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Amazing places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays travel: ALL ABOARD! | Travelsquare

Updated on January 8, 2016
Sri Lanka holidays 2015 Viceroy Special train at Fort Railway Station
Sri Lanka holidays 2015 Viceroy Special train at Fort Railway Station

OF ALL THE SPLENDID legacies the retreating Raj left behind in Sri Lanka, the old 1927 Darlington-built steam engine, the Sir Thomas Maitland, which now powers the Viceroy Special through 900 kilometers of some of the world's most photogenic rail networks, must surely be among the finest, where you can experience beautiful places in Sri Lanka to visit.

Travel holidays in Sri Lanka: Fort Railway Station
Travel holidays in Sri Lanka: Fort Railway Station

When you see the Viceroy Special at the Fort Railway Station, you feel as if you have come upon a period movie set. It's all a bit unreal: the ancient station, pure Victorian; the gleaming red and blue engine with three matching car­riages, looking as handsome as the day they rolled out of Stephenson. Haw­thorne's locomotive works in Darling­ton, England; and most of all, Anthony "Gun Powder" Selliah, the engine driver, with his dense moustache, im­maculate white tunic with epaulets, starched shorts, knee-length stockings, black-framed sunglasses and peaked cap, and whose face creases as he offers us a wide grin of welcome.

In fact, it was a movie, Mountbatten — The Last Viceroy, filmed in Sri Lanka, that gave birth to the idea of the Viceroy Special. It is indeed fitting that the man behind the restoration of this grand train is a Briton, for it was the British who laid Sri Lanka's rail network and operated the railway, primarily to move their upcountry tea harvests to the Port of Colombo.

Clifford Jones, a rail buff from Man­chester and son of an engine driver, saw an engine being prepared for the movie and convinced government authorities that there was tremendous tourist po­tential if they operated steam trains round the island. Jones got the green light and worked closely with the Government Railway, advising on the restoration of three engines and the design of two coaches.

Sri Lanka holidays Viceroy Special train travel
Sri Lanka holidays Viceroy Special train travel

After an absence of almost 20 years, the magnificent steam engines, affectionately dubbed "Yakada Yaka" ("Iron Monster"), are back on track again. The government was so pleased with the outcome that a Viceroy Special stamp was issued.

The moment we boarded the Viceroy Special, we immediately stepped back in time. Old-world grace and splendor surrounded us. The fully air-conditioned, 48-seat train is elegantly furnished in period style with satinwood decor, adjustable armchair seats and expandable tables to support snacks and cocktails, and featuring gracious staff in spotless white, who will expertly mix a perfect gin and tonic even as the train jolts from side to side. This is the best way you can travel places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays trip.

Tony Selliah is all arms as if conducting an orchestra. He gives crisp commands to the new engine driver, his understudy. The firemen furiously shovel coals (from Newcastle!) to fuel the engine. They will spend four hours building the steam. With a great shudder and an imperious hoot, the Viceroy Special chugs out of the Fort Station into the heartland of Sri Lanka. A railway odyssey — arguably one of the world's classic journeys — has begun.

Holidays in Sri Lanka, leisurely pace (average speed 58 kilometers, top speed 64 kilometers) affords ample time to take in the vivid and exotic panorama that unfolds outside the observation car windows.

Travel holidays to Sri Lanka Colombo City
Travel holidays to Sri Lanka Colombo City

Next places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays travel, a few kilometers out of the Colombo city limits, the island's lush tropical landscape begins: green paddy fields where farmers in loincloths work buffaloes the way their forefathers did time out of mind; coconut palms, every part of which is used by the islanders in some form or another; banana groves heavy with fruit; mangoes ripe for picking; breadfruit trees. The predominant color of the landscape is a vivid green. The earth is rich and fertile, generous with its bounty.

Walking along the track are schoolchildren, offering up infectious smiles, large and twinkling eyes, spontaneous waves. They trot alongside to keep up with the train, trailing behind calling "bye-bye" until the train takes a bend and we're out of sight.

