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Wanderer Neha

"i haven't been everywhere but it's on my list."

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Monsoon Date With South Goa

Having fulfilled drinking, dancing and partying in Goa in our previous encounters, my friend and I decided it was now time to explore its tranquil side. 

We boarded a midnight train from Mumbai which would get us to Goa the following afternoon. To our surprise, we were greeted with splendid greenery of the Konkan route. It was worth ditching an easy one hour flight!

konkan maharashtra

Since this trip was strictly 'backpacking', we hopped on a bus from Madgaon which would take us to Palolem. Goa is well connected with local buses which are frequent. In the absence of Uber and Ola, it is quite a relief. This route was again stunning and introduces you to a rural side of Goa. 

airbnb palolem goa

We chose an Airbnb near Palolem beach as our hub which was central to all the places we wanted to visit. With 48 hours in our hand, there was a lot to accomplish. 

Palolem Beach

Day one ended with a stroll at Palolem beach, watching the sunset as we had a tiring journey and didn't want to do much. It was my second time here and I loved its vibe during the summers too. Even though this beach pulls a sizable crowd, it doesn't get as crazy as Baga. 

palolem beach goa

I always wanted to explore Goa on a scooty and this time I was lucky to have a friend with me who could ride as I'm petrified of doing it myself. Our agenda was to explore the coastal route from Cabo de Rama to Galgibaga. So the next morning, we set out on our little road trip.

The rains had brought with it lush greenery all around and a crisp weather. The tiny roads were lined with multiple shades of green trees as far as our eyes could see. It all felt surreal.

cabo de rama south goa

south goa road trip

Cabo de Rama Fort

Our first stop, Cabo de Rama fort, was quite a find. We were among the handful people at the property. Since there wasn't any tourist frenzy, you could actually find spots to sit and reflect. Most of the fort has been disintegrated but you get to see some of the ruins. There is a church here too. But the best part of the fort is the view it offers from over a cliff. Something you would not expect in Goa. There is also a tiny path which leads you down to the sea.

cabo de rama fort goa

cabo de rama goa

Next, we headed to find all the beaches on the map south of Cabo de Rama.

Cola Beach

Our first beach, Cola, led us to disappointment. The path to get there was tricky and it rained for which we weren't prepared. We reached only to find out that the tides were high. Also, all the makeshift hotel properties were shut down and it was difficult to navigate in the area. Avoid this beach during monsoon.

cola beach goa

The beach sort of has a water lagoon at shore which seemed to have been washed off due to the downpour. Maybe we will return to this one during the season time.

Agonda Beach

We were happy to find our next beach inhabited although sparsely. We rested for while at the shore with the sight of ferocious waves. I think the beach must be buzzing during the season time since there were few settlements nearby.

It was then time to grab some lunch and head back to our room for a quick nap.

agonda beach goa

Slightly drained out with our day excursion, we were feeling lazy. However, our determination to tick off all the beaches from our list got us back on the road.

Colomb Beach

It was a slightly rocky and tiny beach so we did not spend much time here and drove past it. Basically, a small cliff separates it from the adjacent Patnem beach.

colomb beach goa

Patnem Beach

My fondest memory of this beach was being greeted by a couple of dogs at the entrance and accompanied by them as we walked along the shore. Little did they know that we didn't have any food for them.

patnem beach goa

Rajbagh Beach

The LaLiT Golf & Spa Resort is set alongside this beach and you might wonder whether this is a private beach while getting here but it's not. Although the beach pulls mostly guests from the resort, it was still very sparsely crowded and clean too which we liked. We managed to find a nice spot to sit and devour on our coconut cake while watching the sunset.

rajbagh beach goa

With that, it was the end of day 2. We got dinner near Palolem and promised ourselves to rise early and head to the remaining 2 beaches further down south.  

Talpona Beach

I was ecstatic on reaching Talpona. Like I found something unreal. The beach was lined with Pine trees (which is what I think they are called) and was so picturesque. It's one of the cleanest beaches I've been in India and I've been to a LOT of them (22 in 2017!). There was not a soul in sight, just us and the lifeguard. Just the sound of the sea. Just the glistening sand below our feet. It was one of those perfect travel moments.

talpona beach goa

One day I hope to return and spend more time at Talpona which is unarguably my new favorite beach in Goa!

