muslim cultures. Growing up in India, we have known Hyderabad for two things: Hyderabad Biryani, a spicy slow cooked rice dish and Hyderabad accent, a mix of North Indian Urdu and South Indian Telugu language. Recently however, Hyderabad has come into the news for protesting for and getting a separate state in India. It seems to us that every few years, the number of states in India increases. I won’t be surprised if Shruti can’t tell you how many states there are in India right now :P

First bite of the cherry

We arrived in Hyderabad in the middle of a thunderstorm but were relieved to be away from the Delhi heat. Telangana state runs PNational Fisheries Development Board, Hyderabadushpak buses which takes you from the airport to the middle of the city for a small cost. The highlight of the bus trip was a building shaped like a fish which understandably happens to be the fisheries department of the state.

After checking in and resting for a bit, our first stop was Biryani, HyderabadParadise Restaurant, supposedly a Hyderabad institution. It is known for its Biryani and kebabs,
so we bought the same – biryani, kebab and desert called Qubani Ka Meetha, to eat in the room. The walk gave us an brief view of the city life and we were shocked to find no animals on the roads. Now that’s unusual for an Indian city.

Once we had the first spoon of the Biryani and bite of the kebabs, we knew that we had made the right decision coming to Hyderabad. The desert, made of apricots, was just delicious. The local newspaper was full of news of floods in the city but we couldn’t care less!

Hyderabad hospitality

We decided to check out the historical monuments of the city and boarded a local bus. The mix of religions, cultures and languages in Hyderabad was very evident on the bus – and we loved it. Growing up in Delhi and Mumbai, we always assumed people in big cities to be rude and far from helping. This wasn’t the case in Hyderabad – as soon as we boarded the bus and asked the bus driver how to get to Charminar, we had a quarter of the bus helping us out. Eventually, a mother and daughter-in-law, who were heading in the same direction, asked us to follow them. They helped us take the right bus, dropped us outside the tourist area and even gave their phone number in case we were lost. The young girl even offered Shruti her seat on the bus and when Shruti insisted she sits, she replied, “aap Hyderabad ke mehmaan ho”, which means, ‘you are the guest of Hyderabad’.  We were definitely taken aback with such politeness.

This incident wasn’t our last – we encountered this helpful attitude throughout our time in Hyderabad.

The history of the city

The old city of Hyderabad is a majority Muslim area and in many cities in India, it can be a no-go zone for non-Muslims. Hyderabad though is a beautiful exception. There were Muslims, Hindus, vegetarian eateries and beef shops near each other. The main tourist attraction of Hyderabad, Charminar, is a beautiful medieval monument. The name itself means four towers and the monument is built in the middle of a crossroad. It was built in 1591 by a Qutub Shahi King but restored and maintained by dynasties afterwards. A lady from the Archaeological department told us that a Hindu princess got married to the Muslim king in the medieval area and the name of the city in Hindi and Telugu is based on the same princess.

Charminar, Hyderabad

The Mughal kings from North India saw Hyderabad’s potential early on due to its diamond mines in the area. Many wars were fought between the Mughals and Qutub Shah Dynasty and the Mughals eventually won. They brought the Northern languages and Persian food which innovated in Hyderabad and is now famous. Mughals left their Generals in charge, known as the Nizams, who eventually became independent and change the character of the area.

Chowmalla Palace, HyderabadWe visited the Chowmohalla Palace, which was home for few Nizam kings. The palace was full of history and grandeur of the royals. It showed everything from their paintings, weapons, furniture, crockery and some of the best cars in the world of their time. The biggest surprise? After India became a democratic country, the last Nizam moved to Australia with his family. G’day Nizzy!

Our discovery of history continued as we visited the Golconda Fort and the Qutub Shahi tombs. The fort was built in the 12th century and was the capital of the region for many centuries. It is built on a large hill and the view from the top is amazing. Unfortunately, as with most historic places in India, people have managed to etch their names into the walls. The security guard caught and threw out a teenager for doing the same before giving him a small beating. Somebody is gonna get a hurt real baddddd!

