গত ডিসেম্বর মাসে দু সপ্তাহের জন্য ঘুরে এলাম দারুচিনির দ্বীপ, শ্রীলংকা। তখন সবে সবে লকডাউন উঠেছে, শ্রীলংকা সরকার এই তীব্র অর্থনৈতিক সংকটের মধ্যে পড়েনি। শীতের রাশিয়া থেকে পরিযায়ী মানুষগুলি ভারতের গোয়াতে তাদের চার্টার প্লেন নামাতে পারেনি, তাই রাস্তা বদল করে চলে এসেছে শ্রীলংকার দক্ষিণ উপকূলে। ইউরোপিয়ান বা আমেরিকানরা কিন্তু তখনও পূর্ব গোলার্ধে আসার সাহস সঞ্চয় করে উঠতে পারেনি।
কাজেই যে শ্রীলঙ্কার অপরূপ রূপ আমি দেখেছি, তার কৃতিত্ব বহুলাংশে যায় জনহীন ভ্রমণ স্থান গুলির জন্য।
অনেকেই জিজ্ঞেস করেছিল শ্রীলঙ্কা কেন যাচ্ছো? সত্যি বলতে কি, আমারও ধারণা ছিল পাসপোর্টে একটি অতিরিক্ত দেশের স্টাম্প ছাড়া শ্রীলঙ্কা ভ্রমণ আমাকে বিশেষভাবে সমৃদ্ধ করে উঠতে পারবে না।
কিন্তু আমি ভুল ছিলাম। এই ভারত মহাসাগরের মুক্তাটি শুধু যে অপরূপ প্রকৃতির সাথে আমাকে পরিচয় করিয়েছে তা নয়, তার দিয়েছে কিছু সুন্দর মানুষের বন্ধুত্ব। তা না হলে তো, সমুদ্র দেখার জন্য আমাদের গোয়া আছেই, আর চা বাগান দেখতে হলে দার্জিলিং বা মুন্নার।
আমাদের যাত্রা পথটি এরকম ছিল: কলম্বো- ক্যান্ডি- নুয়ারা এলিয়া- এল্লা- মিরিস্যা – উনায়টুনা – গল্লে – কলম্বো
ব্যাঙ্গালোর থেকে ইন্ডিগো এয়ারলাইন্স ধরে তিন ঘন্টা উড়ে পৌঁছে গেলাম কলম্বো এয়ারপোর্ট।
কলম্বো ফোর্ট এরিয়াতে একটি হোটেলে রাত্রিযাপন করে,
পরের দিন পেটটা ( Pettah) বাজারে গিয়ে খুঁজে খুঁজে বার করলাম ময়ুরা হোটেল, সে আসলে আমাদের স্বাধীন ভারত হিন্দু হোটেলের সিংহলি ভাই।
ঐ হোটেলে যাই খেতে দেয় একটু খুঁজলেই পাওয়া যায় ছোট ছোট মাছ। ডাল বলুন, একটা ঘ্যাট বলুন আর যাই বলুন। তবে হ্যাঁ অমলেট টা শুধু ডিম দিয়ে বানানো ছিল। ?
কলম্বোতে ইচ্ছে করলে বেশ কিছু বৌদ্ধ মন্দির এবং মূরদের বানানো লাল সাদা মসজিদ দেখে বিকেলবেলাটা কাটাতে পারেন galle face বীচের কাছে। আর তা না হলে বাজার ঘুরে দেখুন, ব্রিটিশদের বানানো প্রচুর পুরনো বাড়ি। আমাদের কলকাতার সাথে অনেক মিল পাবেন।
পরের দিন চলে এলাম কলম্বো থেকে ক্যান্ডি। এখানে উবার চলে না, চলে পিক মি নামে একটি অ্যাপ। হোটেলকে বলেও গাড়ির ব্যবস্থা করতে পারেন। রাস্তাঘাটে উল্টোপাল্টা জায়গায় হাতি দেখতে চলে যাবেন না যেন। হাতিদের দেশে গিয়ে পায়ের শিকল বাধা হাতি দেখে কি লাভ বলুন? ক্যান্ডিতে যদি তিন থেকে চার দিন কাটান, তাহলে আরামসে শ্রীলঙ্কার সংস্কৃতিক রাজধানী ঘুরে ফেলতে পারবেন। সেখানে আছে অনুরাধাপুরা নগরীর ধ্বংসাবশেষ, বিখ্যাত সিগিরিয়া পাথর, আর ক্যান্ডি শহর যেখানে এখনো ভগবান বুদ্ধের একটি দাঁত সংরক্ষিত আছে।
ভগবান বুদ্ধের দাঁত শ্রীলংকার মানুষজন সব সময় রাজা সিংহাসনের পাশেই রেখেছেন, অন্তত যতদিন পর্যন্ত না শ্রীলঙ্কাকে একটি গণপ্রজাতন্ত্রী দেশ হিসেবে মান্যতা দেওয়া হয়েছে। শ্রীলঙ্কার শেষ রাজা রাজত্ব করে গেছেন ক্যান্ডিতে। তাই এখানেই চিরস্থায়ী ভাবে ওই দাঁতটিকে একটি মন্দিরে প্রতিস্থাপিত করা হয়েছে। অবশ্যই যাবেন সন্ধ্যেবেলায় যখন স্থানীয় মানুষ দুন্দুভী এবং সানাই বাজিয়ে ওই দাঁতটিকে সর্বসাধারণের পূজার জন্য বাইরে নিয়ে আসে। কথিত আছে চিতা থেকে উদ্ধার করে ওই দাঁতটিকে নিয়ে যাওয়া হয়েছিল শ্রীলংকাতে। মন্দিরের গায়ে বিভিন্ন রকমের মুরাল আঁকা তাতে দেখানো হয়েছে কিভাবে বৌদ্ধ ধর্মাবলম্বীদের ভারতের মূল ভূখণ্ড থেকে আদিকালে পারসিকিউট করা হয়েছিল।
আমি ক্যান্ডিতে একদিন থেকেই চলে এসেছিলাম নুয়ারা এলিয়া। আপনি চাইলে আরো কিছুদিন থেকে সিগিরিয়াতে হাজারটা সিঁড়ি চড়ে লায়েন্স রক হাইক করে আসতে পারেন।
এবার আসি শ্রীলংকার ট্রেন জার্নি র গল্পতে। ব্লগের সূত্রে একজন আমার পরিচয় হয়েছিল শশিকলার সাথে। সে এক সিংহলি মেয়ে, বিয়ে করেছে উত্তর শ্রীলংকার একটি তামিল ছেলেকে যে জীবনের বেশিরভাগটাই কাটিয়েছে তামিলনাড়ুতে পড়াশোনা করার সুবাদে আর কিছুদিন সৌদি আরবে কারণ তার বাবা গাল্ফে চাকরি করতেন। শশীকলা আমাকে ভালোবেসে শ্রীলঙ্কার ট্রেনের টিকেট কেটে দিয়েছিল। আমি চেষ্টা করেছিলাম ভারত থেকে টিকিট কাটার কিন্তু হয়নি। তবে শুনেছি অনেক এজেন্ট আছে যারা আপনাকে সাহায্য করতে পারে। তাছাড়া লকডাউনের পরে ওই দেশে বিভিন্ন রকমের রুল চেঞ্জ হচ্ছে।
আপনি কিন্তু অবশ্যই প্রথম শ্রেণীর টিকিট কাটবেন। দ্বিতীয় শ্রেণীতে ভিড় অনেক বেশি হয় অনেক সময় দাঁড়িয়ে দাঁড়িয়ে যেতে হয়, ব্যাগ রাখার জায়গা পাওয়া যায় না। হয়তো জানালা দিয়ে মুখ বাড়িয়ে আপনি ছবি তুলতে পারবেন না ট্রেন থেকে। সে আমার মনে হয় না ভারতীয়দের শ্রীলঙ্কা গিয়ে ট্রেনে ছবি তোলার দরকার আছে।
আমরা যে ট্রেনটিতে চড়েছিলাম সেটি জন্মসূত্রে চীনা। ছোট্ট একটি ট্রেন, পরিষ্কার এবং নতুন, একদম ভ্রমণ পিপাসুদের জন্যই বানানো। আসলে কিন্তু শ্রীলংকার রেললাইন বানিয়েছিল ব্রিটিশরা। এই ব্রিটিশগুলি সব জায়গাতে গিয়ে চা বাগান করে আর ট্রেন বানায় আমি মরিশাসে ও দেখেছি। উদ্দেশ্য আর কিছু না ট্রেনে করে চা-পাতা গুলিকে কলম্বো জাহাজ বন্দরে আনা, তারপর সেখান থেকে পশ্চিমা দেশগুলিতে জমিয়ে ব্যবসা। ডিলমা, লিপটন, এ ধরনের বিখ্যাত নাম আমরা বাঙালিরা শুনেই বড় হয়েছি এগুলি সব শ্রীলংকার চা। তবে সত্যি কথা বলতে কি আমার তেমন ভালো লাগেনি, মানে আমাদের দার্জিলিংয়ের গোল্ডেন টিপস এর ধারে কাছে নয়।
তবে হ্যাঁ শ্রীলংকা গিয়ে একটা জিনিস না কিনে ফিরবেন না সেটি হল কাঠের তৈরি মুখোশ। খুব উজ্জ্বল রং দিয়ে তৈরি এমন একটি মুখোশ আমি কিনেছিলাম, তারপর সে ব্যাঙ্গালোর হয়ে কলকাতা হয়ে আপাতত আমায় নিউইয়র্কে বাড়িতে শোভা পাচ্ছে। আই লাভ ইট। লাকসালা ওয়ার্কশপ যেটি শ্রীলঙ্কা গভরমেন্ট দ্বারা পরিচালিত সেখানে গিয়ে আপনি এটা কিনতে পারেন আর না হলে যে কোন সমুদ্র উপকূলবর্তী শহরে পেয়ে যাবেন ভারতীয় মুদ্রায় ৫০০ কাছাকাছি দাম হয়, যত বড় রূপ নেবেন তত দাম বেশি।
নুয়ারা এলিয়ার আরেকটি নাম হল প্রথম আলো। স্থানীয় মানুষদের খুব প্রিয় একটি জায়গা। বলা হয় এখানকার হাকগালা উদ্যানটি আসলে রামায়ণের অশোক বন। প্রায় ১৩০০ টাকা ভারতীয় মুদ্রা দিয়ে আমরা এই বাগানে ঢুকে একদম উপর অব্দি চড়েছিলাম। সত্যিই যদি এই জায়গাটি অশোকবন হয়ে থাকে খুব একটা আশ্চর্য হব না। পাশে একটি সীতামাতা মন্দিরও আছে, খুব পুরনো কিছু কালো পাথরের ঠাকুরের মূর্তি রাখা। স্থানীয় মানুষদের কাছে নুয়ারা এলিয়া একটি ছোট ইউরোপিয়ান শহরের শ্রীলঙ্কান প্রতিমূর্তি। ব্রিটিশ রাই চা চাষ করার পর কলম্বোর অসহ্য গরমে অতিষ্ঠ হয়ে নুয়ারা এরিয়ার পাহাড়ে উঠে একটি ছোট শহর তৈরি করেছিল। গলফ কোর্স, চাবাগান, ডেয়ারী ফার্ম, এই নিয়ে এখনো রয়েছে নুয়ারা এলিয়া।
আমরা দুদিন কাটিয়েছিলাম এইখানে। আপনি চাইলে সরাসরি এলা চলে যেতে পারেন। বলা হয় একটি সুন্দর রোদ ঝলমলে দিনে এলার আদম পাহাড় থেকে প্রায় ৭০ কিলোমিটার দূরে কলম্বো আরামসে দেখা যায়। তবে হ্যাঁ আমার এলা অসাধারণ লেগেছিল যদিও আমি কোনো রকম পাহাড় চড়ার কসরত করতে যায়নি। তার একটা বড় কারণ এলাতে আমরা একটি হোটেলে ছিলাম তার নাম দা ভিউ। মোটামুটি কুড়ি কেজি ব্যাগ টেনে টেনে আমাদের ভিউ অব্দি হেঁটে চড়তে হয়েছিল যেটা একপ্রকার হাইক ই বলা যেতে পারে। চা বাগানের মধ্য দিয়ে দু কিলোমিটার হাটা। এলার নাইট লাইফ বেশ ভালো। এখান থেকে রাত্রিবেলাতে আপনারা অ্যাস্ট্রো ফটোগ্রাফিও করতে পারেন। আকাশ একদম পরিষ্কার থাকে। মনোরম আবহাওয়া। একটা হালকা চাদর দিয়ে রাখবেন এলাতে। আর এখানে এসে স্টীক নো বিল নামে একটি দোকানে গিয়ে ফ্রিজ ম্যাগনেট কিনতে ভুলবেন না কিন্তু।
এলা ক্রস করে আপনি একটা দিন চলে যেতে পারেন ইয়ালা ন্যাশনাল পার্ক যেখানে প্রচুর লেপার্ড দেখতে পাওয়া যায় আর হাতি তো বটেই। আর না হলে উদাওয়ালা পার্ক ও দেখতে পারেন, যেখানে বন্য ছোট হাতি গুলিকে ট্রানজিট ক্যাম্পে আনা হয়। এরা হয়তো শিকারীর হাতে বাবা মাকে হারিয়েছে বা দল থেকে বিচ্যুত হয়ে গেছে। চেষ্টা করা হয় এদেরকে আবার জঙ্গলে ফিরিয়ে দেওয়ার। সব থেকে এথিক্যাল ভাবে এখানেই হাতি দেখা যায়।
আমরা অবশ্য একটা গাড়ি ভাড়া করে প্রায় চার হাজার টাকা ভারতীয় মুদ্রায় পাঁচ ঘন্টা ট্রাভেল করে সোজা
চলে এসেছিলাম মিরিস্যা বিচ। এখানেই আমরা নতুন বছরকে আপ্যায়ন করেছিলাম। সত্যি কথা বলতে কি মিরিস্যা বীচ আমার অসাধারণ লেগেছে। তখনো সমস্ত জায়গা ভালোভাবে খোলেনি তবে আপনি যদি আর কোথাও না গিয়ে শুধু মিরিসা বিচে দু তিনটে দিন কাটাতে চান আরামসে করতে পারবেন। গোয়ার মতনই এখানে স্কুটি ভাড়া পাওয়া যায়। আর পেট্রোল তো আমি দেখেছি বোতলেও বিক্রি করে মুদির দোকান মত জায়গাতে। সে নিয়ে আশেপাশে মেগম্ব মা তারা লাইট হাউস বিভিন্ন জায়গা ঘুরে আসতে পারেন। একদিন পুরোটা কাটাবেন সিক্রেট বীচ নামে একটি জায়গাতে। সেও একটি ছোট পাহাড় পেরিয়ে নামতে হয়। পাহাড়ের গায়ে একটি ছোট্ট গ্রাম। পাঁচটি ঘরের বেশি জায়গা নেই। কি অসাধারণ প্রকৃতির শোভা এখানে।
সিক্রেট বিচে একটি খাওয়ার জায়গা আছে। যেখানে তাজা মাছ ভেজে দেয় আর বিয়ার পাওয়া যায়।
একদিন যদি একটু ভালো ডিনার করতে চান তাহলে অবশ্যই চলে যাবেন ডাচম্যান স্ট্রিট নামে রেস্টুরেন্টে।
ঐ বিচে আমরা চারদিন কাটিয়ে এগিয়ে গিয়েছিলাম উন্নায়াটুনা নামে একটি বিচের দিকে। এইখানে আড়ালিয়া রিসোর্ট অত্যন্ত সুন্দর থাকা জায়গা। যদি চান তাহলে কিছু হলিডে হোম টাইপের বাড়ি ও ভাড়া নিতে পারেন। মিরিস্যা্র থেকে এইটি ছোট, কিন্তু এখানে অনেক বেশি টুরিস্ট অ্যাক্টিভিটি করা যায়। অবশ্যই যাবেন এখান থেকে গলে ফোর্ট দেখতে। প্রচুর পুরনো ডাচ বাড়িঘর কনভার্ট করে এখন মিউজিয়াম বা হোটেল বানানো হয়েছে। রয়েছে প্রচুর সুন্দর দোকান। পুরনো কিছু গির্জা একটি মসজিদ। এখান থেকে আমরা ফিরে এসেছিলাম কলম্বো।
শেষের দিনটা রেখেছিলাম বিখ্যাত মিনিস্ট্রি অফ ক্র্যাবে গিয়ে কাকড়া খাওয়ার জন্য। সত্যি কথা বলতে কি, দাম অত্যন্ত বেশি কিন্তু এত ভালো কাঁকড়া এর আগে বা পরে অন্য কোথাও খাইনি।। আমি বলব শপিং না করে বা অন্য কিছু জায়গায় বাজেট কাটছাঁট করে, একবার ঢুকেই দেখুন। আমি তো সাত মাস পরেও সেই সন্ধ্যেটা ভুলে উঠতে পারিনি।
শ্রীলঙ্কায় অনেক বেশি লাক্সারি এক্সপেরিয়েন্স হবে না। ব্যাকপ্যাকিং এবং বাজেট ট্রাভেলিংয়ের জন্য একদম আদর্শ জায়গা। তেলের দাম বাড়ার সাথে সাথে সব কিছুরই দাম একটু ঊর্ধ্বগামী। কিন্তু তাও যদি আপনি ট্রেনে যাতায়াত করেন আর হোস্টেলে থাকেন, তাহলে দু সপ্তাহ শ্রীলংকা ঘুরতে আপনার 30 থেকে 40 হাজার ভারতীয় মুদ্রা খরচা হবে। যদি একটু স্বাচ্ছন্দ আশা করেন, এক লাখের মধ্যে শ্রীলংকা খুব সুন্দরভাবে হয়ে যাবে দুজনের জন্য। হাতে অন্তত দশটা দিন সময় রাখবেন না হলে কিন্তু শুধু সমুদ্র ঘুরেই চলে আসতে হবে।
About this blog: We spend the end of December 21 in Sri Lanka for two weeks, traveling from Colombo to down south, exploring the island’s culture, tea plantation, central highlands and ethereal beaches by the Indian ocean. I hope this itinerary helps you chalk out your customized plan to explore Sri Lanka. In case you need more help, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would love to plan a Sri Lanka itinerary specifically for you.
How to spend two weeks in Sri Lanka in a nutshell:
Colombo (1 night) – Kandy and Sigiriya rock (2 nights) – Nuwara Eliya (2 nights) – Ella (2 night) – Yala national Park (1 nights) – Mirissa (2 nights) – Unawatuna with Galle day trip (3 nights) – Colombo / Negombo for last night (1 night)
Everyone told me Sri Lanka looks and feels a lot like the southern peninsula of India. Why Sri Lanka, they asked. I could talk about the beaches, curries enriched with fresh coconut cream, rolling hills studded with tea plantation, a tired locomotive traversing those hills, leopards and elephants roaming free in the natural reserves. All of these that glisten on the travel magazines covers and make an effort to gleefully hide the past of a traumatic civil war. Ironically, it is not a Pakistani but a Sri Lankan suicide bomber’s headless skeleton published on the front page of newspaper in early 90s that first inflicted the sheer sense of gore and violence in my childhood days. 9/11 happened when I was 11.
However, we chose to fly to Sri Lanka from Bangalore in last December because the country was open for Indian tourists with easy visa rules (ETA, more on that in later section of the blog), had easy quarantine policy, was not going through any economic/health crisis and was ready to accept Indian tourists with a negative RTPCR report.
Sri Lanka looked beautiful from the sky.
Our plan for two weeks of Sri Lanka travel looked like exploring Colombo, followed by a quick stop at Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Ella. We then proceeded to the beaches of the Southern coast of Sri Lanka, Mirissa and Unawatuna. We made a quick stop at Galle and wished to have come back later as Galle looked lifeless. On the way back to Bangalore, we spent a night in Colombo. I remember the night vividly since we had the fortune of sitting and dining at the marvellous ministry of crabs!
This is a pretty standard Sri Lanka itinerary for two weeks with ample rest days since our main focus was to chill, although we ended up moving every 2 or 3 days. You can go faster and experience more. You can decide to slow down and spend the whole two weeks just exploring the beaches of Sri Lanka. Many Russians who would have otherwise spent the December months in Goa had resorted to Sri Lanka and all they did was just to chill by the beach!
However, there are ample tourist activities to do in Sri Lanka and 2 weeks is a decent time to tap into the pulse of this ancient island country.
Unlike other capital cities of Asian countries, Colombo is neither a fast paced city nor offers a plethora of activities for tourists.
Yet, Colombo will charm you with her sobriety and kindness. You have to start your Sri Lanka journey from Colombo as it is the entry to the island nation for all incoming flights.