Galgibaga Beach

It was a bittersweet feeling as we reached our last beach of the trip, Galgibaga. Also known for its turtle nesting site, similar to Talpona, it was quiet and peaceful here too. We spent some time at the shore to fully come to terms with the end of our trip. 

galgibaga beach goa


The entire South Goan stretch is a biker's delight. And if you are a fan of road trips, this is a good place to explore. Some routes could be tricky to get your cars into, therefore, a bike is your best bet.
 

Traveling Off Season

If you are like me who has a phobia of crowds then traveling offseason is a boon. You can move at your own pace, be at peace, and not have loud Indian families killing your mood. It is also relatively cheaper to find accommodation and transport. This trip expense was a total of INR 5,000 / USD 80 (all inclusive).

It does have certain challenges too. On this trip of ours, we couldn't find one decent meal. For someone who considers food an essential part of travel, I was a little disheartened. Most of the popular beach shacks were shut. Since we were constantly on the road, we didn't get much time to research either. And yes, the downpour. Be prepared to alter your plans if that happens.

Only we could have pulled off something as crazy as this!

Where To Eat - Hampi, Karnataka

You don't expect a place like Hampi to delight your taste buds. A region which seems still underdeveloped to cope with the tourist frenzy.

As you arrive in Hampi, you'll notice many shacks similar to Goa. The difference being, I've never quite had a good meal in Goa YET. Probably because I'm a vegetarian? I'm not giving up though.

The town is filled with establishments setup up by immigrants and some local families which serve mostly vegetarian food. You have a variety of spread including South Indian delicacies, Continental, American and Mediterranean cuisine. While most of them serve strictly below average food, here's a list of my favorite places to eat at in Hampi, Karnataka:

  1. Funkey Monkey

    funkey monkey hampi

    I briefly stayed in the guest house which is a part of Funkey Monkey. The cafe is located on the rooftop with a view of distant boulders. Just look at how cozy the place is! I have spent hours lying lazily, reading and gorging on some amazing food from breakfast to dinner. It's also a great place to meet fellow travelers from all around the world. Don't miss their breakfast spread. My favorites here - carrot cake and lemon nana (lemon and mint drink, truly refreshing!).  
     
  2. Mango Tree

    mango tree hampi

    If you are craving for some desi food, head to Mango Tree. It's one of the biggest restaurants out there and very popular with local and foreign tourists. The service is great too with a lively ambiance. Don't forget to try their special thali! 
     
  3. Suresh Restaurant

    suresh restaurant hampi

    Right next to Mango Tree is a blink-and-miss restaurant by Suresh serving home-made pasta. We read about it in other blogs and couldn't wait to try it. And our verdict? Don't leave Hampi without trying the pasta here! I miss it so much just thinking about it :( 
     
  4. Laughing Buddha

    laughing buddha hampi

    Just one restaurant from the Hippie Island made it to this list. Since the food and place was so good, I didn't want to go anywhere else. It's set slightly on a cliff overlooking the temple town and the river. A day visit will give you the best view. They have a variety of options to choose from but picking continental is your best bet.

Also, read: The Mysterious Boulder Town - Hampi, Karnataka

I want to put a special mention to all the Annas serving breakfast early morning from their cycle cart. If you want the best value for your buck, have idlis here.

Hope you like these places as much as I did :)

 

The Mysterious Boulder Town - Hampi, Karnataka

I was always intrigued looking at pictures of Hampi. How the hell did so many rocks stack themselves up without falling apart, I wondered. The place seemed to have certain mysteriousness to it. I couldn't wait to be there. So when my friend asked me to join one fine long weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. I was finally going to be in boulder town!

hampi karnataka india

The land is known to be one of the oldest exposed surfaces on earth. The small rocks were all once part of a massive rock. Due to erosion and the consequent metamorphosis, we see its current formation. And if you thought this is in a certain small section, you are wrong - it's spread across a wide region leaving you spellbound! There is a different story according to Hindu mythology but I would like to believe in this one ;)

I was in Hampi during the monsoons and the expanse was filled with green. I'm sure it'll be a visual delight to visit in summers too. It kind of spookishly reminded me of the desert where Walter White and Jesse Pinkman first cooked meth.
 

Getting there

People traveling from Mumbai and Bangalore, usually take an overnight bus to Hospet. After arriving at Hospet, hop on a local bus which will take you to Hampi. It's quite convenient unless you have excess baggage. Buses are frequent and way cheaper than auto rickshaws.

Accommodation

There aren't many luxury accommodations inside Hampi. I could spot only 1 or 2. However, there are many guest houses and homestays.

