Sri Lanka Part 2 - The Tour Continued
How do you like to plan for your holiday? Do you spend days putting together the perfect itinerary, researching hotels, restaurants and things to do? Or are you more of a free spirit; just turning up and doing what you fancy? I’m normally the former, my holiday spreadsheets are a thing of beauty to me. But after a very difficult year at work, and with a little time spare before starting a new job, I saw an advert for a tour of Sri Lanka run by H.O.T Tourism and booked it on the spur of the moment, putting us entirely in their hands.
We were met at Colombo airport by our guide for the week, Aruna, he greeted us with a big smile and a ceremonial scarf each. It was quite late and we’d been travelling a long time, so Aruna had decided that rather that drive to Drambulla that evening which would have taken around 4 hours, that we’d stay in Colombo. We were very grateful about that decision.
One of the advantages to this private tour was that we were upgraded in 2 out of the 4 hotels we stayed in. I suspected that the many coach tours were being allocated to the ‘standard’ rooms. So in the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel, we were given a room with a view of the lake, and at the Cinnamon Lodge Habarana we were allocated to one of the suites in the beautiful grounds. This was my favourite room of the week, and I wished that we had got to stay for the 2 nights so that we could have explored the grounds further.
However, we had a packed day ahead of us; Aruna met us at the hotel bright and early after breakfast and we set off on our first full day. Which we described in part 1:
At the end of the day we then transferred to the Earls Regency in Kandy. This was a very large hotel and navigating it involved going up and down in lifts and across a walkway; I have to say we took a few wrong turns trying to find our room after dinner!
Aruna again met us bright and early and we set off for Sigiriya ‘Lion Rock’ fortress. You can see Sigiriya a long time before you reach it; it’s simply stunning.
An ancient fortress and palace, containing gardens, reservoirs, and a swimming pool, as well as a series of beautiful frescos it was breath-taking and well deserving of its UNESCO title of the 8th wonder of the world. If you are visiting here, you must wear trainers or similar as it’s quite a climb to the top. We saw lots of flip flops that people had lost on the way to the top!
Although it is a long way up, you can’t hurry as it’s pretty busy, so there’s no pressure to prove your fitness. In the past the Kings and Queens who lived here would have been carried up by their servants; I imagine that only the fittest and most sure footed would have been selected for the job! Once up there, it’s not at all crowded and you get to take in the amazing views. This isn’t to be missed. The very friendly monkeys were everywhere.
On the way to our next sight, we popped into an Ayurvedic village and were given a tour of the many plants and shown how they were used as medicines. We were treated to a shoulder massage, a cup of tea, and watched a demonstration of cinnamon production.
We returned to Kandy to visit The Temple of the Tooth. This is one of the holiest places for Buddists who make-up about 70% of the population of Sri Lanka; whilst we were there many people were leaving beautiful flower offerings before praying.
You are required to be bare-footed, but a secure service is provided to store your shoes. Whilst we were there, there were several school trips, and one group of girls were staring at me. I asked Aruna why, and he went to talk to them to find out. They’d come on a school trip from Columbo, where possibly there aren’t as many tourists. He came back and told me that it was because I was the whitest person they’d ever seen! Which seems fair enough for Celtic skin in January!
Aruna happily took us to some large jewellery stores in Kandy at our request (well mine!), and I spent some time dithering but not buying. I did buy an embroidered cashmere throw from a craft store he took us to; it wasn’t cheap, but still about half the price you’d expect to pay in England.
The following day we were heading for Nuwara Eliya, once a British summer retreat. It was therefore no surprise to find very British style houses, hotels, and golf courses in this area. The drive here was beautiful passing mountains and waterfalls. We visited a tea plantation where I was swiftly put to work. We then followed the processing of the tea and ended up sampling a delicious cup and bought a couple of packets.
Aruna took us to his favourite hotel for lunch, the Grand Hotel, originally built for the Governor of Ceylon, there is no mistaking the Englishness of this property!
We enjoyed pizza made outdoors in front of us in the wonderful garden for lunch. And it was here that I finally bought my sapphire pendant from the J.A. De Silva’s, a small shop within the hotel that’s been run by the same family for 120 years. Mr De Silva was more than happy for us to take our time and to use his loupe to examine the sapphires, which made us feel somewhat more confident about what we were buying.
We stopped several times on the way back to admire the view, and then stopped in Kandy to attend the cultural dance show. I have to be honest and say that I normally find these things a bit cringe-worthy. But this was great, finishing with an exciting fire dance and fire walk.
Before leaving Kandy we visited the Botanic Gardens, which was an addition to our itinerary. There were some truly magnificent specimens, and it was peaceful after the business of Kandy. Highly recommended.
We then set off for Beruwala for some time to relax and unwind. This is where we bid Aruna farewell at the Eden Resort and Spa as we settled in the final 3 days.
All of the hotels offered buffet food for breakfast and dinner. The food was always excellent with a large choice available, and often dishes were cooked to order in front of us. But by the time we reached Beruwala I’d had enough of that; I wanted something that looked pretty on my plate and to be waited on. This meant paying a bit extra to eat in the hotels other restaurants, but it was well-worth it!
Part 3 will be about Beruwala focussing on the wildlife, as well as some useful information about protocols and practicalities. Please do join us again.
Aruna Sri Tours
Where we stayed:
https://thegrandhotelnuwaraeliya.com/ If you book with Aruna he usually uses this hotel.