Essentially a port city, Colombo retains both historic relics and Dutch and British colonist history that were instrumental in the make of the city. With a little help from the massive colonial buildings of Fort Area as well as the olden market of Pettah where numerous small eateries serve the best of local food; Colombo paints an eclectic character which I am afraid you will find nowhere else as you venture into the Sri Lankan hinterlands.
We stayed at the Fort area and explored the beach front and Pettah for dinner and lunch respectively.
The Fort area of Colombo was a tourist hub with plenty of old school pubs and bars. Auto and taxy ply everywhere to cover short distances. If you can do the bus, you can do magic in a few bucks but language could be a challenge.
English is spoken and understood well not just in Colombo but Sri Lanka.
Please do not leave Colombo without having a hearty meal at the Ministry of Crabs. This amazing restaurant specializes in Sri Lankan lagoon crabs that can weigh up to 2 kg. The Ministry of Crab is owned by the famous cricket Jayawardene and Sangakkara, both sensations in the cricket fraternity of the subcontinent. Revenue from the restaurant proceeds for charity.
While walking on the streets of Colombo, quite a few people will approach you with a typical “Hey you look beautiful!” and further try to sell jewels. Politely decline and walk away.
It is impossible to visit Colombo and turn a blind eye to the thriving Chinese progress. First came the Chinese banks. Now the Dragon is busy building a port island from the scratch right next to Colombo. We saw towering cranes busy at work at the sea port behind yellow shutter. All the toll roads in Sri Lanka are built by the Chinese. It will be interesting to witness how politics unfold in the area in the coming years.
Fun fact, Colombo is the financial and commercial capital of Sri Lanka while administrative capital is Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, not more than 15 minutes drive from Colombo Fort area.
Colombo is a lot like Shidhol-Shutki of Bengali cuisine, a dry fish preparation which definitely is an acquired taste, slowly growing on a new entrant to the country.
Ideally you will spend a couple of days in Colombo at best. Most of the places I am listing down will appear on your way as you move from one part of the city to other.
Explore the Pettah neighborhood: a street photographer’s delight
Explore the Pettah Floating Market on the waterfront which is slowly coming back to life after the lockdown
Explore the old Red Mosque, Jami-Ul-Afar with distinct red and white stripes that used to attract sailor in yesteryears to approach the port of Ceylon.
Built in eighteenth century by the Dutch, Wolvendaal Church is the oldest protestant church in Sri Lanka.
At Pettah, multi ethnic group of people live who belong to Tamil, Sinhalese, Islam, Moor, Hindu, Christian, Buddhist ancestry. It is a melting pot of different culture and showcases a colorful character. One look at the clock towers, city gates, central bus station and you know the electric fun that shapes Pettah!
The Colombo Dutch Museum is a small museum building which served as a post office, an orphanage, a hospital and British barrack in the course of time when the Europeans ruled Sri Lanka.
The old Dutch Town hall puts forth a mix of Kandyan and Dutch artefacts. Pettah clocktower was set up by Governor Henry ward in 1857.
The grandoise colonial architecture is found in bounty around Chatham Street and York Street. You can not miss the stunner of a red Cargill store.
The Lotus Tower
One of the tallest towers in Asia, the Lotus Tower costed a little over million dollars. You can go up to the top for sweeping view of Colombo city and beyond and the sea at a horizon. Lotus Tower of Colombo can be viewed from a distance, while riding a tuktuk to explore Colombo and Galle Face as well.
The National Museum
If the heat becomes unbearable in Colombo, find a refuge for a day exploring the National Museum of Sri Lanka, the oldest and largest museum of the country. The museum is a great place to understand cultural roots of Sri Lankan culture and the way politics developed in the country. There are golden thrones, countless Buddha statues, old arms etc.
Galle Face Green
If you are heavily jet lagged and want to spend a pleasant evening by the sea, head straight for the Galle Face Promenade, a picturesque urban park. It is beautiful to watch local people come to the beach with family, kind of remind you of the famed Marina beach of Chennai. Plenty of sea food stalls and ice cream carts jostle for space during sundown at Galle Face Green as that is the peak time. You may go here for an early morning run as well.
Mount Lavinia Beach
If you want to watch the sun going down in Sri Lanka from an upscale sea side restaurant, drive for 20 minutes and head to Mount Lavinia beach where all the resorts are. Weekends are particularly busy at this beach is is cleaner than other beaches in Colombo.
Explore the Colonial Buildings of Colombo
Rows of European styled buildings passed by as we made our way from Colombo Fort to Pettah in a tuktuk. They will remind you of the old cities of Kolkata and Yangon. I found a number of Cargill offices, an SBI office, Ghaffoor, Grand Orient Hotel, remnants of old business houses of Sri Lanka. The Old Parliament building is quite the site too!
Fill yourself up with local street food in Colombo
In my short stint in Colombo, I stuffed my mouth with egg hoppers and dosai and kottu. the curries have an all engulfing aroma of coconut, you have been warned!
At the heart of Colombo sits a scenic large waterbody also known as the Beira lake. It is free to enter and a decent place for a scenic view of Colombo city and a floating temple of Seema Malakaya. Close to this stands an extremely ornate Hindu temple named, Sri Kaliawasanathar Swami Devasthanam Temple.
Gangaramaya temple (6 am to 10 pm)
One of the oldest Buddhist temple of the country that is instrumental to maintain peace and harmony in the society. Relics and Buddhist statues like vintage cameras, enormous taxidermied elephants, model dinosaurs, stamps, watches and even swords from around the country has been collected and showcased here. Entry fee to the museum is USD 2. Some claim a hair from Buddha himself is protected in the temple. Do not miss gangaramaya temple during the annual Navam Perahera festival in Colombo.
If you decide to take it slow and spend a day relaxing in Colombo, you can also choose to spend a few hours at a spa pampering yourself with local massage. New age artists in Colombo are exhibiting their work at many modern galleries where you are likely to find a few quaint cafes in close vicinity as well. Check out Gallery four life, isle of Artisans, Ganesham Art Gallery. Wall art street is an interesting place to explore.
Old Dutch Hospital
One of the oldest building structure in Fort area of Colombo which has now been converted into an upscale dining and shopping complex for tourists.
If Colombo does not impress you much, on the way back you may choose to stay at Negombo, another beach town located at 20 minutes riding distance from Colombo international airport. Apart from Negombo church, check out the fish market, mangrove at Muthurajawela marshland, Saint Mary’s church, and the beautiful lagoon that supplies Sri Lankan lagoon crabs world over!
Colombo was a port city by the Portuguese. It was built in 1517 by the Portuguese and then ruled by the Dutch and the British in the course of time.
Hotels in Colombo:
I loved the fort area in Colombo and stayed at Fairway Hotel. It was clean, budget friendly and centrally located. However, there was no view from the room. They let us check out at 2 pm on the day we started for Kandy. On the way back we stayed at the Steuart and they actually allotted a suite to us on the top floor which was pretty awesome!
It is wise to leave Colombo as soon as possible to experience the best of Sri Lanka tour. We flew to Colombo from Bangalore and it took us less than 3 hours with complete immigration however in case you are jet lagged, please count a day to adjust with the schedule and then proceed further.
Where to see elephants in Sri Lanka
While researching for the elephant sanctuaries, we found the Pinnawala elephant orphanage camp is a place where elephants are kept in shackles in the name of a sanctuary. We made a conscious decision to avoid stopping there on the way to Kandy.
However, if you are planning to see elephants in Sri Lanka in their natural habitat, and you must because the country is famous for thousands of Asian elephants, the gigantic and beautiful creatures, please visit Habarana.
Habarana is a 5 hours drive from Colombo. Here are three main parks in the area, Minneriya tank (built 1800 years ago to supply water during draught of dry season), Kaudulla and Wasgamuwa. Weekends can be particularly busy with domestic tourists and a number of cars so I recommend you keep the safari experience for a weekday. You might be pleasantly surprised to witness a gathering where hundreds of elephants come together. And the best part is, you witness these majestic animals in their best element at a natural habitat. Apart from elephants, you may also spot a few more animals here, namely deer, langurs, water buffaloes etc.
From Habarana, I recommend make a base at Sigiriya for a couple of nights and explore the best of Cultural triangle. You may also visit Kandy if you decide to skip Anuradhapura, the ancient capital which is best explored in soothing summer breeze from April to September.
Wildlife safari price starts from 3500 LKR.
Did you know: Sri lanka has 22 national parks and reserves scattered through the island.
Many travel to Sri Lanka with a motivation to see the elephants and the country has thousands of them!
Explore the cultural triangle of Sri Lanka: Kandy, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura
Kandy, one of the oldest cities of Sri Lanka is often known as the Cultural capital of Sri Lanka. We stopped in Kandy for a night and proceeded towards the central hills of Nuwara Eliya.
However, From Kandy, you can easily explore the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Count 3 days to experience the best of Sigiriya, Habarana, Anuradhapura and Pollonaruwa which was originally known as Rajarata (Land of Kings). 5 Out of 8 UNESCO world heritage sites of Sri Lanka are located in this region hence you can understand the cultural importance of the place!
If pressed for time, allow Kandy a couple of days and hike the profound Lion’s Rock of Sigiriya on the very first day.
Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka: Ancient Sinhalese Kingdom from Anuradhapura, the ruins of the capital of Polonnaruwa and the cave temples of Dambulla. Choose to travel during the rainy months to face the dry heat that leaves these places lifeless during dry months. If you plan to explore the complete Cultural Triangle, please assign at least 3 days. If you have enjoyed places like Bagan in Myanmar or Luxor in Egypt, you would love Anuradhapura and the ancient ruins surrounding it.
Make a base at Sigiriya for a night if you just want to visit the Lion’s Rock. Extend you stay if you want to ho further into the temple towns of Anuradhapura.
Hike the Lions Rock
Locals revere the rock citadel of Sigiriya as the 8th wonder of the world. There are more than 1200 steps that you need to climb to get onto the top of Lion’s rock. It might be intimidating at the thought of climbing this towering ancient rock however the views from the top are ethereal.
Sigiriya rock is best climbed at the start of the day to avoid scorching heat. Take some water along. Entry fee to the Sigiriya rock is USD 25. With history dating back to 1500 years, the Sigiriya Rock is about 200 meter tall, features a steep ascent to the top, features ruins of tanks, gardens, palace and mural painting, a museum, accepts visitors from 7 am to 5 pm.
At the feet of Sigiriya rock, you will find traces of landscaped gardens, moats, markets, remnants of a kingdom that king Kassapa had built to sustain a prolonged seize. A museum stands too that educated visitors on the history of the rock. Before turning into a citadel, Sigiriya rock caves at the feet had served as monastery dating back to 1st century BC.
Pidurangala Sunrise View Point
If you are staying at Sigiriya for the night, try to catch the sunrise from Pidurangala Sunrise view point with the Lion’s Rock looming large at a distance (emerging Instagram fav spot). It is a hardened magma plug from an extinct volcano! When the monks of Sigiriya palace were driven out as King Kassapa was building the citadel, they were reassign to the temple of Pidurangala rock. View during sunrise from Pidurangala rock is compelling. It is an easy 20 minutes hike from the base on a dust trail.
At Sigiriya, you may book an experimental tree house stay at the Inn on the Tree Eco Resort.
While visiting the Buddhist temples of Sri Lanka, please ensure you have covered from your shoulders to knee out of respect for the locals. Never touch a monk.
Drone shot of Sigiriya Rock. I was told you need to procure permission from the government to fly or enter the country with a drone in Sri Lanka otherwise immigration will confiscate it. However, I had seen a few travelers flying it without a worry about the world.
Dambula Cave temple
From Sigiriya to Dambulla, it takes 20 minutes by a bus. Regular buses ply between both the points.
The historic cave temples of Dambulla date back to the first century BC. The Buddhist monks intended to carve out the caves to establish a monastery. Caves are elaborately painted illustrating the advent of Buddhism in the island through murals. 5 different caves hold 157 Buddhist statues in sitting or standing position in Dambulla. From the top you can have a panoramic view of the valley and Sigiriya fortress at a distance!
The Dambulla cave temples are filled with Buddhist paraphernalia and intricate murals depicting Sinhalese life dating back to the era of Vattagamini Abhaya (89-77BC). Tamil invaders drew him out of the capital city of Anuradhapura into a prolonged 14 years exile. He hid in the caves of Dambulla and upon reclaiming his kingdom, he assigned these caves to be transformed into timeless temples. The second cave lined with a number of Buddha idols is known as the Temple of the Kings.
You may hike the Sigiriya rock in the morning and proceed for Dambulla cave temple in the evening. Plan for a sunset watch from Dambulla although it will be a bit crowded. There are close to 400 stairs to access the temple. Hats are not allowed. Please carry changes to be paid for keeping your shoes.
Ancient Capital of Anuradhapura
A UNESCO heritage site, Anuradhapura is considered to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. This is where Emperor Asoka’s daughter Sanghamitta visited and planted a tree, offspring of which is living till date. The ruins, stupas, tanks, caves, mural paintings all testify to a prolific era of cultural evolution from days bygone, from 300 BC.
If you are a history buff, you can spend 3 days just exploring Anuradhapura but chances are you will be templed out soon. A half day’s guided tour is enough to introduce you to the best attractions of Anuradhapura.
By a bus, it takes 2 hours to reach the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Rent a bicycle for the day and explore the ancient ruins. Tuktuk and walking are other options. Think of Polonnaruwa to be a lot like ruins of Hampi. Visit Dalada Maluwa where the relic of Bhagaban Buddha’s tooth was kept before being shifted to Kandy. Further explore the ruined citadel, royal palace, the 4th century statue of Buddha erected at Lankatilaka, Gal Bihara and many more countless statues.
Hydrate yourself regularly while exploring the ancient city. Look up and you shall find many treehouses where locals keep an eye for the elephants approaching from the adjacent national parks.
From Sigiriya, you can also go hike the Knuckle mountain range, a lesser known destination in Sri Lanka.
Kandy: Entry to Sri Lanka’s Heartland
Temple of Tooth Relic
We visited the tooth relic temple of Kandy by dusk. A stunning sunset painted the lake livid. It can take a couple of hours to navigate all the sanctums and halls of the temple of Tooth relic and the adjacent palace. It illustrates the story of Buddhists being persecuted in ancient India and how they finally sought refuge in Sri Lanka and settled here.
For me, the most beautiful part of exploring the temple of tooth relic was to fill my lungs with the aroma of butter lamps. They have built small sections right next to the main temple where hundreds of devotees light lamps on a daily basis. In all my previous experiences of Buddhist temples, I had experienced similar sense of calm at the high mountain monasteries of Ladakh and Tawang.
Temple of Tooth is of immense political significance to the locals of Kandy, once the sprawling Singhalese capital. Every evening the Buddha’s tooth relic is brought out for the devotees for daily darshan preceded by a magnificent ceremony with drums and flute. Please visit the temple of tooth relic only in the evening to witness this grand ceremony.
Festival of Tooth in Kandy
In July/ August every year, there is a Festival of Tooth in Kandy where the relic is brought out of the temple preceded by a large chaperon of priests, monks, elephants, musicians. The festival lasts for 10 days.
Legends has it that the tooth was retrieved directly from the pyre of Buddha’s funeral. In 4th century BC, it arrived Sri Lanka. It has moved as the Singhalese capital has shifted over the millennia, from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa, finally arriving at Kandy. Beside the Royal palace, it finally was fortified within the temple encased with layers of steel casings.
On the way back we stopped for dinner at one of the oldest restaurants of Kandy names Royal bar and Hotel. It had a hotel attached which I strongly recommend for a classic stay.
Next to the temple, there is a thriving market in Kandy which mostly caters to locals with fruits and vegetables.
Raja Tusker Museum in Kandy is worth a visit. This Museum is standing in memory of a temple elephant named raja. For 37 years, a Maligawa elephant that carried the tooth relic of Buddha during annual Esala Perahera festival that traces its history back to 4th century. Upon the death of the Poseidon, the Sri lankan government observed a day of mourning nationwide, such was the importance of the animal.
Other things of interest near Kandy:
Visiting the Tea Museum celebrating the tea heritage of Kandy.
A visit to the Kandy Botanical garden
A Kandy Cultural dance Performance. Attend a Kandyan dance performance at Kandyan Arts Association (daily; 5pm) or YMBA (daily; 5.30pm).
Peradeniya Botanical Gardens: A 150 acre British botanical garden with variety of native and foreign fauna
Bring a sundowner by the central lake of Kandy, known as Kiri Muhuda.
Empire Café beside the Temple of the Tooth is one of the oldest British cafe in town.
The towering Buddha statue of Kandy known as Bahirawa Kanda
Of all the cities in Sri Lanka, I found Kandy to be intensely atmospheric
Nuwara Eliya: Little Europe perched atop the Central Highland of Sri Lanka
From Kandy to Ella, the iconic Sri Lankan Train journey starts early in the morning. Many call it the most scenic journey in the world.
Many choose to ride from Kandy to Ella directly, I recommend you do that if hiking is your forte. In case you have rented a car for your trip in Sri Lanka, you may ask the driver to drive down to Ella and you can go meet him directly the next day. This way, many transfer large luggage instead of lugging them around train stations in Sri Lanka which do not have escalators.
We rode the new air conditioned train coaches of which has been built in China. We were carrying 2 large suitcases and they fitted well in the train. However, it might be a challenge to carry them on the overhead walkways as Sri Lankan stations, as of 2022, do not have any escalator of lift service, meaning you have to lug around those 20 kg luggage. Not recommended.
Nuwara Eliya the mountain town is set amidst the valley of Pidurutalagala mountain range the tallest in Sri Lanka which is inaccessible to tourists without procuring prior permission.
Many choose Ella over Nuwara eliya. I can see why. Nuwara Eliya is known to the locals as little England. British colonists took refuge in the hills of Nuwara Eliya where they also ran a few tea plantations. Till date Nuwara Eliya retains a very European character with tea clubs, cute cafes, a lake to boat around, golf courses, high end resorts, home grown dairy brands of Sri Lanka, strawberry fields and of course rolling hills filled with tea plantations.
Ashokvan, in search of Sita’s Vanbas, Ramayana Trail in Sri Lanka
However, I loved Nuwara Eliya’s epic appearance in the context of the famed Ramayana trail of Sri Lanka. For the uninitiated, Ramayana is an Indian epic which basically illustrates the history of Aryan settlement in the Gangetic valley. It is one of the finest reads you can ever find from ancient human civilization.
Nuwara Eliya is home of Ashok Vatika where Ravana had abducted Sita and imprisoned during the course of the great war. The Hakgala botanical garden is considered the place. I suggest visiting the highest point of the garden where hardly a person enters and you will know why it is termed as Ashok Vatika.
Hakgala is extremely beautiful, especially on a misty day. Nuwara Eliya otherwise has a feel similar to Munnar in Kerala.
Nuwara Eliya is a heaven for those seeking a refuge at the endless open place close to nature under the cotton candy clouds. If you are traveling in Sri Lanka for 2 weeks, you can easily spend a couple of leisurely days in the town which is a favourite among the locals!
Horton’s Place national Park is a high altitude grassland bordered by dramatic cliff that plunge 1 km into oblivion at the World’s End.
The Ambewala dairy firm accepts guests specially with children. However things were a bit different during lockdown.
Watch a sunset from the famous Lake Gregory, at the banks of which resides famous Nuwara Elia golf plains.
The colonial Grand hotel arranges for a high tea ceremony every evening which is open for not room guests.
Many tuktuk drivers would try to sale you a visit to tea plantation. You can go with them if you have not been before but I have lived the best days of my life at tea plantations of Darjeeling and Sikkim so skipped this part. However, there are plenty of tea plantation around the town of Nuwara Eliya. Just call up one and schedule an appointment if you want to visit the factory. Damro Labookelie Tea Estate offers free tours around the factory.
Ella, Highlight of the Sri Lanka Itinerary from central Highlands
After spending a couple of days at Nuwara Eliya, we boarded the train to Ella. Many suggest the train journey from Nuwara Eliya to Ella is one the most scenic train journeys of the world. With multiple colonial arch bridges, hamlets painted in vibrant hues, rolling hills studded with tea plantation and gigantic old trees, we could get a glimpse of the iconic train journey.
Our train from Kandy to Nuwaya Eliya was booked on first class while the train from Nuwaya Eliya to Ella was on second class. I loved the first class journey more. It is less noisy and seats were a bit more specious.
Adam’s Peak in Ella
Hike to the top of Adam’s peak to experience the best of Ella. On a clear sky day, you can view Colombo at a distance of 5 km. Incredible but thats what locals told me. The trail to Adam’s peak is a hardcore 7 km hike through the bushland and lit up during pilgrimage season from December to May resembling an illuminated stairway to heaven. Another hike famous in Ella is the way upto Little Adam’s peak that lets you take a glance at Ella Rock, Ella Gap and Rawana Ella Falls all together.
From Adam’s Peak in Ella, you get an unhindered 360 degree view of the rolling mountains of central highland in Sri lanka. The sky gets hues in shades of red before the sun actually rises, so the trail up to the top of Adam’s peak would be comfortably brightened even before you witness the actual sunrise.
