Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

 

SRI LANKA & MALDIVES TRIP REPORT

Words BY LISA WALSH

Pictures by Tim Yeo 

August 29 - September 10, 2019


SRI LANKA

Thurs. Aug 29:

Upon our arrival in Sri Lanka, we collected our luggage and were greeted by our very own Sri Lankan guide (Subash) and a local Sri Lankan woman who gave everyone beautiful flower leis. We then drove toward Cinnamon Lodge in Habarana (a small city in the Anuradhapura District of Sri Lanka). We stopped for a buffet lunch along the way. When we arrived at Cinnamon Lodge, we checked-in to our rooms, hung out by the pool, and went to bed after a nice buffet dinner in the restaurant. 

Fri. Aug 30:

After breakfast, we began the day at the Dambulla Cave temples—a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 1st Century B.C. This amazing complex of five caves was first used as a refuge by an ancient king who, upon regaining his throne, commissioned magnificent images to be carved from the rock. Later kings made further improvements and the caves contain over 150 images of the Buddha painted upon the walls and etched in carvings—the largest is a colossal figure spanning 45 feet. The hike up to the caves was short but steep (approx. 15-20 mins). At the top, we explored the caves and enjoyed spectacular far-reaching views over the surrounding countryside. 

 

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

After the cave temples, the bus then drove us to a traditional Sri Lankan village. We all boarded bullock carts pulled by 2 oxen each for a short ride. Upon alighting the bullock carts, we walked along a scenic trail past crop fields and an ancient reservoir to a peaceful village where we learned about the daily lives of the local people. A few women taught us how to make dahl curry, unhusk rice, and weave pleats from leaves to make a roof. The women also provided a delicious buffet lunch in a large, open-air hut in the village—before the villagers ferried us back across the river to tuks tuks and to our bus.


Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

 

Next up was another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient, ruined city of Polonnaruwa. The second most ancient of Sri Lanka's kingdoms, Polonnaruwa was first declared the capital city by King Vijayabahu I, who defeated the Chola invaders in 1070 AD to reunite the country once more under a local leader. Over the following three centuries Polonnaruwa became a thriving commercial and religious center, reaching its zenith under King Parakramabahu I in the 12th Century. 

We began our visit to the museum, where our guide Subash showed us artifacts unearthed from the site and explained how they were used. Then we moved on to Nissanka Latha Mandapaya, which boasts well-preserved stone columns in the shape of a lotus, and the ruined stone walls of the Royal Palace. The palace was originally 7 stories tall and piped in water. We also saw the Audience Hall, which was jigsaw puzzled back together by the British, who got it all perfect except in one spot where they ended up with a 5-legged elephant carving. 

Our next stop within Polonnaruwa was Dalada-Maluva, an area that contains three ruined shrines that each once housed Buddha’s tooth-relic: (1) Atadage (the oldest of the three buildings, built by King Viayabahu the Great [1055-1110 A.D.]), (2) Hetadage (Built by King Nissanka Malla [1187-1196 A.D.]), and (3) Vatadage (built by King Parakramabahu the Great [1153-1186 AD]). We ended our tour in Polonnaruwa for the day at Rankoth Vehera, which is the largest stupa in Polonnaruwa built by King Nissanka Malla, and the fourth largest stupa in Sri Lanka. A stupa is a round, mound-like structure containing relics (typically the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns), and is basically Sri Lanka’s equivalent of a great pyramid.
 
Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019
 

Sat. Aug 31:

After another delicious buffet breakfast at Cinnamon Lodge, we got an early morning start (leaving at 8 am) to Sigiriya, also known by its nickname “Lion Rock.” Often touted as “the eighth wonder of the world,” this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of Sri Lanka’s major attractions. It presents as a spectacular pillar of rock visible from miles around. Geologically, Sigiriya is a hardened magma plug of an extinct volcano. Historically, the origins of the remains are disputed and thought to have been either a royal fortress built under the reign of King Kashyapa (477-495 A.D.) or a Buddhist monastery. Upon arrival, we wandered the landscaped gardens at the base of the rock, before climbing numerous stone and metal stairways. The walk to the top was steep with many steps, with some narrow sections and sharp drops protected by metal fences. We passed through beautiful frescoes and a sheer “mirror wall” before arriving at the massive stone lion’s paws, which lend the rock its nickname. The old stairway to the top led through the mouth of a crouching lion but today only the huge paws remain, indicating how massive the proportions of the head must have been. The pinnacle, covering an area of 1.6 hectares, was originally completely covered by buildings, but today only the ruins of the royal citadel remain. The top of the rock afforded stunning 360-degree views looking out over Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019
 
 

We then returned to Cinnamon Lodge to hang out by the pool and enjoy a brief break before boarding jeeps (4 people to a jeep) to Kaudulla National Park. Historically, Kaudulla was one of the 16 irrigation tanks built by King Mahasen (227-304 A.D.). Following a period of abandonment, it was reconstructed in 1959, and now supports a variety of plant and animal life. On our visit we spotted at least a hundred Asian elephants, as well as other birds such as eagles, storks, and peacocks.

