Bindu Gopal Rao
NEARLY 110 km to the south of Colombo lies the resort town of Bentota. Its sandy beaches, swaying palms and the blue Indian Ocean serve as a perfect backdrop to explore its many picturesque sights.
As a country that is slowly getting back on track after a major economic upheaval, a visit to Sri Lanka shows the resilience of its people. Most put up a brave front, and unless asked about the situation, do not offer to speak. The influx of tourists, especially foreigners, is giving their economy the much-needed fillip. The currency is favourable for Indians (Rs 1 = 4 LKR, or Sri Lankan Rupee), though the prices of most places are quite high. Bentota is home to the country’s most well-known architect, Geoffrey Bawa. One can visit Lunuganga, his home and gardens. Prior booking is needed for a guided tour. The morning tour (which costs around Rs 2,900) is ideal to see the gardens and understand the prolific architect’s philosophy of tropical modernism and minimalist architecture. Wear a pair of comfortable shoes as this is a walking tour, where the guide will regale with stories of Bawa, his idea of sustainable design and his love for great working views. The gardens are lush and overlook a water body. The house has been converted into a resort, and one can also choose to stay there. Do not miss the sculptures as well as the furniture that he has designed.
An hour’s boat ride (which costs around Rs 2,100) on the Madu Ganga River Safari will take one in the lap of nature. Tour companies accept Indian currency. However, they charge a high conversion rate. While many group boat rides are available, an individual ride is recommended to enjoy the river at one’s own pace. The ride, through mangroves, leads to a Buddhist temple at one of the islands.
Make a short stop at Cinnamon Island. Here, the visitor will be introduced to the process of cultivating and extracting cinnamon. A cup of cinnamon tea is part of the experience. One can also buy cinnamon bark and cinnamon oil here. There is also a pit stop for a fish pedicure. It is a scenic ride, where one can see several species of birds as well as reptiles like river monitor.
Nearly 15 km away is the town of Kosgoda, which has many community-based turtle conservation initiatives. Eighteen research centres work for the conservation of green turtle, loggerhead turtle, hawksbill turtle, leatherback turtle, flatback turtle, olive ridley turtle and Kemp’s ridley turtle. The eggs are collected, incubated and hatched in the turtle hatchery. Baby turtles are then released back into the ocean. The entry fee to the turtle hatchery is Rs 250. Here, a guide will accompany the visitor and explain the process.
On the banks of the Bentota river is the Galapata Raja Maha Vihara Temple, which has the sacred tooth relic of Sri Anubuddha Maha Kassyapa Arahat. The temple has a large statue of a reclining Buddha and is covered with colourful paintings all over. The route to the temple is scenic and one must stop to experience the simple pleasures of village life. There is, on the way, a small puppet museum (entry fee Rs 250), which has a collection of traditional string puppets. The live puppet performance is a delight.
In Sri Lanka, one must not miss out on local delicacies. While there is a lot of seafood to try out, a huge range of vegetarian dishes too is available. Some must-try dishes include Sri Lankan egg hoppers, kiribath (rice and coconut milk) and kukul mas (chicken) curry. Also try out the kithul (jaggery) palm treacle, a honey-like liquid, as well as the varieties of organic heirloom rice. The food resembles what one may have had in India but has unique flavours. In all, a stop at Bentota is a great way to get introduced to the island country.
HOW TO REACH The best way to reach Bentota is to take a taxi from the Colombo airport, which will cost nearly Rs 5,500, and travel on the A2 highway — one will reach in less than two hours. Buses are also available. A small railway station at Aluthgama is 2 km away.
STAY There are a lot of options available for staying that can suit various pockets. The cost can vary from Rs 6,000 to Rs 30,000 per night.
EAT At popular restaurants like Mangala Pavilion, Diya Sisila, Randholee, Frangipani, a meal for two can cost Rs 3,000 to Rs 13,000, including location cost.
SHOP One can explore the local bazaar in the town for souvenirs, batik textiles, carved wood, brassware accessories and meetiyagoda for moonstones and semi-precious jewellery.
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