A friend once described the Nine Arch Bridge to me as, “We visited the bridge and waited for 1 hour or more so that a train can pass and my wife can click the picture for Instagram!” His bitterness induced a hearty laugh in the room. Being an insta-famous bridge comes with its own share of challenges. While the nine arch bridge epitomizes one of the colonial structures of Sri lanka with a locomotive slowly making progress through an archaic bridge set amidst green tea plantation, it also attracts a few hundred tourists each day waiting eagerly to capture the moment.
Hike the Ella Rock starting from the bridge near Little Ravana Falls. It is a 4 hours long hike to and fro. The Nine Arch bridge is also known as Demodara Bridge. Please be mindful of flying a drone in the area since the jungle is home to myriad species of fauna.
It is a little hike from the Little Adam’s Peak with marked trails. If hiking is not your travel style, trust a tuktuk to bring you closer to the Nine Arch Bridge.
From Ella, it takes 5 hours to reach the southern coast of Sri Lanka by a car.
If not a car which would be costly for this lag of the trip (LKR 15000), try to catch the No 31 Bus. Several bus plies between the Sri Lankan highlands and the southern coast (Ella to Matara) starting from 7 am to 11 pm. It takes around 5 hours without a tire change on the road. Get down at Mirissa which is on the way.
If you are not keen on hiking in Ella
We stayed at the View in Ella. It was an adventure in itself to reach the hotel located at the top of the hill with 20 kg of luggage and wearing a saree. The View truly bestowed unhindered view of Ella mountains. I did not go hiking anywhere but spent the evening exploring the beautiful town. From the little experience I could gather from the vibe of the town, I recommend spend a couple of days at Ella and skip Nuwara Eliya if time is not a luxury. However do not skip Ella thinking the place is just full of hiking. Ella is still rustic and beautiful, very beautiful actually and has not been commercialized beyond its potential.
A plunge fall with infinity pools filled with emereld blue water at the top of the hill as well as at the bottom of the fall, Diyaluma Fall is Sri Lanka’s second highest fall and can be accessed with an hour long tuktuk ride from Ella town. It takes an hour to get down to the bottom of the fall if you are hiking down the marked trail.
As a part of the Ramayana trail, Ella is close to Rawana Ella Falls which appears on the way as you drive to the coastal region of the country. The 90 m plunge fall through a series of rocks and pools is belived to start from the Ravana Rock where the Antagonist from epic Ramayana is sleeping under strict guard of prehistoric mythological creatures. Many guides tours are available to hike the trail that takes you to the top of the Ravana cave (600 odd stairs) however you do not understand the enigma of the place unless you have read Ramayana by heart and know the impact of the war that shaped the history of the subcontinent.
Udawalawe National Park: day trip from Ella
From Ella, another great day trip can be planned around Udawalawe National Park. There are plenty of elephants in the national park in case you missed Habarana.
A three hour long safari for 3500 LKR at Udawalawe (entry fee USD 20) can be a highlight of your Sri Lanka itinerary in case you did not stop at Habarana. They feed the baby elephants here on a daily basis and that is the cutest thing you will ever see! Udawalawe is basically a transit point for the orphaned baby elephants and no way you can touch or feed them here but just observe them in natural habitat before they are reinstated in the wild.
Choose Haputale Instead of Ella if you want more remote, off the beaten track experience in Sri Lanka
Another emerging destination is Haputale at the hill country of Sri lanka.
I found many people alight the Ella bound train at a stop called Haputale. A little google search and it dawns upon me Haputale is a sleepy little mountain hamlet and an ideal base to start the trekking for Lipton’s seat.
To welcome the first sunrays of the day at Lipton’s seat is one of the favourite hiking activity in Sri Lanka. Many choose to do it from Bandarawela and spend the night at an old plantation club turned into hotel at Bandarawela hotel that was established in 1893.
Haputale is a perfect stop for backpackers with affordable accommodation, hostels, cafes, easy access to the train and bus stations and decent wifi connections.
From Ella, head straight to Yala national park unless you are pressed for time and just spend the rest of the holiday chilling by the beach.
Safari for Yala National Park starts from Tissamaharama (also known to the locals as Tissa) which is located at a couple of hours drive away from Ella. Yala is famous for her wealth of Leopard density. At Yala, keep your eyes open to witness other animals in their natural habitat, elephants, sloth bears, monkeys, monstrous saltwater crocodiles and hundreds of avian species.
From Yala national park, you would move towards the beaches of southern coast, definitely highlight of this Sri lankan itinerary.
For an offbeat experience, you may stop at Dikwella of the Southeast Coast. Soak in the vibes at Hiriketiya.
Arriving at the Sri Lankan Coast Line: Mirissa
One evening we scooted the tip of Mirissa to find a way to hike to the top of Coconut hill. It is the smallest hike I have ever done which the best ROI! The sunset is worth all the hype Instagram has created in millennial groups. The coconut hill is stunning. It is easy to find coconut tree lined groves in Goa (think Parra) or Thailand (Koh Yao Noi island) but the coconut hill in Sri Lanka is a unique place! I wonder about the man who planted so many coconut trees in the area. What was going on in his mind?
Let me warn you, sunsets are very busy atop the hill. Do not wear flip flops while hiking the hill.
In the whole of Sri Lanka trip for 2 weeks, we slowed down at Mirissa for solid 5 days. I am so glad I did because I loved Mirissa the most!
From your southern Sri Lanka itinerary, you can easily make a base at Mirissa and explore the rest of the places within an easy riding distance.
There are several exciting things to do in Mirissa. How we experienced Mirissa was the tiny town was coming out of a long slumber due to lockdown with several shacks and small shops still out of business. Guest houses and homestays had mostly shut down. Hotels were operational in limited capacity.
Many locals we had spoken with said they had gone back to the sea, indicating the innate skill Sri Lankan people had mastered over millennia.
If you are spending the year end in Sri Lanka, Mirissa beach is the best spend to bring in the new year with beach party and celebration going on till dawn. It is a celebration of the scale of 4th of July in NYC just that not many people know about it!
Whale watching tour in Mirissa
One of the best things to do in Mirissa is to go on a whale watching tour. It is a seasonal activity. The blue whale, largest mammals on the planet earth migrate on Indian Ocean not very far from Mirissa from November to April. Several whale watching boats start earlier the day and set sail on the current to spot these majestic animals. You may also spot sperm whales, Bryde’s whales, short-finned whales, killer whales. You will surely be able to spot many dolphins though! Be prepared to swim as the cruise ends with a stop at Weligama Bay near Mirissa. Cost of whale watching tour is USd 100 per adult and USD 60 for a child including breakfast.
Drive till Negombo beach a day and get clicked with the stilt fishermen. Tip them generous since this is one of the dying traditions of the locals. Visit a few turtle sanctuaries on the way. It is likely that the tuktuk drivers will stop at one where you will see a lot of turtles who traverse a long distance of Indian ocean and in the way often gets caught in the fishing nets, end up losing a feet, or consume too much of plastic that it finds difficulty in diving again.
At Mirissa, you can sail with the locals (ask around at the beach) to snorkel with the sea turtles. If you are lucky, you might spot them from the famous coconut tree hill in Mirissa.
Unawatuna: the Rising Star in Southern Coast of Sri Lanka
On the way to Unawatuna from Mirissa, we hired a Tuktuk. The driver was one of the kindest and happiest persons I have met in Sri Lanka. Kindly connect with him at in case you want to avail his services.
Prices were nominal in the range of 500 to 700 LKR. It keeps changing with petrol price, supply and demand.
Unawatuna is what Mirissa used to be a decade back, filled with hipster cafes, jewel shops, beachside restaurants, thift stores, no shortage of tropical juice parlors. In December, we found Unawatuna was filled with the Russians who moved to the island for longer stay. The shops were ready to arrange for minimal grocery, basic vegetables like potato, tomato, cleaning arrangements, stuff that are needed to run a household.
Unawatuna is located by a lagoon. Personally, I am not a fan of the rocky pebbly beach near the town. But I would make a base here, rent a scooter and roam around the nearby beaches within 10 minutes driving distance to explore more of southern Sri Lanka.
One of the finest lesser known beaches to spend a day from Unawatuna would be Mihiripenna. Lounge at the sunbeds laid by the Thotupola cafe.
At Unawatuna, we stayed at Araliya resort which has a stunning view over the city and the nearby Jungle island and the horizon at a distance.
Drive to Thalpe beach with 13 natural box shaped pools by the beach filled with clear emerald water of the bay. These natural pools reminded me of the salt pools of Danakil, Ethiopia! Please visit during low tide to see the natural formation of the pools. It is a clean beach with very less footfall.
Near Unawatuna, the insta-famous beaches of Dalawella resides, where coconut trees have hanging ropes where one can swing against the backdrop of a vermillion red sunset sky. Please note, all these photographic activities need to be paid in the range of LKR 300 to LKR 500.
Galle Fort: The UNESCO Town of Sri Lanka
Galle fort was built back in 1663 and is one of the UNESCO World heritage sites in Sri Lanka.
I had read rave reviews of Galle, the ancient port city which has been generously referenced in the history recorded in the court of King Solomon. In 19th century, it was occupied by the Dutch colonists. later, as Colombo rose to fame in marine commerce, Galle found a way to expand inland and attract tourists.
Galle, especially the Fort area, exerts a vibe that is similar to that of Old Phuket Town in Thailand or Pondicherry in India. It is a little piece of Europe in Asia with cobblestoned roads queued with white and pastel villas now converted into hospitality centers, either cafes or restaurants.
Galle Fort is a UNESCO world heritage site. You will find an old light house standing at the harbour that once housed canons facing the sea with an intent to protect the island. There are museums, churches, mosques and a number of restaurants and souvenir stalls at Galle Fort which would occupy you for a day.
Instead of staying at Galle, make it a day trip from Unawatuna. However, for an experiential stay (think an old Dutch villa turned into a boutique hotel) you can choose to spend a night or more at Galle Fort. It was reviving from the dry spell post lockdown when I last visited in December of 2021. It lacked the liveliness that a tourist town typical to Galle Fort would otherwise assert.
When in Ella, I found this beautiful store named Stick no Bills selling stunning artwork in form of canvas prints, magnets and postcard from Sri Lanka, i highly recommend you check them out. they are present at Unawatuna and Galle Fort area as well.
Check out the Dutch Reformed churches of Galle at the old Kerk and the stone-clad British All Saints. The mosque looks more like a baroque church.
Try the best tea at Galle Fort at Amangalla. For restaurant hopping, check out the old Dutch Hospital (Like Colombo, this place too is a shoppers’ and diners’ paradise). I loved the gelato at Isle of Gelato.
Watch the sunset from the Galle Fort walk before your head back home. For us, the sun was unbearable so we headed back to the stunning infinity pool of Araliya Resort at Unawatuna. You may spend the day at Hikkadwaya, another great beach of Southern Coast of Sri Lanka.
Check out the Historical Mansion Museum set up by Mr Gaffar at Galle if you have inetrest in antique collection and the National Maritime Museum. Many of these museums remains closed on Sunday and Monday so plan accordingly.
There are many more beautiful beaches in Sri lanka.
Tangalle is a beach destination with a mix of luxury and budget accomodation with plenty of activities surrounding a great white sand beach.
You may choose to spend a few days at Bentota where Taj Bentota, one of the countries oldest and finest hospitality institutions of Sri Lanka is located for a relaxing beach holiday. From Bentota, Colombo is just 2 hours road trip. Bentota is famous for the mangrove safari through lagoon, specially for the birders. You may also get a chance to see the coconut and cinnamon plantation (Sri lanka also has the nickname, cinnamon island) and a few abandoned village temples through the river cruise.
Visit a day exploring the Matara fort and Dondra lighthouse to mark the southern most tip of the island nation (one of the most important forts in Sri lanka)
Visiting Tsunami Honganji Viharaya near Hikkaduwa that commemorates the devastating Tsunami tolling lives of thousands of Sri Lankans.
Stop by Laksala, a state-run handicrafts emporium, to find a huge selection of locally made gifts (it’s closed on Sundays so plan accordingly). Laksala workshop is close to Galle.
A tropical nation in and out, Sri Lanka is best experienced during the dry months of winter that runs from November to April. From May onwards, the island experiences heavy rain due to the Yala monsoon which mostly rains in the south coast. In the dry months of December to February, you might have rain in the North east Coast where Arugam Bay is. These places are beautiful but best explored in the dry season.
Sri Lanka has two separate seasons of rains and rain is when you would want to avoid holidaying in the island if azure sea and sun is your primary motivation to visit Sri Lanka. The southwest coast rains from April until September and the northeast coastline experiences from November until March.
Visa for Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka ETA)
Securing a visa for Sri Lanka was easier than a cakewalk. You need to produce a return ticket to your home country (or any other country, basically to show you have an intent to leave Sri Lanka). Your Passport should have at least 6 months validity. Sri Lanka asks if you have got the Covid vaccine.
For ETA you will need to provide an address in Sri Lanka which should ideally be the address of a hotel.
ETA for Sri Lanka costs USD 35.
ETA is valid for 6 months after it is issued. It lets you stay in the country for upto 30 days.
How to Getting Around in Sri Lanka: Public Transport and Train
It is possible to explore most of the island country by train as the rail line connects the beaches to the central hills. However, if you are in a hurry, try renting a taxi.
We did parts of Sri Lanka by train. For the beaches we rented a scooter for local sightseeings. For transport from one point to another, we rented a Tuktuk or a car. Things were easily affordable and did not cost us more than USD 50 for any lag of the journey. You can reduce the budget significantly if you tour in a public transport system instead of a car. However we toured Sri Lanka in December before the economic crisis hit the worst.
Like we have Uber, Sri Lanka has her own version, Pick Me and Lyft. Traditional taxis are available too if you look around a bit in the road.
In case you are visiting Sri lanka from May to September (during South West Monsoon), visit Arugam Bay instead of Mirissa. Arugam Bay is the most scenic and favourable beach in the whole of Asia for surfing. However, December is just not the best time to visit there. Pre pandemic times had Arugam bay in its best form with plenty of night markets and thift shops. I hear the scne is slowly making a come back as more number of tourists are heading back to the beachcity.
While staying at Arugam Bay, save a day for farm visits. Hire a tuktuk and head straight for the Peanut farm. Hideway resort in Arugam Bay is the best place to stay if you are planning a holiday here.
Emerging from the catastropihc civil war that ravaged the country for nearly three decades till 2009, Sri Lanka the Teardrop Isle on Indian Ocean, is rich in natural wealth and cultural diversity. To westerners, many suggest a trip to Sri Lanka instead of India as a starter’s guide to understand what to expect from the subcontinent. As an Indian, my heart was filled with the warmth and hospitality that the tiny island showered on us. History of Sri Lanka dates back to 2000 years and has many cultural references that resonated with an Indian, majority of which pertains to Ramayana. Not an ardent religious pilgrim I am, but I loved connecting the dots as I gasped at the cave that Ravana is believed to have called home or the Ashok Bon of Hakgala garden where Sita was imprisoned after abduction.
This 2 weeks trip in Sri Lanka is a basic itinerary to accommodate parts of Cultural triangle, a bit of national park and ample amount of sun and sand through the South Coast of Sri Lanka. If you have a little more time or not so keen on doing the typical touristy route, please visit the north of the island from Wilpattu up to Jaffna. You can also explore beautiful beaches of Trincomalee, Passikudah. If you want to see it all and do more, account for at least a month and few weeks in Sri Lanka. It looks tiny on world map but Sri Lanka truly has massive offering for a tourist!
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced the introduction of e-Visa for visitors. In the eligibility list of procuring a Saudi e-Visa, at least 49 countries are listed, including the citizens of the United States. This is an amazing chance to experience Saudi Arabia and her famed ancient hospitality deeply rooted in the Bedouine culture.
Previously visitor’s visas were allowed for the religious purpose of pilgrimage only. On a landmark decision, the country opened for the world. It is part of the Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reform program named “Vision 2030.” The aim of allowing tourism is a part of initiatives that reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependency on oil-based trade economy and find newer revenue generating models.
In the pipeline is an entertainment mega city based in Riyadh which is going to be twice the size of Orlando’s Disney World. Several UNESCO world heritage sites are undergoing restoration for the cultural travellers.
Following is a comprehensive list of essential travel documents one must carry to visit Saudi Arabia. An individual with a visit visa is also known as an Iqama holder. These requirements are almost similar for a Umrah visa holder too. Please ensure you have fulfilled all these requirements before boarding the flight from the origin airport.
Travellers visiting Saudi Arabia are required to register their names online at Muqeem vaccine Registration portal. Please register about your vaccination status at Tawakkalna before proceeding with Muqeem vaccination registration process.
Children under 12 years old do not require vaccination. You may add them as dependents in your visa application. Those who do not have vaccination can travel to Saudi Arabia however they have to go through a quarantine period at a hotel.
Procuring a Flight Ticket for Saudi Arabia
Try to book your ticket to Saudi Arabia through the national carrier Saudia. Based in the headquarter of Jeddah, Saudia formerly known as Saudi Arab Airlines is an award winning aircraft operating since 1945.
With recent Covid related restrictions to travel with Saudi being considerably relaxed, Saudia is hoping to cater to a greater number of tourist footfall in upcoming months.
Saudia is famous as a reliable aircraft carrier that adheres to the best procedures and maintains excellent safety rules. Booking a flight to Saudi with Saudia is recommended based on long standing renowned service history. It is the third largest aircraft carrier in the entire Middle East. Saudia operated in 39 countries and caters to 95 destinations. The numbers are on the rise as their business expands.
You may access their lounges (or partner lounges as well) while flying to Saudia flights. Saudia has a frequent flyer program, known as Alfurson. As benefits, passengers enjoy various services including lounge access, extra baggage, upgrades, complimentary flights, priority boarding etc. It is always a wise idea to fly with Saudia while visiting Saudi Arabia and enrolling for their frequent flyer program.
Be Ready with the Vaccination Certificate
As Covid related travel protocols have been relaxed considerably in the past few weeks, Saudi Arabian still requires passengers to provide Covid vaccine certificates. If you have been administered the booster dose, do not forget to state that too as you enter the country on a visitor’s visa.
To enter Saudi Arabia you must present your passport from the country you are a citizen of, with at least 6 month’s validity remaining on paper. Please note, an individual travelling alone under the age of 18 needs a legal guardian to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Without a passport, you have a bleak chance in securing a visitor’s visa to enter the Kingdom.
While citizens from the list of these countries are eligible to apply for e-Visa, a few may opt for a Visa on Arrival to enter Saudi Arabia. Citizens from the rest of the countries can always apply for a visa at the consulate. For consulate visas, passengers are requested to connect with the nearest Saudi Arabia Embassy.
E-visa to Saudi allows visitors to spend 90 days at a stretch in the country. The visa validity is for about a year with multiple entry options. For a single-entry tourist visa, you may spend k30 days in the country at a stretch.
For an E-visa to KSA, visitors need to pay SAR 535. For the Visa on Arrival option, visitors need to pay SAR 480. Payments must be made with Saudi Riyals using an International Debit or Credit card.
Please note, to obtain a visitor’s visa to the KSA, religion is irrelevant.
Usually, it does not take more than 30 minutes to issue an e-visa for KSA.
Please be prepared to show a return ticket from Saudi and booking accommodation (for an address) while applying for a visitor’s visa to Saudi.
Travel insurance with a valid coverage for Covid 19
In case of any medical emergency, hospitalisation or similar incidents, tourists planning a visit to Saudi Arabia are required to procure insurance with extensive coverage. Most importantly, the insurance must cover expenses for medicines, hospital and clinical tests and treatment that might occur due to illness related to Covid 19.
Visiting Saudi Arabia is going to be one of the most cherished experiences of your lifetime. Look up a bit on the prevalent social customs before you board the Saudia flight. The Arabs are renowned for their generous hospitality. You might find yourself invited to a massive dinner spread hosted by a stranger. Please remember to use only one hand while eating, ideally the right one. Remove your shoes before entering someone’s house. You may put your palm on the chest to show goodwill and thankfulness. Consumption of alcohol is a strict no in KSA. While female tourists no longer need to wear mandatory Abaya, it is always recommended to wear modest clothing for both men and women to be respectful towards the locals. Given the way the Sun shines in the desert land, you would want to cover up to save yourself from the scorching sun.
About the blog: My long time live in partner had got his L1 visa stamping done in November 2021. In a couple of months he had moved to the US. We were yet to get married. What we were looking at was an indefinite long distance relationship. The only way to stay together was to get married, meaning preponing our wedding date which was originally scheduled for December 2022. Here is my experience of securing an L2 visa, as a dependent on L1A. I appeared alone for the visa interview at Kolkata consulate.
I hope this blog post helps anyone who is option for a US dependent visa and planning to appear alone for the interview.
