Tour in Sri Lanka
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Roberta and Paolo's vacation diary
Sri Lanka, the country - Polonnaruwa - Sigiriya - Gold Temple of Dambulla - Dalada Maligawa's Temple - Tea Plantation - Botanical Garden - Pinnawala, elephants's orphanage - ParcoYala's National Park - Galle
Sri Lanka: General Information
Sri Lanka is an Island of 65.610 km2 lying south-east of India, to which it is divided by the Palk’ s strait and the Mannar’s gulf. It has a coastshore of 1349 km, which is more irregular on the north side and on the rest of the island it is intendet with small inlets.
The island is about 440 km long form north to south, about 220 km large from east to west.
The central part of the country is the mountainous part one, with mountains that reaches more than 2500 meters.; the highest mountain is Mount Pidurutalagala, which reaches 2524 meters. In this part there are mostly of the springs of the most important rivers which runs all over the country, the longest is Mahaweli Ganga, which runs for 335 km. Especially in the north part of the island, in the ancient times the waters of the rivers have been gahtered in artificial lakes, making the region very fertile. The rest of the island is mostly level ground with some hills. The vegetation covers mostly of the country until the coastlines.
Close to the Equator, the island is divided into 3 geo-climatic zones, which are influenced from the monsoons.
The dry zone is situated in the north-east and is hitted by the winter monsoon with few rainfalls.. The humid zone is in the south-west and is hitted by the summer monsoon with intense rainfalls, sometimes unforseen, but often very short. The mountain and hilly part of the island has a variable climate throughout the year.
The temperatures runs between 22° minimum to 32° maximum, it dependes on the zones, only in the mountains it can run also below zero during the night.
The best time of the year goes from january to march, april is the hottest month, november to may are the most rainy ones.
Due to the quantity of plants and animal species, Sri Lanka is one of the 18 biodiversity places most famous of the world: more than 3300 plant’s species, 1900 and more mushrooms, about 250 butterflies species, 78 fishes, around 430 birds and 250 amphibians
Sri Lanka is world known for the beauty and variety of its vegetation: many zones are covered from the pluvial forest, along the coastline you can find many variety of palms and mangroves, in the humid regions there are a lot of trees for wood (some very precious which are exported) and fruit.
The time zone is + 4,5 with Italy, which becomes 3,5 when daylight saving time is in charge.
Local currency is the singhalese’s rupee, but dollars and euros are accepted almost all over. In some places and for some excursion only rupees are accepted: at your arrival in Sri Lanka it is recommended to change money into the local currency and keep it ready; it is possible to change money in all the hotels.
The first signs of known history are dated back to 483 b.c., when population coming from India landed on the island and started the first singhaleses dynasties. From the first sovereign came the sanskrit’s name “Sinhaladrupa”, Island of the Lions and from that the name “ Selan”, named Ceylon in english. Up from this time until the arrival of the portuguese several prosperous sovereigns succeded, as well some invasions and internal fights and the Buddhist’s doctrine spread over the country and has become the most spread religion in Sri Lanka. In 1605 the first portuguese arrived on the island, they conquerred the country and introduced the christian religion. They were drove out in 1658 from the dutch who stayed until 1796, when the british estabilished their sovereignty. In 1835 the island became a british colony under the name of Celyon, until 1947, when the independence process started. It endend in 1972 when the name of the island was changed into Sri Lanka, which means “splendour island”.
For many years Sri Lanka suffered of internal guerrilla and attempts because of the independence request of the tamil; in the northern provinces the Tiger’s guerrilla took roots for the liberation of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which fighted over and over again with the regular army. On the 19 may 2009 the president Mahinda Rajapaska has officially declared the defeat of the tamil’s revolt after the death of the founder and leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and of the mostly part of the tamil’s State staff.
The hinabitans are about 20 million, with a medium density of 330 units per square km. 74% of the population it Singhalese, 18% Tamil with Indian roots and a 7% is composed from moslems. A small minority is Burgher, mestizes spread all over the country, interbred between the white colonizings and the native’s women.
The official language is Singhalese (sinhlat), original from Northern India with some influences of the local languages and from the various colonizings. It is spoken from most than the 70% of the population. Tamils aim to speak their own language, tamil, which is as well an official language, especially in the north and east of the country. English was the official language until 1957 and is still widely spoken from the polulation.
The State religion , Budhism, introduced in III century b.c., is practised from the 69% of the poluation, Hinduism from the 13%, catholics are the 11% and the rest are moslems.
