Sri Lanka Of Teas & Temples

Bloomberg Logo | Big Five ToursExplore the Cultural Triangle, home to the early Sinhalese civilization encompassing the great cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. See an amazing hidden archeological site of Kaludiya Pokuna. Set out on railway journeys to Jaffna and  through Sri Lanka’s hill country. Travel through the city of Jaffna by bicycle to Jaffna fort, to the Supramaniyam Park, past biggest church in Jaffna and the Buddhist dagopa, statue of last king of Jaffna Kingdom. Savor time at a luxurious tea plantation in Sri Lanka’s panoramic Ceylon tea region, bordering the UNESCO World Heritage Central Highlands.

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  • Discover the Cultural Triangle, home to the early Sinhalese civilization which encompassed the great cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa; and explore an amazing hidden archeological site – Kaludiya Pokuna, not found in most guide books
  • Savor two railway journeys: one to Jaffna, which only resumed service a year ago; and the other travels through Sri Lanka’s hill country, past lush tea plantations, hill villages, mountains covered in mist
  • Join Sri Lankans as you travel through of the city of Jaffna by bicycle to see the sights from the Jaffna fort, to the Supramaniyam Park, past biggest church in Jaffna, Buddhist dagopa, statue of last king of Jaffna Kingdom, arc of last kingdom’s palace and minister house
  • Savor time at a luxurious tea plantation in Sri Lanka’s panoramic Ceylon tea region, bordering the UNESCO World Heritage Central Highlands
  • Take in the old port city of Galle and its historic fort and welcoming people

Day 1: Colombo, Sri Lanka / Horathapola
Welcome to Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon! On arrival to Colombo, clear immigration and customs. Enter the arrival area where you will be met by your private chauffeur-guide and transferred to your hotel. Experience your first impressions of this amazing island. Emerson Tennet a traveler to Sri Lanka in the 1850’s wrote: There is no country in the world that has attracted the attention of authors in so many distant ages and of so many different countries as Ceylon…” It has indeed been written about by the classic Greeks and Romans as well as writers from China to India to Europe. Check in to the hotel, Horathapola Estate, which lies hidden within a vast green coconut belt that stretches up the west coast from Negombo to Puttalam and inland to Kurenegala.

About an hour and a half from Bandaranaike International Airport, your hotel rests in the seclusion of a well-manicured landscape with a main manor house, verandah, and an araliya tree in the garden that is more than 200 hundred years old. You might want to make yourself comfortable, order a gin tonic or a cup of Ceylon tea and soak in the the atmosphere of Sri Lanka in the 1920s that still lingers here. Take a refreshing swim, or treat yourself to a soak in the outdoor Jacuzzi. The 50-acre estate itself with its large agricultural expanse invites you to stroll through the coconut trees or among paddy fields. Alternatively, a member of the Horathapola staff can take you for a guided village walk. If you wish to explore the vicinity of this rural village, feel free to ask for a bicycle from the staff. For those interested in local foods, you can also get involved preparing lunch or dinner to learn about local spices and methods of preparation. The Horathapola Estate, Horathapola – Standard

Day 2: Horathapola / Anuradhapura / Thirappane
This morning after sampling a local breakfast, proceed to the Cultural Triangle. home to the early Sinhalese civilization which encompassed the great cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. The grandiose monuments still serve as potent reminders of the golden age of Sinhalese civilization. At the spiritual heart of the triangle lies the ruined city of Anuradhapura, capital of the island from the third century BCE to 993 CE.

