Sri Lanka: Culture & Landscapes, Jan 9 - 24, 2019
With Jeremy Woodhouse
(16 days – 15 nights)
Sri Lanka has seduced travellers for centuries. Marco Polo described it as the finest island of its size in the world, while successive waves of Indian, Arab and European traders and adventurers flocked to its palm-fringed shores, attracted by reports of rare spices, precious stones and magnificent elephants. Poised just above the Equator amid the balmy waters of the Indian Ocean, the island’s legendary reputation for natural beauty and plenty has inspired an almost magical regard even in those who have never visited the place. Romantically inclined geographers, poring over maps of the island, compared its outline to a teardrop falling from the tip of India or to the shape of a pearl (the less impressionable Dutch likened it to a leg of ham), while even the name given to the island by early Arab traders – Serendib – gave rise to the English word “serendipity”.
Marco Polo’s bold claim still holds true. Sri Lanka packs an extraordinary variety of places to visit within its modest physical dimensions, and few islands of comparable size can boast a natural environment of such beauty and diversity. Lapped by the Indian Ocean, the coast is fringed with idyllic – and often refreshingly undeveloped – beaches, while the interior boasts a compelling variety of landscapes ranging from wildlife-rich lowland jungles, home to extensive populations of elephants, leopards and rare endemic bird species, to the misty heights of the hill country, swathed in immaculately manicured tea plantations. Nor does the island lack in man-made attractions. Sri Lanka boasts more than two thousand years of recorded history, and the remarkable achievements of the early Sinhalese civilization can still be seen in the sequence of ruined cities and great religious monuments that litter the northern plains.
The glories of this early Buddhist civilization continue to provide a benchmark of national identity for the island’s Sinhalese population, while Sri Lanka’s historic role as the world’s oldest stronghold of Theravada Buddhism lends it a unique cultural identity that permeates life at every level. There’s more to Sri Lanka than just Buddhists, however. The island’s geographical position at one of the most important staging posts of Indian Ocean trade laid it open to a uniquely wide range of influences, as generations of Arab, Malay, Portuguese, Dutch and British settlers subtly transformed its culture, architecture and cuisine, while the long-established Tamil population in the north have established a vibrant Hindu culture that owes more to India than to the Sinhalese south.
It is, however, this very diversity that has long threatened to tear the country apart. For much of the past three decades the island was the site of one of Asia’s most pernicious civil wars, as the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE, or Tamil Tigers, battled it out in the island’s north and east, until the final victory of government forces in early 2009. The island is now experiencing peace for the first time in a generation, and although the physical, political and human scars of war remain raw in many places, most Sri Lankans are now once again looking to the future with guarded optimism.
Itinerary at a Glance
Day 1: Wed, Jan 9 — Arrive Colombo O/N Jetwing Blue, Negombo at 7:00PM
Day 2: Thu, Jan 10— Negombo/Colombo, O/N Jetwing Blue, Negombo
Day 3: Fri, Jan 11— Fly to Jaffna. O/N Jetwing Jaffna
Day 4: Sat, Jan 12 — Jaffna. O/N Jetwing Jaffna
Day 5: Sun, Jan 13— Drive to Anuradapura. O/N Hotel Palm Garden
Day 6: Mon, Jan 14— Anuradapura. Afternoon Safari to Wilpattu National Park. O/N Hotel Palm Garden
Day 7: Tue, Jan 15— Drive to Habarana. Sunset shoot from Piturangula. O/N Sungreen Resort
Day 8: Wed, Jan 16— Visit Lion Rock. Drive to Kandy via Dambulla. O/N Mahaweli Reach Hotel
Day 9: Thu, Jan 17— Kandy. O/N Mahaweli Reach Hotel
Day 10: Fri, Jan 18— Drive to Newara Eliya. Visit Tea Factory, Lunch Mlesna Castle. O/N Grand Hotel
Day 11: Sat, Jan 19— Walk to World’s End, Horton Plains. High tea at Heritance. O/N Grand Hotel
Day 12: Sun, Jan 20— Train to Ella. Tea Plantation shoot. O/N 98 Acres
Day 13: Mon, Jan 21— Drive to Udawalawa. Evening Safari. O/N Hotel Grand Udawalawe Safari
Day 14: Tue, Jan 22 — Morning Safari. Drive to Galle. Stilt Fishermen. O/N Hotel Fortaleza
Day 15: Wed, Jan 23 — Galle. O/N Hotel Fortaleza
Day 16: Thu, Jan 24—Galle/Departure (those travelling early morning of Day 16 will transfer evening of Day 15)
Day 1: Wed, Jan 9 — Arrive Colombo
Although it's unlikely it will reclaim its 19th-century moniker 'the garden city of the East', Colombo has nevertheless emerged as a must-see stop in Sri Lanka. No longer just the sprawling city you have to endure on your way to the beaches, it has become a worthy destination in its own right and makes an excellent start – or finish – to your Sri Lankan adventures.
