Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Biking in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka – A land like no other.
After a hectic research on places to visit for a 10 day vacation – we finally settled on Sri Lanka. The big fight we had was on Spain, USA or Bhutan. As I had already visited Spain – was not keen on to travel once again. USA was ruled out for the big hassle of the Visa formalities and Bhutan was very close to Patna – which can be done any time of the year.

Ready to go
We had booked our flights earlier to Sri Lanka and done preparations well in advance.
Reached Bangalore earlier so that we could have all our preparations done with last minute shopping, documents and ticket arrangements.

Day 1 – 27th Aug, 2011
Chennai>Colombo>Negombo (35 Kms)
Thanks to Ranveer – we spent a night at his house for an early morning flight. We left pretty early so that we could avoid the early morning traffic to the airport. And yes, we did not want to take any chances.
As the Chennai Airport was under renovation – making it big rather, we had problems getting in to the airport.
We checked in soon and stood in the queue,,,gosh – you have to see the queue at the airport. There was a long queue at the immigration counter – looked like a railway station. After standing for about 1.30 hrs –we finally got the clearance headed for departure.
The Spice Jet flight to Colombo was just a 1.15mnts flight. Soma was thrilled and she could not believe – her 1st over sees travel.

We reached Colombo on time by 1 PM. By gosh – we could sense the happiness on the arrival. Our first over sees travel – videsh yatra.
Our guide from Sha-Lanka tours was waiting for us. We soon hopped on to his – Toyota Hillux pick up truck for Negombo.
Negombo is 21 kms for the International airport. Most of the travelers use this place either to start or end their journey in Sri Lanka. Negombo is a small quiet harbor next to Colombo.

The Sha-Lanka guest house in Negombo was very good. Neat accommodation. As it was mid-day – it was pretty hot and humid.

We then decided to take a half day tour of Negombo. Took a tuk tuk – the Indian Bajaj Auto – to the city. Got all our money exchanged to Sri Lanka Rupee and headed back to our guest house. It cost us Rs.400 for the entire trip – pretty expensive to India standards – but as it was our 1st day – we did not have much idea on this.

I had an appointment with Suranga – the owner of Sha Lanka tours – where I rented the bike. With all the paper work done and bike formalities – we finally got our bike – the Honda Baja 250 cc.
All excited now for our bike trip to Lanka.
As we had to leave early, early dinner at the Serendib restaurant -Beer, beer, beer with sea food. Negombo at night is beautiful – the town rocks at night. With lots of pubs, eating joints and hotels – it is pleasant place to be in the evening.

Day 2 - 27th Aug, 2011
Negombo>Kurunegala>Dambulla (152 kms)
 We starting early morning as we wanted to avoid the city traffic and reach early to Dambulla – long day ride. As this was our 1st day - packing our bags to the bike was a daunting task. It reminds me of the Cramster saddle bags – so convenient to put on bikes – but as this was a mountain bike with less space to put for luggage – bungee cords were the only solution.

We soon set off at 10am so start our Bike adventure in Sri Lanka. Suranga had given directions to reach to Kurunegala and further to the highway.
Soma was wee bit uncomfortable sitting for a while, so we stopped in between. As she got more space now, had to rearrange the bag packs – we were soon on the highway. One of the mechanics was riding with us to Kurunegala. Someone’s bike broke down at Kurunegala,, so he accompanied us to the city. As this was my 1st day – I was more cautious to check on the incoming traffic. Once we touched the highway – I was on – belting the highway. I was tailing the mech. and doing good speed.
The country side is very beautiful – lush green landscape.
departure from Negombo
We bid farewell to the mechanic at Kurunegala and headed further for Dambulla. As I was wearing my Cramster touring jacket, I could feel the sweat inside. The temperatures during the day are pretty humid – 30 c. But if you do not stop while riding – you can get the fresh air.

By 1ish – we stopped for a good halt at Galewala. A small town – had some fresh drinks and bakery stuff. We did not want to have lunch – rather much lazy after that. Milo – vanilla milk drink – one of my favorites drink during the tour.

We reached Dambulla town by 2pm and checked for Hotels. Just next to the Golden Temple – there were a dozen of Hotels and Restaurants – we checked in further down the road for a neat accommodation. Cost SLR 1500.00 for a night. Unpacked soon, and headed once again for the city tour. Sigriya is 21 kms from Dambulla. We had a quick lunch in the city and headed for Sigriya.

The 21 km ride from Dambulla to Sigriya was really great – less traffic and superb roads. It was quite a wee bit of an ascent to the hills and the Honda did a fabulous job on the ghats.
The Sigriya Statue – the Buddhist statue was pretty tall. Once we were in the monastery – it seemed we were in a Buddha city. I wanted to rush as see the Sigriya Fort as I read a lot about this. It took us 2 kms to walk at the entrance of Sigirya fort. Bad luck, it was 5pm and we did not get entry.
Headed back to Dambulla as we decided, we will come the next day. As we had time in the evening, visited the Dambulla  Golden Temple. A big golden Buddha statue – it is a sacred place for Buddhists. There is Bodhi Tree – which had been brought from Bodh Gaya. A few photos and headed back to the hotel.