Further up the track are level crossings with no gates, at which rice-laden bullock carts, rickshaws and sleek new Japanese vehicles wait for the train to pass.

The train gets hungry every 80 kilo­metres or so, thus there are frequent stops along the way at quaint stations: Ambepussa, originally the first and last station; Kurunegala, with its rather musty first-class waiting room (one each for ladies and gents); Maho junc­tion, where all the country's main lines converge and where the entire railway system once came to a standstill when the signalman could not go to work because a leopard was terrorizing his village; and Peradeniya, which played a dual role as Delhi and Calcutta in The Last Viceroy. On to Nanu Oya, which, at nearly 2,000 metres above sea level, can get pretty chilly; and Aukana, which'reminds one of a ghost town in the Wild West.

Travel Holidays Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura
Travel Holidays Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura

Coming to places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays travel, we broke journey for two days in Anuradhapura, the first capital city of Lanka during the reign of King Panduk­habaya in 380 BC.

According to legend, Anuradhapura was settled by Anuradha, a comrade of Prince Vijaya, who founded the Sinhala race. It became a highly organized urban principality under King Pandukhabaya. For example, his engineers dug out a swampy lake bed and built the dam of the Abhaya reservoir (now known as Baswak Kulam), which stored the flood waters of the monsoon rains and pro­vided a constant water supply to the capital and surrounding fields.

The walled city was a model of plan­ning. It had hospitals, hostels, Buddhist shrines, a Jain chapel, a public cemetery, pleasure gardens. The king's public works department employed some 500 street sweepers and 200 sewage workers.

Among places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays travel, Anuradhapura is also the home of the sacred bo tree, whose sapling came from a cutting of the bo tree under which the Lord Buddha found Enlightenment. There it has been nurtured, preserved, cherished and venerated for 2200 years. It is considered to be the oldest authen­ticated tree in the world.

Also to be seen in Anuradhapura is Ruwan Weli Seya, the great 60-metre­high, bubble-shaped stupa. This holy structure truly inspires awe, as does the mammoth Jetavana Ramaya built by King Mahasena in the third century, which was one of the three largest build­ings at the time. At some 36 metres, it was larger than any of the buildings in the contemporary Roman Empire and was surpassed only by the Egyptian pyramids.

Sri Lanka holidays reviews, travel to JetavanaRamaya
Sri Lanka holidays reviews, travel to JetavanaRamaya

Sri Lanka tour holidays, going to the Royal Pleasure Gardens, you will see the stone sculpture known as the Lovers, still vibrantly sensual after 1,000 years.

Anuradhapura continued as the capi­tal city for 600 years. But internecine struggles for the royal succession grew. This, coupled with increasing Dravidian onslaughts, compelled later kings to abandon the city.

From Anuradhapura, we board the train, bound for Habarana. Holidays Sri Lanka travel en route, we make a brief stopover to visit the colossal Buddha statue at Aukana . The carving is so refined that it would seem the Buddha's raiments are made of silk rather than the solid granite from which they are hewn.

Medieval city Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka tour holidays travel
Medieval city Polonnaruwa Sri Lanka tour holidays travel

Polonnaruwa one of the places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays travel, the island's splendid medieval city, is the next stop on the itinerary and Sri Lanka holidays reviews on this tourist attraction makes you to explore the site. It was established as the capital city in the 11th century. The city reached a brief but dazzling zenith in the 12th century, then, like Anurad­hapura, was ravaged by invaders and abandoned.

One of the most striking features of Polonnaruwa is the vast Parakrama Samudra (the Sea of Parakrama), span­ning 2,400 hectares. It is a man-made reservoir built by one of the great figures of Sri Lankan history, Parakramabahu, the Great, who fought his way to the throne. Close by are the ruins of the kin& council chamber on whose pillars are Ascribed the names and titles of various officials of the kingdom. A better location for a council chamber, with the breeze blowing across the lake, could not be found.

