I stood on the ocean floor in absolute silence being one with the water. I felt weightless and like a child discovering something new for the first time; without a past or a future, completely present in the moment; utterly insignificant and at the mercy of the sea.
A four-hour flight from Mumbai, Sri Lanka is an easy destination for Indians. Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka has varied cultural influences from north to south. It offers a long coast with clean waters, diverse marine life, and extensive forest areas with ample wildlife. Thus, making it a wonderful mix for all types of travellers. The climate is usually warm and slightly more pleasant from November to February.
Being a thalassophile and a certified deep-sea diver, the south of Sri Lanka captured my heart. I planned a week of travelling solo in winter since the sea is calmer and is ideal for a dive during this season. I began my journey from Mumbai and landed in Colombo around 3 am. Since I was travelling solo, I decided to rest at the airport until daybreak. It is always good to get a local sim card with data. It is cheap & enables one to stay in touch with family back home and download maps in a foreign country.
I was heading straight to Weligama, a south coast town, from Airport and had planned to use the inter-city train service starting from Colombo to Weligama. This was the fastest and cheapest way to travel in Sri Lanka, offering a beautiful coastal view throughout. I prefer using public transport during vacation since it's economical and gives us an insight into the general vibe of the country. The locals there were friendly and eager to help and I felt perfectly safe & comfortable.
I secured a nice window seat for my train journey intending on catching up on some much-needed sleep. I was due to reach Weligama in about 4 hours, but now it was easily 5 since I was travelling and without food! Sensing that I was probably off route, I started asking around, but no one spoke the language and my phone had no network!
One sweet girl who spoke English, her eyes widened in panic as she understood my predicament! I had boarded the wrong train! Instead of travelling south, I ventured deep into the northeast forest area. The TC came shortly and through translation, I was told I had to get off at the next big junction and take the train back to Colombo and then take another train to my planned destination.
I was very hungry by now and to my immense relief all the locals on the train offered me fruits. I enjoyed the local treats and the kind laughter of fellow passengers. It’s important to be alert at all times about yourself and your belongings. So take food items from strangers at your own risk. I got off at the junction of Maho and then waited patiently for my next train back.
I was subject to curious gaze from local elderly who were perplexed to see a tourist in their tiny village. I finally boarded my train back to Colombo. Luckily I got an express train and thanks to my rule of only carrying 1 backpack, I wasn’t too inconvenienced. Finally, I reached Colombo and was en route to Weligama, Mirrisa is a short Tuk Tuk drive from there.
The first day had thoroughly drained me but as I sat by the beach enjoying a hot soup and the sounds of the ocean, my fatigue vanished and I got excited for my days ahead.
The Next morning I found a highly-rated diving instructor and planned my dives. The dives can be expensive so do try to bargain, it should cost no more than $300 for 4 days of diving alone.
It took me a total of 4 days to get my advanced diving license. I woke up early every morning at 5 then headed to the diving office on my bicycle. The water was a sparkling clear blue, marine life was flourishing and corals thriving. I love Whale sharks but wasn’t lucky enough to see the beautiful giants as they avoided coming closer to the diving site due to excessive noise from tourist boats. However, the water’s warm, pristine and very well taken care of so I didn’t mind missing out on the big beauties and instead spotted a lot of turtles and local tiny colourful fishes playing in the corals.
I love plunging deep into the sea without a care in the world and exploring the sea with my scuba unit. However, my absolute favourite thing to do is to look up at the surface and watch the sunrays pierce the water. The only sound you hear is that of your own breath.
A special mention of the diving companies in Sri Lanka. They genuinely care about the environment and take a special interest in conservation. I had 4 thrilling days, morning dives which took about 4 hours, and heavy breakfasts followed by exploring the town on a bicycle. It made my days longer and slower. Truly enjoying the local culture and markets. Stopping to eat wherever I wanted. On a funny note I was asked by the bicycle shop to prove that I can, in fact, ride one, I happily obliged reliving my childhood and impressing him with my riding skills. I highly encourage you to ditch the car or a motored 2-wheeler and go about the island on a cycle.
There was a famous picturesque hill called coconut hill. It’s a beautiful spot and offers a great view of the sunset. Best to get there in the early evening and leave before the “influencers” arrive.
Food was plenty, I had no trouble finding a cute Italian bistro where I dined every evening overlooking the streets and locals returning home after their hard days of work & spent hours there with my tea, camera and a diary to log my slow days. The sense of calm in a small town is refreshing especially if you hail from a city like Mumbai! Time slows down in Mirissa.
After 4 days of absolute bliss in Mirissa, I was now headed to the beautiful, laid-back town of Galle. I took the local bus, this time making sure I was on the right one!
Galle is a different world altogether. Extremely tourist-friendly, French architecture, and lazy cafes. It was a perfect way to unwind after adventure-filled diving sessions. I took spa treatments in the morning. Had long brunches in the cafes and explored the markets in the afternoon.
Galle has the best teas I have ever tasted so I bought truckloads for myself and friends back home. The Barefoot store shouldn’t be missed at all. People fond of cosmetics and fragrant creams like me should check out the Spa Ceylon stores. The spices in Ceylon are of high quality, I packed up a lot of them for home.
You can find every type of cuisine there, do try a large mango salad in cafes, just watching the day go by. There are also a lot of handicraft stores in shops near the Galle fort, and some of the best silk clothes I have seen. Sri Lanka is also famous for its precious stones, offering them in all sorts of beautiful intricate jewellery.
Since I was a very fussy feisty baby I was fondly called ‘Lanka’ by my grandmother. Unfair reference in my opinion because Sri Lanka is a rather peaceful nation.
After 3 days of doing absolutely nothing in Galle other than indulging in spa treatments and large soulful meals, my trip came to end. I came back to Mumbai with a deep tan, a huge grin and loaded with Teas and cinnamon!