There are not many places in the world that can claim to have been continuously inhabited for over two millennia. Anuradhapura is one of them. The seat of power in Sri Lanka until constant invasions forced a move to Polannaruwa further south. This an ancient archeological site is also a place of pilgrimage. Take time to wonder around, find a quiet spot to reflect on the passage of time and humanity. The area is dotted with  monasteries, elaborate palaces, enormous tanks and a trio of monumental dagobas, excelled in scale in the ancient world only by the Egyptian pyramids.  The Sri Maha Bodhi at Anurdharapura is thought to have been brought to the island by Sangamitta, the daughter of the emperor Asoka, sometime around the third century BCE. According to tradition, it came from the Bodh Gaya tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment. At the time when Anurdharapura was abandoned in search of a new capital further south a group of monks stayed behind to protect the tree, especially from elephants looking to feast on its young leaves. People have journeyed here for 2,000 years. It is the oldest recorded living tree on earth. Today it is still a place of veneration as it was back in the days of King Devanampiyatissa.

Explore an amazing hidden archeological site – Kaludiya Pokuna. While many people know about it, you won’t find it in guide books. A beautiful man-made lake is surrounded by big boulders and small archeological sites that date back 1,500 years. What is remarkable about here is that monks still live here on the upper slopes of the hill. Your guide can take you there but to really gain an understanding of the place, you need to honor the site by remaining quiet and removing your shoes. Be respectful of the monks, most of whom have taken a vow of silence and seldom interact with people. Take time to explore or sit on one of the rocks to soak in the beauty of this memorable place. Later proceed to your hotel. Ulagalla Resort – Ulagalla Chalet (B)

Day 3: Thirappane / Anuradhapura / Jaffna
Start early today with breakfast. You might want to try the Sri Lankan breakfast and order the string hopper, little spider-like dough circles with pol sambol, a coconut chilly garnish. Afterwards, you head to the Anuradhapura Railway Station to catch the wonderfully sounding Queen of Jaffna Express train. It only resumed service a year ago. Jaffna and the North of Sri Lanka have been cut off from the rest of the country and the world for three decades. Only now is veil finally lifting and Jaffna is eagerly waiting to welcome travelers once more. Board the train for a three-hour ride that travels across the barren landscape of the Vavuniya. Controlled by the Tamil Tigers, this area suffered from attacks from both the Sinhalese forces as well as the Tamils, leaving thousands of people displaced. Looking out the window at the dry landscape dotted with the occasional village is a somber remainder of the folly of all wars.

On arrival in Jaffna, you have time to relax and freshen up at the hotel, conveniently located in the town center. It is currently one of the few hotels in Jaffna. The city is just opening up again after years of isolation so the contrast with the south of Sri Lanka is striking. Savor lunch in a traditional Jaffna home, with the opportunity to exchange cultural ideas that help you understand the lifestyle of an ordinary family. Our local Tamil guide will be there to assist, translate and provide details. At the beginning, a special “kool” (traditional soup) will be served. Ingredients are palmyrah root flour, water, crabs, prawns, cuttlefish, fish, dry fish, long bean, ash plant, eggplant, gram, dry chilly, saffron, pepper, garlic, tamarind, coconut scraps, drumstick leaves and salt. For the main course “Pittu” (made out of rice flour and coconut scrap) is served with crab curry, fried prawns, cuttlefish, mashed omelets mixed with dry fish, dhal curry with fish and plain gravy this is a true Jaffna feast. Mangoes and jack fruits can be available during the season, with papaya and Jaffna’s special bananas at other times. Vegetarian options are also available upon request.

After lunch, you join everyday Sri Lankans, most of whom get around Jaffna on bikes. On your own black bicycle, you travel through around most of the city of Jaffna. It is home to many historical sites such as the popular Jaffna library that was burnt down and rebuilt and the Jaffna fort rebuilt during the Dutch colonial period. See the Supramaniyam Park, Old Park, coastal villages, the biggest church in Jaffna, Buddhist dagopa, statue of last king of Jaffna Kingdom, arc of last kingdom’s palace and minister house. After an action packed day, time to head back to the hotel and enjoy a well-deserved rest. Jetwing Jaffna – Deluxe Room (B,L)

Day 4: Jaffna
Continue your discovery this morning with Nallur Temple. A traditional shalve or veddi will be provided for you to wear to enter the temple. You learn about the temple’s history and importance as well as the basic principles of worshipping at a Hindu temple. You can also delve into Jaffna’s culture, and explore the similarities and differences of the local South Indian culture, the aftermath of war, and the effects that the flow of people in and out of the region has had.