Golconda Fort, Hyderabad

The tombs were no less than the fort in their grandeur. Their was restoration work going on in many of the tombs but it is still a nice quiet place to spend a few hours away from the sun. Hyderabad being away from the tourist route means that you can have the places to yourself. We rewarded ourselves with another spicy Biryani and gosh, it was hot. Afterwards, all I could sing was Burning Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash.

Qutub Shahi Tombs, Hyderabad

Salar Jung Museum, HyderabadWe also visited the Salar Jung museum in the old city. Salary Jung was the title given to the Prime Ministers of the Nizam Kings. The museum was built by Salary Jung III. Much like the Chowmohalla Palace, the museum displayed the history of the Nizams but also of the Salary Jung family. It has a great collection of Indian art and history.

Other tourist spots

We also visited the Hussain Sagar Lake and the Birla Mandir. The lake was somewhat disappointing though the drizzly weather may have had something to do with it. It has a giant Buddha statue which is the highlight but the lake itself appeared dirty.

The Birla family has built a lot of temples along with other things around the country. The Birla temple in Hyderabad is on top of a hill overlooking the city. It is a must visit site not only for the religious reasons but also the view.

Party scene

Other than the history and food, we were excited that we were in Hyderabad for the weekend. Like any other IT emerging cities in the country, there are lots of youngsters who have moved here from other parts of the country. When the young crowd isn’t working, they are definitely partying. Though, you need to be aware that the party scene in India is limited to posh places which can stay open after lockdown. Unfortunately, no one could tell us when the lockdown actually is.

We met Shruti’s childhood friend Ankit for dinner at Stone Waters Kitchen. It was a great place to chill with live music, good food, alcohol and hookah. The musician played till the cops dropped by to checkout the place – this must have been past lockdown.

We met Ankit again on Saturday night to go clubbing. Shruti and I had never been clubbing in India and Ankit was happy to take us along. We met in the Hi-tech city which is the new part of town full of IT companies and hotels. Heart Cup Coffee had a nice mix of chillout lounges and an electro club. We had planned to stay out til half past 12 since we had to checkout the next day. However, we then moved to Over the Moon which had Bollywood and Electro/House music and we loved it from the start. We loved it so much that we left only after the Indian music finished at 2:30am. Shruti and I had never been clubbing in India and this certainly made up for it. We even grabbed a 3am dosa on the way home!

Hyderabad food

Apart from the yummiest biryanis from Paradise and Rumaan Restaurants, I also tried some of the local delicacies like Hyderabad Chicken Curry and Patthar Ka Gosht. The latter is lamb slow cooked on heated stone and it really melts in your mouth. This is definitely a must try – highly recommended.

We also ate the local desert, Qubani Ka Meetha and Double Ka Meetha. The latter is basically fried bread with cream and sweet syrup – it was definitely delicious.

We made sure we had an Andhra Thali, the local Telegu food. It is basically a massive serving of various curries, roti and unlimited rice. It was a feast and we couldn’t walk after the meal. Make sure you have one of these if you are in Telengana or Andhra Pradesh.

I also wanted to try Haleem – which is a slow cooked sweet dish with lamb, dry fruits and spices. It is usually cooked during Ramzam (Ramadan) festival so all my efforts were in vain. This is still on my must-try list.

We also bought a box of famous Fruit Biscuits from Karachi Bakery. I suppose this box will last us a week or week and half easily. Each biscuit is rich in its content and has rose essence – we are enjoying it with cup of tea during our the train rides :)

Summary

Transport

We used buses to get around the city quite a bit. Though they appear a little aged and dodgy, they manage to get people around the city just fine. The conductors and drivers were quite nice and the buses were cheap. We had no issues whatsoever.

The autos are the bane of Hyderabad. There is a meter system set up by the government but you will rarely find a auto driver who is willing to use it. We only used shared autos for area less than a few kilometres.

For late night travels, Ankit introduced us to Uber in Hyderabad. We used both Uber and Ola in situation where nothing else would do. The drivers were pretty good and the cabs were relatively cheaper than autos as well as safe.

