Bentota, a popular tourist destination, is located around 110 km south of Colombo. Its many beautiful attractions are set against the backdrop of white sand beaches, waving palm trees, and the azure waters of the Indian Ocean. Author’s own photograph
Indu Gopal Rao Bindu
Bentota, a popular tourist destination, is located around 110 km south of Colombo. Its many beautiful attractions are set against the backdrop of white sand beaches, waving palm trees, and the azure waters of the Indian Ocean.
A trip to Sri Lanka reveals a people whose country is slowly recovering from a massive economic crisis. Most present a brave front and do not volunteer information about the situation unless specifically requested. The surge of tourists, especially those from other countries, is providing a much-needed boost to their economy. Although most sites are extremely expensive, the currency is advantageous for Indians (Rs 1 = 4 LKR, or Sri Lankan Rupee). Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most famous architect, was born and raised in Bentota. Lunuganga, his residence and garden, is open to the public. Guided tours require advance scheduling. The gardens and the prominent architect’s ideology of tropical modernism and minimalist buildings are best experienced on the morning trip (which costs roughly Rs 2,900). Comfortable footwear is recommended for this walking tour, during which you will hear fascinating anecdotes about Bawa, his concept of sustainable design, and his passion for fantastic workplace views. The grounds are verdant and face a body of water. The home has been renovated into a hotel, and guests now have the option of staying there. The sculptures and furniture he has designed are not to be missed.
One can spend an hour in nature on the Madu Ganga River Safari for the low, low price of Rs 2,100. The Indian Rupee can be used to pay for tours. However, they impose a steep exchange fee. While there are many of options for group boat tours, going at one’s own pace along the river is best experienced on a private boat. A Buddhist temple on one of the islands can be reached after a boat ride through the mangroves.
Visit Cinnamon Island for a moment. The guest will learn about cinnamon cultivation and harvesting here. Cinnamon tea is served as part of the ritual. Both cinnamon bark and oil are available for purchase. A fish pedicure station is also available. The ride offers beautiful scenery and the chance to spot wildlife, such as the river monitor and other reptiles.
Several local turtle conservation efforts can be found at Kosgoda, a town around 15 kilometres away. The green turtle, loggerhead turtle, hawksbill turtle, leatherback turtle, flatback turtle, olive ridley turtle, and Kemp’s ridley turtle are all in need of protection, and eighteen different research centres are dedicated to their preservation. The turtle hatchery is responsible for collecting, incubating, and hatching the eggs. When they are old enough, baby turtles are returned to the sea. The turtle nursery has a Rs 250 entry fee. A local expert will show the guest around and explain everything to them.
A precious tooth relic of Sri Anubuddha Maha Kassyapa Arahat can be found in the Galapata Raja Maha Vihara Temple on the banks of the Bentota river. The temple is decorated with vibrant murals and features a massive reclining Buddha statue at its centre. The journey to the temple is beautiful, so be sure to take some time to enjoy the sights and sounds of the countryside along the way. There is a small puppet museum with a collection of traditional string puppets along the way (entrance price Rs 250). The live puppet show is a treat.
Local specialties are a must when visiting Sri Lanka. While seafood is plentiful, there is also a wide selection of vegetarian options. Popular foods in Sri Lanka include kukul mas (chicken curry), kiribath (rice cooked in coconut milk), and egg hoppers. In addition to the organic heirloom rice types, you should sample the kithul (jaggery) palm treacle, a honey-like liquid. The dishes are similar to what one could get in India, although they have their own distinct flavour. In sum, visiting Bentota is an excellent initial experience of Sri Lanka.
TO WHOM AND HOW To get to Bentota from the Colombo airport, take a cab for about Rs 5,500 and travel less than two hours along the A2 highway. There are also bus options. At just 2 kilometres distant, the tiny Aluthgama train station awaits.
STAY There is a wide range of accommodation prices available. The nightly rate might be anywhere from INR 6,000 to INR 30,000.
EAT A supper for two at a high-end establishment like Mangala Pavilion, Diya Sisila, Randholee, or Frangipani might cost anything from Rs 3,000 to Rs 13,000.
SHOP Those in search of trinkets, batik fabrics, carved wood, brassware accessories, and moonstones and semiprecious jewellery can do so at the local bazaar.