Hampi is divided into 2 sides by the river Tungabhadra. There is the Temple Town and the Hippie Island. You could divide your stay into 2 nights on either side. 3-4 days are good enough to explore most of the sites.  

If you are a seasoned traveler, you could look for accommodation on arrival. And depending on your bargaining skills, you could land a stay for as low as INR 400 / $6. The rooms are very basic though. I've tried quite a few and found the Laughing Buddha Guest House very hospitable. 

You could choose hotels near Kamlapura or Hospet if you don't want to compromise on accommodation but they are a little further from all the action.

Not To Be Missed 

Tour guides and auto rickshaws are available in plenty to take you sightseeing on major tourist spots of temples and ruins. I haven't tried it as I am not a fan of tour guides. To experience the enormity of Hampi, simply hire a two-wheeler and set out to explore the town. No maps or GPS required.

I'm simply going to mention some of my favorites here which you shouldn't miss!

1. Sunset At Hemakuta Hill

hemakuta hill hampi

2. Sunrise At Matanga Hill

matanga hill hampi

3. Short Drive To Vittala Temple

vittala temple hampi

4. Sunset At Hanuman Temple, Anjeyanadri Hill

hanuman temple hampi

5. Short Drive To Sanapur Lake

sanapur lake hampi
 

Also, read: Where To Eat - Hampi, Karnataka

Small Rant

I feel like I'm repeating this on all my blogs. And I guess I'm never coming to terms with it in spite of traveling frequently. That most of the places are deteriorating. Some of the factors are natural while mostly its due to the human factors. What could be preserved as India's unique natural offering to the travel world will soon be in shambles. Not sure if the government is doing enough to maintain this 'UNESCO World Heritage Site'. So maybe your best bet is to visit before it's all over. Don't be surprised to be greeted with filth though.

Rant over.

When You Get Bored Of Mumbai, Head To Pune

I'm in a love/hate relationship with my own city. Loved by many, Mumbai, however, has not much to offer for travelers. The food, nightlife is good but apart from that, there is not much to explore in the city due to overcrowding and traffic.

Although Mumbai is a great place to have a base for international travelers as it is situated right in the center. So you can easily explore both northern and southern regions. It is well connected with flights, buses, and trains to major attractions all over the country.

As for the people residing in the city, it is not unusual to head out for weekend getaways closer to the city. There are just so many places to choose from - Beaches, temples, treks, you'll be spoilt for choice.

Since for the past few months, my excursions had been in the countryside, I decided to visit a city for a change.
 

Pune - Mumbai's coolest neighbor, quite literally

Known for being the cultural capital of the state of Maharashtra, Pune offers a mix of traditional and urban feel. Since it's an educational and IT hub, you'll notice young crowd all around. The biggest plus for me? The weather! Cooler and less humid than Bombay. The city is also not very crowded and it is comparatively easier to move from place to place. I decided to spend a couple of days during Diwali exploring Pune (lazily). 

Backpacker Panda

It had been a while since I last stayed at a hostel and I wanted to experience it again during my solo trip. I was happy to find Backpacker Panda located in one of the coolest areas - Koregaon Park! There were interesting cafes surrounding the hostel which I wanted to try out and everything just set in the plan perfectly.

backpacker panda pune

It's a cute property tucked in a quiet neighborhood and neatly maintained. I was expecting fewer guests since it was Diwali but to my surprise, I met quite a few travelers. 

I have always stayed away from hostels thinking that it's just not my type and valuing my solitude more than anything. I was wrong. Hostels offer so much more than to succumb to my irrational fear of socializing. And this trip made me change my mind. It's true that while you stay here you need have your guard down but the experiences you receive in return will truly enrich you. I've met some of the coolest travelers and have made friends from all over the globe. We have had fun and serious conversations till 2 a.m. in the night, played endless rounds of UNO and taboo, and walked in a herd of 15 searching for a cheap bar at midnight. What's not to like?

cafe one o eight pune

Also, read: First Hostel Experience - Zostel Gokarna

Food & Nightlife

Pune is popular for its food and nightlife. You have options ranging from traditional Maharashtrians dishes to continental delicacies. A quick browse on Zomato and you'll be able to find something that suits your taste.

cafe one o eight pune 

I wanted to try vegan restaurants around and really loved One O Eight Cafe and Sante Spa Cuisine in Koregaon Park. I had my first vegan coffee (with almond milk) and was absolutely delighted! For breakfast and a great dessert spread, head to the German Bakery. Try their blueberry muffin and mango cheesecake which are simply delicious.

german bakery pune

For a night of drinks with your pals, you can head to Apache in Viman Nagar or the Bar Stock Exchange. There are so many options but these are just a few that I've tried and would love to go back.