The legacies of colonial Colombo's garden roots are still very much intact along its often-shady boulevards. Fort is a compelling place thanks to ongoing restoration of its landmark colonial architecture, while Pettah brims with markets and rampant commerce. Even traffic-clogged Galle Rd is getting spiffier with glossy new hotel complexes.
Colombo’s cosmopolitan side supports ever-more stylish eateries, galleries and shops. Surprises abound: with a little exploration you'll find great local food, characterful shops and tiny, convivial cafes. Meanwhile, a building boom like no other is transforming the city's skyline.
O/N Jetwing Blue Hotel B, Welcome Dinner at 7:00PM
Situated on the coastline of Negombo, Jetwing Sea is a chic seaside resort that reflects a mixture of modern elegance and cozy ambience. Its excellent location makes it a popular destination for a family vacation or a romantic retreat.
Day 2: Thu, Jan 10 — Colombo/ Negombo Fish Market
Negombo is a modest beach town located just 10km from Bandaranaike International Airport. With a stash of decent hotels and restaurants to suit all pockets, a friendly local community, an interesting old quarter and a reasonable (though somewhat polluted) beach, Negombo is a much easier place to find your Sri Lankan feet than Colombo.
The Dutch captured the town from the Portuguese in 1640, lost it, and then captured it again in 1644. The British then took it from them in 1796 without a struggle. Negombo was one of the most important sources of cinnamon during the Dutch era, and there are still reminders of the European days.
The busy centre of Negombo town lies to the west of the bus and train stations. Most places to stay, however, line the main road that heads north from the town centre, with the beachside hotel strip starting about 2km north of town.
Each day, fishers take their oruvas (outrigger canoes) and go out in search of the fish for which Negombo is famous. They’re a fine sight as they sweep home into the lagoon after a fishing trip. Fish auctions on the beach and sales at the fish market near the fort are a slippery and smelly affair, but one that’s well worth forgoing some pool time for.
O/N Jetwing Blue Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 3: Fri, Jan 11 — Fly to Jaffna
The historic town of Jaffna, or Yaalpaanam as it is locally known, with its fascinating mix of colonial charm and Tamil culture, is situated in the northernmost peninsula of Sri Lanka. Jaffna is the capital of Sri Lanka's northern provinces and the city served as the power-base of the Jaffna Kingdom of the 13th-17th centuries and in later years came under the influence of the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. Sights to visit may include the Jaffna Clock Tower, Jaffna's Public Library, its Nallur Kandaswamy Temple and its imposing Dutch Fortress.
In the afternoon we will also visit Jaffna’s colorful fruit and vegetable market along Power House Road and several side streets beyond.
Jaffna Clock Tower
The clock tower was built to commemorate the visit of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales to Sri Lanka in 1875.
Jaffna Public Library
The Public Library is one of Jaffna's most notable landmarks, and is run by the Jaffna Municipal Council. The library was built in 1933 and burnt in 1981. During the early 1980s, it was one of the biggest libraries in Asia, containing over 97,000 books and manuscripts. In 2001, rehabilitation of the library was completed, with new structure being built and new books received, although its old books and manuscripts were not replaced. It is Sri Lanka's second main public Library only rivaled by the Library in Colombo.
