It’s a steamy but cool morning. At least compared to the several previous. The kind of morning that when you set foot out the door you are enveloped in the sense that a taste of tropical lifestyle, a mouth full of spice, and the joy of the unexpected awaits.
This particular morning’s wake up call is earlier than usual (hence the lower temperature), but no one is balking at the time since what is revealed to us is the landscape of the lawn at the banks of Kandalama Lake where we had spent the most elegant evening two nights prior. The memory of being surrounded by no less than 1,000 lanterns and sending our own filled with well-wishes into the atmosphere is now complemented with a sun-soaked impression. As we make our way through the grounds of a Small Luxury Hotel in Dambulla, Signature by Amaya, an excitement wafts through the group as we know we are en route to bathe a Sri Lankan elephant. After a short drive we make our way down a lush dirt path to climb into our next mode of transport. Some of us are under cover in small, bright tuk-tuks, others bounce around in the flatbed of a home made tractor-like contraption.
Smiles abound and hands hold tight until we can finally see the lake, which is a mirror image of it’s hilly backdrop drenched in the early morning light of a photographer’s dream. But where is the elephant? Feeling a bit like an equatorial rendition of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, we are told to hop on pontoon canoes and off we row clad in florescent-orange life jackets, which surprisingly complement our colorful surroundings. This is spectacular, we think.
We glide ashore next to the majestic creature and her mahout. Though many of the travel professionals on our Rebecca Recommends FAM have had previous encounters with elephants, we soon learned why this was such a remarkable experience– Manika was at ease and inviting us into her own habitat. We weren’t visiting a herd in a barn or looking down on a circus ring. We were outdoors with the people who love her and diligently look after every need. We were so close that we were instantly aware of our small stature compared to the power and immensity of the natural world. For the next hour our group took turns wading in the lake using a coconut husk to scrub and massage Manika’s ancient armor. To our delight, her response was obvious enjoyment.
This was just one of the many elements of surprise and delight along our two week journey though the ‘Resplendent Island’, the English translation from the Sanskrit name given so recently in 1972. Sri Lanka’s list of names is about as long as its rich and complex history. A few weeks certainly is not long enough to fully comprehend its past, however, there is an amazing amount of physical evidence that helps visitors piece together the remarkable events that have transpired on the island nation measuring just over 25,000 square miles. (Roughly the size of West Virginia or Tasmania, for our Aussie friends.)
With a landscape that ranges from a pulsing metropolis, to the tea-growing highlands where you can cozy up to a fire, to spectacular coasts with world-class beaches and marine life, there is something for everyone.
It is one of the few destinations with entertainment for all types of travellers: surfers to foodies, interior designers to spa junkies, teetotalers (in the most literal sense) to sports enthusiasts, and the list goes on! Can you imagine many places that would attract famous architects and Si-Fi authors alike?
Yet, Geoffrey Bawa and Arthur C. Clark both found solace and inspiration in Sri Lanka, and certainly left their mark. Similarly, there is a combination of elegance and playfulness in the local culture, with both high tea and comedians so deeply ingrained.
In some ways it feels like Sri Lanka is trying to assert its identity to Western travelers who seem to still categorize it with India. The contrast is stark as Sri Lanka lacks much of the infamous chaos that we know (and also love) about Northern India. In addition, it has a strong personality of its own– a jovial, superstitious one that our brilliant guide, Walter, brought to life during many animated discussions concerning construction site scarecrows, sea pencils (we later figured were urchins), the intimate lives of kings, and weekend wedding classifieds. We spent several hours on the road howling in laughter or with furrowed brows, intently trying to grasp every word. In both cases our wealth of knowledge and fondness for Sri Lanka grew exponentially.
In general, Sri Lanka is easy. It is full of smiles, great food, creativity and luxurious accommodations. There is no surprise why we consistently see the small island nation pop up in the news and on travel lists.
Denoted as last year’s Destination of the Year by the Sunday Times, highlighted in The Telegraph’s article, 23 Reasons to Visit Sri Lanka, and listed in Travel + Leisure’s Best Places to Travel in 2016, it’s not a destination you want to miss. What’s more is that Sri Lanka is remarkably safe for tourists and at present there is no risk of Zika or malaria.
Already seven years after the end of the Civil War Sri Lanka’s doors are open and inviting you to take part in the most recent turn in its history– the one which puts it on the map as a must-experience destination. It would be an absolute pleasure to share more about this stunning country with you, and help craft your next Journey East to Sri Lanka!
For more information about Sri Lanka itineraries please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit us at www.ventours.com.
writing and photography by Lindsay Cope