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SRI LANKA – Ancient Sites and New Hopes

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Sri Lanka! – a gem blessed with so much cultural diversity, heritage and natural wonder- all packed onto one island. Following decades of conflict in the shadow world of politics, may peace now prevail.

Ancient history of Lankapura and the reign of the infamous King Rahwana of the Ramayana dates back to 2000 years before Christ.

During the time of Buddha’s enlightenment ( 500 BC), a north Indian Sakya prodigal prince, Vijaya was banished from home and drifted by storm to Lanka. Vijaya befriended and married the local princess Kuweni and henceforth a series of royal intrigues and migrations took place. Sri Lanka is a land with fascinating heritage, history, and myths.

Buddhism was introduced in the 2nd century by Mahinda, the son of Indian King Ashoka whose sister Princess Sangamitta brought a cutting of the sacred Mahaboddhi tree from Bodhgaya to present day Anuradhapura which flourished as a great Sinhalese capital for 1000 years, but finally gave in to south Indian invaders. The capital was moved to Polonnaruwa which flourished until 13th century when Sinhalese power shifted further south again.

The colonization of the Portuguese in 16th century (who called the country Ceilao – and hence later Ceylon) followed by the Dutch and British, also shaped the fascinating multi-cultural character of Sri Lanka today.

Various legends tell of the Buddha leaving his footprint on Sri Pada – also known as Adam’s Peak, a main pilgrimage site on the island. Another story tells of the footprint belonging to Adam as he took a last look at Eden. Hindus believe this is where Shiva left his footprint. More on:  www.sripada.org

The Ramayana Story includes the chain of islands linking Lanka to India which Rama crossed with the help of the Monkey King Hanoman, to rescue Sita from King Rahwana. And today, one can visit the sites of Hanoman’s path where it is said Sita was found and which today are sites of Rama, Sita and Hanoman worship. Healing herbs flourishing in gardens today are also said to have been brought to Lanka by Hanoman on his (personal- not commercial!) flight from the Himalaya.

Positioned strategically in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka had been a trading hub with early Arab traders. Some historians believe that Galle on the south coast was the biblical port of Tarshish where King Solomon found spices and gems, elephants and peacocks.

The Romans knew the island as Taprobane- referring to their hands turning a copper color when they touched the sands. Muslim traders talked of Serendip- meaning island of jewels in Arabic. This became the root word of serendipity- the art of making happy and unexpected discoveries.

Today, a journey to Sri Lanka is indeed full of wonderful discoveries!

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– Nilambe Meditation Retreat
– Ancient Sites: The Cultural Triangle
– Kandy and Temple of the Tooth
– Elephants! and National Parks
– Hanoman’s Trail
– Sri Pada:  Adam’s Peak!
– Tea and Tea Leaf Vision School
– Galle Heritage Walks
– Southern beaches, Yoga at Talalla Retreat
– Colombo and Negombo
– PRIVATE GUIDE Contact: Amith de Silva: amithdmc@gmail.com
– Flying to Sri Lanka and E-Visa Entry Authorization

My visit to Sri Lanka a few years ago began with a retreat at Nilambe Meditation Centre in the cool hills above Kandy. Nilambe follows the tradition of Acarya Godwin Samararatne, one of the best known meditation teachers in Sri Lanka who passed away in March 2000. Godwin’s teachings focus on metta- loving kindness and his wish for everyone was to be happy and free of suffering. He also embraced the teachings of yoga and it was wonderful to have the yoga sessions in combination with noble silence. Movement of the body helps so much to bring openness and calm to the mind. The center is cozy with space for about 40 participants. Very simple but all you need is there in a very peaceful setting- wonderful food lovingly prepared and there is a well stocked library of books. The only nuisance are the leeches during the rains! There is no electricity at Nilambe. The quiet nights by candelight reminded me of my early days in Ubud. I loved my stay at Nilambe: http://nilambe.net

More background on Acharya Godwin on: www.godwin-home-page.net

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Full Moon is a beautiful time to visit Kandy for the puja at the Temple of the Buddha’s Tooth Relic. Pujas are actually held twice each day regardless of the moon- early morning at 0530 and evening at 6:30 with crowds of locals coming quietly to offer flowers.