Nallur Kandaswamy Temple
The Nallur Kandaswamy Temple lies about 3km from the Jaffna town on the Kankasanthurai Road. This is one of the most important temples in the Jaffna Peninsula and the most well known. The history of the temple dates back to the time of King Parakramabahu VI (1411-1463) of Kotte Kingdom.
The Dutch Fortress
Situated on the south side of the Jaffna peninsula at the water’s edge of the lagoon, the ancient Jaffna Fort is the second largest existing fort in the Island. Originally built by the Portuguese in 1619 and re-built and expanded by the Dutch during the second half of the 17th and the 18th centuries to facilitate trading activities of Sri Lanka’s northern region indicate not only of Jaffna’s strategic importance to Europeans but its significance throughout Sri Lanka’s history.
O/N Hotel Jetwing Jaffna (B,L,D)
Located on a quarter of an acre of land in the heart of the town, the stunning seven storey building offers a panoramic view of Jaffna and its surroundings.
Day 4: Sat, Jan 12 — Jaffna
After breakfast we will take a boat trip today to nearby island. A half hour’s boat ride away from the Punkuditivu pier in Jaffna, is the small Nainativu Island. At one end is the serene Nagadeepa Buddhist Vihara dating back to over 2,500 years and venerated as one of several places on the island that Lord Buddha visited. A short auto rickshaw ride across the island takes you to Naga Pooshani Ambal Hindu temple with a colorful Gopuram (entrance tower) that stares out to sea. Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims flock to Nainativu Island daily to worship at these temples.
O/N Hotel Jetwing Jaffna (B,L,D)
Day 5: Sun, Jan 13 — Drive to Anuradhapura
Travel from Jaffna to Anuradhapura after breakfast. Anuradhapura, which is known as one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka. Anuradhapura is known for its well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilization. It was the third capital of the Kingdom of Rajarata, following the kingdoms of Tambapanni and Upatissa Nuwara.
The ruins of Anuradhapura are one of South Asia’s most evocative sights. The sprawling complex contains a rich collection of archaeological and architectural wonders: enormous dagobas (brick stupas), ancient pools and crumbling temples, built during Anuradhapura’s thousand years of rule over Sri Lanka. Today, several of the sites remain in use as holy places and temples; frequent ceremonies give Anuradhapura a vibrancy that’s a sharp contrast to the museum-like ambience at Polonnaruwa.
Sri Maha Bodhi
The sacred bodhi tree is central to Anuradhapura in both a spiritual and physical sense. It was grown from a cutting brought from Bodhgaya in India and is said to be the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world, tended by an uninterrupted succession of guardians for over 2,000 years. Today thousands of devotees come to make offerings, particularly on poya (full moon) days and weekends. Sunset is a magical time to visit.
The faithful believe it was Princess Sangamitta, daughter of the Indian Emperor Ashoka and sister of Mahinda (who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka), who brought the cutting from India. These days there is not one but many bodhi trees here; the oldest and holiest stands on the top platform. Railing and other structures around the trees are festooned with prayer flags.
In 1985, during the civil war, Tamil Tigers opened fire in the enclosure, killing several worshippers as part of a larger offensive that took the lives of almost 150 civilians.
April and December are particularly busy months as pilgrims converge on the site for snana puja (offerings or prayers).
The Ruwanweliseya was built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century BCE. Since being restored, the dome is clear and shines white in the sun. SM Burrows of the Ceylon Civil Service wrote in 1885, “Its present height is about 150 feet, with a diameter of 379 feet. It is now being restored by the pious contributions of pilgrims, and the zealous efforts of the Chief Priest. The Dagoba was originally surrounded by two large paved courts or platforms, the inner one raised above the outer. Round the outer side of the boundary-wall there was originally a complete circle of elephants, made out of brickwork, and coated with Chunam each elephant being furnished, says the Mahavamsa or Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka, compiled in about the 6th century AD with tusks of real ivory. Most of these figures have fallen away beyond recognition; but in some few, the shape of the animal is still plainly discernable.”
