Land of Serendipity

California travel agent chronicles her three-day, whirlwind trip to Sri Lanka

By: Jackie Williams

SRI LANKA In April, three colleagues and I visited the beautiful island of Sri Lanka after attending the PATA conference in New Delhi, India.

Arriving in Colombo a little before 4 a.m, we were whisked to our hotel, the Lanka Oberoi, for a few hours of sleep before we headed out. The hotel is a huge, five-star property with all the modern amenities needed for a luxurious and comfortable stay. It overlooks the Indian Ocean on one side and Colombo’s only lake on the other, yet it’s just a few minutes from the heart of the city.

Our first stop was the 2,500-year-old Kelaniye Buddhist Temple, in which beautiful mural paintings have survived. Families bringing picnic lunches to the grounds of the temple and spend the day. Many of them were friendly, and some even approached and touched me.

We later stopped for lunch at the historic Galle Face Hotel, established in 1864 and dripping with historic charm. The only oceanfront hotel in Colombo, it offers guests a saltwater swimming pool as well as a beach. It is a low-rise Victorian building, with affordable rooms and meals.

From the Galle Face we did what good shoppers must do in Sri Lanka: visit jewelry shops, for it is truly a treasure trove of rubies, sapphires, garnets, amethysts and topaz.

The next morning, we traveled through villages and past stands on the road selling pineapples, coconuts and cashews growing nearby. The backdrop: Rice paddies with water buffaloes wading through them, and palm trees and thatch-roofed huts reminiscent of the South Pacific islands.

We stopped to visit and climb Sigiriya (The Lion Rock), a rock fortress built in the 5th century. This legendary palace in the sky rises 600 feet above the jungle, surrounded by pleasure gardens at ground level. We made our way up the rock, using steps carved into the terrain and eventually found 19 of the 500 frescoes originally painted at the site.

Kandy Land

We had lunch at The Sigiriya Village Hotel and watched the monkeys come down from the trees and try to steal food from the tables. Later, we left for Kandy, the last capital of the Sinhala kings and a tribute to the country’s past. As we got closer to Kandy, we stopped at one herb garden and received Ayurweda massages. This is an ancient form of therapy that consists of massaging the entire body with medicinal oils made from herbs, spices and essential oils.

In the highland capital of Kandy we stayed at the Mahaweli Reach Hotel, near the Mahaweli Reach River, where river cruises and fishing can be arranged.

Kandy’s Buddhist Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic reflects its importance in beautiful paintings illustrating the story of the tooth. Near the temple, shops and stands sell leather and batiks from the area.

Elephant Orphanage

We arrived at the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage in Kegalle as the babies were being given their bottles. The herd consists of about 60 elephants, many found abandoned in the wild. Others have been found diseased, wounded or displaced by developmental projects.

The elephants roam freely during the day and are rounded up for feeding and daily bathing. We watched them run down the path to the water. I recommend to anyone that they visit Sri Lanka, but don’t try to do it in just three days.

For more information, contact Varini de Silva of Ceylon Express International. She is the expert.

Call 714-964-6896. Web site: www.ceylon

For general information on Sri Lanka, visit www.sri or call the Ceylon Tourist Board’s U.S. office at 732-516-9800.

Jackie Williams is an agent with Creative Destinations of Anaheim, Calif.