Later, you take in Karainagar Kasurina Beach, Kayts jetty, Hanuman Temple, Kantharodai Buddhist miniature pagodas, deep well, Keerimalai Pond and Naguleswaram Temple. Lunch will be provided at a village home with fried cuttlefish, Jaffna prawn curry, toasted crab, fish masala, mashed brinjal, drumstick curry, and fish gravy. Meals will be served on banana leaf in traditional Jaffna style. Vegetarian options are also available upon request.  The rest of the afternoon is free to relax at the quiet Casuarina Beach. If in season, try the fruit of the Palmyra tree, a unique combination of coconut and jelly. Jetwing Jaffna – Deluxe Room (B,L)

Day 5: Jaffna – Delft Island – Jaffna
Delft Island is small and lined with walls of coral. It has no cars, but does have feral horses left by the Portuguese over 400 years ago. There are the ruins of a fort and some great beaches. Your driver will take you to Kurikadduvan jetty to board a local ferry to the island. During the one-hour boat trip, your Tamil guide talk to you about the Jaffna Islands, the lifestyle today, wartime recollections and something about Hindu lore. On arrival to the island, a special vehicle will be waiting to show you the wild horses, the huge baobab tree, the Dutch fort, and more. A special lunch of Jaffna rice, fish curry, fish fry, fish gravy, two or three vegetable curries with pappadam, and neem tree flower fry will be served. Fruits such as mangoes, papaya and banana will be offered, depending on the season. In the late afternoon, head back in the boat to Jaffna and relax at your hotel. Jetwing Jaffna – Deluxe Room (B,L)

Day 6: Jaffna / Ritigala / Sigiriya
After breakfast, check-out and proceed towards the cultural triangle. Explore the Ritigala Archeological Monastery. Think Indiana Jones, Ritigala, about a 4.5-hour drive, has that feel of undiscovered a world away from the more famous sights in Sri Lanka. Discover the complex in depth and walk all the way to the higher levels. This archeological site bears a certain mysterious nature owing to the long meditational pathways that open into the thick jungle and large stone-lined reservoirs. Take time to sit down and connect with nature inside this ancient sacred meditation grounds. Later, proceed to your hotel, about an hour’s drive away in Sigiriya, and spend the evening at leisure. Jetwing Vil Uyana – Paddy Pavilion (B) 

Day 7: Sigiriya
This morning visit the magnificent Rock Fortress of Sigiriya, also known as Lion Rock. This is a rare jewel among the many treasures in Sri Lanka. It was the domain of King Kashyapa, whose aim was to build an impregnable fortress and within it, a heavenly abode. Rising over the dry plains of the Sigiriya District, the fortress is reached by a tough climb up 1,200 footsteps to the flat-topped rock. Once on top, enjoy the scenic views of the emerald plains and leafy villages beneath. The skeletal layout of the ancient city within the fortress is impressive in its grandeur and the complexity of the 5th century urban-planning of Sri Lanka. On the way to the top, you see the famous Sigiriya frescoes of the maidens bearing flowers amid the wilderness and ancient ruins. Nearby, the smoothly glazed ‘Mirror Wall’ was coated with a smooth glaze upon which visitors felt impelled to note their impressions of the women in the gallery above, so says local legend. The graffiti was inscribed between the 6th and 14th centuries.