Agricolture gives work to about the 28% of the populations; the principal cultivation is rice, mostly for home consumption, for exportation following products are cultivated: tea (Sri Lanka is the first exporting of the world together with India), coconut, cacao, cinnamon, coffee, sugar, wheat, caoutchouc and wood. Not so important for the economy are rearing (bovines, buffalos, ovines, caprine and poultry) and fishing, limited to some coastal regions. The industrial sector is mostly connected at the processing and transformation of the agricolture’s products which produces preserved food, sugar, beer and cigarettes. There is a good development of the textile and clothing industry, chemical, paper, cement, ceramic, rubber and oil refinery industries are developed as well. Sri Lanka is also famous for the exportation of precious and half precious stones. Tourism playes and important part in the economy of the country.
Around 92% of the population has a good alphabatisation and schools are compulsory and free until the age of 15.
The road system has around 97.000 km of roads , 81% of them are asphalted; railroad system has about 1500 km of rail.
International Airports are 3, the biggest one is Colombo.
|Central||Kandy||Kandy, Matale, Nuwara Eliya|
|Northerner||Jaffna||Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullativu|
|Oriental||Trincomalee||Ampara, Batticaloa, Trincomalee|
|Meridional||Galle||Galle, Hambanthota, Matara|
|Western||Colombo||Colombo, Gampaha, Kaluthara|
Sri Lanka: our tour
Kandalama, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Ramboda Falls,
Pinnawela, Dickwella, Yala, Verahena, Matara, Galle, Colombo
We organise and book our tour with Azemar TO. We departe on August 10th from Milano-Malpensa to Sri Lanka. Our flight, with Air Italy, lands in Colombo on Tuesday the 11th at 08.30 am. Mr Perera , our guide from Aiteken Spence, is waiting for us and will stay with us for the whole trip.
With a car at our desposal we go towards Kandalama, which is located a few kilometres from Dambulla. During the trip which brings us in the hearth of Sri Lanka, we start to appreciate the beauties of the country: so much green, cleaness, smiling and friendly people.
We arrive at our hotel at 1.00 pm. The Heritage Kandalama Hotel is built over a stone wall which overlooks the homonymous lake.
After the check in formalities we go to our room. The rooms are big and nice, with satelite TV, safebox, minibar and air condition.
Bathrooms are big and have a Jacuzzi just in front of a big window.
On the small balcony it is easy to find monkeys who come over to see what’s going on, the hotel staff gives as advices to keep the window closed to avoid that this nice animals come into the room and break the stuff inside.
The Hotel is a 5 star, it has 152 rooms among Superior, Luxury, Deluxe, Suite, Luxury Suite and Royal Suite. The Hotel has been planed for a responsible tourism, with a particular attention to the ecocompatibility: all the rooms are built to gain as much natural light a possible, to enable to reduce to the minimum the artificial light; some of the energy is produced from solar panels and the rainwater is kept and reutilized. The Hotel is covered by Wifi.
After lunch we go to visit the park into which the Hotel is situated; the park is very rich and you can find monkeys, squirrels, buffalos, and quite good different species of birds, and, if you are lucky enough, wild deers and elephants.
You can find various places where tourists can take a ride on the elephant within the forest.
We have dinner at the Hotel, on the outside terrace, at candlelight and with a fine air temperature we are having a buffet dinner with barbecued meat, fish and local specialities.
Polannaruwa is situated on the shores of the artificial lake named Parakrama Samudra, the city has about 35000 inhabitans ed dates back to the XVI . The anciet Polannaruwa is located close to the new one and its ruins can be find in an archelogical zone of about 8 kilometers and it evidences the high level reached and the social organization articulated in the past reign. The ruins are heritage of the UNESCO since 1982. It dates back to the IV century a.c. It was declared capital in 1070 from king Vijayabahu. Under the sovereign of the nephew Parakramabahu, trade and agriculture was thriving, thanks also at the realization of rainwater basin utilized for the irrigate the land.
The Vatadage, of the XII century, it is a reliquary temple with a circular form, inside there are 4 Buddha who were the custodian of the stupa destinated to preserve the sacred tooth.
The Basin of Lotus, from the XII century, was utilized for the purifications. The form of the staircase becomes that of a lotus flower, symbol of purity, as it is made of a snowhite colour even if it grows into stagnant water.
The Shiva Temple, built with embedded stone blocks , venerated the Lingam , male sexual organ, symbol of fertility; couples who wanted to have children got together fisically inside the temple to support the procreation.
