SHEPPARTON couple, Peter and Carmel Johnson have just returned from a holiday in Sri Lanka and had the most wonderful experience.
They travelled with a group of 16 friends who had chosen Sri Lanka because of its history, friendly people and wonderful food.
The group stayed in a series of private boutique hotels, which Peter describes as just stunning. All were beautifully appointed, with stunning gardens and excellent cuisine.
They arrived in the capital, Colombo, and travelled to the Wallawa Private Hotel. It was excellent and Peter thought if the rest of the accommodation was going to be like this they were in for a treat.
The next day they set off for Anuradhapura, an ancient capital, to see the city and temple ruins. This was once a Buddhist temple, but is still used today as a place of worship.
They also visited the rock temple at Dambulla. The temple here is Hindu and features wonderful rock paintings. Then onto the Golden Temple of Buddha, which features a giant statue of the Buddha.
Peter says Buddhism is the main religion in Sri Lanka. Hindus account for about 14 percent and then Muslim, but everyone seems to get on together and religious sites are sometimes found side by side.
The Dutch, Portuguese and English all had a hand in running Sri Lanka and at different times added to the country’s infrastructure. Since independence, the Sri Lankans have run their own ship but seem to be thankful for the input from the colonial era.
Peter says the food was great at most hotels. You could have your choice of Sri Lankan or western cuisine. Peter and most of the others decided to stay with Sri Lankan and it was excellent; lots of curries, chicken, beef, lamb, fish and a wonderful selection of vegetables.
Peter says Sri Lanka is a very clean country. City streets are swept and rubbish carted away each day and there were very little animals on the streets.
One of the major tourist sites is the Cliff Top Citadel of Sigiriya. Built in the 5th century, it’s 200 metres to the top. Along the way there are galleries of paintings adorning the rock face and at the very top, the footings of the old citadel; a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Now they travelled to Kandy, the city on the lake. Their guide, Amara, took them to the Royal Botanical Gardens featuring local flora from flowers to spice and orchid gardens, then a visit to the Great Temple of the Tooth relic.
It is said that this is the tooth of Buddha found in his funeral pyre and cared for until it made its way to Sri Lanka. The tooth relic is shown to the faithful each Wednesday and they come from all over to witness the event.
From Kandy they travelled into the highlands on the Nanu Oya railway. The lush cool highlands took them past acre after acre of tea plantations. This was the woman’s work; the ladies in their colourful dress picked tea all day taking their harvest to the tea factorys for processing.
The group stayed at a restored tea factory hotel. The vast buildings were full of reminders of the past when tea was processed there, but was now turned into luxury accommodation.
Leaving the highlands they travelled through lush rain forest and down to the coast. The scenery was spectacular and as they reach sea level they found their next destination, Galle and the Amongala Hotel, which was situated right in the Amongala Fort. Peter says it’s like a self-contained town with its own shopping facilities.
When the Tsunami hit, much of Sri Lanka’s coastline in this area was destroyed. The fort however survived because it was protected by its high walls, though thousands of people died, most of the animals survived; it appears they knew the Tsunami was coming and instinctively headed for high ground.
They headed back to the capital, Colombo and on the way stopped in Weligama to witness Sri Lankan stilt fishing. The local fishermen balance on poles driven into the sea floor and hang two metres above the coral reef to try their luck for the day’s catch.
Back in Colombo it was time for some R&R and a chance to explore the many old, new and renovated buildings that speak of Sri Lanka’s past. Now the army is being used to renovate many buildings and live on-site as they carry out the work.
Back in Shepparton, Peter and Carmel have many great memories of Sri Lanka, its people and fascinating history, and Peter says if you want to holiday in the lap of luxury try some of those boutique hotels.
Until next time,