Please note, read the visa rules regularly. It keeps changing, especially during the extraordinary time as now that we are living through.
Our Marriage and the Start of Visa Procedure
We married in January 2021, during the peak of Third Wave Corona when almost everyone in Kolkata had contacted the virus. In fact my grandfather had passed away just a week before and the grandmother was hospitalized. I tested negative just a day prior to the marriage date. It was a mess in short with more number of family being infected with the virus than the healthy ones.
A small intimate ceremony was conducted at my in law’s place with 40 people. Government mandate was to call up to 50. I say this because often the VO at the US consulate usually asks for a grand wedding ceremony photo.
We registered our marriage with the government of India. Our marriage was conducted through a special marriage act where no religious identity was required.
We secured the marriage certificate in few weeks.
That was the first step at securing an L2 visa.
If you have married earlier, and have got a marriage certificate (either through Hindu marriage act or Special marriage act), the certificate should do.
We did not have to change any name on passport either. I did not change my surname either. But you can and that strengthens the marriage proof.
A number of fraud or human trafficking incidents get conducted through visa loopholes which is the reason why visa rules are incredibly strict. However, if your marriage is founded on legal grounds there is absolutely no reason to get a rejection.
Preparing to apply for L2 dependent visa
A friend of mine was also undergoing visa process in the similar time frame.
They were a family of three, married for 6 years with a two years old kid. They applied for the L1B visa at Chennai (that is the only place where they process it) and got it smoothly without any trouble. The wife who applied for l2, the dependent visa, was not asked anything. But then she was accompanied by the husband, primary applicant. They also took the toddler child along. Children under 12 years of age are not required to visit the visa interview center physically.
My case was different.
I was applying for L2 after wedding. In my mind, I had to establish the wedding. An intimate wedding under exceptional circumstances, where no Hindu wedding ceremony like Sindur and saat-phera involved would raise a few eye brows. We also married immediately after the husband had secured visa.
His visa stamping happened in November. We provided notice at the register office for wedding in December. On January 16, we got the marriage solemnized.
Applying for DS 160
Filling up DS 160 was the next step as we got hold of our marriage certificate. You have to disclose a complete list of the countries you have visited previously, your work history, social handles, education. You need to delve really deep into your life’s information. No incorrect or missing information is encouraged at this step.
The DS 160 form can be auto filled. Please turn on that option on chrome (or any other browser your are using). You can also note down all the links at a notepad as you start with the process. Once you submit DS 160, you can not change or edit anything. You have a month’s time to make necessary changes hence please be very careful.
We opted to check for slots during end of January. I had a trip to Thailand pending for March. I did not want to miss this trip. I wanted to to secure a date post the trip to Thailand.
You can always start filling up DS 160 from the scratch since the page times out a lot. Before submission ensure you have done all the corrections.
The next step is to move on to the Visa fee payment and interview slot booking process.
Fee payment :
As of today applications are required to pay 190$ USD via the CGI federal website (link below). Payment can be done through bank or via card payments. I paid via NEFT transaction. Once the transaction is done, it will take some time for the payment details to be automatically reflected in the website. Be patient and wait till it reflects.
In case of an erroneous payment, the transaction will auto-fail and the amount will be refunded in the source account. You can check your account statement as well to know the transaction status. Note that your account statement might immediately reflect payment success / failure however it would take some time to get updated on the website.
Getting a slot for the visa interview
To secure a slot for the visa interview, we tried from February and secured a date sometime during Mid May. I opted for Kolkata consulate since that is also my home-center.
However, by the end of February Putin decided to declare a war. We were eying an imminent Third world war as media roared. The husband had reached Manhattan. I was in Bangalore. Our future for a happy conjugal life seemed to be bleak.
One day at 3 am India Standard Time, the husband checked for slots on an earlier date. We were lucky. We got it on March 16!
So, the date proceeded for about two months. I had to re-plan everything. the move, the shifting, the travel and work commitments. I was happy to do so nonetheless because getting a slot on a closer date is precious under today’s circumstances.
Many people suggested the following tips while booking slots:
Check only 4 times a day with approx 4-6 hours gap in between each login and do not exhaust all your tries in the morning itself keep one for the evening or night. Note that every click (consulate location change and date change) is counted as one check. Overuse may lead to your account being locked, which takes about 3 days to be available again. Usually, the info in the slot booking telegram group will be helpful for booking. But for me, in most cases, it never matched. When slots were open for me, it wasn’t open for other people and vice versa and this is a common occurrence. I also personally recommend not booking place holder slots since every booking is valuable and we have only limited tries for re-scheduling.
New Delhi usually has more number of slots available. It is always easier with New Delhi.
It is okay to have the VAC and Consular appointment on the same day as long as they are about 3 hours apart so that the information is reflected in their systems. In the case of Chennai, Kolkata these 3 hours are enough to go from VAC to the consulate as well.
Make sure to not exhaust all your tries, keep one for backup till the day of your appointment. This way if for some reason you can’t make it on the day of the appointment, you can reschedule.
Try to avoid booking appointment days as Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday to avoid crowds / long queues.
Things to carry for US L2 visa interview
I carried an accordion file folder. It had multiple documents and a few pictures of mine.
Documents I carried with me for the L2 visa interview:
Spouse’s I129S, I797 & I94
My passport Original
Husband’s passport entirely photocopied
Appointment confirmation letter
Husband’s visa photocopy
All my educational documents (from STD 10 to Master’s degree. all original copies)
All my work experiences including internship
Marriage invitation card
Husband’s pay stubs
Husband’s joining letter
I suggest carry any sort of additional document that proves your spouse’s employment in the US.
I did not carry any electronic equipment. I did not carry any umbrella.
Water was available to drink in the campus.
If you are carrying a child, they make sure you can carry a small bag with baby care products.
My VAC date was a day prior to the interview date. In Kolkata. It was done by an outsourced company. It did not take more than 30 minutes. I could carry my phone along.
At VAC, they require only the following documents –
1. DS 160
2. Appointment confirmation letter
No other document is necessary. You can also go a little bit early / late & inform the guard outside about your timings. They will send you in accordingly.
– You will be asked to wait in the queue outside the building. Once they let you in, you will be asked to wait in queues on the first floor, followed by the second floor. Then, you will stand in front of an officer behind a glass partition who checks your DS 160 and passport & will ask you about your details.
– Name and date of birth were asked by the officer. They check your name with complete spelling, letter by letter. Then, they will stick a label with your details on your passport and give it back to you.
– After this, you have to go get your photograph taken in the next room. Here, first a security check will be done, post which you have to wait in queue for your turn. Another officer will be present behind a partition here – you will be asked to scan fingerprints of your right hand and your left hand respectively. After this, your photograph will be taken and then you’re done.
– They will stamp your DS160 at VAC and this stamped copy has to be carried to the consular appointment.
Visa Interview experience
My interview was scheduled at 9:30 am. It did not take more than 5 minutes.
I reached the Kolkata US Consulate located at the Ho Chi Minh Sarani (the land allotment sarcasm though) 15 minutes prior to the scheduled time. My father dropped me and was waiting at a medical center nearby. he is a doctor and he usually visits this center for work.
I stood in the queue while the guards came to check for visa appointments. They ensured we are not carrying anything apart from documents.
What do you do?
When did you marry?
How many people came for the wedding?
On this, I said 40. He frowned. I said it was during the first week of January. The VO was like oh okay I understand. I think he was in Kolkata at that time.
Where does your husband stay? Where in Jersey City?
Can I see your husband’s visa?
That is it. You took my passport and said you are ready to fly within a week!
I opted for premium delivery and paid INR 600 for the passport to get delivered at doorstep. It came within next 5 days.
What to wear for the interview
I wore a salwar kameez with a gold bangle, gold ear ring and a gold chain with diamond pendant. In our culture, newly weds wear a lot of jewelry. I also wore a hint of sindur, although I did not wear it on my wedding day. Those marrying by the special marriage act, do not need to perform any religious ceremony in India. Nonetheless I wore sindur because I did not want to explain so much to the VO (in case they would have asked).
Please wear something formal, comfortable. In Kolkata it can get pretty hot and humid.
For job interview though, it is imperative to create a formal impression and wear proper coat and shoe.
Why you must not worry about the L2 Interview process
As a single woman and freelancer, the worst decision I took was to quit job before securing a US travel visa which is usually valid for 10 years. During Trump rule, things did not really look up. Visa rules became more stringent.
I was always apprehensive about applying for a US or Schengen visa as a single freelancing woman with an Indian passport. Visa privilege is a thing.
I feel this added stress to the entire process of securing an L2 visa for Us when I finally married a person who moved to the States with a work visa. However, from my experience, if your case is genuine, you are being truthful in the interview and all your paperwork are in place, US Visa at least the dependent one would not be that big a trouble!
Do not stress much. You do not have to go through any agent either. I sought after help from an agent in Bangalore. They sucked out INR 17000 from me but was mostly unavailable. They did not help up with the tedious process of slot booking either.
Look confident, practice well, remember everything about your husband’s job and you are in for a treat!
About this blog: A personal account of traveling from India to USA (Kolkata to New York City) with Qatar Airways Premium Economy. This trip was made during May 2022, when rules regarding international flights were relaxed a bit. We have moved to the US. More on the moving part will follow suit. And of course traveling in America, both the continents!
“Our flight is scheduled at 4 am. RTPCR samples are to be collected within 24 hours prior. Can you give us a result before the flight departure for sure?” I asked the RTPCR guy from Durga Nagar, Dumdum (contact: 9831577983 #nospon).
“I will come to your home and get a result done on urgent basis, like I did before. Why do you worry so much?” I could picture the man grinning behind the mobile screen. He is familiar with my panic calls induced by travel anxiety. I have done the same a month back when I was traveling to Bangkok with Tourism Authority of Thailand.
It is a prerequisite to get an RTPCR negative report before you can an international flight as of May 17 2022. In a fluid world post pandemic travel rules keep changing. The best way to be assured is to call up the airlines multiple times. Ask all queries. Hope the Customer care attendant picks up the call. Hope there is no long queue. Hope there is no last minute change in international airspace agreement. Hope no-one is planning to wage a war. The myriad times we are living in right now! Hope can be our best friend.
In an hour, our report came for which we paid INR 1200 per person. My husband and I were about to make this journey from Kolkata to New York City. Oh I forgot to announce in the blog, the partner and I are legally married now for about a couple of months. We are moving out of Bangalore and planning to settle in the US for a while. Kolkata remains the home that she always had been, for us. Alongside exploring NYC, now I am interested to explore Gorabazar, my in law’s place, as well!
I applied for US visa in February and got it approved in March. By the end of March, we had booked flight tickets from Kolkata to New York for mid May. CCU to JFK. We paid INR 40,000 ( roughly USD 512) per person. We used HDFC Smartbuy portal to book the tickets.
A few things we had to keep in mind before booking the flight. The Russian war at Ukraine could jeopardies our travel plan at any point of time. We did not want to fly AirIndia because S did that a couple of months back on his first journey to US and that did not turn out very comfortable. We ended up loosing a piece of baggage as well. We wanted to fly international directly from Kolkata (hence limited option) to maximize luggage option.
Qatar Airways ticked all the points we had in our mind.
My travel anxiety peaked an all time high on the night of departure as I was waiting with 100 kg luggage packed and S was trying to find a way to reach our New Town home through the metro work ridden pathways of Kolkata. The last time to get luggage checked in was around 2 am. We managed to get things done by 1:30 am.
The extra one hour we had was spent at the Travel Lounge of Kolkata International Airport. Biswa Bangla has now opened a new stall at the point of International departure with fairly good collection of artwork and home décor. Do not forget to check that before you fly out of Bengal.
Our flight with the Qatar Airways was scheduled to depart Kolkata at 3: 50 am IST. It was an Airbus carrier.
We were scheduled to reach John F Kennedy Airport in the USA at 2 PM. We had a short one hour stop at Doha. Please note, sometimes Qatar makes an extra stop at Heathrow airport, London.
With premium economy, Qatar did not allow us any access to the airport lounges.
Time taken to fly to Doha (HIA), Qatar: 5 hours
Time taken to fly from Doha to JFK (New York City): 15 hours
The connecting flight from Hamad International Airport, Doha was delayed by an hour and more.
By the time we reached JFK Airport in NYC, the flight was delayed by half an hour.
Transit at the Doha International Airport
We had about an hour window at the Doha airport (HIA). We walked past fast a long queue and walked for about 20 minutes before we reached the queue where people stood to board the flight to JFK.
Buggies are available for a nominal fee so that you do not have to walk to find you way to the terminal.
There were two points where security checks were done. Both time, they checked our hand luggage and the body. At the last security check I was asked to take out my laptop. The camera and other equipment were screened from the bag itself.
I flew with my Mavic mini drone. It comes under the category of a toy drone, less than 250 gram in weight. I flew with the remote in hand and the aircraft in checked in luggage. Besides, I had go pro, extra phone, chargers, camera battery, drone battery etc. It was not a challenge. However, I always suggest calling the airlines and clarifying with them about drone requirements.
Luggage reached JFK directly from CCU. Our luggage was not damaged/broken/stolen. We had not put any lock.
With Premium economy we could check in 2 checked in luggage with upto 23 kg weight per person. We could also carry one hand luggage upto 8 kg. Kolkata airport is very particular about the way you carry your hand-luggage. I suggest you adhere to the new DGCA rule.
Shopping at Airport Duty free
Multiple Security checks at the Doha Airport made it impossible to take a good look at the duty free shops at Hamad International Airport, Doha. However I could steal a few glances at the sparkling gold souks at the swank airport.
Kolkata airport had only a couple of options for duty free shopping at departure area. Good thing is they have now opened a Surprisingly I could not find a single shop while leaving JFK airport.
Seat at Qatar Airways Premium Economy
the seat at Qatar airways premium economy had extra leg space. It was seated right next to the space from where economy starts.
We brought down our hand luggage suitcases after the flight took off. We could put our feet on them. That helps in leg spread and allows extra comfort. The airlines provide blankets, ear sets and eye masks along with hand sanitizers and masks to all economy passengers.
On the hindsight of it, if anyone chooses to soil the washroom, passengers might have a hard time to deal with the stench, being close to the washroom.
Food on Qatar Airways
They served meal 4 times in the entire flight. One was on the way to Doha which I skipped because sleep is ore important than food. Other three, a breakfast, a snack and a lunch came on the way to JFK from HIA. In my experience meal options were limited. However meal served was tasty and warm. I opted for chicken cooked with soy sauce for lunch and omlette for breakfast. the latter was just meh. I would prefer to have a menu with items written in detail so that I can choose my meal prior. I do not know what came in the vegetarian option. Probably tofu.
All food served was halal items.
Comfort and cleanliness
Sleep is the most important part of these long haul flights. Since we opted for premium economy, we got the front seat with decent leg space at the front row. We could sleep easily after the flight took off. We brought down the hand luggage and put out feet n top of it as leg rest. I would opt for premium economy only for this option multiple times. A neck pillow came for head support.
I used the washroom twice. It was pretty clean. there were 4 washrooms for the economy passengers.
In flight entertainment options in Qatar Airways was sufficient. I could also watch Ekannoborti a Bengali movie. The movie was a lousy one but at least it induced good sleep for me. They had audiobooks too. Movies were available in regional Indian languages as well as from Arabic, African, Bollywood and Hollywood film industries.
Qatar airways had options for streaming an audio book section as well.
Should you book Qatar Premium Economy for your next flight?
Instead of shelling out extra money for business class, you should book a flight with Qatar Airways premium economy for a comfortable flight. However, I would not recommend an economy class journey for a pregnant woman or a family traveling with a child (new born or toddler).
Please choose a business class seat while traveling with medical condition or a child so that you can travel more freely. However if budget is a constraint, at least book the front seat with extra leg space.
Qatar premium economy for aged parents traveling from India to USA
My parents or in laws have not flown to international destinations multiple times. The one hour window of transit may not be sufficient for them to board another flight with peace of mind. Please remember, you have to follow the symbols and walk fast paced for about 20 minutes before you reach the terminal. In the process you have to pass through two security check points.
Otherwise, I would recommend them to fly Qatar. If budget permitting I would recommend them to fly business class for extra comfort.
Qatar Airways wins brownie points because plenty of ground stuff at the Doha airport spoke Hindi. They catered well to passengers traveling from South Asia. If you can ask around and follow others you will still be able to make it but the question what if persists nonetheless.
Will I fly again with Qatar Premium Economy?
The fact that I slept for the most part of the flight without having to pop a sleeping pill is the most likely reason I will fly Qatar again. the only pain point for me was the multiple security checks at transit. I was flying with many cameras (drone camera, go pro, DSLR, extra phone, batteries). This always raises a few extra eye brows and makes me face questions which I do not particularly enjoy replying to.
If you are not traveling with many electronic devices, you will probably clear those queue at a faster pace. There is no way evading the queue though.
Besides that everything else was just perfect. I have previously flown Emirates, Air Mauritius, Ethiopian, Air Tanzania. Compared to those aircrafts, Qatar did not disappoint at all. However, Emirates offers more sumptuous food on board which is something Qatar can work upon.
If I could choose a different flight, I would only opt for a longer haul for the flight connection so that the second flight is of a shorter time span. It helps reduce the wait time and gives you solace the end destination is about to be reached!
Upon reaching JFK, I was and remain enamored. It has been a week. However, I am awestruck with all the clear sky, azure river, towering skyscrapers, grungy NYC subway, lack of visible humans on the ground, speeding cars. I am enamored with the Manhattan view from our apartment,
As the pandemic is weaning down, more and more people are set out to explore the world as they did in the old world. India is no exception. More so as the country is often hailed as a cradle of diverse geography and culture. Even in the prevailing system of lockdown and air bubbles, the Indian tourism sector sensed business scope in alluring the domestic crowd. Indians travelled within the country with increased enthusiasm and zeal. In between the great pauses during peaking covid surges, Indian states were open to receive tourists who tested negative in RTPCR. Domestic tourism thrived and how! Domestic aircrafts were especially sold out during holiday season as the Indian railways have significantly increased fare for the locomotives.
I have found it is wise to book flights in a smaller time frame. Unlike previous years when we would book flights at least half a year back for the sacrosanct annual vacation, it is wise to follow the trend and book flights for a destination on short notice. Oftentimes, booking a flight which takes off after 4 months would result in cancellation.
By the end of March, the Indian government is about to set Indian airspace open, meaning the end of an era where air bubble agreement between countries would cease. We all are eagerly waiting for that change to happen, and welcome tourists from around the globe with folded hands and offer iconic Indian hospitality driven by the mantra, “Atithi Debo Bhaba -Guest is God!”
Indigo aircrafts are regularly flying between Dubai and metro cities in India. Dubai has emerged as one of the most sought after destinations in recent times. Dubai was never really locked down. It was possible to fly to Dubai, stay for a few days and then depart for the next country as more and more countries were closing doors to Indian passport holders during the peak of the pandemic.
Choosing a reliable Credit Card
Many credit cards allow you to gain cashback and other offers as you make plans to visit a destination. You may avail certain plans and cashbacks that will enable you to travel more cheaply. Try searching Google with these particular key words, bank name + flight discounts code and you will land on a website running a few offers.
Choose to Fly at Midnight
Midnight or early morning flights often lead to a stressful night preceding which most of the business travellers tend to avoid for better productivity. You may take advantage of this trend during your next vacation plan and book your flight at a time when the whole world is asleep. Late night flights are great saviours too however be aware of the transport arrangement of your destination airport.
Avail offers on Wallet Cash
If you are a frequent traveller, use a few travel portals that offer the benefit of wallet cash. You may choose to go through their apps on smartphones for better discount rates. Sometimes, the cashback may be availed on your bank account as well!
Book directly with the Airlines
Booking a flight directly from the airline’s portal often results in a better price. For example In India, many airlines run offers for students, ex army service personnels. If you book at least 90 days prior, the airline’s fare is definitely lower than any other portal or travel portal since no middle party is involved.
Master the art of Incognito search
The airline algorithms are designed in a way that you search for a destination multiple times and the search engine predicts your urgency and shows a higher price. To avoid this unprecedented (and unjust) price hike please open an incognito mode and look for prices. These prices will differ drastically. Incognito mode does not trace users’ Ip address hence will not send a signal to the search engine that you are actively and urgently looking for a flight! This makes a world of difference!
Fly light and book hand luggage only
Flying light nor only saves you some money but also adds to lesser carbon emission leading to a greener travel option. Many aircrafts actually let you fly with hand luggage only option where you opt out of check in luggage. Check in luggage can be added for extra bucks. If you are travelling solo and light, this is the best option [possible!
You can also choose to subscribe for the airlines newsletter that lets you know about the insiders’ information or discounts at the earliest! Check many websites and compare the price before you make the final booking. I hope the information collated here saves you a few bucks as you go on to book your next international or domestic travel! Here I am hoping to experience the beautiful big world, one step at a time!
