This travelogue has been more than a year in the making. Mainly since this was not a wild life travelogue
but also because if you don't do it immediately, things have a way of being postponed and postponed and ... until it kind of takes a third row seat and basically gets forgotten about. A user here, superbad, recently posted his New Zealand travelogue two years after he travelled and that reminded me of this half-written one of mine. I thought this would a good time to revive it and finally hold it up proudly to the world (well, at least T-BHP, but hey, you know what I mean!). Better late than never, etc., etc. Note that some of the numbers were correct as on August 2017 and I haven't corrected them. Too lazy. So here goes.
Fair warning: This is going to be one long multiple post with nearly 200 photos, so I hope you won't get bored quickly. After all, the things we saw and did in nine days can't be compressed into one or two posts.
What struck me most about the beautiful country of Sri Lanka is that almost half the cars on the road are hybrid! Later, we came to know that most new cars sold are hybrids, unless it is a big SUV. Even some of the SUVs have some form of hybrid engine here. The non hybrids are mainly public transports and goods carriers, like buses and autos and trucks. The Toyota Prius dominates the medium car segment here. There are more Priuses (Priusii?) on the roads than any other hybrid car. Domination. Why oh why is this not prevalent in India? Why are the manufacturers not bringing hybrids to the market? While we are wrangling about BS V and BS VI, other countries have quietly moved to hybrid and even pure electric.
Another shocking fact is the 300% duty on any non-hybrid imported car (and believe me, all cars are imported here since there is no local manufacture, except for a SsangYong collaborator called Micro). There are many Altos, Zens and Nanos on the roads here. For example, a Maruti Alto 800 costs approximately 22 lakhs! Of course that is in LKR where 1 INR = 2.4 LKR approx as of date. So an Alto costing about 3,00,000/- here would straight away cost around 7,20,000/- LKR and then comes the duty, which raises the cost to around 21,60,000/- LKR. Wow! Here's a link with the launch announcement for the Alto 800 in Sri Lanka, back in 2016.(http://www.firstpost.com/auto/2016-s...s-2842416.html
) The Tata Nano (which incidentally seems to be the only Tata car I could find on the roads) costs a whopping 8,50,000/-. Mummmeeee....! I didn't believe our driver when he quoted these figures at me, so I did some research and found most of his wild claims about pricing to be true.
Incidentally, the Honda Shuttle that we were driven around in costs around 58,00,000/- LKR and that is mainly because the import duty on hybrid cars is supposedly only 90%! Good move by the government to push people to buy hybrids. Hope the Indian government also does something like this. The Karnataka government seems to be taking an initiative by formulating an Electric Vehicle policy, as we speak. (https://inc42.com/buzz/karnataka-sta...ehicle-policy/
OK, this is mostly a holiday travelogue and part car review. I'm not an expert reviewer, only an expert reader of reviews! I've tried to ensure that "all the information given herein below is true and correct to the best of my knowledge at the time of events mentioned", so if you do come across some erroneous information or inconsistencies, don't be too critical. Now for some background. Scene 1: One Saturday evening, at a popular bar in South Bangalore
One: I think we should plan for a week long trip without families
Two: I need to get permission from Home Ministry
Three: So do we all
Four: When is this supposed to happen?
One: Third week of August, we can use the Independence Day holiday
Me: So where do you think we should go?
One: Greece? I want to swim in the Adriatic!
Four: France! Paris! Nice! TGV! Wine! ...
Three: Why not somewhere local?
One: I want to celebrate my birthday in a foreign land!
Me: Two, you and One are just one day apart on birthdays, do you want to be home for that?
Two: Too many already celebrated at home and with family, let's do it ourselves for once
Five (quiet so far, in a small voice): Can't make it guys, Shravana Maasa. (No non-veg month for religious types)
Six: I'll have to check with my boss, can't guarantee I'll get a long holiday
Silence for a while, mugs being raised quietly... then...
Two: I don't want to fly for more than 4 hours, bored of it.
One: So Europe is ruled out? Ayyooo...
Me: Why don't we all come up with options by next week?
