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Published: September 30th 2011
Best time of the day!
This is a daily ritual obviously enjoyed by all.
Although only small in size (220km x 430km) Sri Lanka has plenty to offer. For the past 12 days we have been part of a group of 11 on an adventure tour which took in many of the highlights of this beautiful island.
Our group of Aussies, English and an American, were all like-minded travellers and our guide Kingsley, had an amazing love and knowledge of his country which he communicated with great skill.
Our driver Athula, was very adept at navigating our minibus along roads often choked with adrenalin-charged drivers of vehicles of all shapes and sizes.
The tour took us from the ancient and long-abandoned cities in the north, through the central mountains and highlands and along the beautiful southern and south-western coastline.
Elephants feature prominently in Sri Lankan history and mythology. We were constantly reminded of this throughout the trip. The elephant orphanage at Pinnawela was set up to care for elephants injured by poachers. The majority of the herd of more than 60 are orphans, hand-reared by their keepers. What a treat to watch as the herd made its way to the river for their daily scrub and cool down. The little ones
Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhism
The afternoon light created a special atmosphere in this mountain top monastery.
were just like kids in any family, squirting each other and fooling around.
We also saw plenty of wild elephants (and other wildlife) on our half-day jeep safari in Minneriya National Park.
Although daunting, the effort to climb the 1840 steps to the religious complex at Mihintale, the birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhism, was well worth it. The few remaining monks faithfully maintain a site that was once a monastery of over 5000.
The cave temples at Dambulla contained fascinating rock and Buddhist statues.
This dry northern area was also the site of several long-abandoned ancient royal capitals. The best preserved is Polonnaruwa and we spent a full morning on bikes exploring the many monuments adorned with carved faces and Buddha images.
Another challenging 1200 step climb to the mountain top fortress of Sigiriya (Lion Rock) took us past panels of 1500 year old frescoes.
On our way to an amazing view at the top we had to negotiate an area of potential danger as indicated by the warning sign "Noise may provoke hornet attacks".
The drive up into the central highlands provided a welcome break from the tropical heat. The largest centre
We saw many of these on our trip but we thought this one was impressive.
is Kandy, an attractive city built around the shores of a large lake. It has a distinctive and vibrant culture and is home to the most sacred Buddha tooth relic, which we visited along with thousands of pilgrims.
Our trip took us through spice gardens and never-ending tea plantations.
We had a glimpse into the colonial past at Nuwara Eliya, also known as "little England". The area is full of English-style cottages which centre around the imposing former Planters' Club. Now a hotel, the club is set is set in immaculately manicured grounds. These plantation owners must have led a grand life with their own golf course, racetrack and fishing club.
The climb to over 2000 metres took us to Horton Plains National Park. This is a strange savannah-like plateau overlooked by some of the country's highest peaks.
We saw plenty of wildlife on the 8km walking circuit to World's End with its amazing views over the surrounding countryside to the Indian Ocean.
Our feet were really aching after a further 15km down through the tea plantations and villages to our hotel.
The two hour train trip from Haputale to Ella was very leisurely
We saw many family groups with offerings of lotus and other flowers.
with numerous stops and a maximum speed of 20kph. No problems here though, as we were able to enjoy some marvellous mountain scenery.
On down to the southern coast with its succession of beautiful beaches and seaside villages. Our beachside hotel at Ahangama was a favoured spot for the famous stilt fishermen. What a sight to see them perched precariously on poles above the crashing surf.
We spent a day exploring the nearby town of Galle with its World Heritage old town surrounded by high walls. These were originally built by the Portuguese and later reinforced by the Dutch and then the British.
The local beaches in the area are also the breeding site for four of the world's five species of turtle. At the Kosgoda hatchery we saw a major conservation protect to increase the number of turtles in the world.
Sadly this whole area of coastline suffered the worst impact of the 2004 tsunami. Much has been restored but there are still remains of ruined buildings.
A large memorial marks the spot where over 1000 lost their lives when the wave engulfed a train.
We have farewelled our fellow travellers and are
Lion Rock fortress
The climb to the top was a challenge but well worth it for the views.
now enjoying a final few days in Colombo. We are staying in the beautiful old colonial Galle Face Hotel in the heart of the old town.
Sri Lanka has certainly lived up to our expectations. In the two years the gorilla war ended tourist numbers have increased by 25%. So many others feel the same.
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