City Escapes

Colombo

Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka mirrors all the colours and cultures that make up the small island nation. The city is a fascinating assortment of colonial and modern with a touch of hustle and bustle. For the traveler, it may seem like a collage of markets, beautiful gardens, walkways and buildings both historic and modern bordered by a narrow stretch of beach. It’s a reward for those who want to take the time to absorb its unique nature.

With the Island’s 30 year war ending in May 2009, Colombo is seeing increased mobility and the city is increasingly becoming cosmopolitan and vibrant with more people opting to shop, dine out and be entertained. In its gradual transformation to a premier lifestyle destination in the region, world-class restaurants are opening up that serves good food and an ultimate gourmet experience for travelers. The Dutch Hospital, one of the oldest buildings in the Colombo Fort area was once a hospital built to treat wounded Dutch soldiers attached to Dutch East India Company. It is now a restored heritage building gaining popularity as a destination restaurant and shopping precinct among locals and travelers alike.

Shopping in Colombo is rewarding for travelers as the City offers excellent Ceylon tea, top quality ceramic ware, exquisite jewelry, indigenous handcraft, handloom, silks and designer label clothes and leather products. Paradise Road, Crescat, Boulavard, Majestic City, Odel, Laksala, Barefoot, House of Fashion, Handloom Emporium, Sri Lanka Gem and Jewelry Exchange are few of the top notch craft, fashion, ceramic and gem stores that attract visitors in Colombo. You can also visit Pettah, Colombo’s main bazaar area where narrow and busy roads are lined with stalls selling a wide array of fabric, clothing, handbags, accessories, electronics, shoes and household items.

Colombo is also an entertainment hub with majority of the island’s five star hotels being located in the City. There are casinos open 24 hours and clubs offering gamblers roulette, baccarat, poker, blackjack and other games to test their luck along with complementary food, drinks and music.

 

Kandy

Nestled amid green hills and nurtured by the Mahaveli River, Kandy is one of the most picturesque cities in the Island. Home to the last Sinhalese kingdom, the hill capital has much to offer – history, culture, scenic beauty and adventure. Only 115km from Colombo, Kandy’s heritage and impressive lakeside setting attracts thousands of visitors every day. Buddhists flock to the hilly capital to pay homage to the Dalada Maligawa which houses the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha. Kandy is a holy city to Buddhist around the world as much as the Vatican is for Catholics. Monks clad in saffron, maroon and orange hues and barefoot pilgrims dressed in white will be a common site for travelers visiting Kandy for the first time.

 The Kandy Lake built by Sri Lanka’s last monarch, King Sri Vikrama Rajasinghe adorns the heart of the City with a charming mix of shops both old and new, restaurants, hotels and a bustling market decked around it. The City is also a natural gateway for cooler climes and lush tea plantations where Ceylon Tea, the world’s best is produced. Kandy is also well known for the great Kandy Esala Perahera, a colourful cultural pageant that parades the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha along with hundreds of glamourous drummers, dances and elephants. The Esala perahera takes place every July or August. Apart from the music and dance and the glitteringly majestic tuskers, the exhibition of the scared tooth relic is also believed to bring rains to the largely agrarian depended communities in the island. The pageant is a large crowd puller and a key tourist attraction in Sri Lanka.

On the other side of the Temple of the Tooth, is the Kandy Museum which showcases ruins and exquisite artifacts belonging to the Kandyan Kingdom. The Knuckles mountain range bordering the Kandy and the Matale districts is a paradise for adventure lovers who would like to hike or mountain bike the cloud robed striking landscape abundant with flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world.

Nuwara Eliya

Situated around 2000 meters above sea level, Nuwara Eliya is the little England of Sri Lanka. Nestled amid green misty hills and sprawling tea gardens that blanket rolling hills, the cool hill station is the ideal retreat to beat the tropical heat and the hustle and bustle of Colombo. Except for the months of December and January, Nuwara Eliya enjoys spring like weather much of the year which makes a visit refreshingly delightful.

As you take the picturesque drive up to the highlands, you will observe the dramatic transformation of the island’s landscape with steep mountains covered with luscious temperate woods intermingled with gushing streams and cascading waterfalls. Perfectly pruned velvet like tea gardens sit pretty in the valley fringed by montane forests and tall eucalyptus and pine trees as wind breakers. Tea pluckers draped in bright colour sarees break the monotonous green as they comb tea bushes in search of tender shoots that make the perfect cup of Ceylon Tea. Take a moment to watch their hands work so swiftly to pick the young leaves that go into your cup of tea.

Along the curvy climb to the Nuwara Eliya meet the vendors that showcase fresh vegetables neatly stacked on wooden racks and children with posies of Daisies from their home gardens. The Nuwara Eliya valley is overlooked by the mighty Pidurutalagala mountain, the tallest in Sri Lanka. The town has preserved much of its colonial architecture and English style lawns and gardens. Gregory Lake that draws thousands of visitors was first built in 1873 by the then British Governor Sir William Gregory. The banks of the lake come alive every April; the season for flowers, horse races, boat rides, carnivals and motor racing.

Nuwara Eliya’s mist shrouded locality is even more inviting than the town. Nearby Tea estates welcome visitors to tour their factories to learn more about tea production. Sri Lanka’s highest peak, Pidurutalagala is a short distance away and the breathtaking view at the top is worth the hike. An evening stroll through the rose beds of the Hakgala botanical gardens will be a tranquilizing treat but a must see destination around Nuwara Eliya is the cloud forests of Horton Plains situated at an altitude of around 2300 meters above sea level. The plateau is rich in bio diversity with species endemic to the region and icy cold streams and waterfalls.

Trincomalee

Key significance in Trincomalee is the fifth largest natural harbour in the world. In the ancient days Portuguese, Dutch, French and British fought for the mastery of the harbour and each one had the control of it for a certain period of time.

Trincomalee has loveliest and scenic beaches which are unspoilt and clean. Due to shallowness of the water where one could walk over hundred meters in to the see without water reaching the chest, it is famous for bathing. Whale watching is yet another activity where visitors do not miss generally.

Other places of interest in the area are the Koneswaram temple compound and hot water springs. There are seven springs where the water is warm and temperature in each spring is slightly different to the others. In addition there are few other sacred Hindu sites of historical importance where Buddhists too come to worship.