sri lanka part 1: colombo & the central province

Sri Lanka is (quite literally) a breath of fresh air after India. Aside from its much appreciated cleanliness, the food is awesome, the people are super nice, and from the beach to the mountains, the views are pretty unbelievable. For my first week and a half (ish) in Sri Lanka, my route was: Colombo, Kandy, Matale (and Dambulla), back to Colombo, Kandy, and finally Ella (actually in the Uva province, right next to central). My route was definitely a little wonky, but the country is small, and the trains are (mostly) pretty fun! And definitely worth getting to spend the extra time with my friend Omar who flew in from Dubai to meet me 🙂

The central region of Sri Lanka was one of the greenest places I’ve ever been. It rained almost every day at least some, and I didn’t even mind because it felt even more rainforest/jungly. Another thing I noticed and loved was the diversity of religion. While the country is predominantly Buddhist, there are Hindu temples scattered (and often inside Buddhist temples), as well as Christian crosses, and prayers being sung out loudly from Muslim mosques.

Here are some highlights …

Colombo – Colombo gets a bad rap. Most people just say skip it, and a couple days was plenty for me. The main part of the city is extremely modern (the most “western” feeling place I’ve been in Asia so far). I took a short train ride down to Mount Lavinia (actually I took an express train way past Mount Lavinia on accident and had to backtrack), which seems to be what most people recommend, and stayed near the beach. There are a ton of cute (but expensive) restaurants along the water, and it’s actually pretty nice!

Kandy – Loved it so much, I did it twice! (Kidding, sort of). Sri Lanka’s second biggest city, it is far less western and built up. It’s a cute little town, really green and hilly, with a big white Buddha overlooking the town and its lake. It’s home to a temple holding a tooth relic of the Buddha. We went during one of the daily ceremonies, and it was packed with an odd mixture of devout Buddhists making offerings and receiving blessings, and tourists elbowing each other for the best photo angle. My first visit we stayed a couple kilometers from the city center. In exchange for the cost of a tuk tuk into town every day, we had amazing views, a pool, and peace and quiet. My second time around I stayed right in the city in a tiny hostel. Both were good, very different experiences. Other highlights include a walk through Udawatta Kele Sanctuary with an awesome view of the city from high up on a hill, and the mango juice at the Kandyan Muslim Hotel.

Matale – The train ride from Kandy to Matale was a highlight. We took a local commuter train, and it was slow enough for us to (semi-)safely ride hanging out of the carriage doors. It was so fun, and so green. On a day trip, we went north to Dambulla to visit the giant Golden Buddha temple and cave temples. In the midst of hundreds of Buddhas, there was also one Hindu cave. And so many adorable, alien-esque baby monkeys. After visiting the Hindu Sri Muthumariamman Kovil temple back in Matale, we wandered into a hole in the wall restaurant for dinner and tried Kotthu for the first time. It’s basically rotti (flat round bread), chopped up and mixed with a bunch of veggies and spices. It’s amazing, and I ate it every day for quite a while after that.

The train from Kandy to Ella was a destination in itself. It’s famous for being beautiful, and it did not disappoint.

Ella – Ella is an adorable, very small town surrounded by tea covered hills. There are two main hikes you can do – Ella Rock and Little Adam’s Peak (it resembles the shape of the much larger and more famous Adam’s Peak, also in the central province). I went for the much easier Little Adam’s Peak (because my knees haven’t quite recovered from Everest yet), and walked for maybe 3 hours total through tea plantations with amazing views of Ella Rock. After my hike, I toured a green tea factory and learned about how the tea is made and the difference between the higher and lower quality varieties. That afternoon I took a short bus ride to the beautiful, but incredibly crowded Rawana Falls. I did all of my Ella “sights” in one day, but stayed for about 3 because it’s just a nice place.

Kotthu – a carb-lovers dream/my new favorite food…


More to come on the rest of my Sri Lanka journey 🙂


11 days in rajasthan

To me, Rajasthan is the India of India. The desert, the camels, the style, the food. It’s everything that is my romantic (western) notion of Inda. How and why I left myself only 11 days to experience this magical state I really can’t explain. But to my pleasant surprise, this 11 day itinerary actually kind of worked. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have had way more time here, and in no way encourage cramming all of the state into 11 days. But if you’re crunched for time like I was, here’s an itinerary that gave me a good taste of Rajasthan.