Through neglect and the turmoils of invasions and civil wars, much of the complex irrigation system fell into dis­use. Parakramabahu not only restored the system but also improved and ex­panded it. He also undertook other large-scale construction. His palace must have been an imposing edifice, richly decorated and seven storeys high. The remaining walls are of extraordi­nary thickness. The handsome royal bath and the royal pavilion (decorated with carved lions), graceful pillars and a moonstone (stepping stone with intri­cate carving) are in a remarkable state of preservation.

Places to visit in Sri Lanka Sigiriya rock
Places to visit in Sri Lanka Sigiriya rock
Places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays, Sigiriya arts
Places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays, Sigiriya arts

Overnight at Habarana and then on to Sigiriya one of the best places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays travel — the citadel in the sky. It was built by Kashyapa (477-95 AD), the patricidal king with an artist's soul. His fantasy palace atop a gigantic rock that looms out of a plain was modelled on the mythical abode of Kuvera, God of Wealth. The entrance was through the gaping jaws of a crouching lion. Part of the stairway and the enormous paws are still visible.

Brave your vertigo and climb the 600 feet to the summit, and you will be rewarded with the view of the solitary plains stretching to the horizon and the aerial view of the Versailles-style garden below. In a sheltered pocket on the western face of the rock are the famous frescoes of the Sigiriya maidens that have enchanted men and made women jealous for 1500 years. On a highly polished plaster wall shielding the path­way to the summit known as the Mirror Wall is the most attracted among places to visit in sri lanka holidays (so named because even after 15 centuries of exposure, one can 'still see one's reflection in it) are the Sigiriya grafitti — spontaneous outpourings of emotion from visitors who, down through the centuries, have been mes­merized by the beauties adorning the wall & Some say the figures represent Kashyapa's harem, while others claim they are divine. Perhaps only Kasyapa knows the true identity of these volup­tuous and ethereal ladies.

On the summit, nearly one and a half hectares broad, are the ruins of the palace, Kashyapa's throne and bathing pools with rainwater — an ideal place to cool your feet. In its heyday, Sigiriya must surely have been one of the world's most beautiful cities.

Places to visit in Kandy Sri Lanka, temple of tooth relic
Places to visit in Kandy Sri Lanka, temple of tooth relic

In the list of top places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays travel, leaving the flatlands you approach the magnificent mountain country of Kandy, nestling like a jewel in a picturesque valley 488 meters above sea lewd and girdled by the island's longest river, the Mahaweli.

Kandy is a focal point of Sri Lankan culture. It is an unmistakably Oriental ay, with teeming marketplaces filled with hawkers selling all manner of wants_ It is a city of scintillating sights, mends and smells.

Looking for places to visit in Kandy Sri Lanka, the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) is one of the most striking features of Kandy. It is also one of the mast photographed buildings in the world_ It houses the Tooth Relic of the Buddha, and ancient rituals accompanied by drumming, chanting and flute Orin are enacted daily at the temple to venerate the Relic.

The original temple was built in 1592, and the Pathirippuwa, the octagonal addition, was built by the last king of Kandy, who addressed the people from this building.. For a short time, the British used it as a prison! Today it houses the temple's priceless Oriental library.

The cityscape is dominated by the Kandy Lake, which was called Kiri Muhuda, or Milky Sea. The island in the center is said to have housed the king's pleasure resort.

Kandy is an exciting place for shopping. The city is home to exceptional hand-made souvenirs and ornaments in wood, copper, brass, ebony, bronze, ceramic, lacquer-ware, hand-looms, batiks, rush- and reed-ware and also jewelry. You can watch skilled Kan­dyan craftsmen at work at the Kandyan Arts Association. Their creations are on sale here and at Laksala, the government handicraft shop.

Best places to visit in Sri Lanka, elephants bath
Best places to visit in Sri Lanka, elephants bath

A few kilometers from Kandy, at Katugasthota, is the elephant bath is the most attracted by tourists in the places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays list, mime you can see tame elephants working and those who have finished for the day being bathed and scrubbed by their mahouts (who have realized their commercial value to photographers and now might demand a "posing fee").

