The Great Sri Lankan Adventure- Day 5

Day 5 saw us check out of Kandalama and head for Kandy, hoping to have a pit-stop at Peradinya Botaincal Gardens before checking in to the hotel (Earl’s Regency). It’s a good few hours between Kandalama and Peradinya, but the drive is well worth it thanks to the beautiful views and the fact that our driver/guide knew some great places to stop along the way. Before we left our guide decided to stop by the cave temple, and though we were not up for making the climb, we got to see the temple from the outside.

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Golden Temple, Dambulla

Heading to Peradiniya, we passed through the spice belt, an area known for growing spices such as cloves, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon among others, so our guide stopped at a spice garden where we were given a tour of the miniature version of the real sprawling 7 km spice garden. We saw, as we entered, a huge tree filled with ripened jackfruit hanging off the trunk and coconut shells creatively decorating the base of the tree.

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Jackfruit

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Cocoa…notice the attractive use of coconut shells dividing plantations

The spices we came across included vanilla, cardamom, jasmine, cinnamon, cloves, curry leaves, sandalwood, ginger and red pineapple among others. We learnt of their various applications, particularly in ayurvedic medicine. Once the tour of the garden was finished, we were ushered into a tiny wooden “schoolroom” where we sampled some spice tea. My mum loved it, but the strong ginger taste meant I gave up after the first sip. While sipping tea, we were handed leaflets detailing various spice concoctions for different ailments. We were particularly interested in the treatment for acne and sinusitis so we picked up some bottles in the store where we got another discount (Yayy for being a SAARC member).

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Red Pineapple

We finally reached Peradiniya Botanical Gardens and went in, taking along our driver/guide. The botanical gardens which sprawl around 60 hectares were once royal gardens. The area is too vast to cover on foot in a day and the garden offers the option of being driven around in a cart (similar to the ones you get at the airport). There weren’t any available when we reached, so we opted to go on foot, enjoying ourselves and taking in whatever we could. We came across a stunning variety of palms, ferns, trees that I can’t even name, flowers that I’ve never seen, a spice garden, a herb garden and even an orchid house which housed an amazing range of orchids. We took pictures ,of course, but nothing can truly capture the beauty of the gardens except an appreciative eye.

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Looking back at how far we’d walked

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Beautiful plants at the botanical gardens

We even came across giant bamboo which can grow upto 30cm a day.The weather turned hot and sticky soon enough and we decided to call it a day, but not before stopping at the sir-conditioned souvenir and coffee shop where we indulged in some drinks and got some  keychains.

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Giant Bamboo

One the road to the hotel, we were going through the heart of Kandy, past a multitude of shops and another gorgeous lake situated next to the Temple of the Tooth and Royal Palace. While we didn’t go in, we could easily spot the temple’s golden roof. We got stuck in traffic because the school’s had just gotten off so the streets were filled with buses and children in spotless white uniforms. We finally arrive at the hotel, Earl’s Regency, to the cool towels and refreshments but it was tough to cool down because there had been some sort of mix up and they didn’t have our booking, despite our having it confirmed it once before leaving for Sri Lanka, and once when he had reached Colombo. After much back and forth and analysis of email confirmations, they finally booked us in a for a night. We were accompanied to our room by a lovely lady, Nilu, who assured us again that all food was Halal and that we should feel comfortable going to the spa because there were only female employees and all ladies would be segregated from the male customers. The hotel setting was scenic, having being built along the same lines as Kandalama, upon a rock. The plus point of Earl’s Regency was, in the words of Nilu, the notable absence of monkeys which meant we could enjoy the view from the three balconies afforded by our corner adjoining rooms from where we could see the Mahavali River. We called for a quick lunch of pizza and pasta while my brother headed for the gym. The gym didn’t quite live up to his expectations, so he came back up rather quickly and we all ended up relaxing and enjoying the breeze from the balcony. And it’s a good thing we did because shortly, the wind picked up and, and much to our surprise and delight, it started to rain.

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Rain soaked walk to the hotel accomodation

Once the rain subsided, we decided to take advantage of the gloriously cool weather and explore the hotel. We found the passage between the rooms and the main hotel lobby branch to the left, so we took the road less travelled and found ourselves in the children’s play area where we spent the time swinging in the rain.

Back in the hotel room, we spent the time before dinner watching Argo. It’s a really good movie but unnecessarily nerve-wracking at times. Just as the movie ended and our eyes started drooping, it was time for dinner. The trouble getting dressed to head down to the restaurant was worth it in the end, with what was the best buffet of the trip thus far. I indulged in the creamy mushroom pasta and the Napolitana pasta and for the first time actually went for seconds. The choices were varied and everyone had a hearty meal. We roamed the dark veranda outside the restaurant before returning to bed, resolved to wake up early, do some shopping in Kandy before finally heading to the famous Nuwara Eliya on Day 6.

The Great Sri Lankan Adventure- Day 3

Day 2 ended with a lovely dinner with a colleague of my dad’s and his lovely family. We dined at an Indian restaurant in Colombo called Amrit, the entrance of which boasted an aquarium with a lucky fish which rather resembled a sullen miserly old man. But then again, who would be happy pacing their life away in an aquarium.

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The lucky, or not so lucky, fish at Amrit

Dinner was dal tadka, prawn, some form of fish, bhindi and a veggie biryani. If we had been anywhere near home, I would have been tempted to try more than the solitary piece of okra and smattering of dal and rice strategically scattered around my plate to give the appearance of having eaten a lot more than I actually did. I mostly nibbled on the naan, fearing the return of the IBS tummy, and had a wonderful time listening to the stories of my dad’s colleague’s wife recounting her adventures of child-rearing. It was a lovely dinner all thanks to the great company.

