Sri Lanka – 15th November 2019
We spent the first night at The Wallawa House which thankfully was only 30 minutes away from the airport (no queue in immigration!). A place of cloistered calm with spacious rooms, lush gardens and very restful after a squashed 10 hours in a plane, perfect! Tea and cake on a large Veranda. I felt like Mildred in Jewel in the Crown!
We have a very good driver called Agith who has so much knowledge and can seem to find his way anywhere. He needed to vote in the Presidential elections, so we took a small detour to his home town and met his uncle who has been a lawyer in the UK and now has retired to his huge old 1930s house. It has nine bedrooms; nine bathrooms and he is converting it to a guest house. He can remember feeding the pet elephant from one of the first floor Verandas! The photos of his grandparents with their 5 sons in Traditional Sri Lankan dress were fascinating.
We drove to The Rosyth Tea Estate house for lunch. This has such a unique atmosphere, lovely main house with, of course, a veranda overlooking acres of dramatic lush greenery. Lots of different style rooms set on their own around the house, but some rooms with a level access in the main house. I played the piano (need to practice!) and had a delicious Sri Lankan meal of mixed mainly Vegan dishes, and a cup of cold Cinnamon and Ginger tea which sounds odd but was so refreshing. My liver will be pleased as the Fresh Lime soda here is better than the expensive Gin and Tonics and the Australian wine!
There are plenty of guided walks around the Tea Estate, tours of the Tea factory, cookery lessons, yoga lessons, a small swimming pool and Spa treatments. The rooms all have views and there is the most amazing new Grand Designs house set on a huge rock with its own plunge pool and living area.
Arrived in The Water Gardens Hotel which has magnificent proportions all laid out in front of a view of a very large and famous rock! Peacocks roaming around making eerie noises and a pattern of Paddy Fields, lakes and lush green gardens with paths towards little Villas. Yes, this is very exotic and worth the long drive!
We are made very welcome in the Reception by a beautiful young lady in a traditional Sari and then take a golf buggy to our Villa. Very well designed and beautifully appointed, quite modern in design inside with a lovely private little swimming pool surrounded by Hibiscus. Everything has been thought of and provided, Tea, homemade biscuits, comfortable seats, great beds, hot showers, bathtub with a tray and Champagne glass – Heaven! Cold wet grey UK seems very far away!
I have only been in Sri Lanka for two days and I love it! It is very calm and tidy after India. Everyone smiles at you and speaks English and it feels very safe and welcoming.
Back to Paradise, take two! After a swim in my private pool, a leisurely breakfast of fresh fruit and buffalo curd with Palm syrup, like traditional Greek Yoghurt with Maple syrup, yum!
Decided not to climb the rock today, too hot, will go very early in the morning tomorrow instead. The countryside around here is very green and unspoilt, with mountains that look like huge puddings.
Off to another gorgeous place, I must have been very good in a past life to get this treatment! This is called Vil Uyana; it is a Protected Nature Reserve for the Slender Loris, a sweet, shy, nocturnal creature who looks like a 1920s debutante caught out late in the night! No cars allowed, so we catch a Golf Buggy with our luggage to our rooms. Very traditional style thatched houses which blend in well with the landscape, walkways across the lake or Paddy fields to them. It feels like a Rattan church inside, double height vaulted ceilings and wood floors, all open plan with a huge sunken bath and a plunge pool outside on the Veranda. I am not sure about the open plan loo and shower behind a wooden partition, reminds me of Boarding School!
We have a resident friendly Peacock called Steve, who sits on the railing making a racket! The dinner is served high up above the main pool which is overlooking the lake, so tranquil and the little terracotta pots of Veg and Chicken curry are delicious. I am still on the Lime Sodas, so feel very virtuous!
Off at 06:00 in the Morning to climb Pidurangala, the smaller rock, still looks immense. Agith comes with us and I am very grateful as he hauls me up some of the sheer rocks, all very steep and quite a challenge, but what a view of Sigiriya, the larger rock next door at the top. Quite incredible and I feel pleased to see some 20-year-old backpackers puffing as well! We take our shoes off to visit the Cave Temple, 16th Century reclining Buddha looking very smug and brightly coloured wall paintings of young monks that look like they are wearing lipstick.
We had a look at some of the other houses, all very private with water or vegetation around them, I liked the cheapest one best! (Need to aim higher!) I had some friends who spent a week here and I can see why, lots to see in the area and able to get away from other people. The Spa is like some scene from ‘Eat Pray Love’, I had a pedicure overlooking the water, heard a splash and the lady said it was one of the three crocodiles. Maybe he wanted his toenails painted too.
