Mike’s Meanders–Sri Lanka Chapter 6
Missed the third chapter? Click here to read Mike’s Meanders: Chapter 5.
Welcome to Sri Lanka
The first thing I noticed when flying into Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo is the verdant green landscape below. From the air, Sri Lanka appears like an unexplored jungle and I was suddenly overtaken with the anticipation of some exciting adventure travel. The airport itself is small, cozy and very laid back compared to many other large and hectic international airports. Bandaranaike is an effective symbol as to why Sri Lanka is considered a great introductory destination for travel in Asia.
The relative ease with which I was able to get through the arrival hall and meet my guide was indicative of how comfortable the rest of my time would be in Sri Lanka. I found the general atmosphere to be so easy going that your client’s don’t need to be intimidated at all about visiting this friendly nation.
My comfort was only multiplied upon meeting my guide, Janaka, who has been leading trips in Sri Lanka for over 23 years. His friendly personality and expert knowledge of Sri Lanka’s history, culture and natural resources made him the perfect travel companion for my time in Sri Lanka. Guides in Sri Lanka are chauffeurs who will accompany your clients the whole time they are in country; therefore our Khiri Travel team spends a lot of time choosing the best guides. Our Khiri Travel staff in Colombo takes great care to match your client’s with the appropriate guide to meet their needs and expectations, and Janaka’s appointment to be my guide perfectly suited my travel preferences.
Dambulla Cave Temples
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to quite a few places in my life and I can confidently say Sri Lanka goes toe to toe with the best destinations I’ve ever visited. One highlight was the day I spent exploring and learning about the UNESCO World Heritage Site at the Dambulla Cave Temples. This temple complex dates back to the first century BC and is beautifully adorned with hundreds of Buddha images and detailed murals depicting the Buddha’s life. There is something magical being in such a sacred place of worship and hearing all about the history of the complex. To be standing there amidst 2,000 years of history and witnessing locals paying their respect such as they’ve done for centuries, is an experience that one can hardly describe.
For most destinations, a morning exploring this temple complex would be the star of the show–but not in Sri Lanka. This country is blessed with amazing wildlife biodiversity! After getting my spiritual fix in the morning, I was whisked away to my private jeep safari to Kaudulla National Park, home to the largest gathering of Asian elephants in the world. The wildlife corridor between Minneriya National Park and Kaudulla National Park forms one of the best continuous natural habitats for these majestic creatures. The only qualification is to choose the best time of year to visit.
The driver and spotter drove us into the wildlife corridor and we were all immediately pointing out colorful and rare birds. Head hanging out of the jeep, I was entranced by the variety of wildlife as we moved through the thick vegetation alongside a riverbed. After about 30 minutes of driving, we reached a clearing that opened up like the savannah. Lush green fields, painted storks and a beautiful lake set the scenery for what was the best wildlife experience of my life. Upon entering the clearing we were met by a small group of about six elephants to the left. On the right was a bull elephant leisurely feasting on the tall grass. After driving for a few more minutes, another group, this time about 15 elephants emerged from the dense jungle to partake in this buffet of sumptuous green grass. We stopped for a while to admire them as the baby elephants diligently followed and copied their mother’s behavior.
When the driver was starting to pull away I thought he was crazy to leave such a fantastic little gathering but his peculiar smile and wink let me know that something much bigger was just up ahead. Driving along the muddy paths carved by jeeps and elephants alike, we turned the bend and I was simply astounded by the sight of an entire herd of at least 100-150 elephants grazing on the banks of this beautiful lake!
I often enjoy watching wildlife documentaries, but nothing prepared me for how special this live and in person experience unfolded. These majestic beasts spent the afternoon grazing and taking turns swimming and bathing in the pristine waters of their lakefront home. Watching the matriarchs gather the young ones and trumpet out a protective warning call to anyone who would dare interfere is a thing of beauty.
After a couple hours of watching them, it was time to return to the hotel where I could actually begin to process being so lucky to be in a place where I could spend my morning in a 2,000 year old temple and the afternoon looking at hundreds of elephants. I’m not quite sure where else in the world offers this type of variety in one day, but I’d be willing to bet it’s very unique to Sri Lanka.
Another one of my favorite places in Sri Lanka was the colonial fortress town of Galle. Yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, this place is famous for more recent history. Sri Lanka, and specifically Galle’s port, was a major stop over on the sea trade routes between China and Europe. This melting pot of cultures is evident everywhere you look in this historic fort.
Galle’s fortified city is surrounded by defensive walls lined with openings for cannons that kept this strategically important city safe from opposing colonial powers. Because of it’s important position on the trade routes, the city passed from Portuguese to Dutch to British during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Located approximately 75 miles south of Colombo, Galle was the ideal city in which to spend my final nights. The fortress itself is a lovely mix of old meets modern as I alternated my time wandering from historical landmarks to sipping ice coffee in a trendy cafe. Droves of antique stores are wonderful for window shoppers and serious collectors alike to find that perfect souvenir to take home. On my final night, while sitting on the fortress wall and watching the sun dip below the horizon, I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit at the juxtaposition of the scene. On walls that were once erected to keep people out, sat locals and travelers from all over the world all snapping the same photo of the setting sun. My Sri Lankan experience was the epitome of kindness and hospitality and it’s one Khiri Travel would love to share with your clients.
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