If you are feeling fancy, head to the swankiest club called Mi-a-Mi in JW Marriott and you can dance all night to your heart's content. If you are lucky, you could score a free entry on some nights.

Also, read: My Sri Lankan Trail

Pune might have a bad reputation of being slow-paced but it always surprises me with new things to do every time I visit. Got a weekend to spare? Why not head to Pune?

The Reality Of Travel Lifestyle

Inspiration to write this struck me when I was talking to a fellow travel enthusiast who didn't quite enjoy his recent trip to Spiti Valley. I was shocked! All this while Spiti seemed like a dream destination. But was I really that shocked? 

Because it's true, I have been let down quite a few times in my travels too. It is something I learned very early on in my stint that traveling will bring its share of disappointments just like everything else in life. 
 

white town pondicherry
Picturesque town of Pondicherry usually swamped by tourists


The world out there will print a rosy picture and compel you to build your bucket list. Ask yourself: Why is it that you inherently travel? Are you ready for a setback?   
 

Every frame is not Insta-worthy

I love taking pictures. But sometimes, I catch myself under tremendous pressure to find the perfect shot for Instagram. I want to capture the beauty of my travel moments to share with my friends and family so that they get to know about my unique discoveries. Here's the truth - you can't capture everything with the camera (even DSLRs & GoPros) and that's OK. Sometimes you just have to leave your phones and cameras aside and feel those moments.

After my recent trip to Kerala, I came home with barely any pictures. And it was one of my best trips. I truly lived every moment to tell the tale. 

Good pictures do not necessarily equate to a good trip.


You encounter shitty people

India or abroad, you are going to meet shitty people and they can completely mess with your mood. You will be catcalled, you will be overcharged, you will be made fun of, you will be provided bad service. It could range from annoying tourists to uncooperative hosts. 

Is that going to stop you from exploring though? Simply pack your bags and move on.
 

Also, read: Why You Should Choose Airbnb For Your Next Vacation
 

There is more trash than you think

I thought only Mumbai was a garbage city but other places are relatively dirty too. Don't let the pictures fool you. Or rather don't believe in any pictures. It's quite possible you'll reach the destination that you were planning for months only to be welcomed by trash everywhere. Do your bit for eco-travel but don't expect every place to be clean especially not in India.
 

You need to compromise on food

Just like people and the weather, food could play a spoilsport too. When you go offbeat or countryside, not a lot is written about the food of such places. And not everything will satisfy your taste buds. It could turn into a game of hit-and-miss. Be prepared and don't expect to be served local delicacies the moment you land.
 

Your budget can go haywire  

Budget destinations can sometimes turn into a nightmare. If you are visiting during holidays or long weekends, don't expect to rely on your bargaining skills. A lot of places hike up prices with the influx of tourists. I have on few occasions overshot my budget. Let this not dishearten you.


But be ready to take the blame too

Most of the bad things mentioned above can be avoided if you do your research right. I'm all up for impromptu plans but they are the ones that leave you dissatisfied at times. I like to be prepared. I read up a lot and dig deep into the reviews. There can be just one bad thing that could probably tick you off completely. Join travel groups and talk to fellow travelers. Find out whether the place meets the requirement of what you are really looking for.

Also, two people can have completely opposite experiences. I have loved certain places while my friends have disliked them and vice versa. On the other hand, a place can provide you different experiences on two different occasions. So don't be scared to revisit at your own pace. 
 

Ultimately, in spite of all the hurdles, I'm always looking forward to my next trip. Traveling is something that leaves me completely exhilarated. Once you discover your travel style, once you know what you are looking for - the positives just overpower the negatives. There are many places left unexplored and new experiences awaiting you! Just one advice: Plan well.

First Hostel Experience - Zostel Gokarna

I had refrained from choosing hostel as a travel accommodation for the longest time. It just didn't seem to match my personality. Although I'm not really an introvert, I enjoy having the luxury of my personal space.

Hostels provide you with budget accommodation where you share dorms and some common areas with other travelers.

I was always curious though about how it would be living in a hostel while traveling. I had heard some great stories from friends and fellow travel bloggers. So when my Gokarna trip was scheduled, my friends and I booked our stay in Zostel (I never said I was going to do this alone, did I?). With a dearth of accommodation in Gokarna, we weren't left with much choice.