I actually thought at that time that this is just another one of those "Let's just us boys go to Goa" kind of wishful thinking that usually crops up after a few mugs have begun to make their insidious effect felt. So I didn't give it much thought during the next week or the one after that. To my surprise One created a separate WhatsApp group with only the six of us who had shown interest and whose birthdays are within a few days of each other. I have to tell you here that our "gang" has enough people for two full cricket teams plus umpires and a match adjudicator, although getting them all together in one place is next to impossible. So this new group was full of chatter about destinations, activities, etc. That's when I knew this was going to happen and won't be a "Let's go to Goa" trip. Of which we've had many, like any other set of boys! Scene 2: Sunday, two weeks later, at a different bar in West Bangalore (we tend to hop all over the city, always in search of new places and new experiences)
After some heated discussions on such disparate places that includes dragon watching at Komodo (my idea obviously!), Vietnam and the Angkor Wat, etc. all within four or five hours flying time from Bangalore...
One: Sri Lanka? What will we do there for a week? Three days is enough, four at the most!
Two: Guru, it is a country, not one city like Singapore or Dubai. How can you see a whole country in four days?
Three: But what is there apart from beaches? We've seen enough of that!
Me: There is a national park there no? Where we can spot some leopards? (my wildlife interest rears its head)
One: You and your leopards! Go to Kabini if you want to see leopards.
Me: But these are foreign leopards! They will be different.
One: Oh just stop!
Two: This is the list of places we can see in SL
One: So much to see? Will one week be enough?
Two: Ha, I told you so!
Three: OK, OK, no need to rub it in.!
Two: Go away, no leopards this trip.
Me: Oh OK, sacrifices!
Two: So it is decided then?
All: Sri Lanka, here we come!
Our wives were pretty understanding about the whole thing, although the kids thought we were deserting them and going off to enjoy all by ourselves. They wanted to accompany us too. This was actually the very first time we were going without them in tow. How do you tell them that we are actually more excited at that prospect than the actual trip itself?
So we paid some lip service to how we would all miss them and we will definitely go somewehere else together later. Ah, the things we promise over which we have very little control! There will be some form of penalty at some stage for all of us, I'm sure, but for now we were good to go. We have a common travel agency who usually plans and books all our family holidays and they know our needs and tastes quite well by now. Informed them about the dates and their rep came up with a tentative schedule. After some fine tuning, inclusions, deletions and other such changes, the trip was booked.
Then started the wait. As always, the closer the departure date comes, the more hectic things get in the office. People started looking at me like "How can you leave at a time like this?" They didn't actually say it out loud but there were enough meaningful looks sent my way. There is always some crisis or the other that can be handled only by you and if you go away for such a long time, customers will desert en masse, team members will form a weed smoking cult and assorted suicides might result. But hey, this was planned well in advance, enough notice had been given in the office to everyone concerned, etc., etc., so those looks and unstated threats weren't too effective. The departure date arrived and the party started at the airport.
The mandatory groupfie at the start of the trip. That's me taking the groupfie, with Pradeep ("One" in the conversation above) on my left and Suresh ("Two" above) opposite. Of course, the other three who dropped out had also stayed up late and were consoling themselves by sending "Wish we were coming too" messages on the WhatsApp group. Surprisingly, there was no long queue at passport control, unlike most other days. We breezed through and boarded the flight. Slept all the way to Colombo, which was all of 80 minutes. Faster than going to Mumbai from Bangalore. We landed in Colombo at 4:45 AM.
The Bandaranaike International Airport at Colombo is pretty much run of the mill, as international airports go. Nothing spectacular and no inconveniences either. The queue at Immigration was long, but was moving quite quickly. One advantage we had was that our visas were already with us, having gotten them online from the Sri Lankan Embassy website. Not having this will mean first you stand in queue for the visa on arrival and then get in another queue for immigration. Both of which were fairly long, with a quite a number of flights arriving within the same time frame.
Passport stamped, luggage collected, we headed out to the arrival hall where there was a guy holding a placard with our names on it. Actually, all of us were too sleepy to spot him and we had to walk back down the line to see our names. Being partially visible behind an absolute forest of receivers frantically waving placards of all sizes didn't help much either. He introduced himself as Ishan, we headed out to the parking lot and he took us to the car. He proudly informed us that this was a brand new car with only about 1000 kms on the odo and we were the first group to driven around in it. I didn't notice that it was a hybrid until he started pulling out of the car park. There was absolutely no sound at all! That woke me up in a hurry. I looked at Ishan and he smiled and said "Hybrid!". I immediately thought that I should put up a mini review on T-BHP and told him I want a photoshoot of the car. He said there are much more scenic places on the way and we could stop there if I wanted (see Day Five below for the said scenic place and photoshoot). My companions were already asleep again in the back seat and I was feeling sleepy too, so I left it at that.
