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Sri Lanka map

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

 

 

MORRISON FIRST TRIP TO SRI LANKA, AUGUST 2017

 
 

In August, we made our first trip to the equatorial island nation of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). For many years, we were discouraged to go there by the brutal 26-year civil war that lasted until 2009, primarily between Sinhalese and Tamil groups. Now, fortunately, Sri Lanka is doing well and beckons as a great place to visit. Our trip was timed for the Esala Perahera Buddhist festival in the historic inland capital of Kandy, although this put us in India during the monsoon season. (Fortunately, we missed the worst monsoon flooding a few days after our departure).

We landed at the capital Colombo on the western coast, spent one night at a beach resort, and then drove inland to the central highlands. We stayed three nights in a lovely hotel in Sigiriya, in the shadow of the famous Sigiriya Rock (which was once topped with a Palace). The hotel had an excellent buffet, with a selection of European, Chinese, Indian, and Sri Lankan food. Our initial objectives were to visit the two ancient capitols, Anuradhapura (380 BCE – 993 CE) and Polonnaruwa (1153-1505 CE). Both cities are in ruins, with extensive foundations but only a few standing buildings, most of them religious. These include several huge Buddhist dagobas (stupas), which were among the tallest buildings in the world when they were built. These two cities are roughly contemporary, and in similar condition, to the ruins of the Thai capitals of Sukothai and Ayutthaya. We also had opportunities to see many elephants, which still exist in the wild (open range). One place we visited was an elephant orphanage with about 30 elephants, another was the Minneriya National Park, where we took a “safari” drive seeing about 50 elephants and 100 water buffalo, many birds, and two kinds of monkeys (small macaque and larger, slender black-faced langur). We also had an interesting interaction with two water monitors in a creek along the roadside. These relatives of the Komodo Dragons of Indonesia are the largest lizards we have ever seen.

From Sigiriya, we drove south to the old capital of Kandy, stopping along the way at the amazing Rock Temple in Dambulla, with several caves filled with Buddhist statues and paintings. Closer to Kandy, the narrow road became congested. Like thousands of others, we came to Kandy for the Esala Perahera Festival, honoring the Sacred Tooth of Buddha. On two nights, we watched the three-hour parade from the venerable Queens Hotel, built in 1841 as a residence for the governor of Ceylon. The heavy, dark wood interior is mahogany, and the one lift probably dates from the 1930s. The festival procession consisted of at least 40 dance and music groups, with more than 60 elephants, elaborately dressed and lighted. In addition to security police and soldiers, there were elephant tranquillizer teams stationed along the parade route in case of problems. We had one unpleasant experience when, with our guide, we got caught in the middle of a huge crowd. We were blocked by the police from crossing the street to our hotel, but were pressed on by hundreds of sweaty people behind us, pinned so we could not move. Eventually we were released with the help of another policeman, who also provided us a motorcycle escort to reach the Queens Hotel by a back route.

We took the slow and scenic mountain train to the tea plantations surrounding the former colonial hill station of Nuwara Eliya. This is the area that produces the famous Ceylon tea. We stayed at the Hill Club (founded 1887), where at dinner David was required to wear coat and tie (borrowed from the hotel). We drove the final leg of our trip back to Colombo, where we stayed at another icon of the colonial age, the Galle Face Hotel, built in 1864. The highlight of our stay in Colombo was a walking tour of the city center (the fort), with many colonial-era buildings being restored after the disaster of the civil war. Our walk terminated at the rather decrepit Grand Oriental Hotel, where we looked down on the shipping and passenger docks from the top floor lounge, sipping traditional gin and tonic.

We enjoyed our visit to Sri Lanka, which is a smaller and lower key destination than neighboring India, where we flew for the final stage of our South Asia trip.

David and Janet Morrison, October 6, 2017

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