O/N Hotel Palm Garden Village (B,L,D)
The palm garden village hotel is an eco-friendly hotels in Anuradhapura.
Day 6: Mon, Jan 14 — Anuradhapura
We will visit the archaeological site in the morning. After lunch there will be an optional safari to nearby Wilpattu National Park
Wilpattu National Park
Located on the west coast close to the historical city of Anuradhapura, Wilpattu Sanctuary was declared a National Park in 1938. At 1317 sq km, Wilpattu is Sri Lanka’s largest national park. Hidden in the dense, dry woodland, you may find an array of wildlife that includes leopards (this is the second-best park after Yala for leopards, with 16 leopards per 100 sq km), sloth bears, spotted deer, wild pigs and crocodiles. Birders in particular will love Wilpattu with its abundance of dry forest, water and even coastal birds.
Return to Anurhadapura after sunset.
O/N Hotel Palm Garden Village (B,L,D)
Day 7: Tue, Jan 15 — Drive to Habarana
This afternoon, after checking in to our hotel and catching a quick swim, we travel to nearby Sigiriya where those interested will climb Pidurangula.
This prominent rock about 1km north of the Sigiriya site, offers amazing views of Sigiriya from its wide summit. It's a 40-minute hike up to the top, past several small temples, a 12.5m reclining Buddha and a final tricky scramble over boulders. Most people come at sunset (bring a flashlight for the trip down).
O/N Sun Green Resort (B,L,D)
Hidden away in a beautiful ancient ruin is a serene, comfortably warm, miraculously breathtaking haven, a beautiful and welcoming setting that represents the great Sri Lankan culture.
Day 8: Wed, Jan 16 — Habarana/Sigiriya/Dambulla/Kandy
In the morning we again make the drive 30 minutes to Sigiriya, declared by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and indentified as the 8th Wonder of the World by Sir Arthur C Clarke, science fiction writer. We will climb the 5th century A.D. Rock Fortress. The vision of a patricidal king named Kasyapa transformed an awesome monolith into a cloud swept city. The mirror wall, which, protects a series of exquisite frescoes of celestial maidens, which are murals using natural pigments, and the Lion’s Paw entrance to the ruined palace on the summit, are well worth the effort of the ascent.
Rising dramatically from the central plains, the enigmatic rocky outcrop of Sigiriya is perhaps Sri Lanka's single most dramatic sight. Near-vertical walls soar to a flat-topped summit that contains the ruins of an ancient civilization, thought to be once the epicenter of the short-lived kingdom of Kassapa, and there are spellbinding vistas across mist-wrapped forests in the early morning.
Sigiriya refuses to reveal its secrets easily, and you'll have to climb a series of vertiginous staircases attached to sheer walls to reach the top. On the way you'll pass a series of quite remarkable frescoes and a pair of colossal lion's paws carved into the bedrock. The surrounding landscape – lily-pad-covered moats, water gardens and cave shrines – only add to Sigiriya's rock-star appeal.
Later in the afternoon, on our journey to Kandy, we will visit to Dambulla, another UNESCO World Heritage site. We will visit the rock cave temple, which is comprised of a series of 5 caverns with ceilings of natural rock covered with intricate paintings. The natural folds of the rock have been skilfully used to give the illusion of cloth. Forty eight statues of the Buddha and images of the various deities can be seen inside the cave (hopefully most of the tours will have gone by this time of the day).
The beautiful Royal Rock Temple complex sits about 160m above the road in the southern part of Dambulla. Five separate caves contain about 150 absolutely stunning Buddha statues and paintings, some of Sri Lanka's most important and evocative religious art. Buddha images were first created here over 2000 years ago, and over the centuries subsequent kings added to and embellished the cave art.
From the caves there are superb views over the surrounding countryside; Sigiriya is clearly visible some 20km away.