ছোটবেলায় ভূগোলের পাতায় পড়েছিলাম কচ্ছের রাণ সম্পর্কে। কচ্ছ উপসাগরের পার্শ্ববর্তী এই নুনের মরুভূমি খুবই আশ্চর্য এক ভূ-প্রাকৃতিক রূপ। বলা হয়, আলেকজান্ডার যখন ভারতবর্ষ আক্রমণ করেছিলেন, এই কচ্ছের রাণ কিন্তু তখন এক উত্তাল সমুদ্র, জাহাজে করে পেরোনো যেত। পরবর্তীকালে ভূমিকম্পের দরুণ মাটির নিচে টেকটনিক প্লেটের সংঘর্ষ ঘটে। কিছুটা ভূভাগ উপরে উঠে আসে, কিছুটা নিচে নেমে যায়। সমুদ্র বাধ্য হয় পিছু হটতে। এখনো কিন্তু বর্ষাকালে সমুদ্রের নোনা জলের গান উঠে আসে কচ্ছের রাণ ভূভাগে। তাই যে সাদা নোনা মাটির রূপ দেখে সারা পৃথিবী মুগ্ধ তা কিন্তু বছরের ছয় মাস ডুবে থাকে সমুদ্রের তলায়।
বন্যার প্রকোপে যে সমুদ্রের লবণাক্ত জল ঢুকে আসে তার গভীরতা মাত্র কিছু মিটার। কিন্তু সেই লবণাক্ত জল সমুদ্রে ফিরে আসার আগে এই 28000 স্কয়ার কিলোমিটার বিস্তৃত মরুভূমিকে দিয়ে যায় পুরু নুনের পরত। স্থানীয় ভাষায় নুনকে বলে মিঠু। এ কচ্ছের রাণ শুধু যে ভারতের প্রতিটি মানুষের পাতে লবণ যোগান দেয় তাই নয়, সারা পৃথিবীতেও নুনের জোগাড়ে তিন নম্বর পর্যায়ে আছে।
তবে লবণ উৎপাদনের সাথে যুক্ত মানুষের জীবনযাপন কিন্তু অত্যন্ত কষ্টকর। জীবন পরিধি তাদের 50 থেকে 60 বছরের বেশি নয়। সারাদিন রোদের তাপে ওই লবণাক্ত জলে মাটিতে ভিজে কাজ করার ফলে শরীরে বাসা বাঁধে বহু রোগ। অধিকাংশ ক্ষেত্রে মজুরি 10000 টাকা ছাড়ায়না। এখানে মৃত্যু যে শুধু কষ্টদায়ক তাই নয়, চোখে আঙ্গুল দিয়ে একটি ভয়ঙ্কর সামাজিক ব্যবধান স্পষ্ট করে দেয়।
যাই হোক কচ্ছের রাণ এর ভ্রমণ কাহিনী লিখতে বসে দুঃখ দিয়ে শুরু করতে চাই না। একটি ধূসর মরুভূমি থেকে কচ্ছের রাণ আজ নিজের পাকাপোক্ত জায়গা করে নিয়েছে পৃথিবীর ভ্রমণ মানচিত্রে। কোভিডের কারণে এখন হয়তো লোক কিছু কম কিন্তু 4 মাসব্যাপী শীতকালীন রাণোৎসবের কিন্তু আসল টার্গেট ক্লায়েন্ট বিদেশিরাই।
কচ্ছের রাণ রাজনৈতিক বাধানিষেধ কে বিশেষ পাত্তা না দিয়ে কিছুটা নিজেকে ছড়িয়ে দিয়েছে পাকিস্তানের দিকেও। কাজেই এই জায়গাতে রয়েছে প্রচুর মিলিটারি উপস্থিতি। আপনি যদি কচ্ছের রাণ যেতে চান অন্যান্য বর্ডার এলাকার মতনই এখানেও আপনাকে পারমিট জোগাড় করতে হবে। ধোরধো গ্রামের কুড়ি কিলোমিটার আগেই পেয়ে যাবেন পারমিট, ভূজ শহর অতিক্রম করে। অথবা অনলাইনে সেরে নিন পারমিট জোগাড়ের কাজ। প্রসঙ্গত জানিয়ে রাখি এই মুহূর্তে ধোরধো কচ্ছের রাণের শেষ গ্রাম।
কচ্ছের রাণ যাওয়ার জন্য আপনাকে প্রথমে আসতে হবে আমেদাবাদ, ট্রেন বা ফ্লাইটে করে। তারপরে মোটামুটি সাড়ে চারশো কিলোমিটার এর যাত্রাপথ। পরেরদিন প্রস্তুত থাকুন 10 ঘন্টা রাস্তায় কাটানোর জন্য। এই দীর্ঘ যাত্রাপথ এড়াতে, আপনি সরাসরি চলে আসতে পারেন ভূজ শহরে। এখানকার এয়ারপোর্টে একদিন অন্তর প্লেন ছাড়ে। যতদূর মনে পড়ে এই ভূজ এয়ারপোর্ট কিন্তু মিলিটারির অধীনে। ভূজ শহর থেকেই আপনি ঘুরে নিতে পারেন কচ্ছের রাণ, যার অবস্থান মাত্র কুড়ি কিলোমিটার দূরে। Kutch Safari Lodge এইখানে কাটাতে পারেন কিছু রাত। সরাসরি কচ্ছের রাণে থাকা তুলনায় খরচ কিছুটা সস্তায় হবে।
ভুজ কচ্ছ জেলার একটি বড় শহর। একবিংশ শতাব্দীর শুরুর দিকে ভুজ শহরে যে ভূমিকম্প হয়েছিল তার স্মৃতি এখনো আমাদের মন থেকে মুছে যায়নি। ভুজে ভ্রমণের সময়, আপনি প্রাগমহল, আইনমহল, বিজয় বিলাস প্রাসাদের (shooting location for Ham Dil De Chukhe Sanam) মতো জায়গাগুলি ঘুরে দেখতে পারেন।
এই ভৌগোলিক অঞ্চলটি ভূমিকম্প প্রবণ। স্বাভাবিকভাবেই এখানকার মানুষরা যে বাড়িগুলোতে থাকেন সেগুলি ভূমিকম্প প্রতিরোধ কারী। স্থানীয় ভাষায় বলে বুঙ্গা। গোলাকার বাড়ির ভেতরে সাদা রঙের মাটি আর কাঁচের কারুকার্য। ওপরে খড়ের চাল। ভয়ঙ্কর ভূমিকম্প যদি হয় আর বাড়ি যদি ভাঙ্গে তাহলে বাইরের দিকে সে ধসে পড়বে। বাড়ির ভেতরে মানুষগুলি প্রাণে বেঁচে যাবে।
10 বছর আগেও মানুষ যদি কচ্ছের রাণ দেখতে আসতেন ভূজ শহরে থেকে যেতেন। কারণ তার পরে না ছিল রাস্তা না ছিল কোন জনপদ। এখানে থাকতেন মালদারি উপজাতির মানুষজন। এনারা বেশিরভাগই মুসলমান। প্রায় কুড়ি শতাংশ দলিত হিন্দুও এখানে থাকেন। এনারা সবাই পশু পালন করে জীবিকা নির্বাহ করে থাকেন। স্বাভাবিক কারণেই প্রাকৃতিক পরিবর্তনের সাথে সাথে তাদের স্থান পরিবর্তন করতে হতো।পরবর্তীকালে কচ্ছ অঞ্চলের অনেক উন্নতি ঘটেছে।
শুধু যে ভ্রমণ ব্যবস্থার উন্নতি হয়েছে তা নয়। তার সাথে সাথে এই মরুভূমি অঞ্চলে যথেষ্ট জল সরবরাহের ব্যবস্থা হয়েছে। উন্নত পশু পালন বিধির কারণে এখানকার বান্নি মহিষ ভারতের অন্যতম দুগ্ধ উৎপাদনকারী গবাদি পশু হিসেবে স্বীকৃতি পেয়েছে। কিছু মাস আগেই এখানে একটি টেস্ট টিউব বান্নি মহিষের জন্ম হয়েছে। এরা রাত্রিবেলায় প্রায় 10 12 কিলোমিটার ঘুরে ঘুরে মরুভূমির ঘাস খেয়ে বেঁচে থাকে। দিনের বেলায় আশ্রয় নেয় নিজেদের খাটালে।
তবে যা আমাকে সব থেকে বেশি আশ্চর্য করেছে তা হল এখানকার মানুষের সূক্ষ্ম কারুশিল্প। কচ্ছের শাড়ি বা জামা কাপড়ে হাতের কাজ এক অনিন্দ্য সুন্দর শিল্প। এখানে গান্ধী নু গাম এবং নিরোনা গ্রাম বিশেষভাবে উল্লেখযোগ্য। পারস্য থেকে আসা ট্রি অফ লাইফ নিরোনা গ্রামে গত 400 বছর ধরে স্থানীয় মানুষেরা ছবি এঁকে আসছেন। কিছুদিন আগে এই নিরোনা শিল্পের একটি নিদর্শন পৌছে গেছিল আমেরিকার হোয়াইট হাউসে ও। https://youtu.be/vFGMKzRvuys এইখানে দেখতে পারেন তার কিছু নিদর্শন। সত্যি বলতে কি, লবণের মরুভূমির থেকেও বেশি আমাকে যা আকৃষ্ট করেছে তা হলো এখানকার মানুষের হস্ত শৈলী। এ নিষ্প্রাণ রুহ্ম মরুভূমিতে এত বছর ধরে মানুষ এত বৈরী জীবন সংগ্রামের মধ্যেও সুন্দর ভাবে প্রজন্ম গত শিক্ষা এবং শিল্পকে বাঁচিয়ে রেখেছে, এর থেকে সুন্দর আর কি হতে পারে।
তবে হ্যাঁ, লবণের মরুভূমি দেখতে আপনাকে তো কচ্ছের রাণ একবার যেতেই হবে। মোটামুটি অক্টোবরের শেষ থেকে ফেব্রুয়ারির মাঝামাঝি পর্যন্ত কচ্ছের রান উৎসব হতে থাকে। এই সময় এখানে অনেক অস্থায়ী তাঁবু তৈরি হয়। বিভিন্ন দামের তাঁবু আছে, আছে কিছু অপেক্ষাকৃত সস্তায় হোমস্টে অপশন। মার্চ থেকে শুরু হয় গ্রীষ্মের প্রচন্ড তাপদাহ। সেই সময় এখানে মানুষ আসেন না। আর বর্ষাকালে তো এখানে চলে আসে স্বয়ং সমুদ্র। এ৺নার অর্ধ বছরব্যাপী উপস্থিতির জন্যই তাঁবু গুলি সব অস্থায়ী।
আমি গুজরাট ট্যুরিজম এর সাথে ভ্রমণ করেছিলাম। ডিসেম্বরের শুরুতে ওনারা একটি সপ্তাহব্যাপী অল ইন্ডিয়া ইনফ্লুয়েন্সার্স মিট প্রোগ্রাম করেন। কাজেই থাকা-খাওয়া দায়িত্ব ছিল ওনাদের উপরে। উনারা আমাদের রেখেছিলেন টেন্ট সিটিতে। সত্যি বলতে কি বাঁশ দিয়ে তৈরি প্রকাণ্ড প্রবেশপথ, সুন্দর আলোক সজ্জা, এসবই আমাকে কলকাতার দুর্গাপুজোর দিনগুলিতে ফিরিয়ে নিয়ে যাচ্ছিল। অস্থায়ী তাঁবুগুলো কিন্তু বিশাল। এরমধ্যে এসি থেকে শুরু করে কমোড কি নেই। জানলাম এই তাবুর দাম 8 থেকে 40 হাজারের মধ্যে প্রতিটি দিনের জন্য। তারমধ্যে আপনার দিনে তিনবার খাওয়া দাওয়া দেবে। একটি তাঁবুতে একসাথে দুজন এবং একটি বাচ্চা থাকতে পারে। কিছু ইলেকট্রিক টোটো চলে অতিথিদের যাতায়াতের জন্য
গুজরাতে ঘুরতে যাওয়ার আগে যে জিনিসটা মাথায় সবার আগে আসে তা হল খাওয়া-দাওয়া চিন্তা। সবই এখানে নিরামিষ। টেন্ন্টসিটি তার ব্যতিক্রম নয়। তবে হ্যাঁ বাইরে যে ধাবা গুলি আছে সেখানে আপনি মাংস পেয়ে যাবেন। কচ্ছ ঘুরতে এসে অবশ্যই ট্রাই করবেন মোষের দুধের ঘি লাগানোর গরম জোয়ার বাজরা রুটি। মোষের দুধ গরম গরম খেতে বেশ লাগে। আরবান কচ্ছ নামে একটি জায়গাতে গিয়ে আমরা একটি রাতে বেশ সুন্দর খাওয়া-দাওয়া করেছিলাম। মোষের দুধ জাল দিয়ে তৈরি মাওয়া একটি বিখ্যাত স্থানীয় মিষ্টি।
এবার আসি আসল আকর্ষনে। যারা বাকি সব ছেড়ে কচ্ছ যাবেন নুনের মরুভূমি দেখতে তারা দয়া করে পূর্ণিমা রাত দেখে দিনক্ষণ নির্ধারণ করুন। এখানে সূর্যাস্ত অতি মনোরম, সূর্যোদয় ও তাই। কিন্তু আন্তর্জাতিক সীমানা কাছাকাছি থাকার দরুন বিএসএফের কড়া নিয়ম আছে। সকাল আটটা থেকে দুপুর তিনটে পর্যন্ত এখানে সাধারণ মানুষকে ঢুকতে দেওয়া হয় না। একটি স্বাভাবিক মানুষ এই সময় কচ্ছের রাণে ঢুকতে চাইবেনও না। এই সময় সূর্যের তাপ ঊর্ধ্বগামী সাধারণত। এই ধরুন 40 ডিগ্রির কাছাকাছি। https://youtu.be/B9PedHvytCI আমার দেখা সূর্যাস্ত। সূর্যাস্তের পরে তো একদমই ঢুকতে দেবে না। তবে পূর্ণিমার রাতের দুদিন আগে আর দুদিন পরে বিএসএফ সাধারণ যাত্রীদের এলাও করে কচ্ছের রাণ দেখতে। শুনেছি, সেই সময় জ্যোৎস্নায় ভেসে যায় মরুভূমির একুল ওকুল। গোল রুপার থালার মত চাঁদ উঠে আসে যেখান দিয়ে কিছু আগেই অস্ত গেছে একটি কমলা রঙের সূর্য।
এছাড়াও একদিন সূর্যাস্তের সময় আপনি চলে যেতে পারেন কাল দুঙ্গার। এই কালো পাহাড় টি কচ্ছের সবথেকে উঁচু জায়গা। যদি কপাল ভালো থাকে তাহলে পরিষ্কার দিনে দূরে দেখতে পাবেন করাচি শহর। এখান থেকে ধোলাবিরা হ্রদ, একাল কি রাণ এই সমস্ত আকর্ষণ দেখা যায়। স্থানীয় মানুষেরা সন্তরা বাজিয়ে গান গান। এখানে একটি কালী মন্দির আছে যেখানে শেয়ালরাও নিরামিষাশী।কচ্ছ থেকে ফেরার পথে একটি রাত থেকে যান ডাসাদা নামে একটি গ্রামে। এর অপর নাম লিটল রাণ অফ কাচ্ছ্। এটি একটি বায়োস্ফিয়ার রিজার্ভ। এখানে বন্য গাধা, নীলগাই এবং বিভিন্ন পরিযায়ী পাখি দেখা যায়। এখানেই আমি প্রথম পেলিকান দেখেছিলাম।
হাতে সময় থাকলে একদিন অবশ্যই যাবেন হরপ্পা সভ্যতার ভগ্নপ্রায় কিছু নিদর্শন দেখতে, ঢোলাভিরা নামের একটি অঞ্চলে। এটি একটি ইউনেস্কো হেরিটেজ সাইট। এরপরে আমি যখন আবার রাণ যাব, ঢোলাভিরার বিস্তারিত গল্প আসবে।
Cinema as an influencing medium has had immense impact on mass psyche. It evidently plays a huge role in the whole making and unmaking process of a destination. In yesteryears, it had been travelogues. That remains true. But movie as a medium has evidently reached a greater population.
Even before I had an iota of idea of Greece as a nation state, I knew about the heydays of mighty Greek civilization. The conquests of Alexander the great, whom we Indians call as the Iskandar. His army and tribesmen remain in the safe haven of the Himalayas, at the mystic Aryan valley of Kargil. I could easily visualize the rise and fall of many Greek empires,
Romantic escapades of the princesses, politics and conspiracies of prime characters at the backdrop of the great Greek epic, Iliad and Odyssey. I get goosebumps even till this day, thinking of the demons and the wrath of the Greek Gods. Growing up, I found them coming live on the TV screen, in the form of many movies. The Greek culture and rich food heritage intrigued me. I closely followed many visual manifestations of the Greek cultural celebration. Thus, the economic crisis of Greece back in 2016 felt personal to me, as I prepared my notes for a presentation at the MBA school. Where are you, Alexander? I almost whispered!
Anyway, here is a compilation of the movies that will take you through the cultural heritage of Greece. Not just a nation full of beautiful scenic islands, Greece is the birthplace of one of the iconic and oldest human civilizations on this Earth! These movies are a proud portrayal of Greece! Watch them before you plan a trip of a lifetime to Greece and you will have an immersive experience during your travels in the offbeat Greek landscapes!
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
Directed by Zoel Zwick, My Big Fat Greek Wedding is relatable for multiple reasons. Here is a American woman with Greek ancestry who falls for a non Greek man. She struggles to make her family accept the man and arranges for an Old Orthodox Christian wedding. All the while, her father, who is the sweetest father on the earth in my honest opinion, is afraid his daughter will be leaving behind her cultural heritage and Greek identity. I related the most with her father in the entire movie!
The movie is not exactly set in Greece. However, there is ample example of Greek culinary heritage. The best part is there is a wedding, a Greek wedding with endless laughter, an elaborate large family, and plenty of food and Greek moonshine! You should totally watch it if you love familial celebrations! I am an Asian woman. I loved it!
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is filmed in English. There is a sequel to the film, which has more appearance by the father. The movie is shot in America. The backdrop, dresses, food, lifestyle: everything is American. However, the human values, religious adherence, historical anecdotes, like the grandmother cursing the Turkish invaders, the father over emphasizing on a Greek nuptial bond: all reminds you of a land they have been uprooted from. despite that, their love for Greece is overpowering!
I recommend this movie as a light family watch, as it is a romantic family drama.
Shirley Valentine (1989)
Directed by Lewis Gilbert, Shirley Valentine is a British Romantic Comedy. The film portrays the mundane life of a British housewife in her early 40s. However, she joins her friend on a trip to Greece. That decision legit changed her life! The journey to Greece actually proved to be an inward journey for Shirley where she found her inner self, and agreed to shed many inhibitions. The swimming scene where she is baring herself in the sea for the lack of a swimsuit is actually a metaphor for her celebrating herself for what she is!
It is a beautiful film that makes you feel good about yourself, and reinstates it is possible to restart life and set new priorities beyond societal conditioning!
The backdrop of the film looks dreamy indeed as it was mostly filmed at a few of the finest beaches of Mykonos island in Greece.
Shirley valentine was portrayed by Paulline Collins who won an Academy award for her portrayal of the protagonist.
Kazantzakis is a biographical film based on the life of prominent author Nikos Kazantzakis set in Crete. The film has garnered mixed reviews from the critics due to production design.
Boy on a Dolphin (1957)
IMDB rating: 6.2
The first Hollywood film shot in Greece, Boy on a Dolphin is a classic adventure film. Set in the island of Hydra, Phaedra, a diver finds a lost Greek statue of a boy standing on dolphin from the bed of Aegean Sea! The statue is believed to bring fortune for the city of Hydra but bidders dealing with historic artefacts are keen of procuring the heritage. You will get glimpses of destinations like Athens, Rhodes and Delos, Cinecittà in Rome, the Eastern Orthodox monastery complex at Metéora.
There’s a tale that they tell of a dolphin
And a boy made of gold.
With the shells and the pearls in the deep,
He has lain many years fast asleep
What they tell of the boy on a dolphin,
Who can say if it’s true?
Should he rise from the depths of the ocean,
Any wish that you wish may come true.
You say “he’s only a statue, and what can a statue achieve?”
And yet, while I’m gazing at you,
My heart tells my head to believe.
If the boy whom the gods have enchanted
Should arise from the sea,
And the wish of my heart could be granted,
I would wish that you loved only me.
What is this thing they call love
Before Midnight (2013)
If I am to name one movie that has inspired me to travel to Europe, and that is not a war film, it has to be Before Sunrise series! Two strangers meet on their way in Paris, they explore each other and the city together and thus, they start to share a beautiful relationship which eventually progressed towards a nuptial bond. What could be more romantic than this?