Accommodation

We stayed in Banjara Hills which is a posh locality. There are lots of food options at close proximity. There are lots of lounges and clubbing spots around the area too and getting around at any time of the day isn’t an issue.

Another recommended locality is Jubilee Hills. Similar to Banjara Hills, there are lots of food and entertainment options around.

Final thoughts

Its pretty obvious that we visited Hyderabad for its food. However, we learnt a lot of things about the city which changed how we think of Hyderabad. To be fair, there is not a whole lot to do in Hyderabad. It has a lot of history and culture but it is the people of the city that make it what it is.

Hyderabad still has the old ‘royal’ manners where people will be nice and try to help as much as possible. The busses have 50% of the seats allocated to the women – which I have never seen anywhere. We felt that the women were much safer in Hyderabad then they are in the North. The bus conductors and bus drivers were so nice which is unheard of in India.

As stated previously, Muslims and Hindus living under the royalty has created an amazing mix. It is possible to have Mutton Biryani and Veg Thali within close proximity. You can get by speaking Hindi/Urdu, Telugu or English without anyone complaining. Muslim women with burqas and Hindu women in saris sit side by side without any issues. This truly makes Hyderabad what it is.

Though its history is a highlight, Hyderabad is modernising at a rapid rate. The hi-tech city has attracted people from all over India as well as overseas and this has brought restaurants, cuisines from around the world, malls and towers like any other global city.

Hyderabad

Hyderabad Gallery

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2 days in Colombo

We finished our Sri Lanka site seeing in Galle and decided to spend the final 2 days in Colombo before flying off.

We booked our stay in Colombo through Airbnb. This was our maiden attempt and we are impressed. The home-stay was with an older couple while their son, living in London, handled all Airbnb communications. The room setup was like a hotel, in fact, even better than hotel. Apart from having basic amenities, such as tea/coffee with an electric kettle, linen, they provided fruits and had a tiny notebook with necessary details such as, closest restaurant, Domino’s Delivery number and Wifi password.

Day 1

We chilled for a while before stepping out to see Colombo. Based on the research we had done, there wasn’t much to do in Colombo so we decided to take a bus to Fort and walk around the old central area of the city. The local bus was an experience to say the least, I have neither sweat so much in a bus nor seen so many people packed into a bus. We survived the bus ride and walked around Pettah area. The area has different markets in each street. At one point, we had a sense of dejavu when we thought we had been to a particular main road before. We then quickly realized that we had been there on our first day in Sri Lanka. However, as there were elections going on, the street was deserted at the time but was now full of people.

Being on a budget and backpacking is tough and we realize this each time we are in a Bakery in Sri Lankamarket. Pettah was no different and we could only look at things without buying. All the walking made us a little hungry and we ended up in a tea & bread house. The waiter gave us a whole tray of bread though we asked for only 2 with our tea. We were billed correctly but it was an interesting cultural experience as this is how Sri Lankans serve bread in tea houses.

After night fall, we walked aroGalle Road, Colombound some colonial parts of the city and took a tuk tuk to Galle Road. It is the sea facing road of Colombo and we saw kids flying kites and people enjoying the cool breeze at night. We then met Manuja, Shruti’s poly mate from Singapore. We had sheesha and a couple of drinks with him and his friends. It was nice catching up/meeting him and he took us around to a Sri Lankan Chinese takeaway.

Day 2

The next morning, we left a little late from the house. We took a tuk tuk to Arcade Independence Square. We didn’t know anything about it except that Manuja recommended it and there was a Burger King there. I say this because by now, we were done with the spicy local food and wanted to avoid a bad tummy before the flight. So for the first time since leaving Sydney, we had a big chain fast food for brunch.

Arcade Independence Square

The arcade itself was of British colonial style originally designed as a mental asylum. From there, we walked to the Independence Memorial Hall. Don Senanayake, whose statue was at the location, was the first Prime Minister of Independent Sri Lanka and the memorial is Independence Memorial Hallgrand and beautiful. Our next stop was the National Museum of Sri Lanka. The building was again colonial and we realised that all buildings in this part of Colombo were from British era. In addition, the streets were wide and full of trees.