Off to Kandy to see loads of tourists and bustle. It reminded me of Lake Lausanne, but with a Buddhist temple – not my scene at all. Thankfully we went up the hill to a really stunning old house. The Kandy House is impeccably restored, with wide teak floors and huge rooms. Lots of antiques and artefacts – my room has a four-poster bed with Mosquito nets and a bright pink, gold and lime green bed cover, I feel like a Princess! A very well-run place with great pool overlooking the jungly valley and the most delicious food. Managed to have a glass of wine (yessss!) and had a chat with an English couple who had a hair raising five-hour drive with a maniac driver, makes me grateful for our driver who is so safe and professional.
Now driving up in the hills above Kandy to a Tea Plantation to stay at Rangala House. It is very traditional and simple in style, with a breath-taking view of the Knuckles range of mountains and a lovely pool. The people greeting us are local and could not be more kind, bringing us a tray of Broken Orange Pekoe tea from the Estate! We are the only people staying for tonight and tomorrow, they have had a quiet time after the terrorist attacks, but business is picking up slowly. No alcohol served here; they can get a Tuk Tuk for £1:00 to collect beer from the local beer shop! The cook is rustling up a delicious smelling Sri Lankan dinner and there is a very friendly black and white cat called Benny.
The next day we decided to follow a long walk in the estate, a track through the lush greenery and tea bushes with stunning views. We passed the Tamil Tea pickers and their very poor homes, we understand that they do have their own school, hospital and shops on the Plantation, and the Company takes good care of them, but life must be hard. Everyone we meet is very happy to wave and stare at us, the kids look scared! We managed to get lost and luckily were rescued by a kind Tuk Tuk driver who took us home, it took a while and cost £2.50! What an adventure! Better than staying by the pool being sensible! We had Cheese and tomato toasted sandwiches for lunch, delicious! The Sri Lankan food here is so amazing we have stopped eating meat, the cook can create such delicious dishes out of home-grown veg. It is much cooler here, and I love the tartan blankets on the beds, all very homely and comfortable.
Now off to Camelia House, built three years ago by a British family who owned the surrounding Tea Estate until recently, a fascinating history. It is very high up along very twisty roads, best way is to get the train! There is a beautiful view of the Castlereagh Reservoir below, lots of Scottish names around here, Dunkeld, Blair Athol, Glen Tilt, somebody must have been homesick for the Highlands. There are only five-bedroom suites and it is very sophisticated with lovely modern feel, quite different to the usual Tea Bungalow! We have our own Butler, Melinda, not a girl’s name here, he is a very helpful and personable young man who brings us tea, delicious food and comes dashing to the rescue with a brolly when we are caught in heavy downpour whilst out walking! They have some cracking thunder and lightning storms here! The staff are all young and enthusiastic, it can’t be easy being so isolated down a long track.
Now up in one of the highest Tea Plantations above Ella, which is a very hip town, full of young backpackers. We took the train from Hatton to Ella through breath-taking hills and views, very green and fertile, mainly Tea Estates. A very smart First-Class cost £6.00 single, a/c, funny Sri Lankan music, Brad Pitt film on the screen in the middle of the carriage with Chinese subtitles (!). The stations were fascinating, and it was much better than being driven on the twisty roads! I was chatting to some Sri Lankans just now and they took the sleeper from Colombo with their young children last night and arrived at the station just below, sounds great! This old 1920’s Bungalow is huge, with beautiful high ceilings and very simply decorated with a modern twist. It is called ‘Nine Skies’ after the famous nine arched viaduct near here and is owned by the same family as the last place. I have just been given a delicious G&T with Gin they have imported from UK, much better than local brew and fresh roasted Cashew nuts, so much for good intentions with Lime Sodas! We could not eat all the delicious Sri Lankan Curry they gave us, thanks to scoffing the cashew nuts, and I had the best night’s sleep in the most comfortable bed in the world!
Off down the hills this morning, raining hard like home!
OMG I have arrived in a film set or a Vogue Fashion shoot! This is a totally authentic place in the Jungle called ‘Living Heritage’ in Koslanda, designed to show how the traditional Sri Lankans lived. Huge tiled pavilions with jewelled coloured cushion and mustard coloured walls and antique furniture. No minimalism or dull colours here, full of drama, Kelly Hoppen would have to wear dark glasses! Our massive room has an inside courtyard and an outside Jacuzzi! One has to walk along paved paths to get anywhere with steps up to the immense infinity pool. There are Tree Houses overlooking the valley, very cleverly built of teak with a shower room, this is not a place for anyone wanting a/c and double glazing! The friendly staff serve you with drinks in the large pavilion before dinner, what I thought was iced tea was an Arrack cocktail, never had it before, it was delicious! The Salads are so fresh tasting, they grow all their own veg, that is if the monkeys and elephants don’t get there first! It is so impressive that there are lovely bathrooms and hot showers in the middle of nowhere, such an achievement.