Later in the evening, visit Pidurangala, a massive rock formation a few kilometers north of Sigiriya Rock Fortress. You can climb the rock but the hike takes about one hour, depending on fitness, and the last part is a bit tricky over rocks but it can be done with care. It is worth it once you reach the top and are rewarded with views of a green carpet of forest punctuated with Sigiriya Rock in the distance. Breathe in the fresh air on the top of a magical place. Jetwing Vil Uyana – Paddy Pavilion (B)

Day 8: Sigiriya / Kandy
After breakfast, proceed to Kandy, the last stronghold of the Sinhalese Kings. It is about a 2.5-hour drive. Kandy belongs to the fabric of legends. While Sri Lanka was under Portuguese and Dutch rule, the kings of Kandy remained defiant and independent. It was much later, during the British rule that Kandy finally fell. Today, it is a big city that retains touches of its colonial history in buildings such as the Queen’s Hotel, a 19th century neoclassical beauty. Wander around the lake and the streets of Kandy to gain a feel for this wonderful city and explore the local markets. Later, visit the famous Temple of Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa), which houses a sacred relic – one of the Buddha’s teeth – making the city one of the most sacred places for Buddhists. It is a site of pilgrimage, with worshipers bearing offerings of coconuts, flowers and fruits. The Kandy House – Deluxe Room (B)

Day 9: Kandy
Imagine a quaint Buddhist temple located on a small hill with a beautifully painted cave and a serene sleeping Buddha. This is an ideal spot to begin your Kandy heritage cycling excursion. In true Sri Lankan style, you ride the same bicycles as the locals – grandma-style with no gears, old school cycling. The route has a couple of moderate hills, but should not present a problem for most riders. Travel the small lanes and back roads to discover the heritage of Kandy through its people, who carry on the traditions of the Kandyan Kingdom: from the keeper of a Buddhist temple, to a lady selling coconuts. Is a bit like stepping back into a gentler time to an era where things moved at a slower pace. Along the way, you visit some cottage industries from a wood carver to a small foundry. The Kandy House – Deluxe Room (B)

Day 10: Kandy / Hatton
Today, you will experience the most magical train journey through Sri Lanka’s hill country, past lush tea plantations, hill villages, mountains covered in mist and smiling people. You will have both first class and second class tickets. You may want to try out the second class journey where you may get to mingle with the locals rather than the more touristic first class carriage – either way, it is an enchanting journey. The chauffeur guide will pick you up with your luggage at the Hatton Railway Station, and transfer you to Ceylon Tea Trails, the first tea bungalow resort, perched at an altitude above 1,250 meters/4,100 feet in Sri Lanka’s panoramic Ceylon tea region, bordering the UNESCO World Heritage Central Highlands.

There are five separate and unique bungalows, each with four to six rooms or suites. Norwood Bungalow commands a fine view of the eastern end of the Bogawantalawa Valley and was originally built in 1890, rebuilt in 1950 and rests at an altitude 4300 ft. Tientsin Bungalow was named after the Chinese village from which the original tea seedlings came, and is a historic landmark. ‘High Colonial’ is the perfect way to describe Tientsin, built in 1888. Lakeside Castlereagh Bungalow offers views across the lake and boasts an eclectic style of its own. It dates to 1925. Summerville Bungalow sits high above the lake at the edge of a tea plantation, with magnificent views of the water and beyond to tea planted mountains in the distance. Dunkeld Bungalow is the newest addition to the Ceylon Tea Trails family. Dunkeld offers a panoramic view of the lake, and was built in 1925. Poised high above Castlereagh Lake, the bungalow looks down on the verdant tea fields of Dunkeld estate and the tea factory, with spectacular views of the Great Western mountain range. The bungalows are poised at slightly different elevations. In this breathtaking setting, you can learn about the history of tea plantations and tea production, hike pristine trails, grab a mountain bike and head out, go whitewater rafting, or opt for a game of tennis or crocket in an unmatched setting. Finish your day with an in-room spa treatment that includes options for the Tea Trails signature massage, deep tissue massage and reflex zone therapy. Ceylon Tea Trails – Luxury Room (B,L,D)

Day 11: Hatton & Dickoya
Dickoya forms Hatton-Dickoya urban council with nearby Hatton. Your day starts with the tradition of Bed Tea served by your butler, who will also draw your bath. Your chef suggest meals based on fresh produce and home grown vegetables and herbs. Guests can indulge in a variety of dishes from western fare to traditional Sri Lankan classics and tea inspired dishes. Spend the morning discovering how Ceylon tea is made and learn the art of becoming a discerning tea taster. Take a walk out to the tea plantations, watch the local women in their daily routing of tea plucking.