It's all about the view!

Zostel Gokarna offers one of the best views in town. So much so that our decision to stay here was completely based on this factor. This hostel is plopped on a hill overlooking Gokarna beach.

zostel gokarna
View from the bar


From every part of the hostel - cafe, common rooms, bar and dorms, you could treat your eyes with the glorious stretch of the shoreline. I have spent endless hours soaking in the beauty.
 

Experience your first hostel with your friends

Unless you are feeling adventurous or you don't face any social anxiety. And are looking to challenge yourself.

Hostels can be intimidating, especially, in a foreign land. I was glad to have the comfort of sharing my first hostel experience with my friends. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. 
 

Socializing can be painful but you must  

Now just because you have brought along your friends doesn't mean you won't interact with your hostel-mates. One fine afternoon, my friends set out to explore few places which didn't interest me so I decided to stay back. 

I don't really have social anxiety but I'm too lazy to socialize up front. On most occasions, in a hostel, you won't be left alone. 

zostel gokarna
Dormies!


I was at the cafe sipping some cocktail and almost instantaneously joined by a kind lady. We spoke at length about our past adventures and were then joined by more people. That evening broadened my horizon of traveling.


Budget stay and so much more

If you are a backpacker or a budget traveler there is no doubt that you have to consider hostel as an accommodation. But there is more to it.

paradise beach gokarna
Trek to Paradise Beach with my hostel-mates


You get to know about cool new places from fellow travelers something that even Google might miss. You get to join groups on sightseeing and split food and travel expenses.

More snaps from Zostel Gokarna

zostel gokarna

zostel gokarna

zostel gokarna

zostel gokarna

zostel gokarna


Even though I might not stick to hostels as a long term travel option, it something I feel one must experience. It will leave you exhilarated and fulfilled.

I think I'm all set to pull off a Solo-Euro-Hostel-Hopping-Trip. Whenever the travel gods will be kind to me that is ;)

 


 

For more details on Zostel Gokarna, visit - www.zostel.com

Where To Eat - Udaipur, Rajasthan

My biggest motivation to travel to Udaipur was the food. I had not been to the state of Rajasthan before and Rajasthani cuisine majorly consists of dry food items which are my personal favorites. So more than visiting the palaces and temples, I was looking forward to my meals in Udaipur.

Vegetarians will have plenty of options here. I was traveling with a non-vegetarian friend and she never once complained about missing meat. The food was that delicious! You get to choose from elaborate thalis, rooftop restaurants, and lakeside cafes.

Here are places where you can eat at in Udaipur, Rajasthan for less than INR 500 / $10 per person:

  1. Natraj Dining Hall
     
    natraj dining hall udaipur

    Every Udaipur trip should start with a meal at Natraj. The food is simple, soulful and inexpensive. It is served in the thali system and is unlimited. They serve Indian items only and nothing extravagant. Service is quick and friendly. More info.

     
  2. Krishna Dal Bati Restro
     
    krishna dal bati udaipur

    Dal Baati is one of the popular dishes of Rajasthan and quite close to its roots. Visit Krishna Restro to try this authentic food item in the thali system. I was looking forward to trying this out as I had never eaten it before. Dal Baati is served as the main food item and is accompanied by churma, chutney, buttermilk and a few other side items. Frankly, I didn't quite enjoy this thali as much as the others as Dal Baati was overpowering it completely. Also, there is a particular way of eating it which we may not have got it right. If you are a fan of this dish, you must definitely visit. More info.

     
  3. Gordhan Thal
     
    gordhan thal udaipur

    Gordhan Thal came across as a slightly premium thali outlet. They serve Rajasthani and Gujarati items. They also served Dal Baati in a smaller portion which I enjoyed better than Krishna Restro. The overall experience at Gordhan was delightful and I can't wait to try their thali in Ahmedabad. More info.

     
  4. Millets of Mewar
     
     
    Courtesy: Millets of Mewar Facebook page

    If you tire out of eating too much Indian (which I highly doubt!) or you want to try a place which serves continental breakfast, you can visit Millets of Mewar. This place offers gluten-free, vegan and healthy options. They serve herbal teas, healthy shakes, pancakes and much more for breakfast. It's a pretty cool place to spend a lazy morning with friends as it has a nice view of the lake. More info.

     
  5. Jagdish Misthan Bhandar (JMB)
     
    jmb udaipur

    Our last stop before we headed home was JMB. We picked up sweets for our families and friends and they were well received. JMB has a good variety of snacking food items like kachori, vada, samosa, fafda and khaman. More info.

