Lessons on the Art of Living in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country.

In Sri Lanka hill country, it struck me that the lifelong connections we make with people along the way is the very essence of travel.

Under the shade of a mango tree, I sat half-reading ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ and half-gazing at a bald eagle swooping lazily above the calm waters of Victoria Lake.

Wafting into my dreamy state of mind came my hostess Lotte’s voice, inviting me to her kitchen for a little surprise. We were going to try one of her old recipes. Dairy-free dark chocolates with walnuts, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts, especially handcrafted for this newbie vegan!

Also read: Why I Turned Vegan and What it Means for my Travel Lifestyle

digana, ambavillas airbnb, kandy airbnb
Sri Lanka hill country | Can’t get enough of this view.

In a world where even my own family mocks me for going vegan, I was lucky to be staying with Shadwell and Lotte (my Sri Lankan-Dutch hosts) in an offbeat part of Sri Lanka’s hill country. They not only made me feel welcome in their world, but also ensured, after the initial apprehension, that I was well-fed in their meat-loving home.

That’s exactly why I use Airbnb. The lifelong connections we make with people along the way is the very essence of travel.

Also read: 7 Epic (yet affordable) Airbnbs to Stay in Sri Lanka

digana golf course
Sri Lanka hill country | My hosts Lotte and Shadwell in a nearby golf course.

That afternoon, I pinched myself for the umpteenth time as I stepped out of my glass-walled room for a dip in the infinity pool. The mist-covered Knuckles mountains formed the perfect backdrop. Was I living out a billionaire fantasy on my humble travel blogging income?

As we broke the ice, I learnt that Lotte, who grew up in the Netherlands, travelled the world at a time when Greece was just a bunch of sleepy islands.

To reach the (now famous) island of Ios, she jumped off a big boat with her backpack in the middle of the sea and let the islanders catch her on their small boats! But it was in Sri Lanka, where her grandfather once lived, that she decided to put down her roots. She met Shadwell and they built this beautiful home in Digana, an hour up from Kandy.

Also read: Incredible Ways to Experience Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka airbnb, Sri Lanka like a local, Sri Lanka travel blog, sri lanka hill country
Sri Lanka hill country | Inspired to write in my glass-walled room.

Together, the three of us drove past the sleepy Tamil village, to hike in the wild coconut plantations, when Shadwell jolted the car to a stop in the middle of the wilderness. “Coffee beans!,” he chimed with the glee of a kid who had found his treasure. It was a wild bush full of ripe coffee beans. We picked them one by one, into our palms, to take home, roast and drink. Real Sri Lankan coffee!

My hosts have candle-lit dinners daily because you don’t need a special occasion to celebrate life.

Over curry-licious Sri Lankan meals – think jackfruit chips, beetroot curry, pol roti, red rice and dishes whose names I forget – we discussed the India-Sri Lanka connection. Shadwell, a history enthusiast, introduced me to the legend of the king who was exiled from India, crossed the sea to Sri Lanka and married the forest queen. That led to the birth of the Sinhala people. I can’t help but think how much we’ve grown apart since.

Also see: In Photos: Chugging Up Sri Lanka’s Hill Country

buddha cave
Sri Lanka hill country | A lifesize sleeping Buddha in an underground cave in Digana.

The week goes by in little moments.

I hear from them about the haunting apparition a local girl saw in the village and managed to capture on her phone. When tested in a lab in Colombo, the experts concluded it couldn’t have been photoshopped. The photo, now on Shadwell’s phone, of a young girl, in white, on all fours, is etched in my memory.

I wake up to the sound of birds chirping as Victoria Lake shimmers below, swim and do yoga in my glass room.

I join Lotte and Shadwell to mingle with golfers in the scenic golf club nearby. In an orphanage for children of the war, we hear heartbreaking stories and hope.

I read and write, spend hours sipping rose vanilla tea and swap fun travel stories with Lotte. Almost forgetting that I’m merely passing through this part of the world…

Also read: The Joy of Slow Travel

Sri Lanka airbnb, Kandy airbnb, Sri Lanka travel blog, sri lanka hill country
Sri Lanka hill country | Inspired to write in my glass room.

The day I’m supposed to leave coincides with the day my hosts need to go shopping in Colombo, and they happily give me a ride in their car. Lotte tells me she intends to pick up ingredients to try making vegan ice cream!

That reminds me of one of the first things she said to me when I arrived. “We’ve never hosted a vegan before…”

As we enter the busy streets of Colombo, I feel like I’m waking up from a dream. As we hug goodbye, I’m already thinking of the time I’ll be back. I mean, I have to try that vegan ice cream 😉

That’s exactly why I use Airbnb. The lifelong connections we make with people along the way is the very essence of travel.

Sri Lanka Hill Country: Travel tips

Getting there

Kandy is the most popular base in the Sri Lanka hills. The scenic train ride takes 3 hours and a first class ticket can be booked in advance. Or show up at the Colombo bus station to take a local bus to Kandy, about 4 hours.

When to go

Spring and autumn are the most popular times to travel to the Sri Lanka hill country. But year round is beautiful, including the mild winter.

Hill stations in Sri Lanka / Places to visit in hill country Sri Lanka

Kandy is among the most popular hill stations in Sri Lanka, and also the most crowded. I recommend avoiding it.

Instead journey beyond Kandy to smaller towns and villages amid the tea plantations and hills of Sri Lanka for a real taste of the hill country. Digana, Victoria Lake and Menikdiwela are all beautiful!