The history of tea and Sri Lanka are closely intertwined, and it is on the hills of Hatton where the traditions of tea planting are still alive. The plantations around Tea Trails are fully functional as they were in the late 1800s when the first Scottish planters came to invest in the country.

Interestingly during the Dutch period, Sri Lanka produced mostly coffee. But the coffee plantations suffered from a plague so there was a need for a new cash crop so the British introduced tea. Most of the workforce still is Tamil women who live a hard life. Conditions have improved dramatically since the 19th century but it is still a back breaking job. While at Tea Trails, walk on the paths, meet the local people working there, and strike up a conversation. This is a world of its own – self-contained plantation with schools, factories and villages.  It feels like a window into the past, even though it is still very much their present. For better or worse, it is part of the history of Sri Lanka as well as its present and future. Visit the nearby Warleigh Church, built in 1878 by early British planters, or savor a picnic at one of the many magical picnic spots along the way. Ceylon Tea Trails – Luxury Room (B,L,D)

Day 12: Dickoya / Galle
This morning, you will be met by your chauffeur guide and transferred to the coast to take a sea plane flight to Galle, where you explore its historic fort. Imagine cobbled streets that have seen 400 hundred years of history from Arab merchants to the adventurous Portuguese and the industrious Dutch, with colonial homes complete with red-tiled roofs. Add to that an impressive rampart surrounding a small peninsula jutting out to the Indian Ocean and you begin to get an idea of the fort in Galle. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the fort is that it is a living monument. Families that have lived there for generations continue to inhabit the fortified streets. But life is beginning to change even here. Development of the tourist industry means that many families are choosing to sell their homes to make way for new boutique hotels. But, for now, you still see many of the traditions of generations. Aditya Resort – Shanti Suite (B)

Day 13: Galle
Spend the morning leisurely by the beach at Aditya Resort. Later in the afternoon, discover the faces of Galle. The port city of Galle in Southern Sri Lanka is one of the must-see sites on the island. The walls that enclose the fort have kept the inner city intact from years of turmoil and conquest. Galle is a synthesis of the history of Sri Lanka. In a way, the walls have also kept the city protected from the outside, creating a unique atmosphere of a place lost in time.

Muslim gem traders, Portuguese adventurers, Dutch privateers, and English settlers have all made Galle their home at some point. With cute shops, restored colonial mansions, and an up and coming food scene, the city has a modern vibe too. But beyond that, Galle’s people are the repository of hundreds of years of living history. Take the time to sample tea with a gentleman who pours a magical cup; enjoy a chat with a passionate local amateur historian; or buy some samosas from a smiling lad on a bicycle cart. The city reveals itself in its full depth once you open to its true treasures, its people.

After the walk around the fort, it is time to eat. What a better way to finish the evening that in the company of friends and with a home cooked meal fit for the king of Kandy. Mom Washanti makes some of the tastiest curries in this part of Sri Lanka, and her food is above anything else you will find in a restaurant. Dad Sam used to be a cabbie in New York and he has stories he loves to to tell. There is also Mira, the Labrador, and Poosea, the cat. Maybe it is the family atmosphere or the fragrant spices or the casual conversation, by the time you leave the house, you will feel like family. Aditya Resort – Shanti Suite (B)

Day 14: Galle / Depart
Today you will transfer to the airport for your flight home which connects through Colombo. (B) 

Land price, per person, double occupancy: Price starts from US$750 per person per day.


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