Sri Lanka 24 Februari until 20 March 2017

Sri Lanka, a roundtrip organised by Sri-Lanka2Go

Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is a diverse and multicultural country with many religions, ethnic groups and languages. Buddhism (70%) and ethnic Sinhalese (75%) are majority. The country has a population of around 20 million.
The history goes back 125.000 years and possible even 500.000 years ago.
One of the first written references to the Island Lanka is found in the Indian epic Ramayana. 380 BC the Anuradhapura Kingdom was established with the capital of the same name and serving for nearly 1.400 years. In these years the monarchs of the country undertook remarkable constructions, such as the “Fortress in the Sky”, Sigiriya. After the invasion of Chola emperor Rajaraja the capital was moved to Polonnaruwa in AD 993 which marked the end of the great dynasties of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka was at the height of its power during the reign of king Parakramabahu (1153-1186). In that period hundreds of irrigation systems, reservoirs, dams, canals, were built of which many are still used.
In 1215 the kingdom of Polonnaruwa was invaded, the Jaffna kingdom was founded and the native Sinhalese people moved to the South. After this invasion the Jaffna kingdom never came under control of the several kingdoms in the South again.
The modern period of Sri Lanka begins with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1505. The kingdom was moved to Kandy and was the last independent monarchy of Sri Lanka. After the Portuguese the Dutch and finally before the independence in 1948 the British controlled the island.  A lot of the colonial architecture is still to be seen.
These are the main historical attractions that we visited, besides the marvelous nature which is very diverse: rocky mountains, the Horton Plains, many wildlife parks, rivers, wetlands and lagoons, artificial water reservoirs and beautiful tropical beaches with white sand and palms.

For more information about the history of Sri Lanka see Sri Lanka

Friday 24 February 2017 we, Elly, Jeanette, Wil, Gilles, Kees and Ben, started our trip at 9:55h to Sri Lanka, with KLM flight KL0873 from Amsterdam to Colombo. We arrived at 00:15 at Bandaranaike International, where we noticed that these ATMs had a maximum of 50.000 Rupee (± € 330,- at that moment).
The local travel agency, Walkers tours Kuoni, picked us up for our transfer to Cinnamon Red hotel, where we checked in at around 2:00 am.

Colombo (25 until 28 February)

Our holiday started with the first days walking through the capital and the largest city of Sri Lanka, with a population of 5.6 million. A city with heavy traffic and thousands of motorized tuktuks. There seems to be no real rules for the traffic, but we didn’t see many accidents.
Colombo is a fascinating multi-ethnic and multi-cultural city with a mixture of East & West, modern life and colonial buildings, and it has been a traditional gateway to the Orient for a long time. Already known 2000 years ago and increasingly important since the Portuguese period, since 1527, and the Dutch period from 1656 until 1796 when the British captured Colombo. In 1948 Sri Lanka became independent.
The influences of the Portuguese, Dutch and English is clearly visible in architecture, language, attitude, names and even food.
On Saturday 25 February we visited the oldest and largest park Viharamahadevi, with the Colombo Municipal Council, the Gangaramaya temple and the Seema Malaka temple in Beira lake and Galle Face Green with the promenade along the shore, where many major events take place and Colombo inhabitants relax.
Some of us took a tuktuk back for a drink at the most luxury department store of Colombo, “Odel”, some of us - to our surprise – took a tuktuk to “hotel”. But after some time and a lot of misunderstanding and discussion with the tuktuk driver ("Odel" or "hotel"), we finally had our well-deserved drink, a cold Lion beer, size 625 cl together.

Sunday 26 February we walked around in the old centre of Colombo (16th century), Fort, with the Light House (Fort Colombo Clock Tower) and the old Dutch hospital, now a mall with small shops and little restaurants. 
Later we walked through the area named Pettah, the entrance of which is marked by the Khan Clock Tower. This area is famous for its busy open air markets and bazaars. There we visited the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque (1909) and the Dutch Period Museum. Although the museum was closed that day, the guards opened some doors for these special guests. Walking on we passed the Old Town Hall, the Hindu temple Kathiresan Kovils and the Roman Catholic church St. Anthony. In the Wolvendaal (old Dutch) protestant church (1749), which was closed, but also opened for these special quests, we found some historical Dutch grave stones and VOC (Dutch East India Company) marks. Finally we visited the impressive St.Lucia’s Cathedral, where preparations were made for a big wedding.

