The first thing I noticed about him was the fresh blood stain on his shoulder rag.
The lifelong connections we make with people along the way is the very essence of travel.
As the first rays of sunlight streamed through my window, I drowsily opened my eyes to a panoramic 180-degree view of Knuckles Mountains. Victoria Lake shimmered below, as though waking up with me, and my infinity pool beckoned for a morning dip. Laying in bed, I blinked a few times to convince myself this wasn’t a dream in which I had become a billionaire – it was just my incredible (yet affordable) Airbnb in the paradise island of Sri Lanka. Three years ago, on my first trip to Sri Lanka, I wrote: “It’s not a country for flashpackers: Our moderate budget only seems to afford drab guesthouses / budget hotels – average accommodation quality, no local insights, nothing memorable.” Airbnb changed that. I found homes with million dollar views, the design quality of luxurious boutique hotels, and infinity pools that could easily make the coolest infinity pools to swim in before you die list. I got a chance to sample traditional family recipes (adapted to my vegan preference) that feature in no restaurant menus. And I left the country with treasured friendships with local hosts I wouldn’t otherwise have met. All this while staying kind to my …
A gentle tap on the tent startles me. I reluctantly get up from my cosy bed and lift the flap, to be greeted by a mesmerizing sight. Dark, ominous clouds swiftly cross the sky and settle upon the Knuckles mountain range in the distance. The moon becomes visible every now and then, painting haunting patterns in the sky. A handful of lights glow in the valley below. Fireflies shimmer above the tea plantations. The tap on the tent was just the wind, inviting me for a glimpse of this magical night.
[Updated: February 2016] Forget Ravana; Sri Lanka is now the kingdom of nature. It is here that the Indian Ocean turns a crystal blue and gently caresses a powdery white shore, and waterfalls emerge from deep within the mountains and trickle into little streams through pristine tea plantations. It is here that the influences of the west have stayed at bay, the people are genuinely friendly (Read: My First Impressions of Sri Lanka), and culinary goodness is in abundance. So go now, and take my list of the indulgent yet immersive things to do in Sri Lanka:
I take off my shoes, slip on a sarong, and carefully tip toe into the luke warm water. The village ladies, all clad in colorful sarongs, extend their hands so I don’t get entangled in the weeds and fall. Maulie, our host in Galkadawala, introduces me as “India”; the ladies giggle and say something friendly in Singhala. I wade into the lake with their help, and when my feet no longer touch the soft bed, I start to swim. Maulie points to a tree in the distance, where she spotted one of the lake’s resident crocodiles a few days ago. A soft chill runs through my spine, as brahminy kites appear in the clear blue sky above.
Earlier this week, we boarded the blue train from Kandy towards Ella, hoping for some respite from the rain that had enveloped Kandy. Little did I know then that thanks to the rain, we were going to witness one of the most spectacular train journeys I’ve done in all of Asia. We chugged up the hill country of Sri Lanka, winding along tea plantations, forests, waterfalls, streams, rivers, sleepy villages, and mountain tunnels.
I sit on the terrace of a little budget hotel in Heel Oya, near Ella, penning this. The mountains stretch before me, the surrounding forests are lush green after the light drizzle this afternoon, and the constant chirping of birds has lent a sweet melody to the evening. Three days ago, when we landed on the shores of Sri Lanka, I expected to be swept away by its natural beauty. The cool mountain breeze has done that literally, and as the sun peaks from behind the passing grey clouds, I find myself wondering why I’ve travelled halfway across the globe, but never before visited this pretty little island a stone’s throw away from India.