Back on the train to places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays trip. If you happen to catch Anthony Selliah in a relaxed mood, he will tell you about the days when he learnt his trade under the British. By way of a teaser, you might comment on his genuinely amazing knack of remaining pristine at the throttle of a steam engine. Nary a smudge on his immaculate uniform. Then he will say, "I learnt to drive engines under a European driver, or a suddah, as we say. He also wore white, and .every morning he would take out a clean white handkerchief and wipe the smoke-box just once. If there was a mark, I would hear no end of it. He would blackguard me all day. He taught me well, bless his soul, that all the other drivers call me `Sudda.'"

Incidentally, Selliah is the only engine driver working for the Ceylon Government Railway who still wears white!

From Kandy, the Viceroy Special begins the serious climb to higher altitudes. The air becomes crisper, the terrain more rugged. Providing extra power on the hill is a Vulcan engine, built at Newton Le Willows in 1922.

On the way up to holidays to Sri Lanka Nuwara Eliya, the train passes through incredibly beautiful panoramas, green carpeted hills, cascading waterfalls, pine forests and lakes.

Top places to visit in Sri Lanka Nuwara Eliya
Top places to visit in Sri Lanka Nuwara Eliya

One of the Beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays is Nuwara Eliya, its is like a British town planted amidst. Sri Lankan hills: Tudor and Georgian architecture, beautiful parks, one of the world's most scenic golf courses. Wrote Lord Northcliffe: "People who arrive here direct from home are very disappointed for they want to know where the tropics are and didn't expect they were coming to Scotland!"

Here at 6,000 feet the air is cool and fresh, sweet with the scent of cypresses, eucalyptus and wild mint. This is the region of the world-famous tea plantations. Visit one and you will see women clad in bright saris picking the tender leaves, throwing them over their shoulders into waiting baskets with practised dexterity, their hands blurred with the speed of the maneuver. You might also wish to visit a tea factory, where you will see the pi oduction process.

A night at the quaint Hill Club is also on the itinerary. By today's standards the Hill Club is charmingly eccentric. This was the `in" place during the time

British planters held sway in this region. At the "Men Only" bar, you can almost hear the echo of a slightly tipsy planter after a hard day's work, ordering another gin and tonic. The house rule still is for gentlemen to wear a tie in the dining room. There are log fires in the bedrooms, hot-water bottles in the beds and copies of the Daily Telegraph in the oak-panelled library. Upon the walls of the fine billiard room hang stag heads, wild boar heads and leopard heads —trophies of yesteryear.

Beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka upcountry
Beautiful places to visit in Sri Lanka upcountry
Beautiful places in Sri Lanka to visit, Mt Lavinia beach.
Beautiful places in Sri Lanka to visit, Mt Lavinia beach.

Down to Colombo, and three days at the Mt Lavinia beach Hotel, 19 kilometers south of Aye city, to soak in the sun. Originally the residence of a British governor, the hotel was named after his Ceylonese mistress, Lavinia. Earl Mountbatten, then supreme Allied commander for Southeast Asia, spent much time here.

The hotel's rooftop terrace is a marvelous place to end your journey, sipping an arrack cocktail while watching the sun sink over the horizon, the light playing upon the western sky like a Rembrandt painting.


  • Light cotton cloths of the drip-dry variety are the name comfortable year-round attire, and a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses are recommended. Pull-­overs will be necessary is the hill country, especially is the analogs. Easily removable shoes wish Bat heels are essential for when travelling for places to visit in Sri Lanka holidays . Please be suitably dad when entering places of worship. In addition, you will be asked to rearm hat and shoes.
  • All meals are added throughout the tour. In the heels, there will be a choice of Western amid Sri Lankan cuisine. Sri Lanka cooking is spicy and exciting, with rice and curry as the standard faze. There is an immense variety of tropical fruits and vegetables, and Sri Lanka, of course, grows the finest tea in all the world.
  • Wine and spirits are extra. We suggest that you try the local favorite, Arrack, which makes a pleasant cocktail when mixed with anything from soda to mango juice.

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