The famous Esala Perahera ceremony which includes a procession of elephants, dancers and musicians, takes place around the Full Moon of July or August.
Learn more: www.daladamaligawa.org

The best place to stay in Kandy for the Perahera is The Queens directly opposite the Temple of the Tooth which offers a comfortable view right on to the procession: www.queenshotel.lk

More on Accomodations further below:

Travel around Sri Lanka is relatively easy – the main towns carry an element of chaos but you are quickly out on to country roads amidst stunning scenery. Each destination on the Sri Lanka circuit is within a few hours reach. Roads are mostly in good condition with some routes serviced by more comfortable Inter City buses, but the trains are fun and very inexpensive. Hotels can also arrange private car with driver.

Ancient Sites- The Cultural Triangle:

Filled with archeological wonders and ruins of the lost cities are now sacred UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Anuradhapura – the first capital of 4th century which is still alive with enormous dagobas (stupas) and places of worship including the Sri Maha Boddhi Tree.

Mihintale – where Buddhism was first introduced to Sri Lanka in 3rd century. A marvellous hike to a wonderful view.

Ritigala Nature Reserve– explore an ancient monastic hospital on a mountain where Hanoman dropped Himalayan plants and herbs on his flight to Lanka in the Ramayana

Polonnaruwa – the second capital with its colossal Buddha statues.

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Rock of Sigiriya – translated as Lion’s Rock.  This fascinating site is thought to have once been a Mahayana Buddhist monastery dedicated to Avalokitesvara and Tara. There is also the story of King Kasyapa, son of a concubine. One story tells of Kasyapa murdering his own father to take the crown from his half brother. Kasyapa then fled Anuradhapura and created his palace at the summit of Sigiriya Rock. Surrounded by a crocodile infested moat, King Kasyapa created immense water and boulder gardens. Climbing up the 200m to the summit is done gradually by a series of steps and walkways where you can view impressive frescoes. The story of King Kaysapa continues with his suicide as his brother attempted to regain the crown. An amazing place in space- see photos and more stories of this former palace in the sky: www.sigiriya.org

Dambulla with its cave temples filled with Buddhas and beautiful paintings is an easier climb and another magical place in early morning or late afternoon light looking out to the silence of the expansive plains below.

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Entrance fees are required to visit these ancient sites and payable in Sri Lankan Rupees. Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa fees equiv. of USD 25 each. Sigiriya: USD 30. Dambulla Cave is USD 10 and entry to Temple of Tooth Relic in Kandy is 1000 Sri Lankan Rupees (approx USD 9)

Accomodations can be found for all budgets close to each site, but it’s best to stay in one place as a base for day trips.

Anuradhapura:

Little Paradise is a charming family guesthouse in town:
www.littleparadiseanuradhapura.com

Upscale near Anuradhapura:
www.palmgardenvillage.com
www.forestrockgarden.lk

 

Sigiriya is a great base offering a great view of the rock in a jungly setting and close to Polonnaruwa and Minneriya National Park.

Hotel Sigiriya: very comfortable and reasonable, lovely staff including an onsite naturalist: www.serendipleisure.com/hotelsigiriya

Kandalama Lake is also nearby and very stunning.

Amaya Lake Resort: www.amayalake.com

Dambulla can be reached by road in a few hours from Colombo or approx 70 km drive from Kandy. Train from Colombo can take you direct to Anuradhapura or on to Habarana which is closer to Sigiriya and Dambulla.

Homestay Options near Dambulla:

The Green Edge:   a peaceful new place with 3 very comfortable and well appointed guestrooms. A few more rooms are in process by a delightful owner and host, Mr. Udana, who has a great sense to detail and hospitality. Udana and his staff cook up a great curry!
http://www.thegreenedge-dambulla.com/en-gb/

Peacock Lodge:  small, charming family guesthouse near Dambulla with great service from Mr. Sanath.  A lovely countryside walk brings you to Kandalama Lake.
www.peacocklodge.lk

 

Elephants: a Paradise for Elephant Lovers!