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Sun. Sept 1:

After breakfast, we checked out of Cinnamon Lodge at 8:30 am and drove toward Kandy (Sri Lanka’s second-largest city located in the Central Province). On the way, we stopped briefly at a Spice Garden to learn about and buy ayurvedic medicines, and a traditional tea factory, where they taught us how world-famous Sri Lankan Ceylon tea is picked, dried, sorted, and sifted. After lunch in Kandy, our group split into halves, with about half of the group going directly to Cinnamon Citadel (our hotel for the evening), and the other half going to see more sites. The site-seeing group headed to a local hall to watch an hour-long show of traditional Sri Lankan music, dance, and drumming. The show concluded with two impressive male dancers breathing fire and walking on hot coals.

The last stop of the day was another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, known locally as Sri Dalada Maligawa—the most sacred temple in the whole of Sri Lanka. This important shrine boasted intricate carvings and beautiful Sri Lankan art. During the evening, ‘puja’ throngs of pilgrims visit the temple to line up to glimpse the golden caskets said to hold the sacred Buddha’s tooth relic and to make offerings of flowers. At the appointed time, some travelers from our group managed to glimpse the golden caskets through the open door as both tourists and locals clamored into one large mob—all eyes straining to see the monks complete their offerings.

The sightseeing for the day completed, the remaining half group returned to Cinnamon Citadel, a comfortable and luxurious hotel for another fantastic buffet dinner like those we had at Cinnamon Lodge, drinks, fun, and relaxation.

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MALDIVES 

Mon. Sept 2:

We left Cinnamon Citadel in Kandy at 7:30 AM and made the long drive back to the airport, where we boarded a Sri Lanka Airlines flight to Male. Our Italian divemasters, Herbert and Federica, met us at the airport, then guided us to a nearby jetty. There awaited our diving dhoni–a traditional Maldivian boat equipped with air/nitrox compressors, tanks, weights, and more. The dhoni transferred us and our luggage to our larger liveaboard boat and home for the next 7 days: The luxurious M/Y Duke of York.

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

 

Tues. Sept 3:

On Tuesday, we began our dives. The Duke of York provides a unique liveaboard diving experience. Unlike other liveaboards where you giant stride directly off the boat or pile into an inflatable, motorized zodiac/dinghy to get to the dive site, the Duke of York travels with a second large, comfortable dive boat (the dhoni). A schedule for each day’s dives, activities, and meals were posted on a whiteboard in the dining area. A bell rang each time it was time to dive, eat, or do an activity. When the bell rang for diving, we received our briefing in the main cabin area, grabbed our things, then hopped over from the Duke of York to the dhoni to make our way to the scheduled dive site. For the duration of our dives in the Maldives, we jumped into calm, crystal clear 84-85°F turquoise waters. Motoring from dive site to dive site, the eye often looked out on an ocean so perfectly aquamarine blue it felt unreal. Visibility on our dives tended to range from 50-70 feet.

 

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019  Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

 

To describe the meals on the Duke of York: Breakfast usually involved made-to-order eggs (e.g., over easy, scrambled, omelets), accompanied by a buffet of bacon, toast, pastries, fruit, yogurt, and cereal. Lunch and dinner were usually similar affairs with a serve-yourself buffet including sashimi, fried noodles, fried and steamed rice, vegetable dishes (e.g., buffalo cauliflower, cheesy broccoli), meat dishes (e.g. sweet and sour chicken, chicken burgers), and fish dishes (e.g., sautéd fish, oatmeal battered fish). These meals were sporadically capped off with a dessert of some kind, such as strawberry and mango ice cream or a chocolate soufflé. Snacks could be had most of the time. Chocolate, lemon, and plain biscuits were on offer in the early mornings before the dives and after. At designated snack times between dives, the chef served snacks like chocolate cake and banana bread. The food was great and the chef was diligent in catering to special diets (e.g., keto, pescatarian).

Dive #1: Velassaru Caves

Our first check-out dive did not disappoint. Dropping into tranquil turquoise waters, we saw a few moray eels and lionfish, a titan triggerfish, a starfish, and a nudibranch. We also glimpsed fairy basslets and soft coral.