Then leave for Naula to visit Karu Arts where you can see wood carving process and you can also try your hand at it.
The city of Kandy, a sacred Buddhist site, popularly known as the city of Senkadagalapura, was the last capital of the Sinhala kings whose patronage enabled the Dinahala culture to flourish for more than 2,500 years until the occupation of Sri Lanka by the British in 1815. It is also the site of the Temple of the Tooth Relic or the Dalada Maligawa (the sacred tooth of the Buddha), which is a famous pilgrimage site. It enjoys UNESCO World Heritage status.
Join in the ‘pooja’ or act of worship along with the devotees who walk in a sombre mood bearing flowers and offerings.
Some days Kandy’s skies seem perpetually bruised, with stubborn mist clinging to the hills surrounding the city’s beautiful centrepiece lake. Delicate hill-country breezes impel the mist to gently part, revealing colourful houses amid Kandy’s improbable forested halo. In the centre of town, three-wheelers careen around slippery corners, raising a soft spray that threatens the silk saris worn by local women. Here’s a city that looks good even when it’s raining.
And when the drizzle subsides, cobalt-blue skies reveal a city of imposing colonial-era and Kandyan architecture, none more impressive than the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, one of Buddhism's most sacred shrines.
History and culture are on tap. Yes, the city is renowned for the great Kandy Esala Perahera festival (held annually in July/August), but its vibrant cultural life and attractions more than justify a visit at any time of year.
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic
The golden-roofed Temple of the Sacred Tooth houses Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha. During puja (offerings or prayers), the heavily guarded room housing the tooth is open to devotees and tourists. However, you don’t actually see the tooth. It’s kept in a gold casket shaped like a dagoba (stupa), which contains a series of six dagoba caskets of diminishing size.
As well as the revered main temple, the complex includes a series of smaller temples, shrines and museums.
The complex can get crowded as it receives many worshippers and tourists, and backpackers, Chinese tour groups and Thai monks all jostle for space. Wear clothes that cover your legs and your shoulders, and remove your shoes.
In the evening, enjoy a Cultural Dance Performance by Kandyan dancers and see the ritual of fire-eating and fire-walking.
O/N Mahaweli Reach Hotel (B,L,D)
Nestled beside the mighty Mahaweli River, Mahaweli Reach Hotel combines a sense of refined luxury with the old world charm of an ancient kingdom. Discover the enchantment of Sri Lanka’s hill capital like never before at this Kandy hotel where “Our world revolves around yours”.
Day 9: Thu, Jan 17 — Kandy
Morning visit to Trinity College. Founded in 1872, its Chapel continues to be admired today being the first open chapel in the world and architecturally similar to the Polonnaruwa period. If there is time, we will visit the Peradeniya Botanic Gardens. 6km from central Kandy, these stunning gardens were once reserved exclusively for Kandyan royalty. Today, even commoners are allowed in to enjoy the most impressive and largest (60 hectares) botanic gardens in Sri Lanka.
Highlights include a fine collection of orchids, a stately avenue of royal palms, the extraordinary, aptly named cannonball fruit tree and 40m-high Burma bamboo. Another big hit is the giant Javan fig tree on the great lawn, with its colossal central trunk and umbrella-like canopy of branches.
Three Temples Loop Pilimatalawa
In the afternoon, we will visit the Monasteries of Gadaladeniya, Lankatilake and the Embekke Devale temples belonging to the 14th century.
This Buddhist temple with a Hindu annex dates from the 14th century, and the main shrine room contains a stunningly beautiful, gilded seated Buddha. Built on a rocky outcrop and covered with small pools, the temple is reached by a series of steps cut into the rock.
You may encounter it protected by scaffolding and a tin roof to prevent further rain-induced erosion. It's 13km southwest of central Kandy.
This impressive 14th-century temple, mounted on a rocky bluff, is the most imposing in the region. It's divided into two halves – one half Buddhist and one half Hindu – and features a seated Buddha image, Kandy-period paintings, rock-face inscriptions and stone elephant figures. A caretaker or monk will unlock the shrine if it’s not already open. A perahera (procession) takes place in August.