On Monday 27 February at 9:30 am, our driver/guide Desa (short for Despriya) (“I think I am your guide”) picked us from the hotel to start our journey through Sri Lanka. Before we left Colombo we went to the Independence Commemoration Hall and the National Museum with beautiful relics and the crown jewels from the last King of Kandy and a lot of old treasuries from Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kandy.
By the end of the day we arrived in Nuwarawewa, hotel Lakeside. 
For more information about Colombo
pictures Colombo

Anuradhapura ( 28 February) 

Anuradhapura, a Unesco World Heritage Site, was the first capital (5th – 9th century AD), the centre of the island’s Buddhist civilisation and the grandest city of ancient Sri Lanka. 
After an early breakfast, the sightseeing included the Sacred Bo Tree (Ficus Religiosa) , the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world, which was visited by many people dressed in white, bringing offers (flowers and spices); the Copper Palace (the roof was originally covered with bronze tiles) and the Ruwanweliseya Dagoba, 140 BC, one of the world’s tallest monuments, 103 m high and 290 m circumference. Ruined in the 19th century and renovated in de 20th, finished in 1940 with the final crowning of the stupa or pagoda.

The Jetavanaramaya dagoba is situated in the ruins of Jetavana. Was built between 273-301, and the 2nd tallest non-pyramidal buildings after Pharos, the light house of Alexandria. With the meditating Buddha. The Samadhi Statue of the Buddha depicted in the position of meditation, associated with his first enlightenment. The Kuttam Pokuna (twin ponds), one of the best specimens of bathing pools in ancient Sri Lanka. The palace of king Mahasena (277-304) holds a beautiful moonstone, at the bottom of the steps with a half circle shape. The outer ring symbolises the flames of fire supposing that someone entering the building have to get purified. The 2nd ring shows 4 animals symbolising the 4 stages of the life circle, Elephant – birth, Lion – illness, Horse – old age and Bull – death. And the next inner ring shows greediness (Snake) and finally the last inner ring shows a Goose (purity) carrying Lotus buds (Nirvana).
After this we visited the ruins of Ratnaprasada (8th century, Jewel Palace), with a beautiful muragala or guard stone; the Anuradhapura museum (remarkable: the old urinal construction: 3 pots stacked, filled with sand and stones against the smell) and the Isurumuniya Rock Temple, with the carving of the “Lovers”. We finished the day with a visit to the ruins of the Royal Pleasure Gardens, and finally after a well deserved drink, had our dinner at the hotel. 
For more information about the history of Anuradhapura see Anuradhapura
pictures Anuradhapura

Mihintale (1 March)

We started this day with a visit to an ATM, finding that 60.000 was just too much to order. It took some time, other ATM’s, checking account, e-mail to the bank to finally conclude that it was just € 1,95 over the daily amount of € 500,- Ok, had some stress and had some fun.
On our way to Mihintale we met a giant squirrel, used to tourists and begging for food. The Dana Salawa refectory for the monks had very big rice and porridge canoes (1.000 portions). The Naga Pokuna (snake pool with a snake relief, nagaraja, carved in the rocks). On the platform the view was fantastic: the Ambasthala dagoba, a great white sitting Buddha above the trees, and in the back the Mahaseya dagoba and the Mihindu Seya. A heavy trail to the top. After this we visited the Kaludiya Pokuna, black water lake, with ruins of a monastery, before we had lunch in a family restaurant. The food, buffet served in clay pots, was great and very cheap. We found out during the trip that there are not many places for having lunch. British tourists skip lunch, Desa told us.

After the lunch we drove to the remains of the Ritigale monastery. It was already quite late in the afternoon. We had to rush and it started to rain. The track was getting slippery. But this beautiful site in the jungle was worthwhile visiting: Banda Pokuna, artificial pool, well maintained, and beautiful toilet stones. We arrived, again late, at our next stop, hotel Aliya (= elephant), a beautiful hotel with big rooms, an enormous restaurant and a great swimming pool. The gate to the hotel area reminded us of the Jurassic Park gates: high & strong. Later we found out why.
For more information about the history of Mihintale see Mihintale
pictures Mihintale

Polannaruwa (2 March)