Now off to ‘Camp Hashti’ a tented Safari camp in the middle of a Mango Orchard near to an Elephant Reserve. It looks like a scene out of MASH, where are Hawkeye and Hotlips?! Only four tents, with camp beds and concrete base to a shower and loo at the back of the tent. The staff are very good at making you welcome with drinks and tables under coconut shades. We climb into a very smart new 4WD Safari vehicle and trundle along red dirt roads to the Reserve. The Naturalist chap, who is very good, is included in the price of entry which is a very reasonable £20.00 each. The park is so unspoilt, no trucks charging about and lots of amazing birds, including the Peacocks which are everywhere in Sri Lanka! We are so privileged to see a really tiny baby elephant with his mother and two sisters; he was about a week old and hiding under his mum. The track is very firm, but we manage to find a very soft muddy bit and get stuck. The driver and guide asked if we were cross with them and we just said nooo! These things happen – and they soon phoned for another vehicle to tow us out, all part of the experience. We had a a flame lit path to our dinner under the stars with a beautifully served meal with delicious wine. Our butler, Rajah, used to work in a posh club in Colombo and it shows! The manager, Sid (must be short for something) has recently taken over the camp and has employed some exceptional staff, he has promoted the cleaner, a lady called ‘Aunty’ to be the cook as she is so good at it, they are a happy team. We met our driver at the Elephant Orphanage, run by the Born Free foundation to help reintroduce baby elephants to the wild herds. It was feeding time and so lovely to see how they get milk poured into their mouths with a tube and funnel, and then eat sugar cane. They trumpet indignantly when they want more. They all learn off their bigger friends and are so adorable I couldn’t stop taking photos. It has been very successful as some of the original orphan elephants have bred in the wild, you can even adopt one and give it a name! Much better place than the other Elephant Orphanage which I hear is a real tourist trap.
Now arrived at The Galle Fort Hotel, walking into a huge foyer of an old Dutch Merchant’s house, very grand with lovely pillars and antiques. We have the immense Library room, which has a wide wooden floor with the most fantastic rugs and old chests. We eat lunch on a dais overlooking the courtyard garden and pool, despite all the grandeur it feels very homely and comfortable. The staff are relaxed and friendly, wearing sarongs with those purse belts that I remember from school where you kept your dinner money. The streets are full of 16/17/18th century houses, real gems with wooden shutters and pillars. They are being carefully restored and the place is so atmospheric. Walking along the huge solid ramparts, eating Italian ice cream, by a blue sea feels very European, but then this was built by the Dutch and Portuguese and then snatched by the British! Great shops and lots of sparkly sapphire jewels on display, so glad my friend Bridget is not with me, she cannot walk past a jewellery shop!
The next morning, we are up early and walk around the town to find lots of Bridal parties having their photos taken before it gets too hot. Some of them are in the traditional Kandayan outfits, very elaborate and hired so they can be royal for the day. The brides look stunning and I love the little bridesmaids in big frilly frocks with a large bow at the back! Agith says it is a prestigious place to have your photos and they get married on an auspicious day in the calendar dictated by an astrologer.
Last place before going home! Two days by a very empty unspoilt beach in a hotel called Club Villa in Bentota. The only downside is the railway line you need to cross before the beach, but the trains are not very often thank goodness! It all adds to the local colour! The sea here is quite beautiful, but a bit rough for swimming. We stopped at Weligama on the way here to stay at a house owned by a friend of my cousin, such kind hospitality. There is a very popular surf area, lots of cool young dudes, we had an entertaining lunch at a place called W15 and watched the young Sri Lankan chaps showing off their incredible surfing skills. I walked down to the local beach, locals are very friendly and just walk by saying hello – there was a fat Labrador on the beach being chased off by the bossy Pie dogs!
We have just had tea and Madeira cake delivered to our veranda, all very civilised. The garden here is open and spacious with big Frangipani tress for shade, great pool and lunch, all I seem to do is eat! The elegant young lady who had greeted us in a blue silk sari has changed into jeans and a Cricket shirt, everyone is nuts about cricket here. There are Cricket Grounds in each town and any excuse to get a game going, our driver likes 20/20 games.
Awoken on my last morning at 06:30 by the train, sitting on the balcony drinking tea, listening to the Muezzin and then the cheerful tunes from the bread delivery van, they arrive every morning – I thought it was an ice cream van when I first heard it!
It is 2 degrees C at home, so I intend to make the most of the swimming pool and the beach today, no complaining that it is too hot!
I have loved my time in Sri Lanka, it has been a real holiday and an adventure.
I really hope my ramblings inspire you to come here to experience this very friendly country!