Minneriya National Park – conveniently located between Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa is a must for elephant enthusiasts! While the West Coast and Kandy is in official rainy season- the area of the cultural triangle in dry season, July-October is the best time to view hundreds of elephants in the wild.
www.srilankaecotourism.com/minneriya_national_park.htm

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Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage:

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Located between Colombo and Kandy (approx 80km from Colombo- and 40km from Kandy), Pinnawela is the government showcase for elephants. Established in 1975 to protect orphaned elephants, there are now 85 elephants at Pinnawela with several bred and born there. Crowds of visitors come daily and twice each day the elephants are brought down in a procession to enjoy two hours of bathing in the river. It is quite a sight and I found the elephants to look healthy and certainly happy to frolic and play freely in the river! You can sit having your tea or lunch watching all the fun. www.elephantorphanage.lk

 

Peradeniya Botanical Gardens
A short drive outside of Kandy on the way from/to Pinnawela are these beautiful gardens opposite the manicured University of Peredeniya.  The Mahaweli Ganga River which source is the sacred mountain, Sri Pada
( Adam’s Peak), loops around these beautiful grounds.

 

Accomodations in Kandy:

Sweet Cinnamon Kandy: a short drive from town in a peaceful setting is this charming accomodation.  5 guestrooms in one house managed by a lovely family and staff. Perfect for a family or friends retreat.

Within the grounds is another house called The Clove Garden offering more of a budget option.
Website: www.sweetcinnamonkandy.com
If website not working, check on Booking.com or Agoda.
Or email  direct: priyan.herath@gmail.com

Sanatha Suwaya:  a new up and coming community and wellness center just outside of Kandy offering meditation, yoga, ayurveda cooking and other activities as well as accomodations.  Follow the news on:  www.sanathasuwaya.org
A branch organization of Bhante Sujatha, a Sri Lankan monk who founded Blue Lotus Temple in Illinois, USA. www.bhantesujatha.org

 

Buddhist Publication Society has a great bookshop to visit along the lake in Kandy.   A worthwhile guidebook is: Sacred Island A Buddhist Pilgrim’s Guide to Sri Lanka by Ven. S Dhammika
www.bps.lk


Train Travel into the Hill Country:
A ticket for a just few dollars can get you a seat in the 1st class observation car.
However if you do not like riding backwards, this may not be for you.
The observation car is the last carriage of the government train with seats looking out to the large rear-end picture window.

New Train carriages:  and New First Class BLUE Cars are now operating on some routes which are very comfortable and reasonable and allow advance bookings

Otherwise 2nd class is fine with open windows offering breezes.

The stretch from Kandy – Nuwara Eliya, the former British Hill Station is actually nicest by road passing a gorgeous scenic view point.

The nicest train stretch is between Nanu Oya Station (for Nuwara Eliya)  and Ella.

 

Nuwara Eliya Accomodations:

St Andrews Nuwara Eliya: wonderful property and staff – www.jetwinghotels.com/jetwingstandrews

Feel back in time amongst the English gardens and colonial inns such as The Grand Hotel www.tangerinehotels.com or the famous Hill Club founded in 1876 www.hillclubsrilanka.net

A short drive from Nuwara Eliya are the Hakgala Gardens – the hill with herbs and flowers brought by Hanoman from the Himalaya. Close by is the Sita Amman Temple – the apparent site where Sita was kept by Rahwana.