The lovers Jesse and Celine have grown older. Their fine and smooth faces are now painted in wrinkles and tiredness that is inevitable at 40s. They are parents of a twin who give them a run for energy. Love is now subtle connector between the couple. The wounds and hurts are more evident as they have matured in their relationship. An interesting conversation unfolds as they spend an idyllic vacation in Peloponnese. they look back at life, at the playful days of youth when they had impulsively de-boarded a train and embarked on a surprising journey that brought these two humans closer!
Before Midnight draws a perfect end to one of the best romantic trilogies of our time! We literally grew with the couple, believed in the ever after and when we are to near the happily ever after we are prepared how distant it is from the made up romance. rather, reconciliation and love as a bond is based of accepting the imperfect yet beautiful conjugal survival!
Do watch Before Midnight. Not just this but watch the whole trilogy! It would remain as one of your most intriguing cinematic experience ever!
The Big Blue (1988)
Shot at the Greek island of Amorgos, The Big Blue is a French film. It is a cult classic among the divers’ fraternity, telling the gripping story of two divers who remained friends since childhood yet somehow got entangled in the diving rivalry. The film drew inspiration from real life famous divers: Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca. The film portrays beautiful images from underwater, showcases human aquatic potential and empathy between friends at extreme situations. I absolutely adore the metaphor shown through the dolphin by the end of the film, that takes life back to the sea!
My Life In Ruins (2009)
A romantic comedy set in the ruins of ancient Greece, My life in Ruins tells the tale of a tour guide. The film was briefly shot at Acropolis. the film revolves around the story of an ex teacher who lost her teaching job and is struggling to hold on to the new job which clearly tastes her capacity to cope and adjust. the backdrop of the film lets you take a sneak peak to the ancient wonders of Greece, like Olympics or Parthenon etc. Nia Vardalos, who starred in My Big Fat Greek Wedding appears in this film yet again however could not please the critics like before. You would know why if you watch the film. I do not complain though since I get to see Greece nonetheless!
Based on a graphic novel on the same name, Hercules is a million USD budget Hollywood film based on a fictional adventure of the iconic Greek hero! The movie Hercules as the name suggests is based on fantasy genre. As the story suggests, Hercules the son of Zeus and a Greek woman travels as a mercenary for payment in gold. However, he emerges as a true warrior when the time comes to save the kingdom of Thrace against savages! If you love entertaining movies with great locales serving as a backdrop for the shoot, this movie is for you. Though the movie was shot mostly in Hungary and Italy, it has many Greek cultural nuances.
Captain Correlli’s Mandolin (2001)
The azure blue waves of the beautiful Greek island Kefalonia served as the backdrop of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a movie based in Greece! It is one thing I looked up for the movie to watch Penelope Cruise on screen. I just love this beautiful woman.
Love blossoms between a Greek local girl and an Italian commander at the onset on world war two. However, the woman protagonist has already given her word to a Greek man who has set on sail to fight the war. Tumultuous days of world war two follows with myriad course of battles won and lost. Overall, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a story of love and forgiveness in the face of an all engulfing war!
Sami, Antisamos beach and the surrounding hills became world famous in ensuing days as the filming location for this iconic film. The film is based on the novel of the same name written by British author Louis de Bernières, who elaborated a fictional story from the time of German and Italian occupation.
Mamma Mia (2008)
Mamma Mia was shot at the beautiful Greek island of Skopelos. The movie revolves around the protagonist girl inviting three men for her wedding and wishes to rekindle her mother’s lost love. The mother is portrayed by none other than the immensely graceful, Meryl Streep who is the only saving grace of this otherwise lousy rom com. However, I watched the movie only to gawk at the incredible beauty of the island living of this small Greek village (Skepelos village and Pelion region).
Zorba the Greek (1964)
Based in the beautiful greek island of Crete, Zorba the Greek is a B&W classic adapted from the novel Zorba the Greek; by Nikos Kazantza. You also get to see glimpses of the city of Chania, the village of Kokkino Chorio in the Apokoronas region and Stavros beach in the Akrotiri peninsula in the movie. It is a Greek comedy Drama and remains timeless in its appeal.
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)
The American comedy drama adapted by the novel of the same name is a story about friendship with explicit sexual content. A large part of the movie was shot at the dreamy Santorini island of Greece. I sat through a couple of hours only to have glimpses of that ethereal backdrop!
A group of Italian soldier from World War two gets stranded on an island on the aegean sea. The story unfolds with them eventually gelling well into the local greek way of life. It is a feel good movie set against stunning locales as backdrop.
The movie is filmed at the beautiful Greek island Mighisti.
Percy Jackson and Sea of Monsters (2013)
The film adaption of the Greek mythology reinstates anyone with right moral compass can emerge as victorious and become the hero everyone worships. Though Greek in the feel and the storyline, the film was not shot in Greece.
LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE (2003)
Lara Croft races against time to find Pandora’s Box, a weapon more powerful than you can ever imagine! The film was shot at multiple locations including Kenya but it has brief and beautiful moments in the Greek island of Santorini!
SUMMER LOVERS (1982)
A young American couple spends a beautiful vacation in Santorini until they meet a mysterious woman from Paris who creates new equation in their conjugal life. The film examines adventures and dynamics of a regular monogamous life at the backdrop of a free world where social prejudices does not create boundary for men and women!
THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002)
Shot at the impeccable Greek island of Mykonos, The Bourne Identity is an engrossing thriller. An action flic with high paced action and brilliant dialogues the Bourne identity shows the story of a man who wakes up with zero memory! His quest for the lost identity begins with a series of interesting incidents unfolding around. I wont talk more about it in the fear of giving out spoilers!
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
A Bond movie set in yester years, For your Eyes Only is about the 007 agent finding a missing British vessel. Parts of the movie is filmed at Meteora and Corfu in Greece!
The Two Faces of January (2014)
A thriller set in Greece and Turkey, The Two Faces of January is an enjoyable watch with a storyline of a con man, his wife and a murdered detective.
High Season (1988)
Set in the Greek island of Rhodes (which is the only reason why one should watch this- the scenic backdrop), the film is a British rom com that depicts the gradual transformation a sleepy sea village into a tourist spot due to uncontrolled, unmonitored visits by overseas tourists.
Atypical American adventure comedy set against the backdrop of the Greek island Patmos, Opa (also known as Lost in Love) is a movie about treasure hunt, adventure and more!
Arcadia Lost (2010)
An American drama set at the Greek village Poulithra, The movie revolves around two stranded teenagers and an American patriot and their journey to confront the truth of their life.
The historical drama based on the life of the Macedonian king has stars like Oliver Stone. Collin Farrel, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins etc. However the movie fails to create the dramatic effect for the lack of an intriguing storyline. It was mostly shot at morocco but some of the historical depictions are accurately shown.
Greek philosopher Hypatia of Agora fights the rise of dogmatic faith over religious practices over progressive ideas and scientific practice. The film ends in an untimely death but does convey a message and depict the time of a change and shift of history and Christianity eventually took over ancient Greek religious practices.
Another war film with an amazing story line and intense violence and gore, 300 has become a cult classic. While it does not feature blue ocean (obviously, it does not go with the theme of the film), it does draw many connections with Greek philosophy and way of life. For a cultural enthusiast, 300 is a must watch!
Spartacus (Series on Netflix)
One of the best Netflix series you can binge this weekend that is based on Greek mythology. Although VFX plays a big role in designing the backdrop, Spartacus was shot in Auckland. As with other gladiator dramas, Spartacus is full of violence, gore and blood. The storyline is a winner though which keeps the audience engaged!
The Greek Tragedy film is directed and produced by Greeks and filmed in greek language has been heavily acclaimed.
King Agamemnon is headed for Troy for a battle when he finds his ships are struggling to float in the intense volume of Red sea. An oracle tells the Greek warlord he has drawn ire of the Greek goddess by killing a deer. The story entails he has to sacrifice his daughter and in the process must hide his intent from his wife.
The Trojan Women (1971)
One of the most beautiful movies of yesteryears, The Trojan Women depicts suffering and aftermath of a war. When Troy was destroyed, her women waited, some willing to rebuilt the lost kingdom, some striving to save their own lifes.
The film was shot at Atienza, a village in Spain.
The film adaption of the classic novel Ulysses authored by James Joyce, Ulysses was a remarkable step to maturity of world cinema. It had garnered positive reviews by the critiques and has achieved many awards and accolades.
Clash of the Tytans (2010)
While the film is entirely based on Greek mythology, Clash of the Tytans was shot across Europe, especially the World heritage Sites, Canary Island of Spain and some parts of Iceland and Ethiopia. The action fantasy film produced by Warner bros unfold at the backdrop of Greek Gods creating and dividing the world among themselves. The subsequent politics of the rulers, humans and demigods and monsters make it an intriguing movie to watch!
An American Fantasy film, Immortals is filmed mostly in Istanbul. However the story entails many nuanced of Greek mythology which has intrigued readers since time millennia.
King Hyperion wages war across Greece by his ruthless army. He kills, tortures, burns Greeks in order to find the long-lost Bow of Epirus, a weapon which is believed to make a mere mortal invincible. His intent is to drive away the Greek Gods from Mount Olympus and become invincible emperor of the world!
However, a Greek oracle finds a local stonemason, Theseus who can put an end to this misery and bring salvation for the Greeks.
Directed by Costas Ferris, the film Rembetiko is a musical drama that portrays the history of Greece spanning over 4 decades. It has b=attended cult status in Greek film history. Marika is a famous Greek singer who was actually born in Turkey. In the backdrop of an eventful life of the protagonist Marika, events like world war 2, steamy American nightclubs, a troubled family struggling to settle in a new city, violent murders and an unrequited love unfold. The music of Rembetiko is passionate and soul stirring. This makes up for the better part of the cinematic experience.
Never on a Sunday (1960)
A Greek romantic comedy, directed by Jules Dassin, Never on a Sunday brings together a Greek Prostitute and an American Classicist. Both persuade each other to accept their respective truth of morality and prevalent life. While the film did score well with the critics, many considered the explicit scenes not suitable to be watch on a big screen. Nonetheless, the film performed well at international stages like Cannes film festival as well as Oscar.
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About this blog: In this article, I will list down 50 essential travel tips when you are visiting Goa. I assume this is your first time in the state and you have already decided on either north or south Goa.
Living a dream life by the beach in Goa, soaked in the rhythm of a comfortable slow life has become a reality in the prolonged lockdown era. I know people who let go their urban life and related vanity, pack their stuff in a hatchback and leave for the Goa life. In a bid to reset life during the great Pause, more often than not they have found an unexplored idyllic life. Al Beit it is laid back, slow, agrees with the order of Goan lifestyle, the quintessential susegad and lets you experience the beauty in small things. Being in Goa may remind you of the joys of yesteryears, of living in a small town, and taking a day as it unfolds.
Where you stay in Goa makes or breaks it!
Be it the north of Goa or the South, where you choose to stay in Goa can be a total gamechanger. The more touristy parts of North Goa have been spoilt beyond repairing. If you have to stay in North, please choose a homestay near Sangolda or sleepy villages at the hinterlands of Baga or Calangute. Please refrain from visiting these beaches. The night life might be nice but the beaches are in ramshackle state. I have been there after the lockdown was over and I am not exaggerating at all. If you have to choose north, drift towards Ashwem or Morjim. Even Dona Paula is not a bad idea either.
In South, Beyond the Cola beach, and in the deep south of Goa, say Patnem or Palolem, you may still find the last bit of beautiful wilderness of rocky beaches hidden behind the coves of coconut trees swaying in mellow sea-breeze. However south of Goa remains far off from the airport or main railway station. reaching these parts remains a pain in the wrong place.
Either choose a homestay or a beach hut or a responsible luxury stay that has its own access to waterbody. I would soon publish a list of the best hotels or bnbs to choose in Goa!
So far, I have loved the following stays in Goa.
An Airbnb at Candolim which sadly does not operate any longer.
Casa Cubo by the beach near baga run by an old lady whose children live abroad.
Le Meridien, Calangute
Yab Yum resort, Ashwem in North Goa (However, i am not sure if it is still operational)
Mercure Devaaya Resort at Dhivar Island for a holistic living experience. It is a luxury stay of international standard.
What to wear in Goa
Unlike what people think, Goa is not all about wearing a swim suit in the comfort of no prying eye are stalking me anymore. At least not the beaches of Baga and Candolim. You can easily wear western wears. For bikini shoots, choose a rather less crowded beach, preferably a private beach right in front of a beach hut. This way, even if you get unwanted attention, you will have people of the beach huts backing you up!
I have worn a saree in Goa. I have also worn a bikini in Goa. I did not shy away from experimenting with boho mix and match looks with ethnic clothes contrasting with a taste of west. A broad belt on a white dress, a flowing skirt in indigo hue, large tan bags to compliment the tan on my brown skin. Goa lets my skin breath under ample sunshine.
Please do not go topless in Goa. It is imperative to say despite all the cool European vibe and visible Portuguese influence, Goa remains a lot like mainland India and cultural nuances remain strong. Nude beach or too much of skin show not only attracts unwanted attention but also brings legal notice in Indian context. Do Not go topless in Goa. There are no nude and topless beaches in Goa either. No point of searching for these on the world wide web.
Please do not wear a heel in the beach. The sand only tolerates chappals on feet.
Best time to visit Goa
The sunshine state looks and feels her best during the sunshine days! Visit goa in Summer months or the dry winter mons. Starting from November to April is a great time to visit Goa. After that the rains starts. Monsoon in Goa retreats by August end and you can start planning a Goa trip again.
In monsoon, Goa coast experiences heavy pouring including a few occurrences of cyclones. I spent a night at a beach hut during Cyclone Kyarr in Goa and I would never that again in my life for the exchange of an entire world. It felt the sea roaring to gulp down my small villa. Please beware during the rains, many beaches remain off limit for the tourists too. However, moon is particularly stunning in Goa if you are keen on experiencing the hinterlands and the western Ghats as well as the beautiful waterfalls. Chasing waterfall and bathing in them is a thing in Goa during the monsoon months.
Another tip I can give you from years of experiencing Goa travels is please refrain from visiting Goa during the long weekends. The crowd is horrid, particularly around the Baga area. They litter the beach, pushes price to a sky high and smear the Goa vibe with noise pollution. If you cant manage vacation on other times, drift towards the deep south or instead choose Gokarna or Udupi.
Water sports in Goa
Goa is famous for various types of water sports. I loved parasailing in Goa. There is Sinquerim beach right behind the fort Agonda where locals conduct a number of water sports. Please ensure you are comfortable with the instructor and the price charged is legit. Illegal operators now roam free and that can even put your life to unnecessary risk!
The True Offbeat beaches in Goa
The further you drift away from Baga or Calangute, the closer you would come to untamed beautiful nature and pristine beaches of Goa. You mat frown at the idea of spending time at a beach sans a shack or minimum tourist infrastructure but once you discover one such cove, you would not want to pull away from that place. I say this from my own experience. peace and calm prevails in such beaches. Try Ashwem or Cola or Patnem beach and you may come back to thank me later. Just avoid monsoon since many beaches remain off limit due to massive undercurrent of the sea.
Sailing in Goa
Sail through the mangroves of Mandovi river on a round cane boat in the style of Goa locals. Sailing in Goa does not necessarily have to be that of luxury yachts, although those options are available aplenty! A few houseboats also float on the backwaters of Goa reminding you of Kerala.
usually, you can not sleep on the Goa beaches. But there are certain shacks which allows a makeshift arrangement for over enthusiast travelers to sleep off the night at the back. Make sure you speak to them beforehand and be clear of what you expect!
Massage on Goa beaches takes you closer to heaven
Local women clad in traditional Kunbi printed saree, a few silver toenails and flower beads on head often ask the loungers if they want a relaxing massage. dare you say no to them! They expert fingers play through your supple skin to relax the tensed muscles. The afternoons under the sun shed becomes surprisingly stress-free as you
Don’t do Weed in Goa but indulge in Fenny
Like everywhere else in India, weed or any type of drug is illegal and can bring the wrath of IPC. Please do not indulge in such activities, not just in Goa but everywhere else!
When in Goa, you have to indulge in Fenny. That is local moonshine made of fermented cashew or palm, GI tagged and a matter of pride for the locals. Fenny packed in various shapes and sizes can be bought and gifted as souvenir from Goa too!
Being a Stag in Goa
I have traveled Goa only as a solo woman and I loved it. despite a few drunkards abruptly disturbing my peaceful slumber at Baga beach, it was overall a safe experience to explore Goa. However for stag travelers, the experience could be a bit different. You may not be allowed entry to a number of pubs and bars. Family friendly hotels may ask a few extra questions. However, things have changed a bit after the lockdown and rules are relaxed so are the motivation for stag travelers, I feel!
Cliffs are dangerous
There are plenty of cliffs in goa, especially the ones where old Portuguese forts are situated. if you happen to climb one for better view of sunset, ensure you climb down with a torch before it is pitch black. Not just strays but snakes also may send a shiver down the spine for the bravest of explorers!
Surfing in Goa
The beaches in north, especially Ashwem and Morjim has surfing school and instructors for the surfing enthusiats in Goa. The waves roll in, has a perfect warm temperature and is favored a lot by those who favor water sports!
Trust the Local Boats
Speak to the local fisher men and convince them to take you along for a fishing adventure on their tiny sail boats. Among the things they fish, often a few sea-snake may sneak in. I am telling this to prepare you from before hand. However, if you can make a space in these fishing boats, you are in for an amusing trip! Usually, this happens in the beaches of South Goa. many villages are mushroomed the coastal region of South Goa. Wait for the fishermen who venture into the sea at the crack of the dawn and join them for this adventure of a lifetime!
Nightlife in Goa
From cruise ships to LPK and shacks where artists perform live music, Goa has a number of options to experience night life! Indulge in shopping for thrift items or souvenirs from the local markets in Goa.
The Issue with plastic and recycle
Refrain from littering the roads of goa from plastic and other junks.
Renting a bike/vehicle in Goa
Please note, drink and drive is a serious offence according to IPC and can lead to being convicted by the court. Refrain from doing so for your own safety and safety f the fellow citizens.
That Mythical Goa Vibe is a Truth
Goa is truly the land of free. As you glide through the beautiful coconut groves and explore the emerald green lagoons of the hinterlands of Goa, an idea slowly settles in that this place is different. This is a dreamy land far away from the bustle of an urban life. To truly experience Goa, you need to leave behind the cape of vanity, as well as the last bout of pride. You need to feel how small and obscure you really are in front of the magnitude of the vast nature. Arabian Sea at one end and the craggy Western Ghats on the other, Goa is pulsating with the heart of an artist, creating breathtaking visuals and stirring up the pot with a new day unfolding!
Think Twice before accepting that free drink
Please do not accept free drinks served at the beach bars or shacks or anywhere really if you are traveling as a solo woman. Not just molestation, this can lead to kidnapping and further complications as well.
PDA on Goa beaches are hardly acceptable
Although a much sought after destination among the honeymooners, Goa beaches are no place to do PDA. Too many prying eyes will make you uncomfortable beyond words. Add to that moral policing. PDA in Goa away from beaches will bring you to a walk of shame which looks fine only on the screen of GOT. IYKYK!
Rave/ Trance Parties are Elusive in Goa
Once famous for the hippie crowd who made a pit stop in Goa and spend nights celebrating life as if there is no tomorrow, Goa was a stronghold of the mythical trance parties. The idea was to enter an elevated sense of spiritual sensitivity and experience the other world through bloomed consciousness. i write this as I have heard this but these things do not happen anymore, as the local guides suggested. there is a considerable hush hush around around the trance parties which eventually ends up disappointing you because all you get to see is drunk punks gurgling trash.
Well, that is anything but trance for me!
However, being the hub of contemporary artists (who also contribute to a number of new age art museums in Goa), do not miss out on the cozy arty parties in Goa. the only way you may get access to one is if you choose to stay with an experimental hostel.
These are some of my curated travel tips for Goa. Things have taken a drastic turn after lockdown. Many homestays are shut now. The Russian charter planes are nowhere to be scene. Many tourist attractions are off limit for tourists. Colorful festivals celebrating mirth and joy are now restricted to a meagre number of joiners. Things have changed in the travel sphere too. those who travel seek to find comfort in the known thrills of Goa. That is fine as long as that keeps people safe and sound! This is the age of restrained and responsible travel experiences and nothing could have been more beautiful than that!
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About this blog: Old Silk Road Tour in Sikkim is a prized road trip experience. Traversing the high passes of Sikkim Himalayas that touch the sky at 14,000 feet high, the Old Silk Road Tour takes you to Zuluk, and further if weather permits. In this blog post, we would sketch the entire road trip plan, with a tentative cost of traveling to Zuluk, places to stop for the night on the old silk road map, and practical travel tips. For viewing pleasure, you can watch my YouTube series on Sikkim travel as well!
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Falling in Love with old Silk Route, Sikkim: Why visit Zuluk?
