Seeing Sri Lanka and Bhutan as a solo female traveller

  • Travel
  • Saturday, 28 Jul 2018

It was a real sense of achievement for the writer when she reached the Tiger's Nest Monastery that clings precariously on a cliff above Paro valley in Bhutan. Photos: Caroline Peter

I went travelling all by myself for the first time in 2010, after a colleague from Sri Lanka kept encouraging me to visit her country. Like most over-protective families, mine was not too happy with my decision to travel solo. I had asked them to come with me but never got a favourable response, so I told myself to stop allowing people to delay my own desires to travel and see places.

To prepare for the journey, I informed my colleague that I would be visiting her country and would need her help with an itinerary, as well with finding good hotels and trustworthy guides. She gave me all the information I needed and I researched every place she suggested; I even called the hotels to make sure that my booking was confirmed!

I was anxious about my trip and kept wondering if I was doing the right thing or whether it was a bad idea to go alone but many of my female colleagues who had travelled alone encouraged me.

When I arrived in Colombo, I was greeted by the travel agent and a 65-year-old man who was going to be my driver-cum-guide. A 65-year-old man? The travel agent assured me I was going to be fine and need not worry as “Uncle Chaminda” is an experienced guide and will take care of me.

Uncle Chaminda shared a lot of stories about Sri Lanka. We went to places like Pollunaruwa, Dambulla, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Colombo in seven days!

Ladies working at the tea estate in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka.

I must say I had a wonderful adventure and had even challenged myself to climb the Sigiriya Rock (a Unesco World Heritage site) in Dambulla and check out the Horton Plains National Park (also known as the world’s end) at Nuwara Eliya.

I stuggled a little to climb the Sigiriya Rock while Uncle Chaminda climbed with ease, perhaps due to his years of climbing experience. He truly inspired me.

The writer had the most wonderful time climbing the Sigiriya Rock in Dambull, Sri Lanka.

After my trip to Sri Lanka, I decided to go on my second solo travel adventure last year – this time to Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragon.

I experienced so much during this trip, travelling on the Himalayan mountains and understanding the unique culture and religion (Buddhism is the main religion in Bhutan). This time a much younger driver-cum-guide, Dorji Tshering, was assigned to me. It was a 10-day trip, where we visited the capital city Thimphu, Punakha, Trongsa, Bumthang, Wangdiphodrang and Paro.

Bhutanese children in Thimpu, Bhutan.

Dorji shared with me stories of his country and how devoted the Bhutanese were to their ruler and their country’s administration.

When you’re travelling in Bhutan, be prepared to go through the mountains and for long rides. Along the way, we saw snow and I got to see some yaks! We went to villages in the valleys and had a lunch picnic with Dorji at a farmhouse.

I also got to wear the traditional Bhutanese attire for women called the Kira.

I managed to climb up two monasteries perched on a hilltop: The Chagri Monastery which was 2,600m high and the famous Tiger’s Nest, which was at 3,120m. This gave me the confidence to try and conquer our very own Mount Kinabalu soon!

Another unique experience in Bhutan happened while visiting Punakha. Upon arrival at this valley, you’ll find phallic art on display in homes, shops, hotels and many other places. In the local culture, they are actually meant to ward off evil. At a temple called Chimi Lakhang, I was blessed by a monk with a 60cm-tall phallus statue wrapped in a red cloth. It may seem funny but everything was done in a serious manner at the temple – I dared not laugh or giggle! The temple is usually frequented by childless couples who pray for children.

My experiences travelling alone have been great. Both Sri Lanka and Bhutan are good and safe destinations for women to travel by themselves. However, I do suggest getting the help of trustworthy travel agents and to plan well for the trip.

From my travels, I not only gained personal satisfaction but also strength and confidence. I got to know travellers from other countries, too.

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