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Adam’s Peak:
Hatton is the closest train station to Adam’s Peak for the 5200 steps to climb up the 7km. Most pilgrims set off well before dawn. In the main season, the path is illuminated. Pilgrim season begins in January until Full Moon of May. Later in the season is best with less crowds! Earlier in the season you may find long queues for the final steps!   More history and photos on: www.sripada.org


Tea Country around Adam’s Peak:
Dalhousie is a popular set off base for Adam’s Peak, but coming from Hatton- check out Castlerigh Family Cottages – a very peaceful retreat in Dickoya: www.castlereighcottages.com


Tea Leaf Vision School:
– a real inspiration for next generation!
providing English teacher training to youth of Tamil tea-picking families and youth of Sinhalese farming families.
Located in Maskelyia, amidst tea plantations and reservoirs- about 20km from Dalhousie. www.tealeaftrust.com


Horton Plains National Park:

Drive or train on to Ohiya to set off for an early morning walk to see the spectacular view at World’s End.

Haputale is also a nice base for Horton Plains and if wish to venture up to the lovely view point of Sir Thomas Lipton’s Seat above the tea plantations.

Haputale Accomodations:
a very pleasant, family-run, quiet and clean guest accomodation is Amarasinghe Guesthouse.

The Clouds: a charming 4-bedroom house with a spectacular view when the skies are clear. www.clouds.lk

 

Ella:
another delightful town, also accessible a little further by train – quieter, brighter and fresher than Nuwara Eliya, and which is becoming a travelers mecca and base of charming places to stay and eat- wonderful walks to an easier Little Adams Peak above more tea plantations. Just above the town up a steep hill is Ambiente– a simple guesthouse with spectacular views.
Lovely photos to see on: www.ambiente.lk

Nearby Rahwana Falls has another cave said to be where Sita also spent some time.

To the south Coast from the Hill Country – it is less than 3 hours drive to the pilgrim sites of Kataragama, a gateway for Yala National Park.

Gem River Eco Home: www.gemriveredge.com

Mandara Rosen: only 4-star closest to Kataragama temples: www.mandararesorts.com

 

Yala National Park:
besides elephants and other wildlife, this is one of the best places to spot a leopard.
www.srilankaecotourism.com/yala_nataional_park_sri_lanka.htm


Tissa:

The Safari Tissa Resort: www.ceylonhotels.lk

Priyankara Hotel: www.priyankarahotel.com

 

Uda Walawe National Park:
and also wonderful to visit with less crowds.

Learn about the Elephant Transit Home looking after baby elephant orphans.
and Read about Dilmah Teas conservation initiative: www.dilmahconservation.org/initiatives/rearing-a-sri-lankan-icon-at-the-elephant-transit-home-udawalawe

 

South Coast:
Life along the coast is thriving again after the 2004 tsunami devastation.

Talalla Yoga Retreat: www.talallaretreat.com
Check to see if Sandra is leading a retreat there www.tara-yoga-now.com

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Unawatuna Beach once considered one of the loveliest beaches in the world has rebuilt since the tsunami- although it’s sad that some tacky uncontrolled development has been allowed again. Nevertheless, Unawatuna is still a charming cove for swimming and it’s only a 15min. drive to the historic town of Galle.

Galle (Gaalla) or pronounced Gaul in English

This historic heritage town which feels sleepy, is a magically alive multi-cultural community.  Entering the fort walls, the British Coat of Arms is engraved on one side and that of the Dutch VOC- East India Company on the other.

Juliet Coombe,  offers great WALKING TOURS of the Fort offering insight into the fascinating history of this place.
Juliet is also an author and publisher of some great books.
Around the Fort in 80 Lives interviews of local families on topics past and present.

Find Juliet at Serendipity Arts Cafe in Galle Fort.
Learn more also about the Galle Literary Festival: www.sriserendipity.com

 

Accomodations within Galle Fort:

Galle Fort Hotel: for upscale and beautiful restored chic: www.galleforthotel.com
And for those with the budget, there is also the Amangalle.

Charming guest inns:
Frangipani Guesthouses, Pedlar Street www.frangipanigroup.com

 

Apa Villas – short drive from Galle Fort:
Apa Villa Illuketia – a former plantation estate with 5-6 guest accomodations is a magical place for a group of friends or family with the most wonderful food of Sri Lanka.
Apa Villas also has a seaside resort: www.villa-srilanka.com


Galle
is about 3 hours drive south of Colombo. There is also a train service if prefer to avoid the Galle Road which can be very congested.

