Friday, 22 March 2019

Backpacking Sri Lanka - my island Itinerary

Backpacking Sri Lanka - my island Itinerary
Sri Lanka is a tropical paradise, blessed with unspoiled bounties from nature, myriad golden beaches, unique wildlife population, and home to an ancient Buddhist culture stretching back to over 2,500 years of rich, unbroken history. I had traveled to Sri Lanka twice in 2017. Those visits were very short and I had blogged little about those experiences. Although, exploring its tourism facet was not in my agenda that time, I had passively imbibed a fair bit of Sri Lankan intoxicating aroma to respond back to her call in 2019. It was an unhurried two weeks of solo backpacking in the later part of February. I had went out with my old backpack, return tickets, e-visa, fifteen days in hand and of course few hundred dollars. Honestly, the travel plan wasn't chalked out till I landed in Colombo. Reasons could be many. Exactly a month back, I had returned from my Uzbekistan trip. There were a hell lot of pending priorities to wrap up. For some uncanny reason, whenever I sat with the island map in my leisure, focusing mind on any particular thing seemed almost impossible. Moreover, my subconscious mind knew that the destination was not unfamiliar to me. Although the journey had begun without an itinerary, I knew which places I wanted to touch in my two weeks of Sri Lankan sojourn.

Backpacking Sri Lanka - my island Itinerary
The Lion Rock of Sigiriya as seen from the top of Pidurangala Rock.
Without a brief introduction about the tourism platter of this island, you won't be able to fathom her intoxicating aroma I had mentioned earlier. Sri Lanka is a symphony in natural beauty, featuring a stunning mix of landscapes from pristine sunny beaches to breathtaking mountain ranges, and scenic tea plantations. This exotic island offers a rich diversity of experiences to her tourists ranging from being adventurous to the serene, all neatly placed within a landmass of just 65,610 square kilometers! Yes, Sri Lanka is a deceptively small island nation in the huge world map. To give you a rough idea, she is smaller to at least seventeen Indian states, and third smallest country in the SAARC union. Yet, travelers from every strata comprising pilgrims, nature lovers, luxury seekers, backpackers, and food enthusiasts land on its sunny shores with bubbling excitation and expectations from this tropical paradise. Do not get fooled by the exchange rate of Sri Lankan Rupees (1 USD = 178.12 LKR as of today). Sri Lanka is not a cheap country, especially in comparison to her SAARC neighbors- India, Nepal and Bangladesh. So, the inevitable question should bother you: What has made Sri Lanka a preferred travel destination?

Backpacking Sri Lanka - my island Itinerary
Ruins of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.
Nestled within this tiny land, are 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, an expansive 1,330 kilometers of coastline, numerous national parks thickly populated with wildlife some of which are only found in Sri Lanka, almost 5,00,000 acres of tea estates, lush botanical abundance, about 350 waterfalls, several lakes and rivers feeding into an ancient irrigation system that still supports thriving agricultural communities across the country. If you ask me whether two weeks are enough to explore this beauty on Indian Ocean, the right answer would be- 'No'. Hold on buddy, there's more to it. A backpacking itinerary of two weeks obviously won't allow you to experience each and every corner of Sri Lanka, but trust me, unless you're very lazy, it is good enough to give you adequate glimpses of the rich diversity of the island, its hospitable people, millennia-old cultural heritage, popular wildlife, highly appetizing gastronomy and alluring gems. Coming back to my itinerary, it wasn't scripted, and blame it on my affinity for procrastination. Yet, everything fell in places. Luckily, I could tick all of these correct boxes, and eventually earn a deep tan as tropical souvenir by the time I returned home!