Near the Parakrama Samudra, water reservoir built around 386, named after the last great king of Sri Lanka (12th century). We visited Pothgul Vihara, the old library, the gardens and royal palace: originally 7 stories, but most of them were of wood and didn’t survive time. Some plaster still remains. The audition hall with lion throne, the royal baths (Kumara Pokuna).
One of the most beautiful sites is the Vatadage in the Polonnaruwa quadrangle (Dalada Maluva). It is believed to have been built during the reign of Parakramabahu to hold the relic of the tooth of the Buddha or during the reign of Nissanka Malla to hold the alms bowl used by the Buddha. Built round a small stupa, main entrance on the Northern side and 4 cardinal entrances at the upper level. The stupa has 4 Buddha’s facing the entrances. Sandakada pahana (moonstone) and muragalas (guard stone) at all entrances.
Other highlights: the Thuparama, the Lata Madapaya (lotus hall), the Satmahal Prasada, the Gal Potha and the Sathamahal Pasada.
Remarkable sign at the entrance: “humans who don’t behave on this place will be reborn as a raven, a dog or a beggar”. We saw in Sri Lanka a lot of raven and dogs, but few beggars.

In the afternoon we visited Gal Vihara, 4 beautiful Buddha statues carved from a single rock, the Lotus-shaped pool (used for ritual baths), Jetavana monastery and Tivanka Patamaghara, with the “thrice-bent” (knee, waist and shoulder) Buddha. At the outside realistic sculptures, on the inside beautiful original frescoes. We were allowed inside the meditation corridor used by the monks.

On the way back to the hotel a sign on the road: “cross-passing elephants”. After first seeing some elephants far away in the field, an enormous elephant strolled on the road choosing the best leaves on both sides of the road. Some cars and motorcycles turned around (panic?). Desa drove us slowly past, but not after allowing us to make pictures, only from inside the car. Hence the reason for the “Jurassic Park entrance” at our hotel.
For more information about the history of Polonnaruwa see Polonnaruwa
pictures Polonnaruwa

Sigiriya (3 until 4 March)

The Rock Fortress of Sigiriya (si = lion, hagiri = mouth), another Unesco World Heritage Site, and one of Sri Lanka’s major attractions. The Water Gardens, the colourful Frescoes and the Lion platform, originally completely covered by with buildings, are very impressive. The Fortress was situated on the Lion platform, with a gateway on a small plateau halfway up the rock in the form of an enormous lion. Only the huge paws remain. The fortress was built by king Kashyapa (477-495). The citadel is 200 m above the ground. The gardens are among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world.
Climbing the many steps of the staircases to reach the top was a test for our condition. But is was worth climbing: first the amazing, original, frescoes (from more than 500 only 19 remain today) of beautiful maidens, the identity of whom is still unknown. The Mirror Wall is less interesting (we have to walk in line and rather fast) because the graffiti (of the 8th century up till now) is difficult to identify. Originally the wall was highly polished so that the king could see himself walking alongside it.

On the top the remains of the royal citadel, several caves for meditation, audience platforms and baths, and a magnificent view, especially at the east side. 
For more information about the history of Sigiriya see Sigiriya
pictures Sigiriya

After lunch our first safari, in Minneriya National Park. Because it was organised at the last moment, the jeep was much-used (no speed-meter and no fuel-meter), but the driver was great: very informative and good in spotting animals. We saw several groups of elephants, bee-eaters, deer, lot of birds and a mongoose. There were many other jeeps.
pictures Safari Minneriya National Park

The next day, Saturday 4 March, we had a guided tracking through the countryside. Typical farm house made of mud and wood. A trip with an ox car, lunch in another farm house, and the first tea (made of cream-apple) Gilles ever liked, even so much that it could be an alternative for a beer. A tree-house, specially built to spot elephants and a boat trip on the lake.
At the end of the day still time left to enjoy the wonderful swimming-pool of our hotel, where we witnessed the photo-shoot of a wedding couple.
pictures tracking

Dambulla (5 March)

After checking out from the very nice hotel Aliya, we went to the Dambulla cave temples. Dambulla is the largest and best-preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka and dates back to the first century BC. On the site 5 caves under a vast overhanging rock, carved with a drip line for the rain to keep the interiors dry. The temples contain a total of 153 Buddha statues, paintings related to Buddha and his life, 3 statues of Sri Lanka kings and 4 statues of gods and goddesses. A monk offered us a blessing thread. The 1th cave is the cave of the Divine King, dominated by a 14-meter statue of the Buddha. The 2nd is the cave of the great Kings with a statue of the Kings Vattagamani Abhaya (honored the monastery in the 1th century) and Nissanka Malla (12th century). The 3th cave is Great New Monastery, with ceiling and wall paintings in the Kandy style and a statue of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha, famous for the Buddhist revival (1742-1782).
For more information about the history of Dambulla see Dambulla

