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Travel News March 2017


Getting wet didn’t really matter...


HEY say every cloud has a silver lining I reminded myself when the heavens opened as our group arrived to pick up bicycles for a ride through the jungle on our tour of Sri Lanka.


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An unseasonal depression over The Bay of Bengal had cast a layer of cloud over this exotic tropical island just 21 miles from the tip of India.


But the downpour created a heady cocktail of scents and birdsong and encouraged brilliantly coloured Kingfishers to skim along nearby riverbanks where women in traditional sarees were washing their clothes. A second shower sent us scurrying for cover at a nearby house amid coconut trees where the farmer and his wife welcomed us with smiling faces and set out chairs for us to relax.


Yes those clouds did have a silver lining because of this impromptu act of kindness and getting wet didn't really matter because it was so warm.


Thousands of coconut trees cover Sri Lanka providing a rich bounty every 40 days for around 75 years. People boil their rice in coconut milk which is why it is so creamy and produce mats from fibres teased out of the husks.


A call to prayer, or it might have been Buddhist chanting, drifted across a lake as we cycled by on our way to another farmhouse for lunch.


Here we feasted on locally caught and dried fish, pork curry, jackfruit, curried potatoes and a lentil dahl with rice. Food is never served piping hot as Sri Lankans prefer to eat with their fingers.


Earlier our coach had slowed to avoid an elephant make its way along the side of the road. There are around 3000 of these majestic animals range freely in the national parks which cover a large part of the island. We spotted a number of them on a jeep safari but our best view was of one feeding unconcernedly by the roadside on our way back to the safari station. The weather cleared and for the past few days we had been making our way from the busy capital Colombo towards the ancient mountain Kingdom of Kandy.


En route we visited the fascinating Buddhist cave temples at Dambulla and climbed the spectacular Lion Rock which towers 600 ft above the surrounding plains and is set amid tranquil gardens with the ruins of a palace on top.


Established among tree covered hills at the heart of the island, Kandy was the last bastion against colonial influence but finally fell to the British in 1815. We spend two days here in a comfortable hotel overlooking a lake and the town and were amused to find a notice advising us not to leave our balcony doors open because of the monkeys who roam freely all over the island.


On the first day we watched a colourful Buddhist ceremony at the The Temple of the Tooth, a World Heritage site, and later a dance and drumming show with an exciting fire walking finale.


In the verdant Botanical Gardens we saw the Tamarind Tree planted by Sri Lanka's first president to mark independence in February 1948.


We also visited a diamond factory where we learned that gems were the island's third most important export with textiles and tea in first and second places and tourism coming forth.


On our free day we wandered around markets packed with exotic fruits, vegetables, spices, locally


SRI LANKAN ODYSSEY By NIGEL HEATH


made textiles and other wares and lunched in the Queen's Hotel, a magnificent reminder of the colonial period, once visited by the future king Edward the 7th. The famous 1950's film Bridge over the River Kwai was made downstream from the riverside hotel gardens where we chilled out the following afternoon after leaving Kandy and winding our way up through tea plantations into higher country.


It was a Full Moon public holiday, when no alcohol is sold , and dozens of local families were washing and splashing about in the waters close to the jungle fringed banks.


The following morning we walked through the forest before boarding our coach and completing a 6,200 ft climb to Nuwara Eliya, aptly known as Little England because it was a favourite hill station with the British. Complete with race and golf courses and magnificent Victorian hotels, where tea is still served on the lawns by white gloved waiters, the town certainly lives up to its nickname.


We dined in colonial style at The Hill Club and were collected the following morning for a drive to the Horton Plains, a high plateau where we walked for three hours through rolling grassland and forest and visited the stunning World's End view point. That afternoon we boarded a train at Sri Lanka's highest station and descended through cloud forest and tea plantations en route for the plains and the palm fringed sandy beaches beyond.


Our memorable holiday was drawing to a close but not before we visited the Yala National Park and spotted crocodiles, water buffalo more elephants and exotic eagles and birds.


We went whale watching during a free beach day and my wife Jenny and I spotted our first giant Blue Whale, the largest mammal on the planet.


But as we made our final drive towards Colombo, dozens of little graves along this largely unspoilt coast were a sad reminder of the tusunami which devastated the area 11 years ago.


Little evidence remains of that catastrophe and the coastal region looks set for a tourism boom so if Sri Lanka tempts you then you might wish to go there sooner rather than later.


FACTFILE


We travelled with Exodus (tel 0208 772 3936) who have been running small group tours worldwide for over 40 years. Prices start from £1,999 .for the two week Discover Sri Lanka holiday. Our excellent guide Roshan Fernando gave us talks covering most aspects of Sri Lankan life which helped us to form an overall picture of life on this beautiful island. Our hotels were comfortable and our direct flight from London on a Sri Lankan Air Boeing A 330 Airbus included a quality onboard complimentary hot towels, meal and drinks service provided by helpful cabin staff in smart sarees. Full Moon Days are public holidays but the downside is that alcohol is not sold.


Elephants are almost everywhere on tourist trails in Sri Lanka A golden Buddha surveys the scene in exotic Sri Lanka


SRI LANKA 33


Recognise it? One of the settings for famous David Lean film The Bridge on River Kwai


Heading out on a cycling tour of Sri Lanka


The Temple of the Tooth at Kandy, last bastion of the British in 1948


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