The museum was full of knowledge of traditional agriculture, religion, warfare, architecture and art. The issue was though that the place had no airconditioning and the fans were not great. I can tell you, its not a lot of fun looking at history while sweating from humidity. We had to end the walk around the museum quickly and go to the museum cafe for some iced coffee.

OGangaramaya Temple, Colombour next stop was the Gangaramaya Buddhist temple. The temple itself is large with some amazing Buddha statues and Elephant tusks. There was a large Bodhi tree with a quiet stop for the Buddhists to pray and people to meditate. It was certainly a special experience feeling the quietness and devotion of the local population. A added extra was that this temple was the stop over point for the wedding parties. We saw brides and grooms in traditional and European attire and they were dressed beautifully.

This was also the case for the SeemSeema Malaka Temple, Colomboa Malaka buddhist temple close by. This temple is in the middle of a lake and is incredibly picturesque. Surrounded by green water, you can see some of the Colombo skyline behind the temple. After this, we basically walked back the way we came to the Arcade.

As we walked around the arcade again, we saw the Kaema Sutra Restaurant by Jacqueline Fernandez. Jacqueline is a Sri Lankan model who is now a Bollywood diva. Though we knew it was expensive, we couldn’t resist the charm of eating in her restaurant. In reality, I am glad we did as the food was beautiful. We tried the Tuna, Jack fruit and Potato curries with string hoppers, hoppers and rotis. We had a desert of Curd with palm syrup which was healthy and tasty. We caught a tuk tuk home and called it a night.

Tip: Always load Google Maps for the area you will exploring during the day. This way, even if you don’t have internet connection, you can never be lost. Also, always have your GPS on with Google Maps when using tuk tuks. Though the drivers are generally very good, sometimes there could be a miscommunication.

Budha in Colombo

In Summary

This leg of the tour started after Trincomalee and ended in Colombo. We crossed the entire breadth of Sri Lanka in 5 days. It was a whirlwind tour but it was definitely worth it. We experienced the food, culture, religion and the history of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has so much to offer to people and the tourism is starting to pick up after the war ended in 2009.

However, the best thing about Sri Lanka are its people. Everywhere we went, people were very nice to us. When they looked at us, they were very curious and asked if we were Indian. A lot of people then tried a few words of Hindi to make us smile. In addition, Sri Lanka is generally quite safe. We never felt threatened and unsafe even while dark.

Finally, Sri Lanka is quite cheap too. As long as you stay away from 5-star hotels and resorts catered for European tourists, you can have a decent holiday for small cash. Read about accommodation, transport and food costs in our previous post about Trincomalee.

Final Thoughts

In our time here, we only have one regret that we should have climbed Sigiriya rock. We gambled it for Adam’s Peak, which, though wasn’t completely disappointing, we didn’t enjoy the climb or the sunrise from up above. The drive from Trinco to Galle in two days was also a bad idea. When we reached Unawantuna beach, we were so tired that we couldn’t enjoy what it had to offer.

Though we didn’t visit them, Sri Lanka also has some amazing national parks with exotic animals. When we come back (and we definitely will!), we are sure to visit them. Likewise, we heard of Sri Lankans love for Cricket but never saw it. It would be a dream to watch a day of a test match in Galle!

I have high hopes for Sri Lanka. It now has a popular government, booming economy and increasing tourism. Sri Lankans are quite a disciplined and hard working people. The driving and zebra crossings showed us that Sri Lankans are happy to follow rules. Unlike India, we rarely heard the car horns in Sri Lanka. Our driver Asanga who happened to be from a less well off family, repeatedly asked us:

Driver: Do you think Sri Lanka can develop?

ArrangedTravelers: Hell Yea!

It also helps India. Most of the common vehicles in Sri Lanka are Indian ;)

Sri Lanka has lot of raw, untouched, natural beauty and while I hope for development,  I also wish the landscape does not get altered much and locals can maintain their warm hearts and welcoming nature.

Colombo Gallery

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Around Sri Lanka

Our days in Trincomlee came to an end quickly. We decided to travel around Sri Lanka for the remaining 5 days. We booked a tour through Visit SL Tours and were on the road early in the morning with a driver.

