This was a trip like no other. Why do I say that? There is only one reason why! This is my 1st ever trip across the Indian borders, yes, I was finally gonna get a stamp on my passport and setting foot on foreign land. So what if it was Sri Lanka, our neighbouring country. It was still a country that needed a passport and visa and all that jazz! For those who have travelled across the globe, this is no big deal, but trust me – it was such a huge deal for me! Actually, this was true both for me and my friend. We had kinda made a pact a year or so ago that we would make our 1st international trip together and it so happened that the dream came true…
She called me towards the 3rd week of March and asked if I was game to do a trip to Sri Lanka and I immediately said Yes. She had done quite a bit of research and began rattling out flight and visa details even before the whole thing settled in my mind. I checked the net, got her passport details and booked our tickets and Visa. Within a day we had also booked the hotel for the 1st night and we had decided to take the rest as the days progressed. I took 2 friends into confidence and asked them about places to go, things to do and so on. I also referred to the net, checked out quite a few sites of which I found Sri Lanka Travel portal to be quite good and informative!
[Image courtesy: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/maps/asia/sri-lanka/map_of_sri-lanka.jpg]
We booked tickets on Spicejet from Madurai, cos that was the cheapest flight available on the dates we wanted to travel. There are quite a few other Airlines- Air Lanka, Air India Express and so on.
The Visa was done online, and it took a few minutes only. All I did was Google “Sri Lanka visa” and the “https://eta.gov.lk/” site popped up. In that, after reading the process, i clicked on “Apply” which opened out a form that i filled out [name, passport number, issue and expiry date, address, dates of travel, and an address at the destination], then make the payment via credit card [USD 15]. However, visa is also available on arrival, but that costs USD 30. Once you are done filling out the form, check and make sure the information provided is correct, esp passport number. If you don’t really know where you are staying [which was the case with us], just fill in Colombo [landing destination] and it works! Now when you are done with payment gateway, you will receive an email saying your visa is under process and you will hear from them in 24hours. I received a “visa approved” mail within that time and I had it on my phone in case anyone asked for it [which none did]
Similarly, for the ticket, you just need to store the email on your phone, don’t need print outs. Just make sure you are carrying your passport with you as you will need to show it at multiple places.
With regards to Foreign Currency- we did a rough estimate after talking to friends/travel agents and people living in SL, and decided we might need about 50K Sri Lankan Rupees [LKR], which was equal to Rs25000 INR. So, I called up a money exchange company, took a copy of the passport and ticket and cash and got the LKR money.
LKR is quite interesting- the notes are all different, some large, some small but all of them have a collection of birds/animals/symbols/masks on them. Quite colourful. The LKR 2000 notes are much larger than LKR 5000. They also have coins, very similar to ours except theirs is all gold in colour. The normal conversion rate is 1 INR= 2.17 LKR, but most places give upto 2LKR. We needed little more and so when we approached Western Union in Galle, they offered us 1.9LKR only [lost about 500 bucks in that transaction].
That is all you need! Oh and you can draw cash if required using your ATM card from your local Indian Banks. The ATM machine gives a good rate – 1INR= 2.17 LKR. Our Credit cards also work everywhere, for no additional charge! The credit card slip comes in LKR, while the SMS/email notification in our INR.
Now that you know what you need to plan a SL trip, I shall talk about my experiences in the next post.