While strolling the streets of Udaipur, you will come across many rooftop and lakeside cafes/restaurants. They seem quite inviting but most places serve average food. We visited Upré by 1559 AD for dinner one night and ended up paying an exorbitant bill for ordinary food. This rooftop restaurant had a stunning view of the City Palace. But do you want to pay a price just for a good view?
 
On another night, when we found ourselves broke after splurging on luxury, we headed to try our luck with the street food. To our surprise, we had one of the best aloo parathas with curd. The cost of this dinner was INR 50 / $1 for 2 people!!! This has to be the craziest deal of our trip. 

Our friends suggested us to try Ambrai which we couldn't due to our limited duration of the trip. For more options to plan your trip in Udaipur, visit Zomato.

Hope you have a happy food trail on your trip to this city of lakes :)

 

Udaipur, Rajasthan - Quaint Old Town

When I think of Udaipur, I think of narrow winding lanes. I think of Haveli-esque houses perched on the streets. I think of royalty from the history books. I think of majestic palaces and its architecture. And how can I forget the delicious vegetarian cuisine? 

Udaipur is a visual delight for souls who are seeking old charm from the bygone era. To an extent, the people here have preserved their culture. It's great to see a large section of the West easily amalgamating with the people of the town.  

Be warned, it might take you a while to get into the groove of this place especially if you are searching for solitude while traveling like me. The streets can get busy and loud (old city), it did give me claustrophobia. But you will slowly grow into the vibe and begin to feel a part of the daily hustle-bustle. 

One of my favorite things to do in Udaipur was to sit on the rooftop of my Airbnb and simply observe the locals taking on their daily chores. I could stare aimlessly at the City Palace in the backdrop and watch the sun go down every evening.

 udaipur haveli airbnb 

Cozy rooftop of my Airbnb

udaipur haveli airbnb

Entrance of the Airbnb

udaipur haveli airbnb
 

Comforting as holidays can get, I knew I had to drag my lazy ass to explore the town.
 

Spend the day at City Palace

city palace udaipur

city palace udaipur

city palace udaipur

city palace udaipur

city palace udaipur

city palace udaipur

city palace udaipur

city palace udaipur
 

Take a day trip to Chittorgarh

Chittor Fort Chittorgarh

Chittor Fort Chittorgarh

Chittor Fort Chittorgarh

Chittor Fort Chittorgarh

Chittor Fort Chittorgarh

Chittor Fort Chittorgarh

Things to note -

  • Other places that you can explore include: Jagdish Temple, Fateh Sagar Lake, Saheliyon-ki-Bari, Bagore-ki-Haveli and Gangaur Ghat
  • You can hire an auto for INR 500 and it takes you for sightseeing for 3-4 hours
  • Steer clear of guides at every tourist point and you same some bucks (Google the history of the place before you visit and it will all make sense!)
  • Cab to Chittorgarh will cost you INR 2,300
  • It felt like it was a safe destination for women to travel to
  • Udaipur is fairly a budget destination and you can plan a 2-3 night stay under INR 10,000

It's great when tourism opens up new sources of income for the locals. However, Udaipur at times just feels like a tourist trap. Polluted lakes and streets, endless number of shops selling you mediocre Rajasthani items. I have a feeling that sometime soon this place might lose all its charm. Maybe next time I should try to explore the city away from the center?

Why You Need To Climb The Sigiriya Rock In Sri Lanka

If you know me you know how much I refrain from arduous physical activity. Even the latest shift as a traveler has hardly changed me. My peak high of any trip is when I'm leisurely plopped on a sunbed at the beach reading a book. And I want the time to stop. But it never does and so while planning Sri Lanka, I was nervous as to how I'll be able to fit all of the country's attractions in 7 days. There was no time for leisure.

Also, read: Make The Most Out Of Sri Lanka

The Build Up

Every travel blog/site out there recommended a trip to Sigiriya. But the catch was that visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site involved climbing 1200 steps. I made a mental note to skip it instantly. That, however, isn't a choice when you are traveling with your well-read friends. And I didn't want to come across as weak. 

sigiriya sri lanka

What were the odds that our trip to Sigiriya was scheduled on the morning of my 25th birthday. 2016 was the year when I had decided that I'll no longer spend my birthdays getting wasted at the bars. Be careful what you wish for, they say. The night before the hike we all put on a brave face, cut short on celebrations and went to bed early. I was freaking out and I know my friends were too. At least a little.

