The first step on Sri Lankan soil aroused little emotions. Because it is the water that charms, rules and even devastates the island. Yet, at 25 degree Celsius and a cool breeze at 3 in the afternoon (when the sun is directly overhead), the weather was good. The Colombo Airport is quite similar to India’s IGI Airport, freshly renovated albeit half as grand. The Sri Lankan mnemonics like tea and cinnamon were being promoted, the queues were small and the ladies at immigration knew passable English and no Hindi. After collecting my bag, I headed to kiosks selling international calling cards and chose Etisalat.
From exiting the airport till reaching our bus a mere 30 metres away, a clear sky transformed in to heavy rainfall. As I later learned from Sam, our guide, the island (and some parts more so) is famous for quick change of temperature and contrasting climate zones in close proximity. As our quasi-luxury bus travelled from Colombo to Hikkaduwa, about a five hour ride, my trip to Sri Lanka began. This is a little known town towards the south of the island, which is but a blessing in disguise. As we travelled from Colombo to Hikkaduwa, the landscape changed from cosmopolitan-fast to country-slow.
Probably the best part of the trip was our hotel, Hikkaduwa Beach Hotel, a three-star property, which couldn’t have been any closer to the beach. After a buffet dinner and drinks, bottles that we bought at Colombo Airport (you name it, they’ve got it), we slept in our rooms, lulled by the waves washing on the beach 10 metres away.
The sunrise at Hikkaduwa was enough a reason to pull us out of bed at 4:30. One may say that the sight of the sun rising from the end of the endless sea is the same everywhere, but the one we witnessed at Hikkaduwa was unexplainably different. Photographer friends of mine were capturing the horizon in all possible combinations of angles and lights. Others were strolling barefoot on the beach, waves washing up water and sand against their feet.
In what might sound incredible, a giant tortoise, about 4 feet wide, came out on the beach. A local pointed out that it weighs over 100 kilograms and is over 300 years old. Uncomfortable with the attention and shutters probably because of its old age, the tortoise soon went underwater!
After a rising sun and a sinking tortoise, the third attraction of the morning was snorkelling at Hikkaduwa beach. Go no more than 100 metres in to the water and you’ll find giant colonies of corals, with patches of royal blue and bright green shimmering with sunlight on their surface. The 90-minute snorkelling session was as fatiguing to the body as it was pleasing to the mind!
Yet, 20 minutes after snorkelling, we were again in water at the hotel swimming pool. The water cricket and slipper-football introduced by one of my friends were quite fathomable innovations! Having spent another hour in the pool swimming, playing, shouting and even evading a local trying to sell us weed, everyone had one feeling, hunger.
The elaborate lunch at the nearby Red Lobster restaurant was of various vegetarian and non vegetarian Sri Lankan delicacies. We devoured Sri Lankan vegetables, shark meat, prawns and steak and washed it down with the local Tiger beer. To digest the obscene amount of food inside us, we ventured on foot to explore the markets and streets of Hikkaduwa. Here, people are simple and the houses, colourful. What caught us by surprise was the unusual pricing of usual everyday goods. A packet of chips for 70 SLR (31 INR), 1 litre of water for 80 SLR (36 INR) and a small packet of namkeen for, hold your breath, 300 SLR (136 INR)!
In the evening, we retired to our hotel for another dinner and drinks party by the pool. The most peculiar aspect of this Hikkaduwa tour was its carefree vanity. Without any temples, queues, architectural marvels or set itinerary, the holidaying experience was relaxing in its purest spirit.