Sipping tea in highland plantations, seeing a huge 14 metre high reclining Buddha and climbing to a fortress for fantastic views are all part of what made Mike Robertson feel like the king-of-the-castle on his Circle Sri Lanka trip…
“Sri Lanka is a country of enormous diversity of history, weather, geography and people. Our first two weeks were on an Intrepid trip and if you have never been on one, a great experience awaits you. Our tour group consisted of 3 English, 3 Australians, an American working in Paris, ourselves from New Zealand and a great local named Bruno, who was our tour leader.
We used a variety of transport, both public and chartered, with the highlight being a 7-hour train trip to the tea plantations, rising to a height of approximately 1600 metres above sea level. The train was packed with people hanging out of doors etc. There was a constant flow of food vendors and entertainers moving up and down the carriage pedaling their wares. The scenery was amazing and the interchange with the local people was just great.
Highlights of our Intrepid tour were many and varied and include the following:
This is an area that the United Nations has determined is of immense historical value. The site of Sigiriya includes a palace built on a vertical rock approximately 1.5 hectares in area, 150 metres high and surrounded by 12 kilometres of moat. Within the moat, as well as the palace there is an artificial lake, a magnificent water garden and many other structures still to be excavated. In the palace grounds is a swimming pool cut into the rock with a shallow and deep end. It originally had a roof and is bigger in size than an Olympic pool. Water was pumped into the pool from down below using windmills – not bad for the 5th century! This was just one of the many buildings of this area, including the biggest brick structure in the world. Built in the 2nd century BC with a height of 146 metres, it contains enough bricks to build a wall 4 metres high and 4 metres wide stretching from London to Edinburgh!
These were incredible to look at and we had two treks through them, which once again were great chances to mix with the people. Very few non-Sri Lankans visit these areas and we were welcomed every where we went by locals, either at work in the plantations, at home in the villages we passed through, or by the children at school who all rushed out of class to greet us. The climate was cooler, approx. 20-25 degrees Celsius during the day here and 15-18 degrees at night as you are at a height of 1600-1700 metres. The scenery was spectacular, from the tea plantations to verdant forests. There was a wide spread of buildings ranging from palatial plantation manager’s homes with immaculate gardens, to enormous tea factories and a lot smaller and varied buildings for the workers. Each plantation was a mini town with its own medical centre, school etc. with the average population of workers and their families being close to 2000. We visited Lipton’s tea factory which was built over 100 years ago and there the management all wore long walk socks as a status symbol of their position – the workers only had sandals.
This is another World Heritage-listed place and consists of a fort that was built by the Portuguese in the 17th century and is in very good order and to me is an incredible feat of construction. No new buildings are allowed within its walls and the intention is to restore everything back to its original condition. It is surrounded by a 10-15 metre high wall built of rocks etc. and here all my childhood dreams of playing in castles became a reality.
After the Intrepid tour we had six days of relaxing at 2 very nice beaches, mixing with the locals, swimming in wonderfully warm water, eating and drinking the local food and beverages and having a great relaxing time.
There were many other highlights including magnificent beaches, elephants and monkeys galore, very cheap food and beer, playing cricket with the locals on the beaches, swimming with turtles and mixing with the ever-friendly local people.
It was a great holiday and a wonderful experience and just say the word “cricket” and you will have more new friends than you thought possible!”
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* photo of Bruno Dawson’s group