The word serendipity originates from an ancient folktale about the three princes of Serendip – the Persian name for Sri Lanka. This had, from the time I heard it, become one of my favorite conversation starters. It was thus a happy coincidence that my partner and I decided to visit the island nation for our first vacation as a wedded pair. Our trip took us through the cooler climes of Kandy and the hill-station of Nuwara Eliya to the hot and humid beaches of Unawatuna and Bentota. It was a much-needed break after the madness of an Indian wedding spanning three cultures, three cities, and five functions.
Our first stop was Kandy, a world heritage site, where there’s a lot to see and do. We walked through the botanical gardens and had our first taste of the local beer at a rooftop restaurant in the middle of Kandy town – at the Kandyan Arts Residency. I highly recommend the lunch buffet, and the wide variety of rice, curries, pickles and chutneys they have on offer.
From Kandy, we made our way to Nuwara Eliya, a hill station that enjoys a moderate temperature throughout the year. The town itself is beautiful and has an old-world feel to it; a lot of the colonial structures that dot the townscape have been converted into hotels. We stayed at one such property called St. Andrews, owned and operated by one of Sri Lanka’s leading hospitality companies – Jetwing.
Things to do here include visiting the Seetha Amman temple and taking a stroll along the banks of Lake Gregory. There’s also a place called Adma Agro along the lake which sells fresh strawberries, and for those adventurous enough to try it, a strawberry pizza. The locals are comfortable with colonial names, quite unlike their Indian counterparts, and are extremely proud of their heritage.
Our next stop was Unawatuna, a five-hour drive from Nuwara Eliya. We stayed at a place right on the beach, and spent our evenings drinking and reading. We signed-up for a whale watching expedition in Mirissa, about an hour’s drive from Unawatuna. We were fortunate to spot a humpback, but the entire experience felt extremely commercialized and expensive. Galle Fort – about 15-20 minutes from where we were staying – is a must-visit attraction. Built by the Portuguese and the Dutch, it is often billed as one of the wonders of the modern world and has an abundance of restaurants and hotels within its ramparts that one must try.
Our final stop was a place called Saman Villas – a high-end, boutique property in Bentota. Perched on a rock jutting out to the sea, the views and vistas from its infinity pool, restaurant, sunset bar, and the library were stunning. We stayed for two nights here, in a deluxe room with a private pool – overlooking the beach. Our room was spacious, well-designed, and equipped with a state-of-the-art entertainment system (48-inch TV, high-end Yamaha speakers), and a bath area that looked like something from a movie set.
We tried jet skiing, snorkeling and visited a gemstone mine here in Bentota. There’s a theory that the name Lanka is derived from a Tamil word which means “to shine” and is a reference to the widely – and naturally – available gems on the island. Lanka has also been associated with prosperity in mythology; Kubera, the lord of wealth, was supposed to have ruled over the island, and his half-brother Ravana’s capital city is often referred to as one built from gold. It is ironic that the country saw itself in a bit of an economic crisis in 2016, following the infrastructure boom post the tsunami of 2005.
I always wondered why the lion played such an important role in state symbology not just in Sri Lanka but across South East Asia in general, when in fact, India is the only place where one can find this carnivore. The references are clear and numerous: the lion on the national flag and the national emblem, the four ferocious figurines guarding the statue of Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister at Independence Square in Colombo, the term ‘Sinh’ in Sinhalese. We were told that this was a reference to the first king of Lanka, and his lion-like ancestry.
One of the things that stood out for me on this trip was the food; while rice and coconut have a heavy influence on most vegetarian preparations, the sheer variety of items that one can sample is mind-boggling. Do try the Arrack with ginger beer, the Kottu, coconut roti with chutney, and the Watalappam. Do let me know if you wish to see our detailed itinerary, in case it helps you plan your trip. Bon voyage. And bon appetit!