Thursday, February 24, 2011

My top 3 scenic drives in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, that hoary old cliche about the journey being better than the destination is actually true. What I have enjoyed most about my travels to hotels and bungalows around the country is the drive there.

You pass forests, waterfalls, rivers and see ancient trees, massive bougainvilleas just growing wild on the roadside, green fields pregnant with paddy.

Some of the wonders you pass are man made: lakes that go as far as your eyes can see, temples that have been there before Jesus was a twinkle in God's eye, fortresses that were somehow built by by our ancestors on rocks that their descendants strain to climb unburdened.

Before you know it - Sri Lanka is so small and geographically diverse - you've gone from the sea side of Colombo to RL Brohier's plains of gold to fields of paddy to mountains of tea and you are wherever you were going to.

But that arrival is poignant because there's no more to see.

(Click "Read More" to see the 3 scenic drives I enjoyed most)
Kandy to Mahiyangana

There are two routes you can take. The shorter route goes through 18 steep hairpin bends as the road descends. The view from each bend is of the paddy fields of the Ampara district and the lake that feeds them. However, if your karma is bad, you will be stuck behind a sand lorry. So do good things before you go and think happy thoughts on the way.

The longer route through the reservoir is, in my opinion, even better. It goes through the protected area. On the way down, you see the water through thickets of trees and then drive along the bund. On the way back, as you enter the protected area, you see a vista of mountains that is nothing if not Shenandoah. I usually play the themes from the Magnificent Seven or Big Country when I'm passing.

Jaffna to Keyts / Nainativu on the B72

If you were to describe it off a map, Jaffna looks like a group of islands, some connected by tiny strips of land. The wonder of Jaffna, for me, is in the causeways that connect those strips of land. If you were to go there and just drive along the causeways and turn right back, it would be worth the 600-odd kilometers.

Almost as a preview or trailer for Jaffna - the thrill ride of the North! - you see the first one as you approach Elephant Pass. Reminiscent of the levels in video games where you're driving on a narrow track surrounded by sea, the lagoon stretches on either side, a mixture of grassland, sand dunes and sea water. Birds are everywhere and, miraculously, the cattle seem to walk on water.

The causeways to Kayts and Punkudutivu (PKD!) were longer and even more impressive; the first 4-5km from Jaffna town to the Kovil is all lagoon, the rest a mixture of grassland and lagoon. We returned again and again to one of the wider sections of the causeway where you can park without blocking the road. Watching  the sun set off it is a transcendental experience: there will we worship our Creator.

Madampe to Rakwana to Deniyaya to Akuressa to Galle on the A17

Rakwana / Deniyaya is the deepest part of the deep south. The drive was actually a birthday present from my wife who hates long trips and awful roads but still agreed to go with me on this one.

The road is awful. But, as usual, the scenery more than made up for it. From the rainforest - this area borders Sinharaja - to the tea mountains, the drive took us through constantly changing scenery - hair pin bends, waterfalls, pine forests, tea, hobbit-worthy valleys and mountains.

It amazed me to see mountains and tea this far south and this close to Galle and the sea. This trip brought home to me - after 5 years of travelling around this country - the marvel, the variety and diversity of Sri Lanka.


  1. The journey being better than the destination is fitting wherever you travel in SL.
    I'm yet to do Jaffna - Keyts, but agree with you on your selection just by looking at the pictures. Fantastic pictures.

  2. Dude I love you blog. seriously this is some hard work to keep up. Good job really useful especially when it comes finding those roadside eating places.
    Anyhow I added your blog on a link in mine as a show of appreciation. :)