Dinner was not that great – we had at a local restaurant cum dhaba.

Day 3 - 28th Aug, 2011
Dambulla > Sigriya > Dambulla> Matale> Kandy (110 Kms)
The night was awful sleeping at the guest house – was accompanied by a dozen of mosquitoes – guess did not use the mosquito net at night.
In Kandy
We left for Sigriya by 7am for tour to Sigriya Fort. The ride once again was beautiful early in the morning. As we sped up to reach early, I could feel the chilly winds hitting my face. As the roads were pretty empty – and I did not stop even a bit on cruising at a high speed. Let me remind you – the speedometer was not functional – so I do not know what speed I was at – may be a 100.
We were the early birds to reach Sigirya fort. Parked and headed for the Fort Tour. The ticket cost was more than our 1day stay at Dambulla.
In Kandy
As the entire tour was for 2 hours – it was worth to take a guide. Our guide was helpful to explain all the details – the Lions Foot, Frescoes, Durbar Hall, Swimming Pool & bathing area.
Don’t miss Sigriya Fort if you are in Sri Lanka – one of the most spectacular forts in the world. I just cannot explain how we felt once we reached the top – after an arduous trek of 1 hour – 1200 steps to climb. The entire landscape was lush green. It was a magnificent 360 view from Sigriya. Far off – we could the cities – Polonnaruwa, Dambulla, Anuradhapura & Kandy. Infact, we could spot the Dambulla Golden Temple.
A quick descent to the base, hopped on once again and headed for Dambulla.

Pinnewala Elephant Orphange-Kegalla
We checked in early and left for Kandy. Once again – the roads were superb and good for riding. Dambulla to Kandy was an easy ride – breathtaking view and had a good experience on the ghats. As we got close to Kandy – the traffic got bigger.

We had to take help of the local cops – to get in to Kandy town. Asked a few auto wala’s – and checked in at – Hotel Amara near the Indian Embassy.
Wow – Hotel Amara was at a hill top and gave a good view of Kandy town.
Kandy town looked amazing – it looked like a fairy tale town – lush green, clean, quite and in between – a big lake.
Gregory Lake - Nuwara Eliya
Soma gave a good idea to leave the bike and did a city tour on a tuk tuk. We visited the Buddha Monastery – the view from the top was worth a visit. Later in the evening – we visited the Kandy Cultural Show – acrobats, various cultural dances etc.
Our tuk tuk wala took us to a muslim hotel for dinner – dinner was cold here. Once we finished dinner – we got to know – there was KFC round the corner,,,,shit – what a miss.

Day 4 - 28th Aug, 2011
Kandy > Pinnewala Elephant Camp > Gampola > Ramboda > Nuwara Eliya (145 Kms)
A long day ahead – visiting the Elephant Orphanage – ride back and head for the hills to Nuwara Eliya.
We left Kandy at 8:30am for Kegalla – the Elephant Orphanage. The traffic was crazy in the morning as it was a weekend and we were using the main road of the Kandy Colombo highway. There wasn’t a better road than this on the entire route we had done. Sexy roads and as neat as ever, superb climate – nothing better could I ask for in Lanka. We drove to Kegalla for 65 kms to get to the Elephant orphanage.
Pinnewala Elephant orphanage is just below the ghats of Kandy. A perfect place for the mighty monster to sit relax, have a dip in the water and binge. The camp was worth the detour we had taken as we were all excited to visit this place. I don’t have a count of how many Elephants were there,,,,we saw Elephants of ages – 1-4 months to the biggest – 67 years. By joe – he was huge – and getting near him – called for trouble. Many visitors preferred to watch to small one’s – and could feed a bottle of milk. As we had to leave for the hills – we left the camp soon and once again hit the highway.

The Cops caught us
sipping Ceylon Tea - Pedro Estate-Nuwara Eliya
I was speeding and jumped a zebra crossing – cops were just waiting for me. This happened after we left the Kegalla town. Don’t know what was the fine – but I communicated as if I did not know English – hindi, 1st time travel to Lanka, honey moon couple. I guess – not speaking in English did work- as there was a communication problem with the cops. They checked my driver’s license from India and Passports – we were lucky and the cops left us. Later, I came to know – you cannot over take on a zebra crossing.