Where to stay

I stayes at Lotte and Shadwell’s Airbnb. INR 7400 (US$ 110) per night. Located in Digana, an hour’s tuk tuk ride from Kandy. Can’t recommend it enough!

See my handpicked Sri Lanka Airbnb collection for unique accommodations in Kandy, Colombo, Yala, Hikkaduwa and in the Sri Lanka hill country.

Have you learnt any interesting lessons about the art of living on your travels?

I wrote this post in collaboration with Airbnb India. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, sign up with my referral link to get 40$ off your first stay, and use it to find local experiences the world over. 

The Shooting Star Academy

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  1. Who wants luxury of start hotel? This Airbnb experience is thousand times better. The place looks like heaven, felt like we have seen (through your eyes) this even without visiting the place. One more thing we appreciate is your transformation from traveller to a vegan nomad. 🙂 We are still waiting to explore Airbnb options. We are planning to explore on our trip to New Zealand. Any ideas?

    1. Right guys? A five star hotel would pale in comparison, not just in terms of the quality and view, but the genuine warmth that comes with the place being someone’s home.

      I haven’t been to NZ yet, but I opened the airbnbs there and they look fab – lots of remote wilderness experiences. Can’t wait to see how your trip goes!

      1. Hey, I’ve just stumbled on this post and am very curious, what is an airbnb?

          1. I’ve looked into it a lot since reading about it in your blog. We didn’t end up staying at any, but it sounds like a great way to travel. I’m teaching online right now and have some fellow online teachers who have had great experiences staying and working from airbnb locations. I love that a lot of places rent out by the month too! Anyways thanks for the reply and information 😀

  2. A post after long time. Nice to see the mention of Bijoy Singher Lankabijoy(Fable of Prince Bijoy Singha’s Adventures in Lanka) in your post.

    1. Promising myself to post more often 😉 And thanks for filling in that blank for me, I googled it to no avail when I was writing!

  3. this really wonderful. How old is the lifesize sleeping Buddha in that cave in Digana?

    1. Thanks! I don’t know, there wasn’t any board or person around to ask 😉

  4. sheetalspage says:

    as always loved your blog dear. Amazing…. Go Girl. You inspire a lot of people. Lately I have been dreaming about encountering you in one of my future trips and we will be best friends ever.. Ha ha ha.

      1. sheetalspage says:

        oh sister.. I have made a beautiful story out if it already.. sipping sangria in Spain.. whatsay… or maybe working our ***off while trekking in Himalayas.

  5. Such a blissful place! <3 my art of living moment was when I went farm hopping and cooking meals with those vegetables in my vacation home:)

    1. Love that, farm to table living! Where was it? I first did that on an organic farm in Punjab and food hasn’t been the same since.

  6. Srilanka seems to be as mesmerizing as your splendid words… Loved your post Shivya. I can experience it all with your feelings! Cheers! 🙂

    1. Thanks so much Jyotika! I’m glad I could bring a bit of it alive for you. Hope you can experience it in person soon.

  7. Hi Shivya, Srilanka is really beautiful place especially when I am seeing it through ur eyes and words. Just started following your blog. You are actually an inspiration for me as I also wanted to travel a lot but never imagine traveling alone.

    1. Thanks Ritu, and welcome to The Shooting Star! Actually, Sri Lanka is a great option for a first solo trip. It’s a bit like India – so feels like home, but much safer and less chaotic – so easier to navigate. Go go go!

  8. Pragya Dwivedi says:

    A lovely place!! And surely , you would have enjoyed the novel vegan dishes too!

    1. Absolutely Pragya. Vegan food was a delight all over Sri Lanka (many of the curries are traditionally vegan), but especially here. Plus my hosts substituted milk in dishes I’d been avoiding, with soy milk!

  9. Sri Lanka Really beautiful, Its really sad that it don’t have good standing among famous tourist destinations.

  10. Lovely scenic place you stayed in. Really Art of Living without controversies 🙂 and no environmental impacts 🙂

  11. This is such a dreamy post! Love the house and the hosts sound fabulous! I will try and go here if I get a chance.

  12. I love the way you write! In story-telling fashion.. By the way your own family mocks you for going vegan? Oh well if I turn vegan someday they(my family) will mock me too ! Indians are still not aware of the ‘vegan’ diet..

  13. Arpan Sarma says:

    Hey there Shivya,

    I am a fan of your writing.I have been following your blog for the past couple of days.I got to know about your blog from http://theculturetrip.com which covered an article named “The 12 Most Popular Travel Bloggers From India”. After getting to know about your blog I started following it. Your posts are really inspiring. I am the co-founder of a blog named EveryLittleThing. It has been 2 weeks since me and four of my friends started this blog. It has got really good response until now.This month we are writing about little known but very beautiful,visit worthy places in India.

    As we are new to this and since you are a seasoned traveller and blogger I will really like you to visit our blog and give your views regarding it.

    Any advices and suggestions from your side will really help us in improving our writing.

    The link to our blog is http://elt.today/unexplored-india/

    Thank you for reading this,
    Arpan Sarma
    Co-Founder at EveryLittleThing.

  14. Very happy to know you utilize Airbnb as it is a brilliant use for not only finances, safety, the mere joy of meeting people from all over the world. Happy, safe travels to you.

  15. That house is amazing!)
    I wish to have such an amazing Airbnb experience one day, somehow my hosts have never been so engaging before 🙂

  16. Looks so good! Kandy is amazing. The climate is so mild and there’s so much to see and do. The views from your room are gorgeous.

  17. Such a good place and love the climate there. So airy and cool. You were lucky to have spent time there.

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