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Published: July 30th 2011
You want to have a beach vacation. It must coincide with the New Year s Eve. It must also be cheap. Heaped with such constraints, I set out to plan a trip for us – Maya and me. Usually, when I have such difficult constraints to satisfy, I usually bank on a customized trip organizer to tide me through the mess. So far I have found www.nivalink.com to be the most reliable when you are planning something on a tight budget, yet keen on not missing out on any of the fun. Initial discussion brought up several popular names, like Thailand, Malaysia, Goa, Maldives. But end of December is the worst time to plan a trip to any of these places because of their popularity. Then it struck us why not Srilanka. Till 2009, Srilanka was off-limits for most tourists mostly because of the LTTE related issues. Since the LTTE problem was resolved, we thought it is worth checking out. Soon there were quotes flowing in from nivalink.com. But even the popular destinations in Srilanka, like Bentota, Unawatuna, Galle were all coming with a steep price tag. After quite a few back-n-forth, and we almost losing hope for our beach vacation,
suddenly a nice option came up. We would be going south of Galle, close to a beach called Mirissa. It is almost at the southern tip of Srilanka. It was a fantastic choice for many reasons as it later turned out.
Nivalink does an end to end booking, except for the flight bookings. You are picked up from the airport, a complete itinerary is given to you, and finally they drop you off at the airport at the end of the trip. We took a flight from Delhi via Chennai to reach Colombo late in the night on Dec 28. There was a car waiting to pick us up. Our driver spoke perfect English. Our destination was Bay Beach Hotel at Weligama which is about 3 hours drive from Colombo along the western coast of Srilanka. In the middle of the night the streets were mostly empty, but for the gun-wielding security men reminding of the tumultuous phase that have just passed over. The sight of so many security men and check posts were a bit disturbing, but tired as we were, we soon dozed off. When we reached the hotel at Weligama, the sun was just rising, and
from the reception lobby we could see the little beach in front of the hotel. It felt fantastic. Felt like running to the sea immediately. But a little nap was needed after such a sleepless long night.
The Bay Beach hotel used to be a premier hotel till the tsunami had hit the coasts of Srilanka. The long beach in front of the hotel was mostly swept clear, even damaging a part of the hotel. They have done a fantastic job of renovating the hotel, but the beach is a tiny stretch now. But there was a little lagoon adjacent to the beach, and one can easily do a bit of snorkeling. In fact, there is a diving school run by a German expat right next to the hotel. You can go for diving, as well as snorkeling with trainers.
There was one little problem with the beach in front of the hotel. Post tsunami the fishermans village has shifted adjacent to Weligama. There were lots of small boats parked around the lagoon, as well as, there were too many local guys pestering us with information. It was getting difficult to keep them off, and enjoy a peaceful
time. We had to look for alternatives. That is when we were told that the Mirissa beach is just 30 mins by an autorickshaw.
Next morning after breakfast we packed a little picnic bag, and drove down to Mirissa beach. It is one of the most idyllic beaches I have seen. Flanked by palm trees, and forming a half moon shape, the beach was ideal for lazing. There were plenty of shacks on the edge of the beach, and many beach chairs for the tourists. We could easily get two such chairs. From time to time we would jump into the water, and then return to our nice chairs and relax over a drink. For lunch there was fresh seafood. In the evening, we walked along the entire stretch of the beach. We also found out that there were cheaper hotels to stay at the beach. For the next two days, this was our destination for relaxing during the day. We had no plan anyway other than spending time on the beach, and we have found our haven.
On 31st evening, the entire beach started preparing for the party on the beach. We were tempted to stay through
the night, but were advised by the hotel people that it may not be the best thing to do. Although it looked really fun to be there, we had to get back to the hotel. But there was surprise as we entered our room. They had decorated our bed with red rose petals !! There was also a big dinner organized by the hotel for the New Years Eve. It turned out to be quite fun although there was no song and dance.
The day of our return from Srilanka we had planned to stop on the way at Unawatuna resort for lunch. Seeing the beach at Unawatuna, and the crowd over there, I was glad that we stayed at Weligama. We also took a quick sightseeing tour of Galle. Galle is a old style picturesque city. It looks like as if nothing has changed much since the Dutch left, and that’s where the beauty of this city is. There is a beautiful fort along the sea. There are several churches and neatly pebbled streets in European style. It is a city worth spending a day or two. Finally, before reaching Colombo, we stopped at another spot near Hikkaduwa,
where one can take a glass-bottom boat ride to see the corals. These boats have nice design where the bottom is transparent, thereby letting you watch the marine life sitting inside the boat. I would love to try snorkeling in a place like that given what I could see from the boat. There were myriads of multi-colored fishes flitting through colorful coral formations. This is the first time I have seen such a sight.
In Colombo, the driver insisted that we should do some shopping because it is cheaper than India. We were not too keen on that. Instead we decided to visit a Buddhist monastery. Besides all that one can view in a monastery, the most amazing sight was the elephant which is kept in the compound. He is a ceremonial male elephant, huge in size and for some reason it was very agitated. It was a sight to behold the huge beast in rage. Luckily for all he was tightly chained.
Under normal conditions, this would be the end of a nice trip. But we were up for some more surprise, not so pleasant this time. Our flight was cancelled. Apparently, due to heavy fog in
Delhi, the flight could not start in the morning from Delhi throwing the whole system out of gear. The airlines had no idea when we will be able to leave. There was complete lack of information, and all the people were stranded in the airport. This was followed by the most fantastic episode of passenger agitation. First the airport manager for the airlines was accosted by all the passengers demanding hotel stay. First he was not relenting, effectively asking everyone to just manage somehow at the airport overnight. Finally, he gave in. But the challenge how will he get accommodation for so many passengers in any hotel at the peak tourist season. Another mad rush ensued with passengers now vying with each other to get the first slot for the hotel. Although we got into the second batch, we got a room in Hyatt, as opposed to the first lot who were placed in some shady hotel. Reminder of the maxim “the early bird gets the worm, but the second rat gets the cheese”.
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