Welcome to Sri Lanka
A Sri Lanka wonderland
'I was dazzled, amazed, surprised, filled with nostalgia and a yearning to be in this gorgeous geography where Father Adam is said to have come down in a place—Adams Peak—just south west of Colombo.'
It was a heavenly experience. A country so green with thick foliage you immediately want to make it your abode. This is what the late science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke did when he visited the place in 1955. In Sri Lanka he stayed, and in that country he died in 2008 with over 100 books to his name.
This is the sedentary feeling I got when I visited the country with a group of journalists earlier in July. The impressions and visual images were immediate, stark, raw and pleasing.
This ancient country, lively and salubrious and whose total area is around 65,000 square kilometers, started with a powerful and indelible impression on me as the plane started its descend.
It was something quite unlike any place we've been to, having come. Our tour begun there and then. The airport at Colombo was simply charming, but the charm was to continue as we made our tour upwards to the central plans of Sagiriya, foot-staged by the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage where man gets his first brush with nature, animals, water and the wildlife.
Elephants, baby elephants, huge big ones, medium sized ones playing happily in the river, drenching themselves in water, while visitors tuck in their meals, it is a captivating sight overshadowed by the picturesque scenery up and yonder.
This is Sri Lanka, a place of magnetism that continues in its glaring ruralism, woods and forests, clearings, flowers, birds and shrubbery and very much characterized by the 731 kilometer trek we covered in a five or six-day tour.
Picturesque scenes of green continued. We arrived to Sagiria at night, and quickly taken to our mod con chalets. Unlike the others, I didn't go back to the central dining area, but preferred to lounge in my homely bedroom, with a packet of peanuts, a water bottle and the blazing television while relaxing in my luxurious bed.
I slept like a log having been travelling all day. The next morning, we had a good look at our accommodation, it was in a clearing surrounded by wooded areas, where birds sung, exotic butterflies marooned and monkeys frolicked amidst the foliage.
After breakfast we were taken to the Sagriya rock fortress, an elevation that reached the skies, a fifth century rock structure that had a deep history of political intrigue but today stands as a testimony to the magnificence of a bygone age.
A UNESCO world heritage site, with water cisterns and lakes below, and a long stairway of 1200 steps. The guide told us, we were at the half-way mark, surveying a beautiful area of dense green in front of you.
The descend was just as enterprising, stepping down an area of dominance and major ecological importance to the world. Sagriya is a place for relaxation for the family to enjoy, for honey-mooners to indulge, just couples, or intellectuals, businessmen, high-powered executives who simply want to get away from their hectic lives.
Although we were on a five-day tour, two weeks is recommended to enjoy the lushness, diversity and utter beauty of the country that is fertile, and virginal a place of diversity and pleasure.
After lunch, we made our way to the Nilawally Beach Hotel at Trincomlee on the east coast of the country. This is a secluded area with the hotel on the beach, dining, relaxing and simply being mesmerized by the deep blue sea.
We were getting a crash course in Sri Lankan wonder. Roads and highways differed, but we were for an utter treat. On both sides, it was green foliage and green mountain. Coconut trees dallied from the air, looking much alike magnificent palms, but there were also jackfruit trees, mango, banana and papaya trees that added to the picturesque scenery.
Our guide Jaya said in many cases these trees can and do grow together in the wild. "While grapefruit trees grow in the ground, these are upwardly juxtaposed with coconuts following one after the other in the air."
But there is much more. Jaya said there are Temple, teak and of course the banyan trees that simply mesmerized. This was a country known for its teas, coffee, herbs, rubber and spices, the latter becoming very important in the trade sea routes, linking the west and the east through the Arabian Peninsula.
The beauty of Sri Lanka, previously known as Ceylon, and today has a population of around 19 million, lies upfront, everything being transparent. We were travelling long distance and the indescribable scenery added to our enjoyment. We passed stretches of roads that were simply engulfed by green, long tree on either sides whose branches interlocked to together to form arches of foliage.
The long entry to the Heritance Kandalama was like so. An eco-lodge that was definitely a five-star hotel, excluding its stupendous environs, was quite simply out of this world.
The hotel, dug out of a rock that stretches one kilometer in width is frequented by everyone although it is fit for kings, princes and princess. The food is delightful, top class international cuisine, beefed by the beautiful scenery.
Heritance Kandalama was a magical experience of relaxation. Through its top suits, one can simply lounge in the hotel or go on especially organized trips ranging from birds watching, butter and dragon fly watching as well as jungle trekking and elephant safaris.
For the more adventurous this is certainly a way to seep your overactive adrenalin, but for many people it's just nice to watch. Birds sing around the hotel, butter flies hover and even monkey's totter around your balconies, rooftops, and swimming pool.
It's simply a sight out of Jungle Book. Sadly we had to leave and head down to Kandy but stayed at the adorable Mahaweli Reach Hotel on the banks of the Mahaweli River, Sri Lanka's longest where we flexed our limbs.
