Sri Lanka

For Peter and Nino

June 2016.

Spices, tea, temples and caves

Dear Peter and Nino,

Your sensory-filled adventure beckons, a father and son journey to personally experience the people, the culture, historical significance, holy temples and caves of this country. At the same time, this journey will allow personal trekking into exotic locations, so that you can interact with the growth and manufacturing of the world’s best spices and teas, all while being thrust into some of the nature’s most amazing and scenic places. It is my pleasure to provide your itinerary, which I know you are excited to begin.

Day 1: Arrival

Today, travel to Colombo, and arrive in the newly refurbished Regency Wing of the Galle Face Hotel. You will have views of the Indian Ocean’s surf, which Nino will be especially keen about. Spend the rest of the day relaxing and settling in. We will have a special gift waiting for you to ease your jet lag.

Day 2: Dumbulla Cave Temples

Your adventure starts with a winding journey traveling through back roads, through vast coconut and pineapple plantations, occasionally crossing villages where you may stop and enjoy a Tambili, the traditional Sri Lankan coconut.

On the way, you will pass the Dambulla Cave Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, among the most impressive of Sri Lanka’s cave temples. Over 2,000 sq. meters of painted walls and ceilings and over 150 images of the Buddha can be viewed inside. The largest is a colossal figure of the Buddha carved out of rock, spanning 14 meters. There are five separate caves, and your walk to the top will provide an unforgettable view of the surrounding jungle and Sigiriya Rock, the most visited historic site in Sri Lanka. Later this evening, after reaching Vil Uyana, you will have an opportunity to rest and save your pictures to Nino’s album.

Day 3: The cultural triangle

Head out the door with your walking shoes on, because you will depart the hotel early to climb the most astonishing site in Sri Lanka: Sigiriya Rock. This fifth-century rock fortress is a massive monolith of red stone rising 600 feet from the green jungle below.

Fifteen centuries ago, this rock was the innermost stronghold of the 70-hectare fortified town and was crowned by the palace of the mad genius, King Kasyapa. Though the palace no longer exists, you will see the paws of the great lion that guarded the entrance to the summit. Take time to see the world-renowned “Frescoes of the Heavenly Maidens” of Sigiriya, which are painted in earth pigments on plaster, and can be seen in a pocket of the rock when approached by a spiral stairway. Continue on to the ancient city of

Continue on to the ancient city of Pollonnaruwa, the 2nd capital city of Sri Lanka for an exciting afternoon enjoying the beauty of Pollonnaruwa’s historical temples and palaces. End your culture-filled day with dinner at the Kandalama Hotel in Sigiriya. Conceptualized by Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s world-renowned architect, the Kandalama Hotel “is not a building to look at, but a building to look from.”

Day 4: The spice road to Kandy

As you know, Sri Lanka is very well known for its spices and spice gardens. Today begins your spice adventure with a visit to the New Ranweli Spice Gardens. Here, in the most natural and serene environment, you will personally see and learn about Sri Lanka’s natural spices and products. After a total sensory experience with these unique spices, you will be most ready for your scheduled lunch stop before continuing on to Kandy. Kandy is known for its mild climate, colonial architecture, and a spectacular festival, the Kandy Perahera. Peter, I can’t wait for you and Nino to experience this procession of the sacred Buddha relic through the streets, accompanied by dancers, musicians, entertainers and elephants.

After a total sensory experience with these unique spices, you will be most ready for your scheduled lunch stop before continuing on to Kandy. Kandy is known for its mild climate, colonial architecture, and a spectacular festival, the Kandy Perahera. Peter, I can’t wait for you and Nino to experience this procession of the sacred Buddha relic through the streets, accompanied by dancers, musicians, entertainers and elephants.

Continue with your visit to Sri Lanka’s holiest temple, The Temple of the Tooth, which is believed to house the upper left canine tooth of the Lord Buddha himself. Tradition relates that a sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century AD and enshrined within the Dalanda Maligawa, or The Temple of the Tooth. This sacred relic has since been the symbol of sovereignty for the Sinhalese kings. While here, I suggest that you view the religious services, or Puja, held daily at dawn, midday and in the evening, accompanied with traditional music and drumming.

Day 5: The tea train

There’s no better way to start your day than with a visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens. Formally opened in 1821, they were previously used as a Queen’s pleasure garden in the 14th century and as a Kandyan Prince’s residence in the 18th century. Walking around these tranquil, immaculately designed lawns, borders, pavilions and plant houses, it would be easy to believe you are in England, were it not for the heat and extraordinary diversity of the tropical plants which give the game away. The Botanical Gardens are popular with both Sri Lankans and travelers alike, and they are large enough to guarantee that there is shady seating available for each visitor.

Your next stop is the hill country, also known as the Tea Country. The train ride from Kandy to the heart of Sri Lanka’s Tea Country is one of the most scenic train rides in Asia. As you leave Kandy, dense jungle opens into a cloud forest, with undulating vistas of immaculate tea bush carpets in between. Startling orange minivets perch on outrageously vivid Spathodia blossoms, hairpin bends cling onto hillsides somewhere between soaring peaks and dramatic ravines, thundering waterfalls tumble and glassy lakes reflect the astonishing scenery.