So on the morning of December 15, 2016, we packed breakfast and set out on our day trip from Kandy to Sigiriya. It was approximately 90 km and took us around 2 hours to reach. 

We arrive at the scene to meet fellow travelers brimming with excitement to make the climb. I knew I would see a different face once we were halfway through the hike. 

Though my complete focus was on staying positive about the climb, the history of Sigiriya has much significance. This rock fortress was known to be chosen by King Kasyapa who built his palace on the top and is a splendid example of ancient urban planning. It was then converted into a Buddhist monastery (13th century). It's always mind-boggling for me to come across this part of history where architecture was so elaborative and futuristic (just like the Harappan civilization!).

sigiriya sri lanka 

The Climb

The base of the rock is surrounded by vast expanses of gardens which were built during the King's era. This is where you are introduced to the first set of stairs to climb. You will come across caves and boulders on the initial path.

sigiriya sri lanka

sigiriya sri lanka

sigiriya sri lanka

sigiriya sri lanka

sigiriya sri lanka

The climb gets tougher after this point. Next, you will come across the Mirror Wall and the world-renowned paintings of Sigiriya which date back from the 5th century A.D. I don't have any pictures from this stretch as I was busy catching my breath!

The final ascent to the royal palace on the rock summit is through a gateway which lies dramatically between the paws of a huge crouched lion figure.

Voila! I've reached the top of Sigiriya Rock. You would believe that one would scramble to find a spot to sit, now that they made it to the top. But the views are so breathtaking to waste any minute that you are out there. 

sigiriya sri lanka

sigiriya sri lanka

I'm the kind of traveler who tends to avoid the typical tourist traps since I hate crowds. Despite that, if I had to suggest one thing to do in Sri Lanka, it would be visiting Sigiriya. It' not about climbing 1200 steps. It's not about the history. It's about the memories you'll make while you conquer the rock with your friends. It's about the people you'll meet on this journey. It's about the views that await you on the top which will instantly send you into contemplation mode.   

sigiriya sri lanka

And it wasn't so tough! Coming from a couch potato, you have to believe it. You'll meet kids and old people on the way up and wonder what were you obsessing over all the while.  

Sigiriya is permanently engraved in the list of my favorite travel moments thus far.

sigiriya sri lanka

Things to note:

  • If you want to avoid long journeys before the climb, consider staying at Dambulla. Dambulla to Sigiriya is 8km
  • Entrance fee for SAARC nations is USD 15 (carry your passport!) while citizens of the other countries have to pay USD 30
  • Carry minimum baggage. A bottle of water and camera should suffice
  • Wear loose cotton clothes and basic sport shoes
  • Best time to visit is January to March
  • Start the climb early to beat the crowd and also the sun

Are you stoked to visit Sigiriya on your trip to Sri Lanka?

Also, read: My Sri Lankan Trail

 

 

My Sri Lankan Trail

Sri Lanka might seem like a small country to cover all parts in a single trip. But it's a vast expanse and you'll need at least a month. I just had a week for this trip. For my 6 nights / 7 days stint, I chose to explore 4 cities.

Colombo → Nuwara Eliya Kandy Mirissa Colombo

Sri Lanka is a budget destination if you make the right choices in terms of travel and stay. I traveled with my 2 friends so most of the costs were split to make my individual trip expense - USD 800 (all inclusive).   

Visa

For Sri Lankan visa, you can register and pay prior to your trip and get your passport stamped on arrival. It is valid for 30 days but can be extended. SAARC Countries are required to pay USD 20 while all other countries have to pay USD 35. I found the visa process fairly smooth. Find more details on their official site.

Local Transport

One of the smartest decisions we made on this trip was to hire a car through and through for the entire trip, Right from the airport pickup on arrival until airport drop for departure. This obviously included the local transit and sightseeing in between. It considerably brought down the hassle of worrying about our local transit from one city to the other. One of our Airbnb hosts in Sri Lanka was kind enough to arrange it for us. Even though we felt it was slightly expensive but this would guarantee us maximum comfort on our trip. The car was cute Scooby-Doo-ish van and also had WiFi! We paid USD 400 for this service. The driver was courteous and drove well. The roads in this country are stunning and made me fall in love with road trips. I did not experience any road rage here.

sri lanka travel cab

However, we would have hoped for a better tour guide as our driver. So much of our travels depends on the knowledge of the guides. Make sure you hire someone with experience and fluency in English. We were on most occasions left to figure stuff on our own.