Gal Vihara, The Black Stone Temple, from the XII century, is the rest of a temple by now destroyed, where you can admire a group of three big statues carved in the stone. The first one, 5 meter tall, shows a Buddha who medites.
The second one, seven meters tall, shows a standing Buddha with one’s arms folded.
The third, 13 meters long, shows a lying and dying Buddha.
After Polonnaruwa we move to Sigiriya. The name whose meaning in the ancient singhalese is “Lion Rock”, is due to a natural rock mostly formed by red-yellow quartz, which dominates the village with its 200 meters of peak wall.
The fame of Sigirya is due to king Kassayapa from the V century, ascent to the throne after killing his father and dethornes the brother. Afraid of his revenge he built two forts: one at the bottom of the rock and the other one on the top and from there he governed for 14 years. In 485 the king was beaten during a battle form his brother, who destroyed the two forts and after that, in few years the forest hid the forts until the XIX century, when they were casually discovered.
We start the slope of the 1200 steps which brings to the top of the rock.
At a third of the slop there is a cave with wall paintings which representes “The maiden of Sigyria”, maybe courtesans or maybe goddess. The images can be found in a corner of the rock wall.
On the top of the rock there are the rest of the ancient fort.
On the way back to the hotel, we stop at a laboratory where batiks are made. Originally imported from Indonesia, batiks are usually cotton made cloths, decorated with a procedure which covers the not to be coloured parts with layers of wax , passing then the cloth into basins with the desired colour.
Passed the first colour the cloths is dryed for 24 hours.
After that the wax layer is taken away by sinking the cloths into hot water, other not to be coloured parts are covered by wax and sinked again in a new colour. This procedure is reapeted for each colour that composes the draw.
The day after, before moving to Kandy, we visit the Golden Temple of Dambulla, a small town known thanks to its budhists caves which can be found on the top of the Tangili or “The golden rock”, a 110 meters tall cliff (as usual to enter in sacred places it is due to take off shoes and that man have to wear long trousers and women must have covered knees). The temple, known also as Temple of the caves, is a heritage of the humanity since 1991 and it is the best Sri Lanka’s conserved rock temple.
The caves were the refugees of Anuradhapura’s king when tamil invaded his capital; the most ancient works dated back to the first century b.c. are due to him. The interiors of the five caves immerse in the dark, let show the colour of the statues and of the drawns, the colours goes from gold to red and to cobalt blue. The first cave, very tight, hosts a lying Buddha statue, 13 meters long carved in the rock.
In the other caves wall paintings can be found on the walls and on the cellings and many Buddha statues of various sizes and positions.
Before arriving in Kandy we stop at the Regent spice garden, one of the many to be found in the zone. Here it is possible to admire many plants such as cacao, pinnaple, caoutchoue, pepper, sandalwood and saffron. The gardens use these productes to produce crèmes, curative oils and products for the person’s wellness.
We arrive at our hotel, the Earls Regency in Kandy, around lunch time. The hotel is located just outside the city and it is one of the best in the zone. Facilities for the guest leisure are a swimming pool, a Spa and other services as well.
The Hotel has a total of 104 rooms, divided into Deluxe, Premium, Mini suite, Natural Rock Junior Suite, Mountbatten Suite and Presidential Suite. For us they reserved this last one. All rooms have air conditioned, TV, safe box, minibar and a bath-set.
Kandy, located 500 meters on the sea level in a dell on the central plateau and it is washed from the river Mahaveli Ganga. It was built in the XIV century. In the XVI century it was occupied from the portugueses and afterwards from the Dutches in 1763 and at least from the British on 1815.
Kandy is Sri Lanka’s cultural capital, seat of ancient and famous monasterys and of the most important university of the country.
The Peradeniya University, founded in 1942 as Celyon University, affiliate at the London University, changed name in 1978. It covers an area of 7 km2, each year about 1800 are graduated between the 6600 who attend the school; in the University area there are the lodging and the student’s campus.
After lunch we visit the city meanwhile we wait for the ceremony at the Tooth Temple, which stands inside the Royal Palace.
The temple, which real name is Dalada Maligawa, is situated on the lakeshore, and it is one of the most venerated from the budhists because it conserve, in a precious reliquary which has a stupa shape ( in Sri Lanka called Dagoba, formed as a reduced dome surmounted by a pinnacle), a canine tooth, 2,5 cm long that tradition wants to be a sacred reliquary of Buddha.
This cerimony is hold 3 times a day and to the believers and the tourists only the reliquary which contains the tooth is shown.