Agra –> Udaipur
Overnight train, 3rd class AC sleeper, about 1,200 rupees, 12 hours

I spent 3 days and 2 nights in Udaipur. A quiet (quiet for India) lakeside town, Udaipur is clearly made for tourists. Food and shopping was a bit on the expensive side, and in terms of sights there aren’t THAT many. I found Udaipur very relaxing, and enjoyed somewhat lazy days. A few activities I’d recommend: have an Ayurvedic massage (I paid 900 rupees for 70 minutes), take a yoga class, watch the sunset from City Palace (30 rupees to enter the sunset point, just south of the palace), and take and art class! The last was probably my favorite activity. I went to Ashok Arts and had a great experience! My instructor was patient and a good teacher. One of the shop employees read my palm as we all took a chai break. And 3 hours later, I had a one of a kind silk painting, that (imho) looks pretty legit 🙂

I stayed at Bunkyard Hostel, and highly recommend it. I met a lot of cool people, the facility is beautiful with a ton of open space, and it’s very centrally located. I paid 300 rupees per night for a bunk room.


Udaipur –> Jaisalmer
Overnight AC sleeper bus, 750 rupees, 13 hours

I spent 3 days in Jaisalmer, and 2 nights (including one sleeping under the stars in the desert!). Jaisalmer is easily one of my favorite places in India. This may be in part because I’m a born and raised desert girl, but to me there’s nothing better than a desert rain and sleeping under a black sky filled with stars, to the sound of crickets chirping. The skyline of Jaisalmer includes tan desert, tan buildings (including palace-like Havelis that rich families still live in), and the huge tan fort which rises high above the city. I spent one day just wandering around the fort, getting lost in alleyways and admiring the views. The highlight of Jaisalmer, though, was the overnight camel safari. We drove about 30 minutes out of the city and met our camels and guides. For 1,600 rupees we had 2 meals, our bed under the stars, and a few hours of camel riding in the afternoon/evening and the next morning. So much fun!


Jaisalmer –> Jodhpur
Non-AC bus, 350 rupees, 5 hours

I spent 2 days and 2 nights in Jodhpur (the 5 hour bus ride unfortunately took the better part of one of the days). I could have definitely stayed longer. The shopping is cheaper than anywhere else in Rajasthan; at Sardar Market you get the local experience and the local prices. I spent half a day just shopping – the clear highlight was M.V. Spices, one of the oldest spice shops in Jodhpur, and it’s run by all women! The spices come along with emailed recipes, and the best customer experience I’ve had in India. And it was totally reasonably priced, with 150 or 300 rupee bag options. There’s no reason to leave the market for food, as there is a ton of awesome street food. My favorite (not quite street food) was at Shri Mishralal Hotel, just inside the gate. They have one lassi option (the classic Rajasthan flavor) – Makhaniya, which is plain with saffron and cardamom (YUM), and an amazing Jodhpur specialty, Mirchi Bada, which is a pepper stuffed with potato and deep fried (double YUM).

The other major attraction is Mehrangarh Fort and museum. It cost 600 rupees to enter, and you have to purchase a museum ticket to get to the top. For a museum, it was pretty good. But the real reason to go is for the views of the blue city from the top.


Jodhpur –> Pushkar
AC bus, 450 rupees, 4 hours (the bus actually goes to Ajmer, but my hotel picked me up for free)

I only spent 2 days and 1 night in Pushkar, and that was enough for me. I bought awesome, funky, and most importantly fairly priced jewelry at Vikas Silver Walla. The shopping is definitely good in Pushkar, but a lot more expensive than in Jodhpur. I wished I’d bought the funky leather pointed slippers in Jodhpur, because they had way nicer and cheaper ones there. I skipped Brahma temple (the only Brahma temple in all of India), because the crowds were overwhelming. What I did not skip was Savitri temple. For 90 rupees a cable car takes you to the hilltop temple, and it was more than worth it for the views of all of Pushkar! Pushkar in general is a bit expensive, especially if you eat at the more “western”/tourist places, shop along the main road, etc. The best deal? Street cart lassis 🙂


Pushkar –> Jaipur
Cab from Pushkar to Ajmer train station, 400 rupees. Non-AC train to Jaipur, 2 hours, 250 rupees

I spent 1 day and 2 nights in Jaipur, and it was my least favorite of all of the cities I visited in Rajasthan. The Amber Fort was pretty spectacular, but Jaipur is a big city, and big cities in India come with an entire set of their own difficulties. Urban poverty was the most obvious here. The noise and traffic was the worst. And more than anywhere in India, I couldn’t walk more than 10 seconds anywhere without being yelled at by a shop owner, food cart guy, tuk tuk driver. I was more than happy that I only gave myself one day here. After a long day of sightseeing (exhausting!), the day was saved by an amazing hole in the wall restaurant right outside of my hostel (Zostel). The food was yummy, the people were nice, and best of all I walked to a nearby bakery afterward and ate a delicious, chewy, coconuty desert. I have no idea what it was called, but it was amazing.


Jaipur –> Delhi
AC train, 6 hours, $750 rupees

Rajasthan really exceeded my expectations in a lot of ways. There were times when it was really hard (like a lot of India), but the colors, the tastes, the scenery, the forts, the camels, the jewelry and the shoes and the textiles and the sarees… So much beauty crammed into 11 days 🙂