The setting is as memorable as the temple. It's located 15km southwest of Kandy.
Dedicated to the worship of the Hindu deity Mahasen, this beautiful temple, with its finely carved wooden pillars depicting swans, eagles, wrestling men and dancing women, was constructed in the 14th century. The best carvings are in the so-called drummers' hall.
After our visits to the temples, if there is time, we will visit a village known for its brass making where some beautiful works of art, such as lamps, figurines, trays, wall hanging etc., are made.
O/N Mahaweli Reach Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 10: Fri, Jan 18 — Kandy/Nuwara Eliya
This morning we will take a leisurely drive through magnificent tea country as out road winds up the hills higher and higher. At one point along the route, after numerous hairpin bends, we will stop and visit the Queensbury Estate Tea Factory, a very traditional tea factory which is rarely, if at all, visited by tourists. Although photography is strictly profited inside the factory (as it is in almost all tea factories in Sri Lanka), the experience is well worth the 45 minute tour.
Our lunch will be at the Mlesna Tea Castle situated in the vicinity of two great waterfalls, Devon Falls and St. Clair Falls, along the Hatton - Talawakele Road.
Often referred to as ‘Little England’, this genteel highland community does have a rose-tinted, vaguely British-country-village feel to it, with its colonial-era bungalows, Tudor-style hotels, well-tended hedgerows and pretty gardens. Indeed, Nuwara Eliya was once was the favoured cool-climate escape for the hard-working and hard-drinking English and Scottish pioneers of Sri Lanka’s tea industry.
A recent construction boom has blighted the scene to a degree, and the dusty and bustling centre is a thoroughly Sri Lankan urban tangle, but Nuwara Eliya still makes a fine base for a few days' relaxation. The verdant surrounding countryside of tea plantations, carefully tended vegetable plots and craggy hills is highly scenic.
O/N The Grand Hotel (B,L,D)
An elegant High Tea on a manicured lawn; sip a stiff brandy by the blazing fire after a round of golf in the chill air. Is it England in the Days of the Raj? It may be the 21st century, but colonial splendour still reigns in all its past glory at the Grand Hotel. Built in 1891, this was the palatial residence of the former Governor of Sri Lanka, Sir Edward Barnes; today we offer the ultimate in comfort and the best of traditions from the ‘good old days’ to all who seek the charms of our famed hill country landmark.
Day 11: Sat, Jan 19 — Nuwara Eliya/Horton Plains
Perched on the very edge of the hill country midway between Nuwara Eliya and Haputale, Horton Plains National Park covers a wild stretch of bleak, high-altitude grassland bounded at its southern edge by the dramatically plunging cliffs that mark the edge of the hill country, including the famous World’s End, where the escarpment falls sheer for the best part of a kilometer to the lowlands below.
Top choice viewpoint in Horton Plains National Park & World's End
The Horton Plains plateau comes to a sudden end at World’s End, a stunning escarpment that plunges 880m. The walk here is 4km, but the trail then loops back to Baker’s Falls (2km) and continues back to the entrance (another 3.5km). The 9.5km round trip takes a leisurely three hours. Unless you get there early, the view from World’s End is often obscured by mist, particularly during the rainy season from April to September.
All you can expect to see from World’s End after around 9am is a swirling white wall. The early morning (between 6am and 10am) is the best time to visit, before the clouds roll in. That’s when you’ll spy toy-town, tea-plantation villages in the valley below, and an unencumbered view south towards the coast.
Wear strong and comfortable walking shoes, a hat and sunglasses. Bring sunscreen, food and water. Ask your guesthouse to prepare a breakfast package for you, and reward yourself with an alfresco breakfast once you reach World’s End. The weather can change very quickly on the plains – one minute it can be sunny and clear, the next chilly and misty. Bring a few extra layers of warm clothing (it’s very cold up here at 6am).
