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As my father and I biked along a quiet path through a national preserve outside of Kandy, Sri Lanka, we saw a local man quickly stop his motorbike and gaze across the lake. As we approached, he greeted us with an enthusiastic smile and one word: “Elephant!”
Sure enough, along the shore we saw a wild elephant bathing itself. It was so special to see the animal at this distance, going about its daily routine and completely oblivious to our presence.
This chance encounter was made possible thanks to the expert planning of our tour operator, Grasshopper Adventures. The company employs local guides to find the best bike routes and takes into account route difficulty, traffic, destination and, of course, the most spectacular views. In our case, this carefully planned route — called Kingdoms of Lanka Self-Guided — allowed my dad and I to follow the country's cultural triangle (a region in central Sri Lanka that comprises Kandy, Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura and has a high number of ancient and sacred sites and cities).
With itineraries in 14 Asian countries, Grasshopper is a well-known and respected tour operator in its region, and it has connections with some agents in the U.K. and is eager to begin building relationships with U.S. travel agents.
Grasshopper’s self-guided tour was the perfect option for us, an adventurous father-daughter duo with a desire to stay off the more traveled tourist routes. However, most adventurers choose the operator’s guided tours, which are led by enthusiastic and knowledgeable local guides and capped at small groups of only 14 people. The company offers both day tours and multiday tours.
Our seven-day tour offered the best of both worlds: We felt independent and free to explore the country of Sri Lanka on our own, but we also enjoyed the ease and security of traveling with a tour operator. Our bags were transported to our new hotel each day, and we felt reassured that we could hop in a guide’s van if our legs ever needed a break.
On the third consecutive day of riding, we were especially grateful for our support van. After a delicious Sri Lankan breakfast of curry and fresh mango — gifted to us by a family we met on our ride the previous day — we set out to explore the ancient ruins of Polonnaruwa.
Known as the second capital of Sri Lanka, Polonnaruwa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates to the 10th century. We found that the best way to see this sprawling city is by bike, which makes it easy to hop off and get a closer look at the remarkably well-preserved temples, shrines and palaces.
We were so entranced by the ruins that we lost track of time. When we finally turned on our cycling computer (a small, waterproof GPS that attaches to the handlebar via a mount and is programmed with route information) and were ready to begin our ride, it was already mid-afternoon. With 50 miles of biking ahead of us, we knew we wouldn’t be able to ride the whole way before dark. Using the local phone that Grasshopper provided us, we contacted our driver, Manoj, to request an evening pickup. We stopped when the sky began to darken, and we made small conversation with a local man running a roadside stand until our van arrived and we enjoyed an air-conditioned drive to our next hotel.
After the long, hot day, the sight of Aliya Resort & Spa seemed like an oasis. We were almost able to forget our aching legs as we reached the top of the steps to the lobby, an open-air space with an inviting mixture of high ceilings, stone and greenery. From the lobby, we could see the grand infinity pool, dotted with twinkling lights that mimicked the Milky Way shining brightly overhead. We had just enough energy left to go for a swim to stretch out our muscles, enjoy a beverage at the bar, and fill up on Sri Lankan curry before collapsing into our beds.
Note: In addition to guided and self-guided bike tours, Grasshopper also offers bike and boat tours, where cyclists and non-cycling travelers alike can visit the same destinations catered to their individual travel styles. The group can choose from a biking and non-biking itinerary each day, with non-cycling options such as walking tours. The two groups then come together for every meal, where they can share their unique experiences with one another.
The DetailsGrasshopper Adventureswww.grasshopperadventures.com