Cyclist Harikrupa Padmanabhan talks about a memorable trip to Sri Lanka to explore the gorgeous country on a cycle
How did the adventure to Sri Lanka happen?
A very good friend of mine, Vidya Chandran runs a touring company called The HandleBars – http://thehandlebars.in. Sometime in November 2018, she posted her Srilanka – 200 km tour itinerary on our local cycling group and it got me excited. After making sure the dates were convenient for all at home and work, I signed up for the trip.
Where did you ride out to?
We ride a distance of 200 kms over 4 days starting at Colombo, visiting Bentota. Galle and Matara. Vidya is a great organizer. She had our stay booked in advance. Our bicycles were rented from Spinner Café at Colombo. At Spinner Café you can rent bicycles, get them repaired or just land up for some nice coffee and sandwiches.
How did you prepare for the trip?
When I booked the trip in December, February felt like a long time away. I am a regular cyclist and I was looking forward to visiting Srilanka as it was my very first time there and even more because it was a cycling vacation.
We booked our flights in Jan and applied for the visa. As the day got closer, we formed our own cycling group – Srilanka #pedaljayenge. Vidya shared with us a checklist and also the information about our stay. We were now all set to pedal in Srilanka!
The journey begins
On night of Feb 4th. four of us met at the airport and took the early morning flight the next day to Colombo. We picked up our cycles from Spinner Café on 5th evening, did a quick check on the cycles and rode back to our hotel. Since we had a lot of time in the morning on 5th, we walked along the sea and explored Barefoot and ODEL, signature shops in Sri Lanka.
On 6th morning, we loaded our bags in a hired cab. The vehicle would be with us through the entire trip so carrying the luggage around wasn’t an issue. We started our ride at 6:30 am; ours was an early bird group so we decided to beat the heat and get some riding done before it got too hot and humid. The Sri Lankan roads were awesome. People followed rules except for local buses which drive like our very own Indian buses. We stopped for a very refreshing breakfast at about the 20 km mark. We had bread, eggs, fruit and their very famous string hoppers and Dhal curry for breakfast, sided with some fresh fruit juice and washed it all down with coffee. Our destination for the day was Bentota, about 60 kms from Colombo. Enroute, we stopped for pictures at Buddha Temples, Churches and just about anywhere where we felt like. We reached Bentota a little after 11:00 am. At Bentota, the railway station looks like a train compartment. The Police station looked like a posh home; admiring all this, we walked across from our place of stay to a nice Vintage restaurant and had pumpkin soup, roasted vegetables with rice and pineapple fried with ice-cream. We cycled just about 60 kms but ate like we had done 200 kms! That’s why they say cycling doesn’t help in weight loss J. We spent the evening at the beach, visited the Kande Viharya temple and retired to have a fresh start in the morning.
Our Day 2 of cycling was from Bentota to Galle. During this ride, we had a few technical glitches with Vidya’s cycle. We stopped at a turtle conservatory for a short visit while Vidya tried to get her cycle fixed; the fix was temporary. We halted at the sight of King Coconut – orange colored coconut, small but the water content is sumptuous and very refreshing. We managed to get to Galle by afternoon. Our stay was in a beautiful place inside the Dutch fort. After a nice lunch at a shack by the beach at Unawatuna, we sent off Vidya’s cycle in the car with the driver to get it fixed at Galle town.
In the evening, we roamed around inside the fort, visited the Lighthouse and settled in for some nice hoppers for dinner with potato and okra sides. All of us were quite exhausted because our ride from Bentota to Galle was during the hot part of the day.
In the morning on Day 3 we were welcomed dearly by a punctured tyre. Along our trip so far we had encountered 2 punctures, this being the third; we had extra tubes so got to work instantly. Vidya’s cycle came back repaired with a new set of pedals. We had breakfast at a local joint – string hoppers , dhal curry and started our ride. Our ride for the day was about 42 kms into Matara. As we rode along the coast, it was breezy and cooler because of rains we had almost every evening. We reached Matara by 12:00 noon and our place of stay was Beach inn; it was right by the beach where people went surfing and snorkeling. We had lunch at Doctor’s House at Matara- wood fried Pizza and Ginger Beer. In the evening, we settled down in the Inn because of rains and spent the entire evening by the beach.
Day 4 was a short ride to Dondra, which is the southernmost point of Srilanka. The ride was a rolling one because of the climbs. All the while till Matara, we rode on roads with hardly any elevation so this route was thoroughly enjoyable. We stopped at the lighthouse, took loads of pictures and returned to our Inn at 10:00 am. It was the last day of our ride so our bicycles were loaded in a 4×4 back to Spinner café and we drove back into Colombo that evening. Since we had one more day in Srilanka before we returned home, a friend who works in Colombo offered to drive us to Kandy -100 kms from Colombo for a day trip. We got back from Kandy on Sunday night and headed to the airport, reminiscing every second of our trip while we journeyed our way back to Bangalore.
The trip was planned and executed perfectly by The HandleBars ! For someone like me, who was doing this kind of a trip for the very first time, it was an amazing experience. The 4 of us got along so well and it felt like we had known each other forever. Our riding pace matched really well so we never had to wait up or catch up. I am already looking forward to my Part 2 Srilanka trip in 2020. That time it would be Kandy – with the climbs!