So Day 3 started early as usual and by 8.15am we were all packed and loaded into the van that we had hired from Lespri Enterprises to drive us around the country. There were only 4 of us, but we had booked a 12 seater van, not just because the rates are much lower per kilometer but also because on 4 hour drives, everyone gets greedy for leg room. We had our first stopover before we even left Colombo and went to Keel’s Super to stock up on some basic supplies (read snacks for the road and the life saving tissue box). We opted out of visiting the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage on the way to Dambulla as our guide helped us map out a better route and put it in our itinerary to visit on the way back to Colombo on our last day. We decided to forego the highway and instead took the longer but more scenic route to Dambulla through the cities and villages. There are really no words to describe the beauty of nature in Sri Lanka. The land is green as far as the eye can see and even further. The buildings are notable in that most have red tiled roofs and are brightly painted hues of blue, orange, red, pink, green and yellow. Taking a road trip through Sri Lanka seems futile in that there are next to no places to really pull over and enjoy the scenery. At the same time, while Sri Lanka is the ultimate photographer and nature lover’s paradise, if you attempt to trek through the country you’ll probably need a couple of lifetimes to reach your destination because there’s no shortage of breath-taking scenery at every step.

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Sri Lanka- A photographer’s paradise

We decided to be adventurous and sample some fresh fruit along the way. We tried some pineapple from the roadside stalls (which they were nice enough to cut) and let’s just say it’s been a while since I’ve had pineapple so sweet. Some time into our road trip, my dad’s colleague rang us up and asked our driver to take us to a rest house along the way, compatible to our over-hygienic sensibilities. It was the most beautiful rest-house you could hope to find disguised behind an unassuming facade. From within, you could see a stream flowing through a forest of trees, including one with extra large jackfruit hanging off the trunk. The parents took tea and we all took an extravagant amount of pictures before moving on.

Wahalkada

Wahalkada

Jackfruit Tree

Jackfruit Tree

View from Wahalkada

View from Wahalkada

What was fascinating was that every stretch of the road is flanked with tiny stores. Some areas of the country are famous for pineapples, so you can find everyone selling fresh pineapples. Other areas famous for their cashew nuts, sold only cashews all along the stretch of the road. We tried some cashews before sampling some freshly boiled corn from a stall inside a large man-made forest, where we also came across, for the first time in 3 days, someone begging. What is an every-minute occurrence in Karachi suddenly seemed so out of place in Sri Lanka.

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Looks like we weren’t the only ones stopping for corn!

The two-way two-lane only road wound higher and higher and the driver’s overtaking skills grew bolder and bolder. It’s best not to be looking at oncoming traffic at this point. We passed Ethagala, also known as the Elephant Rock, named so because the massive rocky mountain is naturally shaped rather like an elephant. Sitting atop Elephant Rock is a white statue of Buddha.

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Elephant Rock

Passing through the towns, our last stop before reaching the hotel at Dambulla, was a beautiful man-made lake where you can see a solitary rain tree. The rain tree, as per our driver, is not a native species of Sri Lanka, being brought over by the British to provide shelter against the torrential monsoon rains.

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Lone rain tree by the lake

The driver seemed rather surprised at our choice of hotel but led us nonetheless to Eden Gardens. While the setting was picturesque and the entrance and staff welcoming, we were completely unprepared for the rooms we for. Spacious though they were, there was a single lonely split A/C, a non-functioning ceiling fan and an open-air bathroom which could have used a thorough scrubbing down. We tried to wait it out and see if the room would get cooler, but eventually had to throw in the towel, despite the free Wifi, for the sake of everyone’s health. The concierge (a single young girl and two elderly gentlemen whose designations were unclear made up the concierge at the time) was flustered, our driver not surprised, when we announced that we’d have to change hotels.

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View from Eden Garden Hotel Room

After quick conferring, while sweating it out, we decided to take our driver and my friend’s mum’s suggestion and head to Hotel Kandalama, a pricier option situated in the middle of a forest. A wise decision, though the pocket felt pinched. We were truly grateful to the customary Sri Lankan hotel welcome of flowers, cold drinks and cold towels after our long drive. The hotel being a 5 star hotel is pricey, and we found ourselves missing Cinnamon Lakeside but it was all worth it, if only for the unbelievable view the hotel offers. We checked in and our balconies had signs asking to please keep the doors shut and locked to keep out the monkeys. I don’t know if the signs were there to keep the monkeys out, or us in… probably both.

Any monkeys around?

All the driving around meant we were barely in time to order lunch, which for me was veggie spring rolls with fries and burgers for the rest of the family, since again all meat served at the hotel is Halal (Kandalama has subscribed to the Crescent Rating Certification). With sated tummies, we flopped down in our air-conditioned rooms to relax, do some money maths and decided we’d spend the rest of the day exploring the hotel. The hotel is truly a jewel, with its main pool, the infinity pool, at the same level as the lake, an unbroken stretch of water leading up to the tree-lined horizon.

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Infinity Pool at Kandalama Hotel

While wandering around, we had a go at outdoor table-tennis and headed back to the room at sunset. Dinner was a buffet where we finally sampled the king coconut before heading back to our rooms which were at the other end of this kilometre-or-so long hotel. Night-time wandering in the hotel corridors was spooky because the hotel is a part of the natural landscape with no glass barriers to keep you from the monkeys you can see sitting in the trees. To avoid freaking out in the middle of the night in case of any monkey business, we closed the curtains and dozed off hoping to get an early start to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa on Day 4.

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Sunset at Kandalama Hotel