It is forbidden to leave the paths, which can be slippy and tough to negotiate in places. There are no safety rails around World’s End and there have been a couple of accidents where people have fallen to their deaths. If you have young children with you keep a very firm grip on them as you approach the cliff edge.
Later in the afternoon we will drive 13 km to the Heritance Tea Factory, a very luxurious hotel set among verdant tea fields, for a very special “high tea”.
Heritance Tea Factory
High in mist-wrapped hills 13km northeast of Nuwara Eliya, this unique place has been built into and around a century-old tea factory. Blurring the line between museum and luxury hotel, much of the factory machinery is still in situ and has been incorporated into the design.
O/N The Grand Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 12: Sun, Jan 20 — Nuwara Eliya/Ella
This morning we board the 9:30 train that takes us from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, with a box lunch aboard the train en-route. Ella is a pretty hill-country town, set among some of the most beautiful mountain views in Sri Lanka.
Nuwara Eliya to Ella Train Information
Station: Nanuoya Station to Ella Station; Times: 3:11am, 9:30am, 12:45pm, 3:01pm, 3:55pm (Check at the station for updates); Cost: $3-7; Time: 3 hours
In the afternoon we will try to arrange to photograph the tea pickers in the grounds of our hotel, 98 Acres Resort
Set on the southeastern edge of Uva Province, Ella is one of the hill country’s most appealing destinations. This is the closest thing to an English country village you’ll find in Sri Lanka, enjoying a pleasantly temperate climate and surrounded by idyllic green hills blanketed in tea plantations and offering some good walking, as well as one of the finest views in Sri Lanka.
O/N 98 Acres Resort (B,L,D)
The uniquely designed resort blends well with nature, and consists of charming chalets mostly made of recyclable substance. Discarded railway sleepers are put to good use in the making of decks and walls at the resort. Rough, hewn granite lend simple elegance to the floors of chalets adorned with thatched roofs of ‘Illuk’ straw that adds to their rustic beauty. The exquisite country side, breathtaking views and exciting nature trails will assure you of a memorable holiday at one of the most breathtaking Ella hotels in the region.
Day 13: Mon, Jan 21 — Ella/Udawalawe NP
Leaving Ella after breakfast, we will first visit the beautiful, 1000-year-old, rock-cut Buddha figures of Buduruwagala, the region's biggest attraction. The name Buduruwagala is derived from the words for Buddha (Budu), images (ruva) and stone (gala). The figures are thought to date from around the 10th century and belong to the Mahayana Buddhist school, which enjoyed a brief heyday in Sri Lanka during this time.
The gigantic standing Buddha (at 15m, it is the tallest on the island) here still bears traces of its original stuccoed robe, and a long streak of orange suggests it was once brightly painted. It's surrounded by smaller carved figures. This remote site is located 9km south of Wellawaya, accessed by a scenic side road.
Today is the full moon and in Sri Lanka this is known as a Poya Day. There are 12 (sometimes 13) Poya Days every year, with one occurring each month on the Full Moon. Each Poya Day marks a different historical event in Buddhism, from Buddha’s birth to his first visit to Sri Lanka. For monks, the days are ones of confession, when they are expected to communally recite the rules of Monastic life, known as the Patimokkha. For the Buddhist layman, a Poya Day is a public holiday across the country. We hope that there will be a throng of worshippers at Buduruwagala, and since this site is rarely visited by tourists, it will be a great opportunity to experience local Buddhist culture.
The Central Figures
The central of the three figures to the Buddha’s right is thought to be the Mahayana Buddhist figure Avalokiteśvara (the bodhisattva of compassion). To the left of this white-painted figure is a female figure thought to be his consort, Tara. Local legend says the third figure represents Prince Sudhana.
The Other Figures
Of the three figures on the Buddha’s left-hand side, the crowned figure at the centre of the group is thought to be Maitreya, the future Buddha. To his left stands Vajrapani, who holds a vajra (an hourglass-shaped thunderbolt symbol) – an unusual example of the Tantric side of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The figure to the right may be either Vishnu or Sahampath Brahma. Several of the figures hold up their right hands with two fingers bent down to the palm – a beckoning gesture.