Dive #2: Bathalaa Thila 

The second dive was equally good. We saw a moray eel, 2 frogfish (including a giant violet frogfish), a leaf fish, a baby shark, and some anemone fish. 

Dive #3: Maaya Thila

Our first night dive of the trip was also on point. We spotted an octopus, 3 sleeping turtles in caves, and swimming rays. 

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Wed. Sept 4:

Dive #4: Maaya Thila

In the morning we dove Maaya Thila again. This time, we spotted an Eagle Ray, 6 gray reef sharks, a swimming turtle, damselfish, blue triggerfish, a swimming octopus, a Mobula ray, clown triggerfish, a school of barracuda, batfish, a school of jacks, a flute mouth fish, a lionfish, pipefish, 2 stonefish, and Moorish idols. 

Between Dive #4 and Dive #5, we took a snorkeling break to find reef mantas. In the process, we saw 3-4 mantas circling a nearby pinnacle. We swam out into the ocean after them. The crew on the boat kept pointing them out to us as they swooped around us.

Dive #5: Gabhoorusa Lagoon

During this afternoon dive, we were looking for manta rays but only glimpsed one. In the process, we did manage to see some anemone fish, anthias, and batfish. The dive consisted mainly of just sandy bottom and blue ocean. It was a shallow 20-foot dive with not too much to see, so we basically floated with the current and played around underwater.

Dive #6: Angoti Thila / Hafza Thila

On this dive, we spotted dogtooth tuna. Other divers spotted a baby shark.

 

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

 

Dive #7: Fish Head

Some people decided to go on this night dive, where they saw hundreds of blue striped snappers, lots of friendly batfish, a few white tip sharks, a couple of hawksbill turtles, and large groupers. Other divers decided to forego this optional extra night dive and went to the beach of a nearby deserted island instead to frolic.

The night was capped off with revelry at the bar. A new alcoholic concoction and drink-of-the-trip, “baby juice” was invented. It was a blend of strawberry-guava juice, coconut milk, and rum.

 

Thurs. Sept 5:

Dive #8: Fish Head

We listened to our dive briefing then hit the water. After descending, the ocean opened up with a trove of treasures. We heard the high-pitched songs of dolphins echoing in the background, as we spotted a giant dogtooth tuna, a bunch of gray reef sharks (including one getting cleaned), and white tip sharks. Two baby eagle rays swooped past. Eventually, we spotted two bottlenose dolphins flipping around and watching us from a distance. The dive ended with a whole school of yellow striped snappers, spread out in a long winding ribbon like a living, moving, swirling yellow brick road. We glimpsed a mantis shrimp and hung out with a few hawksbill turtles on our safety stop.

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019  Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

 

Dive #9: Moofushi Manta Point

After breakfast and a surface interval, we went back into the ocean at Moofushi Corner. For the first time, we were able to do some reef hooking—which afforded us views of—you guessed it—mantas. Specifically, we saw one manta cleaning itself at the cleaning station engaging in some incredibly interesting behavior that we later dubbed “the manta dance.” The manta would flip up showing its belly in preparation for being cleaned. 

 

Dive #10: Dega Thila

Dega Thila boosted a few nice swim-throughs, and we managed to see lots of batfish, a school of yellow striped snappers, a school of glassfish, school of fusiliers, and lots of colorful anthias. Others on our trip glimpsed a white tip shark, a Picasso triggerfish, colorful anthias, soldierfish, some hunting jacks, and a clam with a vent coming out of it.

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019  Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

 

The dives completed for the day, we motored to a deserted island for a barbeque on the beach. We walked around the tiny island, looking out on calm waters underneath a cotton candy sunset. The crew had sculpted some sand art (e.g., a whale, a manta), as well as a table and benches where we sat to eat the barbeque feast they prepared for us. As we ate, a torrential downpour began, drenching us—dousing all the candles and filling our plates with water. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed ominously in the distance. But we all laughed and joked it off—saying it was our “4th dive of the day” as our plates turned into soup.

 

FRI. SEPT. 6:

Dive # 11: Madivaru / Rangau

This dive was a really nice, chill, beautiful dive. While underwater, we glimpsed Napoleon wrasse, a swirling school of humpback snapper, 2 moray eels (including a baby moray), colorful anthias, flutemouth, a few dogtooth tuna, an eagle ray, 2 masked bannerfish, a few ringed wrasses, a few sheepshead parrotfish, and many blue triggerfish. 

After breakfast we drove out to see if we could find whale sharks to snorkel with, but alas there were none.