Simply answering this question, we chose to visit old Silk Route of Zuluk for stunning landscape of Himalayas and intense cultural ties with Central Asia with this part of the world that began with the Han Chinese! The hair-pin bends of Zuluk look looked ethereal with a sprinkling of snow during winter months.
The Old Silk Route Tour invokes memories of days bygone, when caravan tracts reigned the high passes and arid desert lands connecting the Mediterranean to the orient shrouded in the mist of glitters and opulence. We are talking about days from the second century BC.
Gone are the days of ancient history when the arduous road brought in fortune for traders in this part of the world. Old Silk Route in Sikkim lies dangerously close to the Indo-Sino international border which may turn into unspeakable mayhem at the turn of the day! A mellow memory of Tibet covers the land with a mist. Ancient history confronts modern politics eye to eye as incredible abundance of nature prepares the battle field!
If you have been in awe of the mighty Sleeping Buddha even once, the Old Silk Route would take your breath away! The mountain stands in close guard at the bend of every road! It is quite an adventure to cross each of the multiple hairpin bends on the old Silk Route. But once you do, you will be rewarded with an elusive view of the Sleeping Buddha. there, just there.. a little further up the road and you can touch her magnificence!
The Old Silk Route is an obscure remote land where not many tourist crowd has reached till date. To a large extend, you can find yourself alone, amidst some of the tallest ranges of the mountains of the world! If you desire to steal a few quiet moments like this from the world, Old Silk Route is where your home is!
Suggested 6 days 7 nights Old Silk Route Tour Itinerary
If You plan to return through Gangtok, you can plan a week exploring the Old Silk Route in the following order. This Old Silk Route Itinerary entails the best of the both world, jungles of Terai, verdant valleys and craggy high passes of High Himalayas!
Day 1: Reach NJP- Proceed to Reshikhola
Day 2: Reshikhola- Pedong
Day 3: Start for Aritar
Day 4: Ascend to Zuluk with permit from Rongli. Sunset at Thambi View Point
Day 5: Visit Nathang and head back to Thambi view point for another sunset. Stay at Lungthung if you are comfortable with the cold and limited amenities. You may choose to stay at Nathang valley as well. If you can brave the cold, omit Reshikhola from the plan and start from Aritar with an extra day allocated at Nathang Valley.
Day 6: Return to Gangtok with a stop at Tsomgo Lake (Changu lake). You may also start early and visit Nathula Pass
Day 7: Gangtok to NJP/ Bagdogra depending on further travel plan
This is the complete loop of old Silk Route. Nathula is now open for tourists where you may see the clear border between India and China as recognized by the world!
If you do not plan to visit Gangtok to complete the Old Silk Route loop but want to visit till Nathang (this ideally happens if you are visiting during peak winter when the entire stretch of Nathang valley is off limit to tourist) this itinerary can come handy.
Day 1: Reach NJP- Proceed to Reshikhola
Day 2: Reshikhola- Pedong
Day 3: Start for Aritar
Day 4: Ascend to Zuluk. Sunset at Thambi View Point
Day 5: Visit Thambi View Point. Stay at Lungthung or Zuluk
Day 6: Descend to Sillery gaon. Visit Ramitey for a beautiful view of Mt Kanchenjunga!
Day 7: Gangtok to NJP/ Bagdogra
Please note, this trip can be made reverse way as well, like starting from Gangtok. Do this if you are visiting North Sikkim first. However, weather has to be clear to be able to “do it all!” It makes sense to ascend to Zuluk from Bagdogra or NJP first as you would be making shorter trip to Aritar compared to Gangtok.
If time is not an issue, this is how the route actually looks like: NJP/ Bagdogra –> Icchey Gaon –> Sillery Gaon (trek to Ramitey) –> Kaagey –> Pedong –> Reshi Khola –> Mankhim (Aritar) –> Rangli check point –> Lingtum check point –> Padamchen (8000 ft) –> Zuluk (9000 ft) –> Thambi View Point (11200 ft)–> Lungthung View Point–> Nathang valley (13,700 ft & many things to do here)–> Old Baba Mandir –> New Baba Mandir –> Nathula Pass –> Tsomgo Lake (12700 ft) –> Gangtok
As of now Sikkim does not have any railway but works are in progress to establish a railway route for faster movement of troops and then locals and then the tourists!
Things to know before planning a trip to the Old Silk Route, Sikkim
Being one of the remote and obscure places tucked away in the Himalayas, you need to keep in mind few practical travel tips to visit the old Silk Route. This ranges from permits to safety tips to planning an effective itinerary etc.
Permit for Old Silk Route
You need to rent a local car to drive through the entire stretch of Old Silk Route. It is possible to take your own car but that entails a prolonged paperwork and a slurry of permits sanctioned by government officials.
Instead, we chose to go with a local car rental company. It was a decent experience with a mindful driver who also doubled as a kind photographer at times!
The travel agency would ideally help you get the permit done at Rangli. You also need to pass a check point as you cross the West Bengal and Sikkim border (if you are flying to Bagdogra). For permits, you need to provide a few hundred bucks, two passport sized photographs, your entire route map and recognized ID proof (passport, DL, Aadhar etc) for Indian nationals. Rangli is a nice little town with beautiful forest trails and lovely little doggos!
The permit to Old Silk route comes handy to control the tourist rush to the remote land where infrastructure is limited. Permit is also granted based on weather conditions. If a snow storm is predicted, you may not be allowed to visit Nathang valley or further.
Much like Tawang, traveling to Zuluk requires foreigners to follow a few specific rules.
One must not be traveling solo. People must travel in a group.
To apply for PAP (protected area permit), please apply with the tour operators who are registered with the Sikkim Tourism Department.
We visited old Silk route from 19 to 25th December and we loved that time. Sun shine washed the valley clean. there were instances of infrequent snow falls. It was extremely cold. but the weather was clear and we had extremely beautiful sunny sky that let us view Kanchenjunga and the entire sleeping Buddha range in prime glory!
Choose a time to visit Silk Route which is dry. The summer months of mid April to Mid June is a good time to visit the old Silk Route with roads blushing in red hue with blooming Rhododendron. Autumn in the mountain starts from late October to early November. Of course it changes with the course of monsoon. Wait till the monsoon has completely faded and then venture into the deep of the mountain. Ideally, till mid-January, you can safely plan a visit to Old Silk route and make it till Nathang valley. With increased snow fall, this route eventually closes down for tourists from February.
Cost of a 6 days 5 night trip to Old Silk Route
Prices start from 30 thousand for an Innova for a 5 days trip to the mountains. With oscillating fuel price, vehicle prices change too. You need at least 4 nights to see the Old silk route properly. The more the merrier!
Prices for homestays starts from 2000 rs per night. Of course it varies with demand and supply model. Overall, for a 5 days trip to the Old silk route with a private vehicle, you should have an estimated cost of INR 40,000 which includes a vehicle with a driver, homestays with food and permits. If the vehicle is shared, prices drop down drastically. Shared vehicles are available from Gangtok for Old Silk Route.
Places not to miss on the Old Silk Route
Please do not miss Thambi View Point, especially a sunset from this place. You must pay a visit to Nathang valley and see the milk white ranges of Sleeping Buddha rising atop the arid valley. I absolutely loved the silence when we were flying on a cable car on top of the Tsomgo Lake. A night stay at Lungthung is a prized experience at the Old Silk Route where the first rays of the sun easily penetrates the glass panes of the windows! Do take a stop at the Elephant lake, among many other glacial lakes on your way back from Zuluk to Gangtok! Words fail to gather praise for such stunning natural wonders!
All the places on the way to Zuluk offer different charms. The greens of Reshikhola (a Terai area) paves way for slightly elevated Aritar where clouds often come down to play with the peaks. The golden brown bush starts welcoming you as you approach Zuluk, all the way to Nathang valley, which is also known as the Ladakh of Sikkim. The dry winters paint these places at high altitude with arid hues while the monsoon yields in beautiful blooms. Talking about spring, the mountains of Sikkim bloom in bright beautiful rhododendrons, which is a site hardly one should miss!
Pro tip for Zuluk trip: If the cold becomes unbearable, ask the locals for a share of their moonshine. It is made of locally produced cherries and works better than brandy! They laughed and declared their children grow up drinking this! I do not doubt. I heard in Siberia they train their children to sleep on the ice!
Pack woolens. Enough woolens that you can withstand a night outside at sub zero temperature, braving gutsy winds!
There, I have said it. I have spent long, ice cold nights in Kargil, Ladakh. However, the hotel had basic amenities like a room heater, a centralized one and running water.
No matter which time of the year you plan your trip to the old Silk route, please be advised it is going to be lethally cold!
Especially the cold winds and the long lightless nights are going to be trying unless you are prepared to battle the cold. No matter what the weather prediction is, always carry enough woollens to fight bitter cold. Please carry the following in your luggage while packing for Old Silk Route:
Comforters for legs
Enough layers, with jackets and sweaters)
Thermals (this is going to save your life)
A woolen cap that covers your ears
Sunglass (sun reflects harshly on the ice banks)
Socks with extra pairs in case one gets wet in the snow
Gloves (with backup pair)
Shoe that can withstand melting snow and with great grip to help you with small hikes
A thermal flask to carry lukewarm water to keep you hydrated
Portable Oxygen Cylinder (in case of breathing trouble this will be of immense help)
Carry cash with you since there is no AT along the way to Old Silk Route!
There is an absolute shortage of cash procurement, not just on the way to Zuluk through Old Silk Route but from Siliguri itself, especially during peak travel seasons, say Durga Puja and likes. Please withdraw enough cash in time to complete the trip.
I wore a saree and a shawl on top and walked under beautiful sunshine. It all went fine until winds started to blow and sent chills to my bones. Always layer up. I can not put enough emphasize on this. Do not forget to drink water as well.
The owner of my homestay offered me melted yak butter that keeps the locals warm during winter. Apparently, yak butter helps in gouts too.
Please do not expect café and fancy dining places on the old Silk Route. It remains an offbeat destination frequented by mostly tourists from West Bengal.
Food is served by the homestays. they serve three meals and you may include that in your package. If you are planning to get ready to eat stuff, it might be a challenge to find warm water at Zuluk and areas further to that due to insufficient fuel.
Food is basic and suitable for vegetarians as well. For non vegetarians meals include chicken (for dinner) and egg curry (for lunch). The curries are fiery hot and can be had with roti or rice. You may choose to order simple Daal Chawal with bhajis. Save your appetite for the night you reach in Gangtok and head straight to the taste of Tibet for a gala dinner!
Meal prices range from INR 80 to INR 200 per person. There are pit stops at places where you may get some Maggi or hot tea, especially near the military camps. Due to Covid, these places were all closed.
The homestays usually serve this in set meals: Maggi or bread toast for breakfast. Anda curry with rice and dal and a sabji (local vegetables) for lunch. Dinner is similar with chicken replacing anda.
We stayed at the following places on our trip to the Old Silk Route Sikkim.
Aritar: Orange Court Resort
Zuluk: Snow Lion
Gangtok: Fern Dzong
After Zuluk, you may stay at Lungthung homestay (optional) however amenities are really limited.
If you have to stay in Nathang, try to book Dafter Bungalow.
Trip to Zuluk: How We Completed the Old Silk Road Loop from New Jalpaiguri to Gangtok
To visit the Old Silk Route in Zuluk, I started from Kolkata and S decided to join me from Bangalore. I took the night train to NJP station (New Jalpaiguri Station). The journey to Old Silk Road would span for next 4 days at least. It would take us to some of the most astounding heights of the Himalayan range in the lesser explored North eastern parts of India! Old Silk Route is a part of East Sikkim and straddles the border between India and China!
The night train to New Jalpaiguri Station
In old times, the train, also known as Darjeeling mail, would witness a flurry of over enthusiastic tourists. We were traveling by the end of December. The wind had a hint of ice cold notes. Thanks to the present scare of pandemic looming large, tourist rush was considerably low. Even the ones who were traveling were actually heading towards Darjeeling, the tried and tested hill town of West Bengal which never fails to amaze even when pressed with the charge of over tourism.
I started from Sealdah. Darjeeling mail was renamed as a special train as the Indian Railway was testing with limited locomotive engines in a post lock down world. We were not given any blankets. Food vendors were not to be seen anywhere close by. I bought a bed sheet for INR 80 from Behala hawker’s corner and decided to use it for the train journey. I was empowered with liters of hand sanitizers and packed food. I try to minimize water intake on the train just so that I do not have to frequent the washroom. However, the night train to Darjeeling had a surprisingly clean wash room. It was a new train, a new world!
Sleeping in a locomotive comes easy to me. I wish I could measure the deep sleep time in all my train journeys.
I woke up to find myself racing amid a scenic stretch of green valley. Paddy fields gently nodding. Silhouettes of towering mountains adorned the sky at a distance! Sunrays awashed the valley in golden hues. I looked out from the window and a cold breeze numbed my ear lobes. Promptly I put my head back and wrapped it with woollens. This is winter in the North. This is going to be an adventure!
All I could hope for was for the roads on silk route to remain bereft of snow to ensure a smooth journey. I was eagerly waiting to experience all the thrills, the hair pin bends, theJjilipi viewpoints, the entire range of magnificent Sleeping Buddha, the glacial lakes, the road to Nathula where Indo-Sino war ensued in 60s.
At New Jalpaiguri Station, jam-packed crowd welcomed us. The night train from Kolkata to Alipurduar had just left the junction. The station was overwhelmed with wander-lusters and locals alike! I managed to carry my luggage and camera bags to the overhead footbridge and leave the station premises. An old school steam engine is installed outside the station, greeting people with a reminder of the past.
In olden days, New Jalpaiguri was one of the first junctions to be connected to the mainland India. This is where wagons filled with freshly plucked tea leaves passed through. The British further experimented with tea wherever they went, including Mauritius however seldom found a worthy contender to the mountain slopes of Darjeeling!
We had rented a cab from a local Sikkim Taxi rental company. They suggested a pick up from the NJP station itself. I waited for S at the Bagdogra airport for an hour and finished a quick lunch with Fish curry and rice. The curry was fiery hot. I think an ample amount of Dalley chilly (now GI tagged) had been used in the make of that curry! We started for Sikkim by 2 pm.
About Silk Route: The 6400 km Silk Route extended from Xi’an (Sian), followed the Great Wall of China to the northwest, bypassed the Takla Makan Desert, climbed the Pamirs (mountains), crossed Afghanistan, and went on to the Levant. Goods were shipped through the Mediterranean sea. Middlemen of each region helped progressing the caravans. From Europe, the Black Death pandemic moved to Asia through Silk Route! In this blog, we are talking about the Old Silk Route, a part of the ancient Silk Route.
The Ascend to Aritar and an unprecedented delay
NJP to Aritar: 110 km (time took 7 hours)
We were heading to Aritar for the night. I have already told you the routes you can take as you ascend to the Old Silk Route of Zuluk. If I could start at dawn, I would have gone to Reshikhola village and lived by the beautiful mountain stream of Reshikhola. The pictures reminded me of Jia Bharali river of Bhalukpong as we were visiting Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.
The lake in Aritar is also known as Lampokhari (Pokhri meaning a waterbody in Nepali language) which reflects the lush green surrounding area in its colour! Spend the day visiting Mankhim, the hill top of Aritar for a clear view of Kanchenjunga. We saw it from the road itself, the entire sleeping Buddha range and rushed towards Zuluk with glee.
If you have time, spend a day at Reshikhola
If you stay at Reshikhola, which happens to be a part of West Bengal, or to be more specific, straddles the border between West Bengal and Sikkim, count a day extra to visit Pedong, a small town in Kalimpong. Famous for the old Sangchen Dorjee monastery, Pedong came to be during the reign of British India as their tea factories were buzzing with tonnes of produce. In February, Pedong hosts a fair named Pedong mela where Bhutia and Lepcha tribes from distant villages come with their annual produce. Do not miss that for the world if you love cultural nuances!
In Reshikhola, you can stay at Prakriti Eco Resort. To reach these homestays which use the word resort in the name you have to cross the Reshi river through a wobbly wooden bridge. It may be a bit dicey for the elderly people in the travel group. You may reach Reshikhola from the West Bengal side by crossing a dried up stream during summer months. But monsoon makes the river turn voluminous in the Bengal side.
Things to do in Aritar: First stop on the way to Old Silk Route
However, we rushed to see Zuluk and decided to spend the first night at Aritar. Besides, our two weeks long Sikkim itinerary had many quaint village stays in Pelling and Temi Tea Garden. We drove past Teesta and Rangeet river confluence, where many people stops for a night to camp. We stopped briefly on the road for momo and tea. By the time we reached Rongpo, the sun had set. It was the proverbial pitch dark night, one in which you can not see your hand in front. Rangpo is a town between Sikkim and West Bengal where the authorities would check for Sikkim Travel Card and other necessary details including permits etc.
Rangpo is an industrial town in Sikkim with many manufacturing units and pharma companies. There was a huge traffic jam in front of the Rangpo check point, the first of many checkpoints where you have to produce your Sikkim travel card. The nightmarish traffic lasted for a couple of hours.
While crossing Rangpo checkpoint, you can pick up alcohol from Lohapool. Alcohol is cheap in Sikkim. I had no clue why until I faced the biting cold of Zuluk!
Aritar is famous for a man-made lake (Aritar lake). Boating facilities are available here. You may rent a mountain bike and drive past the lake and the small tracts as well. The lake reflected the greens of the surrounding area! Aritar is situated at a height of 4000 feet.
At Aritar, we stayed at the Orange Court Resort. It is a family run homestay. Do not be fooled by the resort tag. Almost all the homestays in this route carry the word resort in their names, whereas in reality they are far from what a real resort looks or feels like. I do not complain. A homestay is the best way to run tourism in the fragile ecology in Sikkim.
The Owner of the Orange County resort sat with us in the evening, treated us to Chicken Pakora as her son and a beautiful German Shepherd Lucy kept us company. I am usually shit scared of dogs but Lucy took my heart away! A German shepherd dog could be so kind, so loving! I would have never believed it unless I would have met Lucy!
At Rongli, we stopped the car for about 40 minutes, produced travel card, route plan, government ID and passport sized photographs and procured our permit to visit Silk Route. Weather was permissible and we were told we could take the entire loop from Zuluk to Gangtok with a stop at Nathang Valley. If weather shows alert, the authority would not allow you a permit to visit Nathang valley.
From Aritar we started early in the morning. We finished a hearty breakfast with puri and bhaji and some piping hot tea! The road paved the way to the heights of Himalaya. Myriad shades of greens greeted us on the way. Some of the plants had turned their leaves in blood red hue. A few blood pheasants, state birds of Sikkim stood in alert. We crossed small streams, fountains, villages shaking off from slumber, young kids heading towards school.
The mountain streams in the region are known as Khola in Nepali language. One of the important points is Que Khola Falls before you enter Lintham village. In winter sunshine, plenty of colorful blossoms bloomed by the makeshift tea joints. Wooden bridges covered in Buddhist flags bring down elusive peace of Earth.
We drove past Padamchen, one of the larger habitats of the Old Silk Route at 8000ft. After Aritar, once you have procured your permit, you can only stop at places for which your permit has clear written mentions. For us, Padamchen was not mentioned in the permit and we could not stop even when we wanted to. This is a beautiful destination though, with pleasurable weather all through the year. Padamchen is also a sought after destination among the birders.
The last marketplace with enough stock is located at Padamchen. At Rangli you may find many shops, serving almost everything from trekking gears to Rosogolla, that too freshly prepared! Stock up with enough snacks. Carry some Korpur and medicines as prescribed by doctors.Please do not carry maggi and stuff that needs to be cooked in boiling water because you may not get the option to boil water in this rough mountain terrain at all! For a geyser to work, you need to switch on power right at 3 am.
Zuluk travel is tough love but it is very very much worth it if you plan it correctly is all I can say!
Aritar to Zuluk: 41 km (time took: 3 hours with permit)
In olden times, Zuluk happened to be a small village inhabited by the shepherds and nomads who resided at this high altitude zone in the harsh winter months. Situated at 9000 feet high, Zuluk claims the fold of the mountain, where ice cold northern winds do not find a passage.
A little ahead of Zuluk, serpentine roads take you to Nathang valley that straddles the Indo-Sino border at the Tibetan plateau. The proverbial silk route existing for thousands of years takes one to the forbidden Kingdom of Lhasa, Tibet.
With the presence of the Indian army, Zuluk town developed to be what it is today. The army has established a permanent transit camp at Zuluk. If you drive for 20 minutes uphill from Zuluk, you can see China on the right side. The road takes further turns and reaches Doklam, infamous for the stand off between India and China from 2017. It connects Nathula if you drive straight, another sensitive international border point between the South Asian powerhouses.
Trucks of army personnel are transported to the army camps. They gradually scale a high of 14000 feet and higher. Zuluk town was planned to act as a transit camp to help the men acclimatize at this astounding heights.