We were supposed to take a detour from Peradeniya to Gampola but we missed it. So we had to go all the way back to Kandy – take the road for Gampola and then head further to Nuwara Eliya.

gettin ready for the rain ride - to Nuwara Eliya
As we headed towards the hills – the rains played a spoil sport. The afternoon showers – we had to stop for ¾ times en route to Nuwara Eliya. The showers were so severe – that you had to stop in between to take shelter or else – you could get wet. I was very slow here on the ghats while riding. It was slippery here. Once we reached Ramboda – we got clear skies.
Far off in the distance –we got a glimpse of Ramboda Falls. A few pictures and soon left for Nuwara Eliya.
Ramboda to Nuwara Eliya was a beautiful ride – ghats were good to ride with lovely tea gardens en route. I was doing a slow ride here as I could not get my eyes of the tea estates.
As we got closer to Nuwara Eliya town – it was getting cold and misty. Visibility was very poor. Soon, found loads of shops at the top. I knew – we were getting close to the town.
As we made a descent – clearing the mist – got our 1st view of Nuwara Eliya town.
Exactly as mentioned in the books – it was a “Little England”.
We saw a huge ground where we spotted a few horses, some cricketers and a huge lake.
Once were in town – we got information for hotels and checked in at a decent hotel on the avenue road.
The rooms were small here but cozy.
We had a quick lunch in the city and rode near the lake. We spend our evening in a quiet place near the lake – as it was gorgeous. One of the places to be in Lanka was in Nuwara Eliya. Cargills food store is the biggest mall in Nuwara Eliya. It didn’t look like a mall to me at all – thought was a historical place. As the sun set – we left from the main bazaar to the hotel – and bought some Arrack – desi liquor.  We had Sri Lankan dinner at the hotel – yummy food.

Day 5 - 29th Aug, 2011
Nuwara Eliya > Bandarewala > Ella   (75 kms)
We did not have time to visit the Horton’s plan, Baker’s field as we wanted to see the Tea factory – Pedro Estate.
The Pedro Estate was beautiful to visit. Got to taste yellow tea.
We bid farewell to Nuwara Eliya and road to Ella.
At the descent – the roads were not good – so we took an easy ride. Had breakfast by 10 at a local village. From Badulla – we had to take a deviation to Ella.
As we reached Badulla, we were near the plains and could get rid of our winter gear. Nuwara Eliya was very very cold. It was a good decision that we did not stay for 2 days. Reached Bandarewala by 12:30 and then to Ella. The route from Bandarewala to Ella is beautiful.

Ella is a small quiet town – many foreigners visit this place as it is close to Nuwara Eliya and bit warm. For others – it is a very important pilgrimage.
a detour in Ella - trying to test the Honda Baja
Ravana kept Sita captive here in the Ravana caves.
We found a very good guest house – Forest Paradise.
Their visiting card says – best place to love, rest and pray – really true.

Had a heavy Italian lunch and left for the Ravana caves. Visited the Raven temple and Ravana falls. I was more interested to see the caves where Sita was captive. Local fellas told – you had to trek for 40 mnts. to reach the caves. Well, we gave it a try as we did not find any visitors to this place – a bit spooky.
We finally reached sweating n all dirty – fell a few places and Soma was really scared. Once we were in the caves – pretty scary. Not even a single soul to be found. We were top of a mountain – but the cave was very deep – could not get to see the outside view or landscape. Guess – Ravana was smart to keep here. We soon left this place – an unbelievable moment.
We also visited the local railway station – small but sweet. There were only 2 train departures in a day from here.
We informed Nelly – the owner at Forest Paradise for Sri Lankan dinner.
Our Sri Lanka dinner was excellent. This time veg – as we were sick eating sea-food. We had steamed rice, curry n vegetables. Awesome food.
us at Forest Paradise - Ella


Bike Trip over
We had hired the bike only for 5 days – as we wanted to cover mainly the historical places and the hills. From Ella – we decided to hire a cab and make it a more relaxed trip further down to the beaches. As the distances were short – it was easy for us to take buses or auto rickshaws.
Well, what I really wanted – was to ride in Sri Lanka. And I did a recent ride for 520 kms.
It may not be much if you are reading this – but in Sri Lanka – it is a lot.
The distance from cities is very small. 

For Bikers
If you really wanna ride - Sri Lanka is the place to be. 
A small country where riding is safe and the destinations are not all far. For an Indian - getting accustomed to driving in Lanka is as driving in any city in India. 
As a hard core - Bullet wala - the Honda Baja 250cc rocks. The Japanese bike is superb at it's performance and gives good mileage. The discs and manoeuvrings of the bike is perfect. Sri Lanka does not permit any hire than the 250 cc's- unless you are really crazy to take your own bike.It will be good if you hire bikes at Negombo and pay them in advance. I have mentioned all the details i could for travelers and bikers with other details. 

Other important Details.
For Flights - http://www.spicejet.com

Booking Bikes - suranga007@yahoo.com, 0094 777 488746

Money exchange : Mayurie Jewelery
240 Main Street, Negombo, Sri Lanka
031 2226555

Forest Paradise Guest House
Telephone : 0094 572 228797