After some last minute flight bookings we found ourselves on a flight from Ladakh to Delhi and then onto Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital. But we didn’t hang around there as were keen to get down to the coast.
The next day we took an old-fashioned rickety local train, which ran right down the coast (along what must be prime real estate) to the city of Galle.
Our guidebook said that boutique hotels were great value in Sri Lanka so we thought it would be rude not to test this out and checked into a lovely colonial property in the old walled town. A few days were spent lazing around the pool, job hunting and walking around the wall that surrounds the city wondering where all the other tourists were.
Despite being so close to India which gets over 5 million visitors each year, Sri Lanka only receives around 10% of that number. Clearly the effect of the civil war (which only ended in 2009 after 26 years) and the 2004 tsunami (for which they recieved much less aid than other countries) seems to have severely reduced tourist numbers.
After Galle we spent nearly a week on the beaches of Unawatuna and Mirissa which were lovely and undeveloped but still with a range of accomodation and restaurants (and coconut sellers).
It was then time to head inland to the Hill Country so we bussed it to Ella, took a walk through tea plantations and then took a beautiful (but slow) five hour train ride in third class on wooden seats to Nuwara Eliya.
After an overnight journey we continued north to Sigiriya, the ancient rock fortress. We happened to arrive on Poya (full moon day, a public holiday in Sri Lanka) so there were parties in the streets and the bus took ages as it kept getting caught in processions.
Sigiriya is a huge rock with a series of resevoirs, ruins and ancient paintings on top of it. We left to early to combat the heat and climbed the thousands of stairs to the top for an amazing view of the green countryside.
Our penultimate stop was Uppaveli beach in the north-east where the Tamil Tigers were based so there was heavy fighting during the civil war. There were not many signs of the conflict apart from a few roadside bunkers and some armed soldiers.
We had come for the famous white sand beach and it didn’t disappoint:
Four lovely nights were spent relaxing (Scrabble on the beach anyone?), snorkelling and eating and drinking with an English-Swedish couple.
We splashed out on a smart hotel for our last night in Colombo and lucked out as they happened to be having a party that night. So we mixed with the Sri Lankan travel media and gobbled canapes and free cocktails.
After two and a half weeks in calm, clean and easy Sri Lanka we headed back to Delhi for a few days before our flight home. We had hoped to do a bit of shopping and fine dining but was all a bit stressful with the heat and hassle. Nevertheless we fitted in a few nice meals and a spot retail therapy before flying home.