 

Dive #12: Maamigili Beyru 

Again we experienced a veritable sea of treasures. We saw Napoleon wrasse, an eagle ray, a school of yellow blue-stripe snappers, scorpionfish, some lionfish, white tip sharks, a black tip shark, a hawksbill turtle, dogtooth tuna, powder-blue surgeonfish, sailfin surgeonfish, Blue-fin jack, and masked bannerfish.

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019  Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

After lunch, we again drove out on the dhoni to find whale sharks. Again we were unsuccessful.

 

Dive #13: Digurah Beyru

Unfortunately, the reef on this dive did not look very healthy. It looked as if it were covered in snow, but the snow was sand. However, we still viewed a plethora of sea life, including scorpionfish, lionfish, blue triggerfish, basslets, mantis shrimp, a few moray eels, Blue-fin jack, Oriental sweet lips, and orange and purple anthias. 

We went back to the boat for a snack, watched 47 meters down in the main cabin, all the while joking about its perpetual scuba snafus. 

 

Dive #14: Machafushi Wreck

Another night dive. Machafushi Wreck presented as a nice, intact wreck. We penetrated the wheelhouse, and saw large grouper and a moray eel out hunting. 

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At dinner, we had a birthday celebration for one of our fellow travelers, complete with coconut cream cake and all. You can have your cake and eat it too. We all happily sang happy birthday and hung out in the main cabin to finish 47 meters down then watch the Meg.

 

SAT. SEPT. 7:

Dive #15: Vilamendhoo Thila

We descended through batfish (always a good way to start a dive), and saw a Napoleon wrasse sleeping in a cave, a swimming hawksbill turtle, blue triggerfish, bluefin jack, an eagle ray, a crawling baby mantis shrimp, a large school of batfish, a large school fusiliers, and dogtooth tuna. 


Dive #16: Kudarah Thila

After breakfast, we dove again. We mainly just hooked into the reef and watched the field of fish flowers (yellow blue striped snappers) swirl around us. We also saw blue triggerfish and oriental sweet lips.

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After lunch, we hung out and watched a few more movies (Finding Nemo, Jago).

 

Dive #17: Alimaatha Jetty

We ended the day with a bang. A night shark dive near a pier! This dive let us get up close and personal with innumerable nurse sharks and quite a few stingrays—who were all coming in for a feeding frenzy as we kneeled down in the sand to watch. We also spotted some bluefin jacks and lionfish. Unfortunately, we surfaced to stormy conditions of big waves and rain in the harbor. When we got back to the Duke of York, the dhoni couldn’t dock due to the conditions, so we jumped into the water with mask and fins, grabbed a tether line, and swam to the liveaboard. It was a fun adrenaline-inducing adventure!

For dinner, the crew served up a delectable traditional Maldivian dinner with chicken curry, chapati, noodles, fried rice, papadam, and other local dishes. It was all capped off with chocolate mousse for dessert.

 

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

 

SUN. SEPT. 8:

Dive #18: Devana Kandu

On this dive, we saw a large manta ray, spotted eagle ray, honeycomb moray eel, and black-tip reef shark.

 

Dive #19: Kandinsky Thila / Cocoa Corner / Kandooma Caves

Our last dive threw strong currents at us. For some of us, it was a brief dive (we blew through our air), with just a glimpse of a dogtooth tuna. For the others it was a thrilling dive drifting with the current while the sharks and other schools of marine life simply hover in the same spot. 

 

DSCN3819   ;   DSCN3869    ;    P1010054

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019 Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019  Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

 

After lunch, we motored back to Male. Some people played Prosecco Pong, some hung out and watched movies, some slept, and some went to town.

At dinner, the crew gave us a rousing send-off with individual stamped cards about the trip. We ate cake, settled our bills, drank baby juice, and watched movies. 

 

MON. SEPT. 9:

After an early breakfast, we departed the M/Y Duke of York. The dhoni took us and our luggage to a dock, where cars transferred us to Vista Beach Retreat, a small hotel where we got rooms to hang out, sleep, and chill for the day. Some went to Male, while others walked around Hulhumalé to eat and stare at the beautiful beach. In the evening, we took multiple taxis back to the airport and departed for our various destinations.

Sri Lanka & Maldives Trip Report 2019

 

All-in-all, it was an incredible, unforgettable trip with a wonderful group of divers. By the numbers, there were thousands of fish and sea creatures, hundreds of Asian elephants, 22 fun-loving travelers, 19 Maldivian dives, and 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites—all in 3 different countries (United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives).

  


 

HOW TO BOOK A TRIP TO the Maldives:

Bluewater Travel can book you on a resort or liveaboard in the Maldives for the same cost or less than booking any other way. We know the diving, accommodation and when to go better than anyone else!

 

Email us at info@bluewaterdivetravel.com and tell us that you read this article to get a special price for your next dive trip.

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