The army arranged for a permanent water tank, a luxury in an area where inhabitants are dependent on sunrays to melt the tap water that turns into ice in the dark of the night. The water tank stands atop the mountain, like an alert eye assuring and safeguarding the valley and its inhabitants with an assurance of sustenance.
The old silk route traversed a large distance of 900 km from Lhasa to Tamralipta. It mapped through Chumbi valley (now the conflict zone, Doklam) between India and Bhutan. Through the ancient trade routes, the Chinese and Tibetans traded silk, textile, livestock, chinaware, tea (read Jormer Chokh by Tillottama Majumdar) and ideas (Sri Atish Dipankara). Geopolitics of the twenty-first century may have stripped away importance from the old silk route but who can predict the course of history?
Thanks to the water supply, Zuluk developed two distinct places of stay. The Upper Zuluk Basti area, with a couple of hotels and a village that grows its own vegetables and manages its own waste with periodic visits to the nearby towns. Upper Zuluk has a military settlement just by the side, hence access to medical assistance (read need based oxygen supply) is a cakewalk here. Network was not available though, unless you are willing to wait by the main road for a while till a Jio signal picks up faint connectivity.
Lower Zuluk Basti is a more crowded area, located a few km ahead of Upper Zuluk and a lower altitude zone. Lower Zuluk has a number of makeshift stay options, cheap homestays and a few grocery stores where local women with babies tied to their back sell toothpaste, maggi and cigarettes.
Lower Zuluk resembled a haphazardly created locality to accommodate tourists. Most of the houses are in shambles. Bright blooms of myriad mountain flowers hanging from earthen hots at the entry of each house comes to rescue, to add hue to a foggy day.
If I were to choose a place to stay in Zuluk, I would opt for upper Zuluk. The homestays range between 2500 to 5000 depending on demand. Food cost is extra. The homestays in lower Zuluk are cheaper alternative stays. However, do not expect luxuries like warm running water or room heater and stuff.
It is imperative to choose a comfortable homestay in Zuluk. Zuluk is going to be one of the highlights of your trip. A few things you need to consider before booking a stay in Zuluk.
The Homestay in Zuluk should have access to running water.
The homestay in Zuluk should give you a room heater.
The homestay in Zuluk should have local networks to provide you medical assistance in case of emergency, think low oxygen level or breathing troubles.
Please ask your homestay provider if they have power back up. Usually power back ups provide for a faint light after sunset. Nights are long and dark in Zuluk and onwards.
Many people visit Zuluk, make it a base for the next two days, explore Nathang Valley and then head back to Padamchen and descend to West Bengal. I have already elaborated on this route plan.
You may stay at Padamchen, if Zuluk seems tough. It may seem a bit tough if you are traveling with a baby or elderly people. The mornings are mellow. The valley is sun washed. However, sunset brings a different world to Zuluk. With cold gutsy winds and pin drop silence, it can be nightmarish.
I can not emphasize enough on this, but please make sure you start early and reach Zuluk before sundown.
In case you want to stay at Padamchen, which is located at a lower altitude than Zuluk, please mention that at the time of procuring your permit.
The quirky symmetry of 32 loops of Zuluk, which are part of the ancient 93 hairpin bends through which priceless silk used to be traded from Lhasa to modern day Tamralipto (Tomluk of West Bengal).
In Zuluk, you do not have much to see but a few chortens, a Shiva temple, army barracks.
Zuluk as a stand alone destination does not have much to offer however you need to visit Zuluk to experience the sheer beauty of high Himalayas that lies ahead at Lungthung and Nathang valley. Also, at 9000 ft height, Zuluk is the safest place to tuck in for the night if you can not stand the severe cold that Nathang Valley will unleash on you!
Zuluk is located at the fold of the mountain. You can not see the Sleeping Buddha range from here. However, you can visit Thambi view point, a 15 minute drive from Zuluk and voila! It is a different world out there!
Things to do in Zuluk
Visit Thambi view point and spend the evening there. It is at the Thambi view point, I had experienced the most ethereal sunset of my entire life. Many people spend the night at Zuluk and start at the crack of dawn to visit Thambi. The first sunrays kiss the peak of the Sleeping Buddha range. Pregnant clouds crowd at the bottom of the mountains. Standing at Thambi, you get to witness a sunrise show of a lifetime! I had seen similar views of sunrise from Switzerland on Instagram!
From Thambi view point, you will also see the three level zigzag bends of the Old Silk Route. At the start of the day when the clouds are far up on the sky, you will be able to spot Zuluk town from a distance.
It is only fair to assume you will fall in love with Thambi as you witness the first sunset! You would ideally want to spend the night there to wake up to a magnificent sunrise. For that choose a homestay at Lungthung, a few km ahead of Thambi view point. For a thousand and a few hundred bucks, you may get a room at one of the local run homestays at Lungthung. The homestays have huge glass window pens through which you may get a stunning glimpse of the world outside! In hindsight, Lunthung can be lethally cold at night. Check the window pens and take a call accordingly. Running water is unavailable here. They give you a bucket of water which might get frozen at night. Staying at Lungthung may not be the most cherished memory but waking up to witness that sunrise is going to be a prized experience indeed!
From Zuluk, you may visit Jelepla Pass, Kupup & Memencho Lake which are on the way to Nathang valley. Many people plan to stay in the Nathang valley. Some choose to stay back at Zuluk and visit Nathang as a day trip. Nathang Valley is situated at an even higher altitude. A handful of homestays are there. You may choose to spend one night at the Nathang valley before heading back to the plains.
Please note, be it sunrise or be it sunset, the look and feel are going to be the same from Thambi view point. thus, if you visit Zuluk on day one and witness sunset, schedule an early sunrise visit and to Thambi again and proceed to Nathang valley. Many people start the descend on day 2 itself however in my honest opinion that is a bit rushed affair. After Zuluk, allow some time to Nathang valley and plan for at least a couple of days at Zuluk if you want to complete the old Silk Route loop and end it at Gangtok. Alternately, you may choose to descend down and spend a night at Sillery gaon or Icche Gaon, quaint little hamlets in the West Bengal Himalayas.
I was spellbound at the Thambi View point and thought this is the high point of the entire Old Silk Route tour until we reached natahng. By the end of December, Fresh snow kissed the pathway as we approached the arid mountain top. A few bends upwards Zuluk, the mighty Sleeping Buddha range presides over the sky!
Nathang is an even more remote spot compared to Zuluk. Once a few yak herders roamed this land. Now the over enthusiastic tourists have started to come and live here, hence few homestays sprung up. Spending a night at Nathang can be roughly compared to that of living under the starry night on a mountain top, while even craggier peaks stand at adistance. Nathang is a valley bordered with towering hills but the real deal is Mt Kanchanjengha!
You may spend a day at natahng and make day trips to the glacial lakes. I suggest visit till the elephant lake, also known as Kupup and return back if you are to descend down. I must mention, you can only visit these routes if you receive permit from the check points. The official order is to issue permits only if the sky is clear for coming days. Otherwise, you might be turned back from Zuluk itself. Fear not since Thambi View Point is a treasure of this part of the Himalaya.
While many chooses to descend down from Nathang valley through Padamchen, and rest a few days at Icchegaon and Sillery Gaon, small quiant village stays in West Bengal, we chose to complete the loop and head for Gangtok.
Baba Mandir is standing in memory of Baba Harbhajan Singh where visitors irrespective of religious identity may visit and experience the magic! We are transient passengers in this mystic and harsh land. We must learn to shut up and listen to stories of motivation and faith prevalent among the locals, that includes inhabitants as well as army professionals. Loics fail when they state with confidence it is due to Baba’s blessing that nathang valley remains safe against intruders. I also try to gather the mellow tune that emerges from losing Tibet to the Chinese PLA.
People of Nathang valley are originally descendants of the Tibetan tribesmen. Once upon a time a school was operational. But teachers referred to teaching in such extreme weather conditions. You can not really judge. On days one can wake up and see the entire valley is covered under the thick blanket of snow. Another day, merciless rain brings in thick fog. Cars get frosted. Batteries get damaged. Running water is a luxury.
When it rains in Nathang valley, Oxygen level also drops in the air, causing trouble for tourists. The locals are made of iron lungs!
I wonder what makes the old people of Nathang valley endure such extreme hardship. “This is my home!” An old lady grinned. Her toothless face lits up as she points out her son has gone to Gangtok, to study and work.
Nathang valley to Gangtok
On our last day at Zuluk, we started at 11 from Zuluk and reached Gangtok by 5 pm. On the way, we stopped at Nathang valley and Changu (Tsomgo Lake) and saw Nathula as well. We did not venture to Nathula as we did not have permit and border was closed due to the ongoing lockdown issue. Recently, road to Nathula has been open and permits are given at check points. If you want to visit Nathula, mention the same at Rangli check point where your permit will be prepared.
Start early for the day and proceed to Gangtok. This way, you will have ample time to make multiple stops on the way. It is going to be one of the most beautiful road-trips in the Himalayas. I often compare this to the day trip to Bum La Pass from Tawang.
The road from Nathang is maintained by army and created by BRO. It is designed in a way that heavy duty army vehicles can easily operate on the high altitude terrain. Heavy snow and stuff do not usually perturb its make. I have heard many people complain that Sikkim has terrible road condition. I agree if you are talking about west Sikkim and the districts bordering with Indian states. But the international border is extremely well laid!
You can choose to stop at Baba Mandir. There are two, one is old baba Mandir and the other one is new baba mandir. The entire stretch is arid, with sparse vegetation. Wooly yaks roam with élan. A few shepherds appear out of nowhere. On the right hand, we had an entire valley covered with clouds. This happens in high altitude areas. We were told, that is China, once the stronghold of Tibet, the forbidden kingdom.
At a height of 14,000 feet, Nathang Valley stands as an ode to the poem, Life Finds a Way! Once only inhabited by the yak herders of Tibet, Nathang valley had makeshift night arrangements for the caravans of silk route. Now, a few homestays have taken over with meagre arrangements to sustain life for a limited time. Nathang is accessible by tourists only for a handful months of dry summer and early autumn. During winter, gutsy wind blows in to the valley from every corner of the world, making life, forget holidaying, an adventure! Our guide mentioned the time he was stuck here with his vehicle under 5 feet deep snow!
Staying at Nathang valley is a daring adventure, is what I hear from my friends who spend a night at one of the many homestays at Nathang Valley. It is a task to take out your feet of the blanket and feet the toes after sundown. During sunrise, you see Kanchenjunga and the entire sleeping Buddha range standing in alert at a distance. From Nathang valley, the Sleeping Buddha range feels closer and more magnificent than ever. May be Pelling comes to a close comparison, however Pelling is a touristy town.
From Nathang valley, driving down to Gangtok brings you closer to the Hati Lake (elephant lake), Memencho lake and a few more high passes. It was biting cold and I barely could put my nose out of the car!
If weather condition shows a bit of red alert, authorities would not issue permits to visit Nathang valley. You have to take your car back from Zuluk itself. Zuluk usually does not receive heavy snow. Thambi view point, on the other hand, may be covered with snow, making the ride to Thambi quite an exciting one!
Places to visit near Nathang Valley
I laugh as I write this but Nathang Valley has the most of “Things to do” in the entire area. This is like nature being playful and throws a challenge. “Can you do this?” If you can not stand the cold, stay back in Zuluk, visit nathang valley as a day trip and see the following points.
Trek down from Baba Mandir and visit Memencho Lake (4 km trek downhill)
A little monastery where a handful of local Buddhist monks live in Nathang Valley
The Eagle Nest Bunker (13,700 feet & a hard find). However, visit this place for an early morning sunrise view when you can have a 360 degree view of the entire valley, with kanchanjengha at one side and Tibet at another. I hear people say, you can even spot the mighty Bramhaputra river (Tsongpo River, his origin which is now in occupied Tibet). For astrophotography, eagle’s nest Bunker is a golden hunt!
Tukla valley: 15 km from Kupup, Tukla straddles shoulder with Chinese border and remains partly accessible by the tourists. An eighteen-hole golf course called Yak Course (13025 feet) makes Tukla the highest golf course in the world. The Yak Golf Course has found a place in the Guinness book of world records for being the highest in the world. Golfers do not use a car here, instead they ride a yak! Many compare Tukla to be similar to Yumthang of North Sikkim.
On a clear sky day, you may see Jelep la from Tuk La valley. Through Jelep La, one could travel all the way to Lhasa. Now the road is closed (under PLA). Old Trades have eventually paved way for short lived tourism.
Nathang valley is incredible! They say the mountains are different with the onset of a new season. I do not think you can witness the change any better anywhere else but nathang valley. A few mountain streams mark a boundary for this little village. Once a halt for the caravans coming from Lhasa, Nathang is now a brave halt for adventure seekers of plainlanders.
The battle of Natahng was fought here in 1888, between the Tibetan & British forces. Legends of the fallen soldiers resonate in the air.
In Nathang, please stay at the Daftar Bungalow! Once used by the British to collect custom duty (ugh the colonists) Daftar Bungalow is the only stone construction in the village where gutsy wind does not find a way in! It has been renovated by the department of tourism Sikkim Govt. In the peak of winter, winter skiing takes place in the valley.
I recommend you visit Nathang on a clear sky day to truly experience the beauty of this vast land! But then mountains and her moods, we have no control over! If Nathang remains under thickets of fog, you will not be able to see many prime attractions on the road, including the Zuluk zigzag roads.
Stop at the Changu lake (Tsomgo Lake) on the way back to Gangtok
Nathang valley to Gangtok: 5 hours ( with stop at Changu lake for an hour)
The highlight of returning to Gangtok from Zuluk was albeit a stop at Changu Lake. The glacial lake, a sacred waterbody to the locals, is a touristy spot. Much like the Pangong Tso, Tsomgo lake too changes its colour with the movement of Sun. Order piping hot Maggi, ride the largest cable car, get a picture with the decked up yaks or just walk close to the bank of the lake. Plan for a couple of hours to spend by the beautiful Changu lake!
Due to its close vicinity to Gangtok, Tsomgo Lake is frequently visited by a number of tourists, making is a bit underwhelming with the crowd and the usual touristy things. Despite being located at 12,300+ feet height, Tsomgo lake lacked the celestial vibe all thanks to the crowd.
Steal a few lone moment as you ride the highest cable car of Asia over Tsomgo Lake and reach for the table top plateau that lets you take a bird’s eye view of the high passes you have covered to make this journey a worthwhile!
make sure you reach back to Gangtok before sunset. Black ice starts to set in at the end of the day when sunlight do not abound the valley, making the ride a challenging one.
A Responsible Traveler’s Guide to Old Silk Route, Sikkim
Needless to point it out but old silk Route happens to be one of the most fragile ecological zone in the entire world. To top on it, it is a dangerously protected zone, reminding you a sleeping demon may wake up at any moment, disbalancing the peace that prevails in the valley! The trade caravans have retreated their old tracts paving way for amphibious war vehicles reigning the distant emptiness.
Thankfully, the major crowd puller in Sikkim remains the road to North Sikkim that empties vehicles by the banks of Gurudongmar lake or the beautiful Tsomgo Lake. The later has been taking it one for the team for ages now!
Sikkim is famous as one of the cleanest states of the country. Inhabitants of Sikkim state are well disciplined and follow the decorum. However it will take a while to grow that civic sense among the tour parties who frolic around with empty plastic packets of chips and glass bottles of beers. Be it the scenic Thambi view point or the banks of Tsomgo, no place finds a respite from this unrelenting litter.
people in the mountain usually wake up early, say 5 am. Nights are long and dark with power supply being erratic. dinner would be served by 7 or at best 8 pm since the homestay owners have to finish kitchen work by 10. Please co operate with them.
One way to help save the chastity of the region is by not playing Hindi music in loudspeaker. Please?
Please do not click pictures of Military installments. It is written on boards too.
Refrain from night drives because the road is lonely and black ice is lethal.
There is no hospital in close vicinity. In case of medical emergency, locals and tourists usually rush to army camp.
Avoid staying at Nathang valley if you are traveling with a small kid. That thing air may not be suitable for young lungs.
PLEASE DO NOT LITTER. I am sure if you had been my reader for a while, you know this. But this is for the newer ones, plastic waste by one tour party seems to be an innocent mistake but in reality that litter goes on to live for thousands of years and eventually becomes a part of the ecology in broken down form, increasing the power to pollute to infinity.
Medical facilities in the area is extremely limited with communication limited to faint network by the main road on certain network ones only. Please get your basic medication handy. Do not rush. DONT RUSH. Allow your body to acclimatize to the astounding heights of Old Silk Route and climb slow but steady. Not everyday you come so close to nature. It is absolutely okay to stay back and soak in the atmosphere!
Please get your Covid tests done, along with latest RTPCR report. Always keep the mask on when you are dealing with the locals. You have means to travel back to the city, quarantine, access to information and latest medical treatments. Locals in Zuluk do not have these privileges. Please get the test done. Do not be a rule flouter by any means.
The flags on the mountains are hoisted to bring peace to the valley. respect them, especially if they seem to be fallen off grid. If you have not received the permit to access a particular zone, do not try to play around. It is IAF we are talking about. Rules are meant to be adhered at old Silk Route.
If you are visiting the ancient monasteries, please respect the monks and the hand painted artefacts and thangkas. They are priceless to the locals and these antiquities date back to thousands of years!
Resources are scarce at the old Silk Route. Be mindful of what you can consume and take only that much on your plate. Homestay owners grow a little bit of vegetables including potatoes and cabbages which will be stored for the long bitter cold winter too. They will share a bit with your for a price.
Respect for locals and rule of the land comes imperative while you traveling to a remote land such as Old Silk Route. this not only sustains the tourism infrastructure of Zuluk but also ensures you have a safe ride back home!
-Plan your trip to the Old Silk Route during Dry months, from Mid Oct to Mid Jan and Mid April to Mid July
Q: Can I visit Old Silk Route During Mid December?
-I visited Old Silk Route during Mid December and the trip was worth it! The weather was clear. We did the entire loop from Aritar to Gangtok with Zuluk and Nathang valley in between.
Q: Should you stay at Nathang Valley?
-If you can withstand biting cold and gutsy winds, please choose to stay at Nathang Valley for a night. It is going to be an experience of a lifetime! Of course it depends if you can procure a permit to visit Nathang valley at Rongli check point.
Q: If Zuluk Safe for solo women travelers?
-Zuluk is sparsely populated. there is no hostel. Overall it is a safe place with hospitable and kind locals. Weather could be a challenge though. getting medical help is a challenge too at Zuluk.
Q:Is it safe to visit Old Silk Route?
-Old Silk Route is an ancient trade route that connected India and China through Tibet. It is famous for the hair pin bends known as Zuluk loop. Zuluk is a safe and offbeat destination in east Sikkim however due to increased altitude, there might be breathing troubles. Please acclimatize well as you ascend to Zuluk, Lungthung and Nathang valley.
Q: Is it expensive to travel to old Silk Route in Sikkim?
-You have to arrange for a car for the entire road-trip. Ideally you should get an Innova or a similar car and prices start from 30 thousand INR onwards. Homestays cost INR 2000 onwards. For meals, prices go up a bit higher. Everything is chargeable, starting from hot running water to room heater. Overall, traveling to to Old Silk Route is by no means a cheap travel however it is worth every penny you spend due to the beautiful scenic beauty the road entails!
Q: Is Silk Route Tour in Zuluk open in December?
-Usually Old Silk Route remains open in December however North Sikkim gets closed by the mid of December.
Q: Old Silk Route in Sikkim height?
-Zuluk stands at 9400 feet. Nathang valley is at 13,400 feet. Tsomgo Lake sits at 12,700 feet.
Q: Is Silk Route Worth Visiting?
-The Old Silk Route in Sikkim is one of the best offbeat destination in India. It is one of the stunning road-trips across Himalayas that lets you take a beautiful view of the entire Sleeping Buddha range throughout he journey!
Q: The Best places to visit on the old Silk Route?
-On the Old Silk Route, my favourite destinations are: Zuluk, Lungthung, Nathula and Tsomgo Lake.
Q: Can I travel from Zuluk to NJP in a day?
-Technically, you can however it is a long road with many possible road blocks and the journey would be too tiring. Instead, stop at Aritar for a day and break the journey in two parts. Safe journey and happy journey!
Q: Can I visit Silk route tour if it snows?
-If it snows lightly, you may be provided with a permit to complete the entire loop of Old Silk Route from Aritar to Gangtok. However, in case of heavy snow storm, you will only be able to ascend till the Thambi View point. Sometimes, permits are issued for Nathang valley as well. But the road onwards is heavily militized for proximity to international border and often limited for commoners due to increased safety risk.
Q: Should I stay at Zuluk or Nathang valley?
-Make your base at Zuluk and see if you can endure the extreme cold. If the answer is yes, head towards Nathang valley for a night stay or you can visit Nathang as a day trip destination too. It is only a 30 minutes drive from Zuluk.
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