Paradise lost… and regained

Having shaken off a tsunami, Sri Lanka stirs the senses in every way and the island has more than its fair share of pleasant surprises, says Babu Kalyanpur, busing his way around

THE slightly rickety bus inches slowly on the Negambo Road, jostling for a clearance to cover the 30-odd miles to Colombo from the airport.

It is around nine in the morning and the mad dash to the offices has begun. Reconditioned Japanese vehicles crawl through the traffic, drivers losing patience as time goes by.
By the roadside, women in bright, cotton dresses walk down to the nearby free zone where the numerous factories offer them a living.
The heat is on, literally. The humidity adds to the discomfort. They call Sri Lanka Paradise. This seems more like Paradise Lost.
But wait. A two-hour journey later, the bus crosses the bridge to enter Colombo.
There is hope. And when you reach the Galle Face Green, there is confirmation. The beautiful Indian Ocean is in all its glory sweeping the shores of the Green.
In the backdrop is the Presidential Secretariat and a little distance away, the old world charm of the Galle Face Hotel, cosy and colonial.
Galle Face Green is the largest open space in Colombo. Families take a well-earned break here while lovers get a chance to murmur sweet nothings, far from the public gaze.
This is a truly nice city. The hustle and bustle of any modern day metropolis is there. The World Trade Centre towers over many of the colonial buildings, its gleaming exterior hiding the mass of humanity inside.
Colombo is not threatening like many other major cities. Even the rickshaw drivers do not resist much if you bargain and a fair price is always struck.
It all stems from the fact that the Sri Lankans are warm and friendly. Rich or economically backward, most of them have an optimistic view of life.
Most of the nightlife in Sri Lanka is restricted to Colombo. There is plenty on offer, including discos and casinos.
It’s back to the bus once again, this time a drive through the countryside on the way to Kandalama. The countryside is full of thick vegetation, huge coconut trees mingled with the smaller pineapple ones.
Just a few hours away is the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. Established in 1975, this is where orphan elephants are taken care of. Staring with just seven elephants, today the orphanage has nearly 70 elephants, including one which lost its leg while going over a mine.
Initially a tourism attraction, the Orphanage has now changed its objective and has become a conservation and educational centre. A scientific captive breeding programme has also been started with the help of experts.
Be sure to be there before noon so as not to miss the awesome sight of all the elephants coming out of the water after a bath to go to their lodgings.
Sri Lanka has a wide variety of ecologically important natural habitants and it is home to many species of flora and fauna.
The Kandalama Hotel, nestling among the wonders of nature, is a magnificent place to stay. Close to the historical town of Dambulla, the hotel is a treat for nature lovers.
Don’t be surprised to see monkeys peeping into your room. Be warned and don’t feed them too much or else you will have them there all the time.
The ride to Kandy begins early in the morning with a stopover at one of the spice gardens. Some of the spicy Sri Lankan curries may not enlighten the taste buds, but the visit to the spice garden will.
The hill capital of Kandy is one of the most beautiful cities in Sri Lanka. Here lies the sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic where a tooth of Buddha rests. A cultural show can also be taken near the temple.
It is also a good place to shop for gems and silks along with souvenirs.
As the bus struggles up the long, winding road to Nuwara Eliya, it’s tea garden time.
It’s nice to know from where the cuppa comes from by stopping at a tea factory. You can purchase some of the finest teas here.
The road up the hills throws up acres of tea estates, a few waterfalls and a breath-taking backdrop of lush hills. It’s Paradise once more.
The Tea Factory Hotel in Nuwariya Eliya is actually a defunct tea factory converted into a hotel. Some of the machinery still remains. The view from the hotel is simply superb.
Downhill to Bentota goes like the breeze after the arduous journey to Nuwara Eliya. Bentota is a seaside resort with several hotels, a railway station and numerous shopping centres.
This is the place to relax. Pristine beaches are available here and most hotels have their own private ones.
Time to chill out again. And as sun sets in the far horizons of the Indian Ocean, it’s the same old feeling once more. Sri Lanka is truly a Paradise.