A tear drop in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka is a true treasure for the world to discover. As the years passed it became known by many names throughout its fascinating history. Rulers, conquerors and invaders through the ages left their mark on this land which resulted in a unique cultural, social and political blend. Braving the turbulent challenges of a more recent past, the tropical paradise moved swiftly in healing its wounds and became a sought after destination for leisure, spiritual and adventure travelers alike.
My journey into this Wonder of Asia began in Negombo. I had a comfortable flight with Srilankan Airlines and reached my hotel at the crack of dawn. The sun drenched the quaint west coast city and enhanced the splendor of the beautiful golden sandy beaches. My abode was at the Beacon Beach hotel, located in a major tourist beach resort area.
Fishing is a major industry in Sri Lanka and the town is largely inhabited by fisher-folk. Several buildings and churches from the colonial area can be spotted in this city.
After attending the PATA Annual Summit, the much anticipated tour of the country began. It was organized by Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.
Our lovely hostess and guide made the journey exponentially more enjoyable.
Early morning after a hearty breakfast we were on our way to visit the Dambulla cave temple, a World Heritage Site (1991). Dambulla is known to be one of the best preserved cave temples in the country. This site is situated 148 kilometes east of Colombo.
We visited the 5 major cave temples; each consisted of beautiful paintings that cover more than a surface area of 22,000 sq ft along with statues related to Gautama Buddha and his life. There are a total of ~153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of gods and goddesses. This temple complex dates back to the first century BCE. While walking towards the temple ground, numerous monkeys could be seen.
We came downhill the cave temple and a short distance away along the asphalt road, the more recently built monumental Golden Buddha Statue and The Golden temple came into sight.
Our next adventure for the afternoon the Safari at Minneriya National Park. For wildlife sustainability, the park is a protected area. Large herds of elephants are the major attraction here, but the Minneriya reservoir is home to various large water birds such as Lesser adjutant, Painted stork, and Spot-billed pelican.
The Purple-faced langur, Toque macaque, Sri Lankan Sambar deer and Sri Lankan Axis deer along with the endangered Sri Lankan leopard and Sri Lankan sloth bear also inhabit Minneriya.
We settled in for the night at the luxurious Heritance Kandalama Hotel, its recluse location and harmony with the surrounding environment made it one of the best hotels I have stayed at while touring Sri Lanka.
Early morning we were cruising down the road once again, on our way to another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sigiriya. This is an ancient city and a fascinating place to explore. We arrived at the Sigiriya Rock Fortress and learned about its dramatic and epic history, one laced with betrayal and murder.
The leviathan Column-like rock stands at 200 meters. It has been chronicled that this site was chosen by King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his new capital.
The palace was built on top of this rock and decorated with colorful frescoes. We passed through the beautiful gardens at this site, namely the Water Gardens, Boulder Gardens and Terraced Gardens. We began to calmly ascend the massive rock, counting down the 1200 steps to the top. We were met with adorable yet mischievous monkeys along the way. After climbing about halfway up, we approached the gateway between two enormous lion paws.
The name Sīhāgiri has been derived from this very gateway, which translates to “Lion Rock”. Getting to the top is an exhausting endeavor, but undoubtedly worth the effort. The beautiful bird’s eye view of the surroundings and the gardens below had all the visitors in awe.
We left Sigiriya and continued on our journey. En route Kandy we visited the Ranweli Spice Garden in Matale. Our guide informed us about the importance of the various spices and herbs in Sri Lankan cuisine and Ayurveda.
After the relaxing and educational tour of the well-kept spice garden and a freshly brewed cup of herbal tea offered to us by our kind host, we once again hit the road passing the Mahaweli ganga (river) and arrived in the lush and beautiful hill city; Kandy.
Here we witnessed various traditional Sri Lankan dances and later a captivating fire-dance known as Gini Sisila took place outdoors. The talented performers manipulated the element of fire as though it were a natural extension of their being. They calmly guided the audience to where they should stand and began their daring four minute act. They walked briskly over a patch of hot coal and with that, the performance came to an end.
Later that evening, we bedded down at the beautiful Mahaweli Reach Hotel.
Next morning we went to explore the renowned Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. It is located in the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy, which houses the relic of the tooth of Buddha. This is one of the most important places of worship for Buddhist all around the world. The temple has numerous statues and paintings depicting Buddha’s life story. One of the more notable architectural features of the temple is the golden canopy, built in 1987 over the main shrine.
Within the massive temple complex we visited the Sri Dalada Museum and the Raja Museum, the latter is the resting place for the renowned elephant, Raja Atha (also known as Maligawa Raja). He was a Sri Lankan tusker elephant that passed away in 1988 at the age of 75. Raja participated at the annual Esala procession in Kandy for around 50 years and was the sacred casket bearer of the final Randoli perehera for 37 years. He was known for his noble behavior and became one of the most celebrated elephants in Asia during his lifetime. He was declared a national treasure due to his valued services.
We were on the road again and on our way to escape the tropical climate, heading for the refreshingly green, temperate hills of Nuwara Eliya. The view from our vehicle window was mesmerizing. The lush tea gardens rolled past and enlivened our spirits. We stopped at the Glenloch Tea Factory where we were given an informative tour with explanations regarding the cultivation, drying and packing process of the world famous “Ceylon Tea”. We were told about the different kinds of tea made and how they differ from one another. Our hostess at the factory told us the main process difference for black tea as compared to green and white tea is that black tea gets fermented and the oxidation gives it the signature dark brown color, whereas green tea and white tea are not fermented. The factory also has its own secret tea blend; the Golden Flush, the preparation process for this is kept hidden. After the tour we were offered various freshly brewed tea samples.
We retreated later that evening at the charming Jetwing Saint Andrew’s Hotel, the beautiful mansion lends a glance into the British colonial era.
Sun-up we were all packed and ready for a 5 hour long road trip to Mount Lavinia (colombo). We arrived just before sunset at the historic Mount Lavinia Hotel and made it in time for a demonstration held by Sri Lanka’s most renowned chef, Dr. Pubilis Silva. He showed us that Sri Lankan cuisine is not only healthy and delicious due to the herbs and spices used, but is also surprisingly easy to make.
With that our tour came to an end. We said goodbye to our lovely hostess and guide who showed us what Sri Lankan hospitality is all about.
The day before our flight back home, we stayed at a cozy service apartment overlooking the beach at the Marine City Complex, courtesy of Serene Vacations, Dehiwala.
The journey was an unforgettable one. The contours of the beautiful island nation have a poetic allure. The warmth of the people and their optimism is contagious.
Thank you for reading and do check out my previous posts about Sri Lanka as well!