Paddy Fields around Sri LankaWe drove for almost 5 hours through the Eastern Province and Central Province of Sri Lanka. The countryside is beautiful beyond belief with paddy fields, coconut trees and hills everywhere. Unlike Trincomalee, these provinces are the heartland of the Sinhalese Buddhist population which meant, we saw Bodhi trees, Buddhist shrines and monks dressed in saffron quite often.

Sigiriya, Sri LankaOn the way, we had a quick pit stop at Sigiriya, which is very significant to the Sri Lankan history. It is basically a huge rock where the king built his fort and now only a lion sculpture and so
me paintings remain. As we didn’t have enough time, we decided not to climb up. Our next stop was for lunch in our driver’s city, Karunegelle. The city has a great hill with a large Buddha statue.

Elephant Orphanage

We finally reached Pinnuwala Orphange at 2:45pm. We bought our tickets to the sanctuary but as it was bathing time for the elephants, we walked to a river, 100m away, where the herd were enjoying themselves.

Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka

Elephant Orphanage, Sri LankaThere were around 30 elephants chilling in the water and mud. It was quite hot and the crowd had gathered all around the river watching the elephants and feeding a few of them some bananas. The caretakers were charging up to LKR 1000 to hug and touch an elephant. We stood at the edge and managed to interact with a few for free :)
The highlight was watching a very young elephant calf playing around the older elephants in the water. Elephant Orphanage, Sri LankaIt was so happy just being in the water and the herd was taking close care of it. Once we had enough of the heat, we did some souvenir shopping. We then waited around for the herd of about 25 elephants to head back into the pens. We watched them cross a major road, walk into the sanctuary, eat the trunks and leaves and finally drove to Kandy.

Here is a mashup video of the elephants –

Music credits to Bertn1991 – http://www.newgrounds.com/audio/listen/618232

Kandy

It took around an hour and a half to get to Kandy. It was pure luck that we managed to be in Sri Lanka during the Kandy Perahara event, which is one of the biggest religious event in Asia. It is a Sri Lankan procession which has dancers, drummers, monks, elephants and an idol or relic related to the Buddha.Sarongs at Kandy Perahara, Sri Lanka Once we parked, we rushed through the crowds towards the Temple of the Tooth. We were told that Suyash and I could not enter the premises due to wearing shorts. Therefore in a hurry, we bought two sarongs and learnt how to put them on.

Our excitement was turned into disappointment when we were told that we couldn’t enter the temple as the Perahara was getting ready to move. However, we didn’t have to wait long to cheer again as we realised that the Buddha’s tooth relic came out on a huge elephant ready to be shown to the whole city of Kandy.

Kandy Perahara, Sri Lanka

Kandy Perahara, Sri LankaWe quickly grabbed a spot as the procession got moving. We saw flame rotators, disc rotators, sword fighters, elephants with lights, monks, dancers and drummers. The highlight of the night was the Nedumgombo Raja, the biggest calmest elephant with huge tusks charged with carrying the tooth relic.

Tip: The perahara starts from the Temple of the Tooth and goes around the city. Getting a spot early in the temple is the best option as you can finish watching the whole procession by 8:30pm. This also applies for any parade or procession, otherwise you will be stuck with the crowd.

Here is a short mashup of the performances at perahara –

Adam’s Peak

After grabbing quick dinner in Kandy, we then drove to Adam’s Peak area for an early morning walk to the summit. We reached Nallathanniya at 12:30am after a crazy night time drive through mountains and bad roads. Suyash and I rotated responsibilities to accompany the driver through the late night drive on mountain. We spotted wild boars, horned deer and hedgehogs on the way.Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka
We checked into our room, which was 2 floors below basement, slept for an hour and went climbing the peak into the night. The manager at the hotel told us it will take approx. 2.5 hours to climb the peak. We started our ascent in the pitch black night. We had a few people ahead and it was a nice walk up the hill in the first hour. After this the climb got hard and harder with the temperature lowering and the stairs getting steeper. In total we climbed 5660 steps and it totally killed our legs.