Backpacking Sri Lanka - my island Itinerary
An aerial view of the lush green tropical island in the morning. 
After the end of my trip, I wished I had one more week to explore the northern part of Sri Lanka. As this region is predominantly inhabited by Tamils and very close to Indian coastline, what I've heard from other travelers, this part resembles more India than Sri Lanka. Still, visit to Jaffna and Mannar Island was there somewhere in my Sri Lankan backpacking bucket-list which couldn't make its place in the final itinerary. You have no option but to land in Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake, a suburb of Negombo, located about 35 away kilometers from the heart of Colombo. Irrespective of your choice you'll have to commence your Sri Lankan trip from the Western Province, which is the most urbanized region of the island. Apart from few urban beaches and colonial buildings in the middle of bustling Colombo, you won't have much to cherish on. As you cross the flat coastal terrain and head into Sri Lanka's Central Province, the climate shall surprise you with rapid changes as the land begins its gradual ascent into mist-capped mountains, covered with forests of wind-stunted trees and endless rolling tea plantations.

Backpacking Sri Lanka - my island Itinerary
Sri Lanka is the second largest exporter of tea worldwide. Don't miss a cup of fresh Ceylon Tea.
If my narration so far has succeeded in triggering your curiosity, I highly recommend you to go through- 7 reasons for every backpacker to visit Sri Lanka. Having introduced you with the tourism worth of my beautiful neighbor country, let me share my two weeks of backpacking itinerary with you:
Day 01: Arrival in Bandaranaike International Airport at Katunayake. Board the Bus-187/E for Colombo Fort area. Hire a tuktuk for Maharagama bus stand. Board a bus for Galle (locally pronounced as 'Gowl') which takes the coastal expressway. Overnight at Galle.
Day 02: Exploring Galle. Overnight at Galle.
Day 03: Afternoon train to Colombo Fort railway station. Board the night train for Ella.
Day 04: Exploring Ella. Hiking. Overnight at Ella.
Day 05: Exploring Ella. Hiking. Overnight at Ella.
Day 06: Board the morning train to Nanu Oya. Hire a tuktuk for Nuwara Eliya. Exploring Nuwara Eliya. Overnight at Nuwara Eliya.
Day 07: Reserve a cab for Horton Plains National Park. Trekking in Horton Plains National Park. Return to Nuwara Eliya for overnight halt.

Backpacking Sri Lanka - my island Itinerary
A Buddha statue somewhere on the top of Ella Rock, a popular destination among hikers.
Day 08: Rent a tuktuk for Nanu Oya railway station. Board the morning train for Kandy. Exploring Kandy. Overnight in Kandy.
Day 09: Board a bus for Dambulla. Rent a tuktuk from Dambulla to Sigiriya. Hiking. Overnight at Sigiriya.
Day 10: Hiking. Rent a tuktuk for Dambulla. Explore the Cave Temple and return to Sigiriya for overnight halt.
Day 11: Board a bus for Dambulla, get down at Dambulla and board another bus for Polonnaruwa. Exploring Polonnaruwa. Overnight at Polonnaruwa.
Day 12: Reserve a jeep for safari in Maduru Oya National Park. Overnight at Polonnaruwa.
Day 13: Board a morning train for Maho Junction. Hire a tuktuk for Yapahuwa. Overnight at Yapahuwa.
Day 14: Exploring Yapahuwa. Hiking. Board the afternoon train to Colombo Fort railway station. Get onto Bus- 187 for airport. I had my return flight to home post midnight.

Backpacking Sri Lanka - my island Itinerary
Each and every day of my Sri Lankan sojourn began as well as ended with pineapple!  
In my earlier trip to Sri Lanka I had visited the ancient city of Anuradhapura, and that is the only reason I skipped it this time. If you're into cultural heritage or spiritualism, Anuradhapura should be a must inclusion in your Sri Lankan travel itinerary. I'll give you glimpses of that town after I'm done with the narration of Polonnaruwa. Well, when I flip pages of my Sri Lankan diary, it endows me with deep sense of fulfillment. I have not only experienced the natural extravaganza of Sri Lanka, but also documented seven out of her eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites- the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, the ancient city of Sigiriya, the Golden Temple of Dambulla, the old town of Galle with its fortifications, the sacred city of Anuradhapura, the sacred city of Kandy, and the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka! I must admit, 2019 has been remarkably kind so far in terms of granting travel freedom. Are you wondering how to manage a visa? Don't worry, the procedure is simpler than you can think of. Have a quick look at my elaborate guide on getting a Sri Lankan tourist visa. In subsequent blogs you'll get to see a lot more of Sri Lanka. Do drop in.

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