Day 6: Ceylon’s tea trails

This morning, you will visit a tea plantation with a resident planter, providing insight into the growth and manufacture of tea. Tea Trails also offers plenty of attractions for active travelers—there are various trekking and mountain biking trails in the vicinity.

Sri Lanka is the world’s largest exporter of tea, and you will experience this vast production capacity as you view Ceylon’s tea plantations. You will also get insight into why the eponymous English cuppa may have been somewhat stronger if not for the 1865 coffee blight. Old Ceylon’s up-country plantations were devastated, but not so the spirits of the pioneering planters. They threw in a crop of tea and never looked back. Sri Lanka is still the world’s largest exporter of tea and major industry has never looked so good!

Day 7: Heading south

Today, on your way to Galle, you will visit the historic Kelani River, rich in dramatic topography and stunning views, but perhaps just as well known as the place where the Bridge Over the River Kwai was filmed.

In Galle, Olivia Richli, the long-term resident of Galle Fort, and manager of Amangalla, will personally greet you. Amangalla is the best hotel in Galle. Even though this historic hotel in the heart of Galle Fort has had a complete refit since becoming an Aman resort, it remains true to its magnificent past when it comfortably and popularly accommodated 140 years of guests in its time as the famous New Oriental Hotel. Many of the expensive Burmese teak floorboards have seen the thread of over 300 years of history, while much of the building, including the beautiful facade, verandah and Zaal (Great Hall), as well as a huge amount of original antique furniture, has been carefully and cleverly restored. The result is an unforgettably classic colonial hotel that offers guests every contemporary luxury from spacious bedrooms, modern bathrooms, a beautiful swimming pool and ‘The Baths’, a stunning spa complete with a luxury Ayurveda center and marble-walled candlelit hydrotherapy room, without detracting from the ambiance of its magnificent past.

Day 8: Sightseeing and exploration

You’re heading inland this morning to explore the countryside and a number of the temples and villages around Galle. The villages of rural Sri Lanka have changed little with time and most of the communities lead a simple and traditional life. Only minutes away from the traffic, the landscape unfolds to reveal beautiful tropical sights of rice paddies and coconut islands as far as the eye can see. Time seems to slow and stand still.

Nearby are Yatagala and Rhummasala. Yatagala is a 12,000-year-old rock temple, one of the oldest in the region, housing a beautiful image room, a 1000-year-old Bo tree, and a wonderful meditation cave. Climb the 120 steps to view the temple and sit in one of the most serene spots on the island, among a beautiful valley of rice paddies and jungle hills.

In contrast, Rhummasala is a new temple, built by the Japanese on the magical headland across the bay from the Fort. Supporting breathtaking views back to Galle, the Stupa offers beautiful Zen simplicity, but on a huge scale. You have been scheduled to visit on a “poya day,” or full moon, allowing you to experience their puja offerings of fresh flower blooms and incense.

Old Galle is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a unique example of a preserved 17th-century colonial fortress. The Galle Fort itself is still a living monument with a bustling community within the great ramparts, massive bastions, and pepper pot towers, while narrow streets display its Dutch heritage with beckoning pillared verandahs and fretwork facades. Walking around is best so you can peep through frangipani-filled courtyards at houses, galleries or shops selling antiques, spices, pictures, nouveau-boule and hand-woven sarongs. Boutique hotels sit incongruously cheek by jowl with postage stamp-size cafes, so you are never far from a perfect sundowner. Pondicherri meet Cadaques!

Dinner will be served in the Dutch House. High on a hill, yet within minutes of the city center and with magnificent views of the Galle Fort, the Dutch House is a country house built in 1712.

Day 9: Lunuganga

On your way to Colombo, you will visit Lunuganga, home of the late Geoffrey Bawa, Sri Lanka’s most renowned architect and “Father of Asian Architecture.” The 15-acre estate includes a country house hotel where you will experience tranquility, beauty, and gracious hospitality. After a light lunch, you will explore the estate’s house and gardens, which are considered one of the world’s most magical garden retreats. They are fashioned after Bawa’s tropical vision of an Italian Renaissance garden, bordered on two sides by the Deduwa Lake, and home to secret garden pathways. After basking in the beauty of Lunuganga, it is back to the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo. Tying the day’s experiences together, you will dine at the Gallery Café, former studio of Geoffrey Bawa.

Day 10: The charm of Colombo before departure

Exploring Colombo and discovering its many little hideaways will charm you. Various shops and galleries have been personally handpicked for you to visit, experience, and finish any last minute shopping. High Tea at the Galle Face Hotel in the early evening, you will be escorted to the airport in time for your return flight.

Peter and Nino, it has been my pleasure to prepare this itinerary for your special Sri Lanka adventure. Please feel free to contact me should the need arise.