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In Sri Lanka, silken sands & countryside

Dipika Naik, Oct 22 2017, 0:44 IST
Magical Bentota Beach, Sri Lanka.  Photo by author

Magical Bentota Beach, Sri Lanka. Photo by author

As the plane turned for landing on the runway of Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport, we could see from our window a vast expanse of forested mountains fringed by mile-after-mile of exquisite golden sand.

We walked on the gleaming floors of the airport to the immigration counters, past a bored official who was nonchalantly stamping passports, past amused customs officials whom we approached to ask where the ‘arrival hall’ was.

At the end of the ‘arrival hall’, we found Rodrigo, our ever-smiling chauffeur-cum-guide for the trip, who was going to drive us the 100-odd km on Galle Road to Bentota, a resort town in Sri Lanka.

Most houses on either side of Galle Road had traces of Portuguese architecture and reminded us of old Goa.

Rodrigo explained that this was due to Sri Lanka’s colonial heritage which included the Portuguese, because of which the Catholic faith remains strong even today. Several people, including Rodrigo, continue to use Portuguese names.

Three-odd hours of Sri Lankan countryside later, we crossed the majestic Bentota River, a charming spot where the first foreigners to stumble upon were Arab merchant sailors.

In the 17th century, the Portuguese followed the Arabs and built a small fort at the mouth of the river. After the Portuguese came the Dutch, and they too used the spot as a resting place for stagecoaches that plied between Colombo and Galle.

The British came in much later and converted the spot into a rest house, opening the door to today’s commercial strip, marking the location with various hotels.

We checked into our hotel, Serendib, also a former name given to Sri Lanka by Arab traders. We reserved the next morning for a river cruise. From the jetty in Balapitiya town, we took the boat. Floating around the placid waters, cruising the intersecting streams and islands, seeing the idyllic village life rolling by — nothing seemed to disturb the tranquil everyday life of the locals. All this tired us, and we spent the afternoon looking out for the best place in Bentota to get an Ayurvedic massage.

Dinner time led us on an exploration spree. Based on the recommendations found on travel websites, we tried the Golden Grill Restaurant.

The owner, Roshan Fernando, who doubled up as a chef, personally spelled out the menu. We chose the Sri Lankan Rice & Curry Vegetable and Devilled Prawns in Spicy Sauce. “Devilled prawns are very spicy, and whenever Europeans eat them, they become florid and remind you of the devil; hence the name,” Fernando told us.

Experiencing this delightful part of the golden coastal stretch of beaches and a turquoise ocean captivated our souls. Back at the hotel, we felt like travellers who had earned the right to dream of tropical beaches fringed by coconut palms where the Indian Ocean sighed gently onto the soft sand.

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