In Sri Lanka there is always a traditional Ayubowan (which means wishing all living beings a long enchanted life) greeting to welcome guests and visitors. In the Mahaweli Reach Hotel we were showered as well with flowers as we entered the reception area.
Top rooms, spacious, wide, excellent food and views to remember awaited us in this auspicious structure that mellowed in the terrain.
We stayed two days, but could have stayed a lot longer. Mahaweli Reach was 10 minutes drive from Kandy, the former capital of the ancient Kingdom that ended in 1815 when Britain occupied the country.
We visited the city, dined in one of its restaurants, looked at its picturesque site, and visited its Royal Botanical Gardens that captivated the onlooker.
In addition, we did some shopping in the bustling city, with each of us going our separate ways. I usually leave the shopping to my wife, so I went to one of the local bookshops that had plenty of books, with a couple of sections in English.
It had many of the Penguins there as well as books on Sri Lanka which I bought with relish.
At this time of year, it continually rained, maybe three or four times a day. It was pleasant. Many had umbrellas, expecting the downpour, I in turn, zig-zagged between cafes and other shops to avoid the raindrops, but in the end couldn't avoid the literal splash.
Minutes later, for a good downpour never lasts more than 10 to 15 minutes at most, I was sitting in front of the lake just gazing at the surroundings and the passersby while the what's left of the sun went down.
Kandy is the cultural capital of Sri Lanka, the majority of whose population are Buddhists yet Muslims form 10 percent of the people, and there are Christians as well, with religious freedom being practiced across the island that is just 31 kilometers from India's tip in the south.
That day in Kandy was a Friday, three of us found a local mosque, I think the main because it was large and performed the mid-day Salat. Throughout the country mosques are not only recognized by their dome, but the fact they are in green.
It was refreshing to have performed the Friday pray, and made our way on after. Touring the country, and judging from the previous two or three days, it had become a constant thrill, with our cameras at the ready to picture the stream of views our eyes feasted on.
The country was something out of this world, a stupendous journey that had all the powers of healing and in one case shown a hospital that treats people through natural herbs.
We were shown the importance of herbal healing as alternative medicine and in one farm, one of the owners explained its popularity not only among locals, but with people from afar like in Europe and the United States.
The healing was well in the eyes. In the Mahaweli Reach Hotel, we were shown that hospitality was a top Sri Lankan brand through its staff, workers and managers and through names like Ridma, Kandyan and Deepika who hosted us wearing their beautiful, blue, yellow and red saris. Michelle, the public relations manager, showed us the presidential suit at very competitive prices.
After intense staring at the structure of the hotel, we headed to the beautiful, charming Nuwara Elya, a town high up in the mountains were it was once a British citadel of relaxation, but now a touristic resort of high caliber through its Grand Hotel and the flats and villas that surround it for visitors.
On the road to the town the weather dramatically changed from the hot and humid kind to the cool almost wintry type, we passed the ever mesmerizing tea estates, one of the country's largest exports, and shown around in one of its factories which we were told produces 600 tons annually and got to drink best Ceylon tea in one of its charming tea rooms. This was one of 300 estates owned by the government in cooperation with the private sector.
One of my colleagues accompanying me had a field day and purchased till his heart's content. Like the country, he told me, tea runs in his veins.
Nuwara Elya was the apex of the tour, the crowning of the icing as we passed through endless and endless waterfalls, magnificent in their streams and bubbling in their prowess as the water gushed limitlessly and with force.
I was dazzled, amazed, surprised, filled with nostalgia and a yearning to be in this gorgeous geography where Father Adam is said to have come down in a place—Adams Peak—just south west of Colombo.
The Grand Hotel is a piece of British history modeled on the Elizabethan era. It’s a charming house with red carpets that speak of tradition and environmental nuances and structures with lovely gardens.
It was partly raining, partly drizzling and partly cloudy. In this part of the world they grew sprouts, cabbages, carrots and beetroots to reflect a continuation of an era based on a specific cuisine. It was heart rending, heart-consuming, a place, an era, an area and country you would want to go on exploring jumping from one scenic picture to the next and one mural to the other.
The visitors, tourists, those who just wanted to look and wonder were there. They came from India, Europe and the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
Quite a number of whom were in the same hotels as we frequented which meant the tour operator had placed them in different accommodation for separate nights.
The last day we spent in Colombo, and slept at the plush Cinnamon Lake, that turned out to be a huge extravaganza of eateries and cafes clearly designed for one's comfort.
The hotel, as well caters for business guests and corporate executives, ones who may like to hold businesses conferences and events while indulging in touring bits and parts of the country.
Sri Lanka is a place for anyone to enjoy, devour, and have a peace of mind. Sitting at the airport to take a Sri Lankan Airlines flight back to Riyadh, my mind continued to flash back to Sigiriya, to the tea estates and the waterfalls. I wanted to return back.
Our seven-day media trip was from 29 June till 5 July and organized by the Sri Lanka Tourism Board and SriLankan Airlines. From Riyadh to Colombo, its approximately five hours flying time.