Walking down the hill from the cave temples we passed the Golden temple with the golden Buddha. From there we continue our trip to the spices garden. On our way to our hotel Thilanka in Kandy, we make a stop at a very colorful Hindu temple, where a ceremony is taken place.
pictures Dambulla

Kandy (6 until 7 March)

Kandy is the hill capital and last stronghold of the Sinhala Kings, 1592-1815. Time has not affected the aura of grandeur. Encircled by hills with a tranquil lake in its centre it is the site of the Buddhist Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) and the royal botanical gardens. Nowadays Kandy is a handicraft centre (especially gem stones) and its traditional dances are the most spectacular in the country.
Too bad the National museum and the Queens bath were closed because of renovation. But visiting the royal palace of Kandy and the Temple of the Tooth during the evening ceremony was a great experience. The relic cannot be seen: it is encased in seven golden caskets covered with precious gemstones. The relic was smuggled from India to Sri Lanka by princess Hemamali in her hair and played an important role in local politics: whoever holds the relic, holds the governance of the country.
In the afternoon we enjoyed a performance of Kandy dancers,  very exciting and colourful, beautiful costumes and exiting movement. At the end of the show dancers walking barefoot on hot coals and spitting fire.

Because of rain expected the visit on Tuesday to the botanical gardens was postponed. We relaxed near the swimming pool and the bar, which had a magnificent view over the city and the lake.
For more information about the history of Kandy see
pictures Kandy

Nuwara Eliya (8 until 9 March)

But first we visited the Royal Botanical Gardens. The weather was much better and we were happy to be able to visit this marvellous, very well maintained garden. It has more than 4000 species of plants, dates back to 1371, was more or less renewed by the English in 1821. The garden has a total area of 0,59 km2 and includes avenues and trees planted by international guests e.g. prince Nicolas of the Romanov family in 1897 and president Tito in 1959. 
The road to Nuwara Eliya is a beautiful touristic road with tea plantations and waterfalls. Shops along the road sell typical products of a mild highland, carrot, coal, beet, flowers.

Our hotel is the old Grand Hotel, still in colonial English style, including a very nice bar with a burning fireplace. They serve several brands of whisky.
pictures Kandy Royal Botanical Garden

Thursday 9 March we had an early (5:00 am) wake-up call for the hiking trip in the Horton Plains. It turned out to be one of the heaviest days, also because 4 of us had a cough and even fever, but we did not want to miss anything of course. We drove to about 2.000 m height where the walk started to World’s End and Baker Falls. The place was crowded with tourists. Nice weather to walk, beautiful scenes and views. We arrived just in time at World’s End before the fog from the valley clouded the view. The trip was about 10 km and after that we were glad to return to the hotel for a nap and to relax.
pictures Horton Plains

Ella (10 until 11 March)

After a long sleep we took the famous train to Ella. At 13:30, 1 hour later than scheduled we and many other tourist, stepped in the Air-conditioned First Class. Desa arranged a visit to the machinist’s cabin to make some pictures. The nicest pictures were made not in the first class but from the platforms between the wagons. Especially when the train made a bend at the 9 arch-bridge from 1921 close to Demodera where we left the train and were picked up by Desa.

Ella is a relaxed mountain village full of young Western tourists, backpackers, looking like hippies in the 1960’s. Many small hotels and restaurants with live-music. Our hotel, 98 acres, is situated on a hill with a magnificent view of little Adam’s peak, on which we could see tourists walking. The plan was to climb to Adam’s peak, but we had to recover from the flu, so a visit to the town or a massage/steam bath instead.
pictures Ella

Tissamaharama (12 until 13 March)

Tissamaharama was our next stop, for a safari the next day in Yala National Park. On the route we stopped at the Ella Gap, a deep ravine along the road, and the Dowa temple, with a 8 m. high Buddha statue carved in the rock, of which is said that it has the most powerful and serene expression of Sri Lanka. The temple itself has very colorful frescoes and statues. Then to the Rawana Falls, with many tourists and little shops. 
Late in the afternoon we went to Kataragama, a pilgrimage place for many religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam. It was crowded with people, offering food and flowers, also because it is Sunday and Poya (full moon), during which the sale of alcoholic beverages, meats and fish is prohibited. Poya signifies the Buddha’s first visit to Sri Lanka to settle a dispute between Yakkas and Nagas.
For more information about  Kataragama temple
pictures Tissamaharama and Kataragama