 

 

Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

Adam's Peak, Sri LankaOur fitness level was not the best and we realised that halfway in to the climb. Unfortunately, though we made it to the top, there were too many clouds and the sun was nowhere to be seen after the time of the sunrise. Eventually, we decided it was best to descend and make it back to hotel in time. The walk down was as hard as the walk up and we eventually made it back around 9:30. Though the photos on the way down were amazing, we recommend attempting the Adam’s Peak climb if you are fit enough and there is a high chance of seeing the sunrise.

Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tip: Always check the season and weather forecast for any location you want to visit.

Galle & Unawatuna

As we left Nallathanniya, it started to pour. Though there were pretty sites around, we crashed very soon as we were all too tired after the trek and no sleep through the night. We made no stops on the way other than lunch.

Soon after lunch, the boredom of the drive made Suyash and Shruti play random Bollywood related games in the car. Since I don’t remember the films much, I was a spectator. The game was hilarious, both of them were clueless at times and I had a lot of fun watching the siblings coming up with random things to do.

We arrived in Galle around 6pm just before sunset and checked into Happy Night hotel, along the Unawatuna Beach. The name was a bit funny but the hotel was amazing regardless being cheap. Due to the lack of sleep and aching legs, we decided to get pizza, sandwiches and beer while watching a Hera Pheri, a hillarious Bollywood classic, in the room. We called it a night early and slept for a good 9 hours.

Though we felt refreshed the next morning, the legs were still in pain. We decided to see some of the highlights around Galle city and return early. Once there, we had traditional Sri Lankan breakfast and walked to the Fort. As Kumar Sangakkara had retired a day earlier, the cricket stadium in Galle was full of posters of his farewell. Though we don’t support Sri Lanka in cricket, we salute the legend for his contribution to cricket!

Galle Fort, Sri LankaGalle city is quite small and the highlights are all walking distance from each other. A tuk tuk driver saw us walking around the Fort and told us he’ll give us a tour of the old city for LKR 500. We decided against it as we wanted to walk around and absorb the surroundings. However, he was adamant and decided to reduce the price to LKR 400. Against Suyash’s advice, we decided to take the tuk tuk as our legs were in quite bad shape.

Eventually we realised it wasn’t a bad decision. The driver stopped at 3-4 places and gave us 20 minutes each. Old Galle city is an amazing place. It looks like an European town in the middle of Sri Lanka. The town was settled by the Portuguese before the Dutch took over. It had Dutch churches, houses and other Dutch government buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries.

One of the highlights for us was the Dutch museum. The museum was housed in a renovated Dutch Governors house by a local businessman. Artefacts from the Portuguese, Dutch and British eras were carefully preserved there. It was also interesting to see an old lady making lace the traditional way while another man was cutting and polishing gems using a wheel blade. It really was a trip back to the past. The entry was free but the staff showed us around and eventually lead us to the jewelers shop within the museum. They were not forceful but it was a clever ploy nonetheless.

Galle Fort, Sri LankaWe stopped at the church, lighthouse and a Buddhist temple before the time was up. On the way back, Suyash had planned to go the Japanese Pagoda and a place called Jungle beach. However, the driver was charging too much and being on a cliff it would be a pain to walk back from there. Due to Suyash’s great bargaining skills, we managed to offend the tuk tuk driver who accused us of being tightarses (slightly justified!) :P

Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

Since we didn’t want to go the beach or walk, we decided to chill with music into the evening. We again played a game of ‘play a random song on youtube’. The game was a success and it made us quite happy listening to a whole range of songs from 90s Bollywood, Punjabi and House classics. We ended the night with local food though I had a slight Galle belly in the middle of the night.

Suyash left early in the morning for his flight to Singapore while we stayed back, slept a little more before taking an express bus to Colombo for the home run in Sri Lanka.

Final Thoughts

From the Adam’s Peak experience, we will be more careful about planning for back to back activities and never visit a place for one single attraction. But nevertheless, driving around Sri Lanka was a good experience. We crossed many towns and villages and saw the different cultures, Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims in the country.

We also regret not climbing Sigiriya – we would have possibly experienced more culture there.

Around Sri Lanka Gallery

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