Only once in 5 years the tooth is really shown. In the temple it is also possibile to admire statues, candelabrum and manuscripts written in sanskrit on palm leaves.
The morning of August the 14th we departe towards Nuwara Eliya, which is located 1900 meters over the sea level and is 96 kms far away from Colombo. Half on the way up to the city you can start to see the famous tea plantation expanes.
All the roads are skirted from coloured flowers and from people who sells products of their own gardens.
These cultivations are developed all over the mountains of these zone, and it is easy to see within the expanes, women working at the harvest of the younger leaves (sprouts). After the harvest, these leaves are taken to the factories, treated and then worked out to produce tea. A tea plant last average 45 years, each three years it is totally cutten to allow the new grow.
A stop in a tea factory is a duty. During the visit all the different stages of the processing are illustrated and it is possible to have a taste of the different qualities of the beverage.
After the visit at the tea factory we proceed and reach Nuwara Eliya. The city is located at the bottom of Mount St Peter, the highest one of the island (2424). In the past for many years the city was the “New Scotia” of Sri Lanka. Still today there are parts of the city that reminds that period with houses and porches, flower-beds, hotels in colonial style and a 18 hole golf course, the 5th in wides from Asia. In this mountain zone 90% of the population is constituted by Tamils.
Unfortunatly a huge rainfall permits us only to visit the covered market.
On the way back to Kandy we stop for lunch under the Ramboda Falls, from where it is also possible to see the suggestive Dunhinda falls, which, with its 58 meters of height, stands out between the black basaltic rocks.
We go forward to Kandy and stop at the Botanic Garden, just a few steps outside the city.
It is considered one of the most beautiful botanic gardens of the world, extended on 60 hectares and with more than 5000 vegetal species, and 300 gardeners work inside the botanical garden. Inside you can admire also secular trees, between them the famous Ficus Benjamina, whose foliage has a diameter of 50 meters and covers an area of 2500 mq. The plant was imported from Malesia in 1861.
Beside this magnificent exemplar, there can be found also 30 meters high Cook palms, giant bamboo, magnolia, orchids, big ficus and many other trees and flowers not less important.
We go back to our hotel for dinner and we prepare ourselves for the long day which is waiting for us on the next day.
Pinnawela, well known for its elephant’s orphanage. Pinnawela is situated about 45 km from Kandy. In Sri Lanka about 3000 elephants leave in freedom and the orphanage was founded in 1975 from the National Zoological Gardens Department to shelter the ill elephants, the lost ones or the younger animals who otherwise are destinated to certain death. Early in the morning we leave towards
The center shelters about 70 elephants, between adults and youngers. To support themselves economically (an elephant needs an average of 150 kg of food per day) each day they give to the tourists the possibility to assist at the feed-time of the younger elephants.
The other attraction is the elephant’s bath in the Maha Oya river. By turn the elephants are washed and curry-cumbeds with the outside part of the coconut. After the bath, the elephants have the habits to lie down to create layers of mud on their bodies which defends them form the insects.
The elephants are half-free and are attended from about hundred of assistants and instructors, who feed and take care of them. Some, almost always the biggest ones, are fasten due to security reasons.
We have lunch at Pinnalanda Restaurant and then we proceed south to reach Dickwella, a small town located close to the sea. We need 5 hours and a half to cover the 300 km that divides us from our next goal, due to some stops and slowing downs due to the traffic. During the transfer there can be noticed various changes in the vegetation and population: infact we pass from the central hilly zone to another one more plane and sometimes more dry. In spite that the vegetation is luxuriant and flourishing .
Our hotel is the Dickwella Resort, located on the beach. There are 70 rooms between Standard, Deluxe, Suites and rooms with lofts with 2 kings size beds. Our room is number 19, on the first floor: from the terrace there is a view of the sea and the beach. There is wind and the waves that break up on the beach and on the rocks are quite high, the force of the ocean is heard. The room is very large, and the facilities are a fridge-bar, a tea and coffee boiler, ceiling fan, air conditioned and telephone. In the bathroom there are a hairdryer, shampoo and bathcream.
In the evenigs, if weather permits it, you can eat outside, it is a buffet dinner and tables are placed around the lightened swimming-pool or on the terrace. The effect can be surely very effective.
The morning after, instead of taking a relaxed day as per program, we decide to visit the Yala National Park. The park is about 130 km far away from our hotel towards east. We departe around 11 am to enable us to arrive at the park in the early afternoon so we can avoid the hottest hours. On the road towards our goal we meet salt-pan with people on work.