Another drawback was that we couldn't experience the country by its famous rail routes which boast of beautiful views and landscapes. 

The journey begins...

Nuwara Eliya

I can't stop obsessing over Airbnb while planning every trip. It's cheap, reliable and adds to your overall traveling experience. It makes me look forward to my future travels and get excited about the next house I'll be staying in.

nuwara eliya sri lanka airbnb 

Our Airbnb in Nuwara Eliya

nuwara eliya sri lanka airbnb


Sri Lanka was no different. Our first stop was in Nuwara Eliya at this beautiful cottage house. We were hosted by a loving family and their hospitality was one of a kind. We had the best meals of our entire trip at this house. It was so flavourful and authentic that we can't stop thinking about it a month later.

sri lankan breakfast 

Waking up to this Breakfast spread: Rice hoppers & Sri Lankan curry
 

Nuwara is a hill station and the weather was just the right kind of cold in December for city-dwellers from Mumbai. There are few tourist spots such as World's End, Sita Temple, Gregory Lake, Pidurutalagala etc. but most often packed by tourists. What we enjoyed the most was staying perched in our cute little cottage overlooking the hill and filling our tummies with culinary delights prepared by our local hosts.  

I was sad to leave Nuwara because we were spoilt by our hosts during our time here. Next stop -

Kandy

We planned a pit stop in Kandy majorly because we wanted to do a day trip to Sigiriya. And also because we found a luxurious condo to celebrate 2 birthdays that were falling on our time there. This property was perched on a hill and therefore quite far from the hustle bustle of the city. We could spend hours admiring the picturesque sunrises and sunsets while sipping our wines from the balcony of this house.

kandy sri lanka

View of Kandy town
 

kandy sri lanka airbnb

Our Airbnb in Kandy
 

kandy sri lanka sunset
Sunsets in Kandy
 

If you like exploring cities and towns in different countries to get to know the way of life, you'll find Kandy interesting. We spent some time at the local cafes and malls in the evening and also visited the Temple of the Tooth and Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue (good view of Kandy town!).

Mirissa

For our southern location, we chose to stay at Mirissa which was closer to most of the beaches we wanted to visit. Our third property was very unique and we were living quite close to nature. We spent the evenings sipping cocktails at the beach shacks. The beaches down south are really pretty and clean. I get excited for some reason when I see light blue waters! Not a thing I can easily find back home. Instead of Galle, you can find your base closer to one of the beaches as there isn't much to see in Galle. Except maybe snap a few pictures. The shorelines, however, are very glorious and you can instead spend more time there.

mirissa sri lanka airbnb

Our Airbnb in Mirissa
 

galle sri lanka
Sightseeing in Galle
 

mirissa beach sri lanka
Mirissa Beach
 

jungle beach sri lanka

Jungle Beach
 

hikkaduwa beach
Hikkaduwa Beach
 

Colombo

Our last leg of the trip was reserved for the capital city - Colombo or as my friend likes to call 'cleaner version of Bombay!'. That's partially true though but let's not take any credit away from this charming city. I couldn't stop staring outside my car window marveling at the malls and shops neatly aligned at the high street.

colombo sri lanka

But then that was it, we weren't aware that the city shuts down at 7 PM!! 7 PM?? That's when my city starts hustling!! I was quite unhappy, especially because I didn't want my trip to end this way. We had saved a chunk of our budget for shopping in Colombo and all we could do is explore one mall. I love street and local market shopping but sadly that couldn't happen on this trip. We had no option but to go and crash the night at the airport for our early morning flight.

Other things to note

  • My flight tickets were booked more than 6 months in advance at a decent rate
  • Tipping is optional in this country but on many occasions, we were so impressed by the service that we did go ahead and tip
  • Steer clear of restaurants and try eating local home-cooked meals which are easy on the pockets too 
  • My individual accommodation expense was USD 200
  • Entry to a lot of tourist attractions is expensive for foreigners 

The last bit aside, Sri Lanka has been an absolute delight! If you plan to visit this country, go with an open mind. There are no monuments or scenic points for you to trot from one place to the other. This place is all about the natural raw beauty and road trips.

That was my Sri Lanka trip in a nutshell. If you go to see, I haven't even covered 50% of this country. There is just so much to it and I'm definitely coming back. There are very few places that can leave you hungover!
 

Get USD 20 off on your first Airbnb booking if you register your account through my referral link.

Also, read: Make The Most Out Of Sri Lanka

 

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