Our itinerary specified that we travel from Colombo straight to Dambulla, a distance of about 170 kms. On the way, we stopped just outside Colombo on the highway at around 7:15 AM to have breakfast at a very nice place. I was so sleepy that I don't remember the name of the place, except that everything was white, the walls, the floor, the tables, the chairs, the napkins, the plates, the waiters' uniforms and even the pots in which there were plants. Big place too, with a giant car park under a lot of trees. There was an in-house musician too, playing very soulful morning raagas on his flute.
If anyone can name this white place, let me know. We used the facilities, brushed, washed and ate a quick breakfast, all of us just wanted to get back in the car and sleep. After about 90 minutes of total oblivion, Ishan woke us up at our first stop. Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Established back in 1975 by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation, this place is famous for the care and protection of the many orphaned or abandoned wild elephant babies found wandering in the forests. Some of them are even brought in from other countries. There are now more than 90 elephants here. It is based in a large 25 acre area on the road to Kandy from Colombo.
I will be posting the maps in two forms. A closeup view of the route and a zoomed out view, showing the route on the country map.
The feeding of baby elephants attracts a large crowd, you can even pay and feed the babies yourself.
Of course, there is the obligatory Curio shop where you can purchase trinkets.
A notice at the reception warns tourists not to listen to "outsiders" who may want to direct them to other places. Nobody approached us, in any case.
The daily schedule for the elephants are clearly listed, just in case the elephants have other ideas. They are expected to follow this strict schedule, without any cribbing or moaning about monotony.
The event of great interest here is the bathing time, when the elephants are herded out of the orphanage and into the Maha Oya river across the highway. Traffic is stopped on the highway at this time and the elephants get right of way.
In the river, they are given a shower from a giant pump and left to enjoy themselves in the river. Which they do, to their heart's content.
As you can see, there is quite a crowd to see this event. If any of you noticed it, Virat Kohli had tweeted a photo from the hotel balcony you see on the top right. That was a few days after our visit. Somehow the Indian cricket team's schedule and ours didn't coincide at any place, although we were both in the country at the same time.
We moved on from there at about 9:30 AM and our destination was Sigiriya. Sigiriya
Sigiriya (pronounced See-gi-ri-ya) is near the town of Dambulla, in the Central Province. It literally means Lion Rock, for reasons made clear below.
Sigiriya is a rock left over from an ancient extinct volcano. It is famous for its rock frescoes, of which you can't take any photos now, but there are enough out there to give you an idea of what they look like. There is a ruined palace at the top, with a royal bedroom at the very top.
The rock rises up suddenly from the plains, like a lone sentinel. There is nothing else around it, just plain land. We would be climbing to the top of this fellow next day.
We had a great lunch at a small almost nameless road side restaurant run by a lady and her son, just a few hundred metres from the resort we were heading for. The food was really good. In fact it was so good, that we returned there the next afternoon too, skipping lunch at the resort which was included in the package. Unfortunately, this small place didn't have any name that I can recollect and was just one among a line of such places along the road. Our driver, Ishan, took us there and said food is very good here, better than at the resort. Boy, was he right!
A lot of people who have eaten here have left small messages of thanks and appreciation all over the walls. Reading thru them, I found mainly European messages in German, Dutch and French. Very few Indian ones, so we wrote one in Kannada our native toungue.
After the heavy and sumptuous lunch we checked in to the Fresco Water Villa resort, about 2 kms from the rock. Nice place to relax, so we went straight to sleep in the afternoon and woke up reasonably refreshed around 5 PM.
The evening was spent looking around Dambulla and visiting a couple of bars to get an idea of the local nightlife. Nothing much. It is a sweet small sleepy little town, nothing like big bustling Colombo. It is here that I first noticed the predominance of hybrid cars. It is the case across the country, as we saw in Kandy, Galle, Mirissa and of course, Colombo.