The NEW Inland EXPRESSWAY now allows just 1.5 hour drive time to/from Colombo Center.

 

Colombo and arriving in Sri Lanka:

Many travelers opt to skip Colombo and head first to Negombo, the beach resort town which is a short ride north of Colombo airport. But Colombo is very worthwhile to get to know and a new AIRPORT EXPRESSWAY makes access easier.

Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara – approx 7km north of Colombo is graced with incredible mural paintings. Throngs of worshippers coming during late afternoon time.
See photos and learn more about the history: www.kelaniyatemple.com

The Old Fort area of Colombo is where you can visit the Old Dutch Museum and see colonial British buildings. Nearby is the lively Tamil Pettah district and the Fort Railway Station.

Galle Face Green – just south from the Fort area along the coast is where locals come to stroll and picnic- especially lively at sunset time and evenings.

The Galle Face Hotel of Colombo is still a choice place to stay or at least, to have tea or a drink looking out to the sea. This historical place has welcomed guests and royalty since 1864.

The classic rooms of the old wing have been totally renovated and there is also a newer Regency Wing:  www.gallefacehotel.com

Each evening most likely you can encounter a local colorful wedding reception complete with welcome dancers in the lobby.

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Other Colombo Accomodation Options:

Taj Samudra is being upgraded overlooking Galle Face Green: www.tajhotels.com

Lake Lodge a B+B down quiet lane close to city center:  www.taruhotels.com

Havelock Place – boutique rooms in quiet residential area of Colombo 5- also open to outside guests for lunch and dinner: www.havelockbungalow.com
very close to Buddhist Cultural Center which has a great bookshop as well as interesting activities.

Cinnamon Gardens
The leafy embassy row neighborhood of Colombo is also home to Viharamahadevi Park and the National Museum.

 

Art and Crafts:

Contemporary Art Scene at Gallery Cafe which is also the former home of architect Geoffrey Bawa. Crafts and Fine dining and tea. A branch called Paradise Road is opposite Viharamahadevi park. www.paradiseroadsl.com

BAREFOOT Crafts and Cafe supporting a cottage industry of weavers.
Relaxing place for lunch too: www.barefoot.lk

THIMBLE Crafts providing income to women and daughters
Handpainted wall-hangings, table runners and other items- mostly of elephants in beautiful Sri Lankan colors. Some of the best items for gifts or for your own home.
Check out their stall on lower level of Crescat Shopping Center just next to the supermarket check-out. They also now have a shop open in Negombo and at the airport.


Negombo:

If prefer to be closer to the airport for the late night or early morning departures- Negombo is a lovely stretch of beach, but the strip of accommodations has been undergoing a major face-lift from the tired run-down former mass tourism type places.

Ice Bear Guesthouse – a charming and funky place for budget and heart- great staff and atmosphere. No swimming pool but a relaxing place in a lovely garden.
Book ahead!:  www.icebearhotel.com

 

PRIVATE GUIDE and DRIVER for Sri Lanka:

Amith_Sigi_Rock_7172awContact Amith de Silva – one of the most wonderful, professional knowlegable, friendly English speaking guides I have met. Very efficient and responsible- highly recommended!

Email: amithdmc@gmail.com

website: http://www.rentatourguideinsrilanka.com/index.html

 

 

 

Flying to Sri Lanka:

Major Asian airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Thai, Malaysia and Cathay Pacific fly into Colombo and Sri Lankan Airlines from Asian gateways and Europe:
www.srilankan.com

Air Asia  from Kuala Lumpur:  www.airasia.com

Mihin Lanka – Sri Lanka’s budget carrier also flies to Jakarta and to destinations in India. www.mihinlanka.com

E-Visa:  is required for all visitors.
Apply on the official site: 
http://eta.gov.lk


Ayubowan!
is the traditional greeting wishing Long Life.
May Sri Lanka now enjoy a long life in peaceful times!

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