Arrived at destination, we rent a jeep with driver and we enter the park.
During the safari we meet many of the animals who can be found in the park: crocodiles, buffalos, elephants, mongoose, fawns, monkeys, squirrels, boars, herons, pelicans, peacock and many variety of birds and between them an eagle. Beside them we have the luck to meet a baby bear, animal that can be found also in other places of the country and one of the 40 exemplare of leopards.
On the coming up of the dusk we leave the park, greet the guide that stayed with us, take our car and drive back to our hotel, where we arrive at 9 pm.
We have a quick dinner and then a accurate shower to get off all the red soil taken on during the safari.
Proceeding to Colombo we pass through Matara, one of the most important cities of the island. It was founded form the Burgher and it stands on the mouths of the Nilwala river: the dutch fort can be admired, colonial palaces and houses from every epoch with a mix of ancient and modern.
After leaving Matara we arrive at Galle, the most important city on the south coast which counts more than 100000 inhabitants. The importance of the city grew when it became a sovereignty of the portugueses in 1597 and afterwards from the Dutches in 1643. The Dutches left a fort that can be still seen, large 36 hectares and built in 1663, and where, inside the walls, the colonial quarter and houses in European Nordic style can be found.
(Click here to see all the images of Galle)
Since we left in the morning and until we arrive in Colombo, the road that runs along the coast still testify the devastation of the tsunami on dec 26th, 2004. In spite of that, the majority of the buildings and hotels have been rebuilded.
We stop for lunch at the Heritance Hotel of Ahungalla, located on the beach, close to Bentota.
The name of the city comes from the one that was given her from the Arabic, “Kolamba”, who attended the harbour since the XII century.
Capital of Sri Lanka, it has more than 2 millions of hinabitants, a surface of about 100 kmq, and 15 km faces the coast. It is divided into 15 zone or quarters, some of them more busy and chaotic, with an intense traffic, because it is dedicated to the commercial activities and the residential zones, more quite.
Known more than 2000 years ago from Arabic merchant, romans and Chinese, it was occupied from the moslems in the VII century, became first portoguese in the XVI century and then dutch in 1656, until the end of the XVIII century, when the British conquer it, an made is capital of the Celyon’s colony. In 1948 it obtained the independence. Colombo was the capital of the maritime provinces of the Dutch Company of the Oriental India until 1796, and still today it is one of the most important harbours of the Indian Ocean, in which most of the products exported form the country go through.
During the way to our hotel, we visit the Indipendence Square with a monument built to the memory that recalls the Council room of Polannaruwa.
We go through the Cinnamon Gardens, a residential quarter with villas and luxury houses, where the embassies can be found. Close to the Vihara Mahu Devi Park, the largest park in Colombo, there is the Town Hall, which recalls the White House in Washington, either for the colour than for the architecture and the National Museum, the largest and richest in Sri Lanka.
We sleep at the Taj Samudra ready to departe the next morning. The 5 star Hotel has 300 rooms, between them 30 suites, all with air condition, telephone, tv and bath-set; there are 7 restaurants which offer srilankan, Indian, caraibic, Chinese and international cusine.
During this week, after having covered 1300 km in this island from west to the center, from south to south-east, we have found all over the country either budhist’s temples than hunduists ones and also catholic churches.
All the roads are bordered with stalls and shops of any kind: fruit and vegetables, food and obejcts for the house.
All the Sri Lanka’s landscapes are a demonstration that it is a country rich of vegetation, with more than 3300 species of plants and flowers.
It is also a country with a great variety of animals, some of them can be found on the border of the road, sometimes in the middle of it: dogs, monkeys, birds, bats, cows, squirrels, who crosses the road with no fear.
The people of Sri Lanka are a very hospital , solar and dignified. Also the more modest homes are always very clean and decorous.
A last mention has to be made on the Tuk Tuk, a very popular vehicle in the Far East, close to our Ape Piaggio, the mostly utilized from the population as a transport vehicle for people, stuff and as taxi service for tourists.
They are often decorated and personalized in a very folk way.
Unfortunatly our trip to Sri Lanka is at the end. In a week we tried to concentrated as most as possible, but the time at our desposal didn’t allow us to see everthing that Sri Lanka has to offer. This will give us the chance to come back to see what we missed.
We leave Colombo to reach the airport on the morning of August 18th, to fly to the Maledives.
Surely Sri Lanka will stay in our hearts, as a hospitable country, rich of history, different religions and a luxurious nature , in different forms, wherever you go.
Roberta & Paolo