Udawalawe National Park
Udawalawe National Park lies on the boundary of Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces. The national park was created to provide a sanctuary for wild animals displaced by the construction of the Udawalawe Reservoir on the Walawe River, as well as to protect the catchment of the reservoir.
Framed by soaring highlands on its northern boundary, the Uda Walawe National Park is one of the world's best places to see wild elephants. Largely comprised of grasslands and bush forest, it's also one of the best national parks in Sri Lanka for game spotting.
O/N Hotel Grand Udawalawe Safari (B,L,D)
Day 14: Tue, Jan 22 — Udawalawe NP/Galle
After a morning game drive we will head to Galle, the seafarer’s capital. The natural harbor and the Dutch Fortress with its towering ramparts, and the mediaeval Dutch buildings, are part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Before reaching Galle in the evening, we have an appointment with a group of traditional Sri Lankan stilt fishermen, as the sun starts to set over the Indian Ocean. The section of coast between Dalawella and Ahangama is the best place to witness one of Sri Lanka’s most emblematic sights. The stilts consist of a single pole and crossbar planted out in the sea, on which fishermen perch while casting their lines when the currents are flowing in the right direction.
Thought these fishermen rarely use these techniques any more, the experience is worth the effort of being thigh-deep in the warm sea looking for the best composition.
O/N Hotel Fortaleza (B,L,D)
Fortaleza’s five small boutique hotels in the Galle fort are historic in nature. In fact they possess more than a thousand years of history between them. They are all thoroughly unique. And yet they weave a common thread in the level of luxury and service the traveller can expect.
Day 15: Wed, Jan 23 — Galle
Sunrise shoot at a nearby beach which is home to a fleet of colorful, traditional outrigger fishing boats.
After breakfast, stroll around the Fort with its paved driveway, alleys, shops, restaurants and guest houses. Galle Dutch Fort has a magical feel to it taking you back in time, perhaps 400 years ago. Photo opportunities are everywhere!
O/N Hotel Fortaleza (B,L,D) Farewell Dinner
Day 16: Thu, Jan 24 — Galle/Departure
After a sunrise shoot at a small fishing cove, we will pack up and head towards Colombo (Bandaranaike, airport code CMB) Airport. Our checkout time is at 12PM. We will transfer to Colombo, arriving mid-afternoon (please note flight options below).
En-route we will stop at a couple of traditional coir rope making operations. The first uses an “automated” system of spinning the coir, while the second, family-run operation uses fully handmade techniques.
End of tour
Please Note: Many flights depart Colombo in the early morning (1:00 am to 3:00 am). If your flight departs in the early morning hours of Day 16, you will transfer to the Colombo Airport just after the Farewell Dinner on Day 15, to connect with flights departing early morning on Day 16. However, if your flight departs later in the day on Day 16 (or in the early morning of Day 17), you will overnight in Galle on Day 16 and transfer to the Colombo Airport the following day.
NB we will arrive back at Negombo by 6:00PM on Day 16
Arrival & Departure
Arrival & Meeting Place
Jetwing Blue Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Hotel Fortaleza, Galle, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has a tropical climate with high humidity, tempered by sea breezes on the coast. The average temperature is about 81°F. In the highlands in places like Nuwara Eliya, it is in the 60s during the day and can get very cold at night, with lows in the 40s, so you’ll need a sweater.
Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons. The southwest part of the island gets a monsoon between May and July while the northeast monsoon is December and January. Humidity is high year round and you can expect some rain showers most days.
Tour dates: Jan 9 - 24, 2019
Tour Deposit: $1,000
Single Supplement: $1,200
Charter flight to Jaffna: $390
Max Group Size: 10
1 SPOT OPEN
Photographer: Jeremy Woodhouse
Tour Fee Includes
Tour Fee Does not Include
Paying by check
If you would like to pay your deposit and/or balance with a check, please make the check payable to: Pixelchrome, Inc and mail it to:
605 Rouen Drive,
McKinney TX 75070