Late on a cold wet Tuesday night, the aircraft lifted off the runway. Ten and half hours later it touched down on the paradise island. Greeted with 32 degree heat I embraced the warmth and was glad to escape the UK winter, to complete a recce in Sri Lanka.
First job is to change money. Top tip do it in country you get a much better exchange rate than in the UK. The desks sit in the arrivals area all of them want your business so check out the exchange rates they are all slightly different, and get a receipt. Jumping on a bus we went straight into Colombo down a lovely new highway which is very different to the M25, it’s empty! It has been built to service the West coast. All of the main resorts are south of Colombo tourists can get to these resorts from the airport quickly with little hassle. Once you’re of the highway the driving and the roads become very different! It’s a big free for all road markings and signs mean very little, even police officers directing traffic are ignored. But it all seems to work! The horn means I’m coming through and people get out the way! If you’re overtaking people on the other side of the road slow down or move over to make sure there is room! What this does mean is that no one gets anywhere very fast it causes gridlock. A 60 km journey will take you 3 hours! They say if you can drive in Sri Lanka you can drive anywhere. Luckily for me and all our teams we have a driver.
First stop Sigiriya which is a Volcanic plug which rises out of the jungle canopy. There are many stories about this place but 2 are the most common. Local legend tells us that King Kassapa built it as a hide out around AD 477, a newer theory is that it was a Buddhist monastery from the 3rd century BC. Whichever you decide it is very impressive, although difficult to envisage in its full glory. The Frescoes are good to see but I suspect they have been touched up a little, just to preserve them.
Moving on to Dambulla we visited the five holy caves which make up the rock temple. Full of statues of Buddha these caves are still used as a place of worship to this day. You have to take your shoes off at the entrance and wonder around bear foot. For those of you soft feet it’s a bit stony in places and while I was there it rained making for wet feet! The caves where a refuge for King Valagamba around the 1st Century BC. There is over 150 statues of Buddha as well as statues of King’s and Vishnu.
On to the misty town of Kandy fog clings to the hills all around it. A beautiful lake makes up its centre and on its edge is “The temple of the scared tooth relic of lord Buddha” Any where you go in Sri Lanka which is a religious hub is busy; not with tourist but with Sri Lankan’s. This is no exception, the thoughts of a peaceful, tranquil place of worship are very wrong. People do anything to get a glimpse of the shrine said to contain the tooth of Buddha. They push, pull wait in line or just simply stand in a door way praying. The noise of monks chanting, people praying and drums sounding out praise is over whelming. A far cry from a Norman church in the English country side. An impressive bit of architecture this rabbit warren has many rooms, shrines, statues and decorative displays. Well worth a visit but watch your toes in the madness, its shoes off at the door again.
We next headed to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. This place has caused much controversy over the years between different groups. I will give you the information and let you decide. You start by the river and crowds of people watch the elephants relax, play and generally… well be elephants! But you much get there at lunch time because they are only down there from 10am – 2pm. After that they are marched back up between the tourist shops and stalls back to the large park at the top of the hill. How no one is hurt as the Mahouts drive them up the hill and a staggering pace I’ll never know. At the park entrance you pay your fee, once again there are hundreds of people around mostly Sri Lankan’s. There seems to be very little limit on the amount of people allowed in. A large sign shows the prices for locals and foreigners as you can expect it’s 5 times the amount for foreigners. Through the gate there is nothing no welcome centre, no rangers not even a board to tell you what goes on in the park just hundreds of people. I spot a large elephant over by a large wooden platform which was built on stilts; a large sign proclaims it’s a feeding point. People are enjoying buying food and feed this elephant and the elephant seems very thankful for the food and is playing up to the crowd. I walk through the park and at the top of a small rise I can see that this really is a very large park. Then everyone starts rushing in one direction I thought why not and followed the masses. I ended up around a pen of some description where people were pushing and shoving to get to the front waving tickets in the air. Being a little confused I moved around it to get a glimpse of what was going on. In the pen itself were 3 baby elephants. Each loosely chained to railings (so they could wonder off) Next ranger where inviting ticket waving people out of the crowd to feed the babies a bottle of milk. The pen next door has an even young elephant that was very friendly he paced around a lot exploring the strange place and humans watching him. Then under a large roof is the sick bay, an ill elephant is being tended to and cared for by rangers and an elephant that has stepped on a land mine many years before hobbled around. Obviously he can’t get around so well now so his food is brought to him. There are few barriers or fences in the park and no limit to how much you can touch and be with these animals.
Next stop the beach, Bentota has some of the best beaches in the world and it was white sandy and Palm trees! Sadly the sun wasn’t out in November but still hot and humid. The pool is cooling and the bear soothing!
I meet the suppliers and worked on itinerary options saw much more than I have space to write about. I also have a great understanding of what we can achieve from a project point of view with the locals all the way to jungle experiences and mountain trekking. This country although small has a diverse collection of terrains and environments to satisfy the buddy Biologist and Geographer. It also has the mountains for trekking and Jungle for the survival for school expeditions this really is Paradise Island!