On Monday 13 March we again had an early wake up (5:00 am) for the safari in Yala National Park. The jeep was very old and dirty, and the driver eager to get done with the trip. But nevertheless with some pushing and shouting to get the attention of the driver, we saw a lot of very colourful bee-eaters and other birds, a crocodile, some mongoose, many deer and water buffalo’s, 2 elephants, and eagles. We have not spotted any leopards (although Yala is said to have the biggest population, the biggest concentration per km2).
pictures Yala National Park

Unawatuna and Galle (13 until 15 March)

Unawatuna: beach, sand, sea and warm. On our way we had a lunch at a small hotel (4 rooms) with a private beach. Off the road, but with a nice view. The food was good and the dishes were huge, but as usual Desa helped us to finish it all, as a token of his friendship.
We stopped at Matara for the tiny Dutch (1763, VOC) fortress, called Star-fort, one of the many remains from the Dutch period, before we checked in in our hotel, Calamander in Unawatuna. Many Russian and English tourists, many restaurants and shops.

Tuesday, 14 March we visited Galle, 10 minutes driving from our hotel. We passed a little fish market. The fish looked great, but Desa told us they were pimped by injecting blood. On the beach fishers were hauling up a big net. The result was mostly small fish after 2 hours of hard working.
Galle is an old town, already known in the 14th century. The present fort was built in 1663, fortified solid granite wall and three bastions, Sun, Moon and Star. It reached the height of its development in the 18th century, during the Dutch colonial period, from which the Galle Fort is as the largest remaining fortress in Asia built by European occupiers. On 26 December 2004, the city was devastated by the tsunami caused by the earthquake at the coast of Sumatra, but the old town was protected by the fortress walls.
We entered the city via the Old Gate where we see old remains like the VOC warehouse, Dutch reformed church (Groote Kerk) and hotel Amangalla (the former residence of the Dutch governor). The Galle fort and the lighthouse (Utrecht Bastion), the Dutch hospital, now shops and restaurants (like in Colombo). We wandered through the small streets like Lighthouse street, which reminded us of Hoi An (Vietnam VOC period), past the Meera-Jumma Mosque, where a big group of Muslim girls just had finished their lessons.

We said goodbye to our great driver and guide Desa, with a farewell dinner at restaurant Peacock on the beach. The next morning Desa drove us to the last destination of our trip, Hikkaduwa, where we relaxed for a couple of days before our return to Amsterdam. Wil and Kees stayed for 2 nights at Hikkaduwa, hotel Citrus (without the fantastic Spa) the older couples for 3 nights extra.
For more information about Galle
pictures Unawatuna and Galle

Hikkaduwa (Wednesday 15 until Monday 20 March)

Hikkaduwa is a small town about 17 km North-West of Galle. It is well known for its beach and night life and for board-surfing. The sea indeed is not really for swimming, too rough and too high waves, but good of temperature and clean. In Hikkaduwa also the marks of the tsunami are present. It was here that people hiding in and behind a train were killed, at one place over 1.300 people. The tsunami photo museum shows this terrible tragedy.
At high tide the beach at the hotel is flooded, at low tide there is about 5 m beach, but 50 m walking to the north there is a a fantastic wide beach, with beautiful white sand, a lot of small colourful beach (backpacker) hotels and restaurants.

During our stay 2 couples had their wedding ceremony at the hotel. The photographer  hired for the last one was delayed and I was asked to make some pictures of the ceremony. Hopefully there were some they could use for the wedding album. 
Saturday 18 March we made a walking trip through part of the city along the coast, visited a market and the tsunami museum, where a Buddha statue stands as high as the waves of the tsunami, more than 15 m. One impressive picture has to be mentioned: a young girl high in a coconut tree, with her head just above the water level.

Our last day, Monday 20 March: packing, late check-out, so still some time at the swimming pool. Check-in was quick and easy and we left on schedule with KLM flight KL0874 from Colombo to Amsterdam on Tuesday 21 March, 2:10 am. We arrived at 08:35 am at Amsterdam after a rather turbulent flight.
pictures Hikkaduwa