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Category: Sri Lanka

Wildlife Spotting At Yala National Park

After reading an article in Action Asia and missing the sight of a leopard during our South African safari, Yala National Park was a must as encounters with the agile…

After reading an article in Action Asia and missing the sight of a leopard during our South African safari, Yala National Park was a must as encounters with the agile spotted cat is almost guarantee (as safari guide claims). Descending from chilly Nuwara Eliya snaking down mountain slopes and onto wide open roads, the trip to Tissamaharama, a small town 24kms from Yala, was smooth one. The weather gradually changed from cold and dry to hot, arid and humid. Yala reflected the weather in the deserts of Dubai leaving a knot of dryness in our throats and trickles of sweat on our skin.

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At Tissamaharama, we checked into our hotel, treated ourselves to a serve of rice and curry and curd for dessert. We retired early that night to reserve energy for a pre-dawn start to our safari experience. Yala National Park covers a vast area of 97,878 hectares mostly covered with dry vegetation of short thorny shrubs with patches of secondary forest interspersed between. The park is well known for it’s wildlife. Dubbed by Action Asia magazine as the “asian safari” spot, this national park is home to Asian Elephants, sambar deer, mongoose, water buffalos, sloth bear, crocodiles, pangolins and over 120 species of birds. The park’s coastline is a beautiful sight with historical significance and blocks of half torn buildings standing as a solemn memory of the 2004 tsunami.

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We hired a safari guide who brought us into the park in his jeep at about 530am to beat the growing queue of jeeps rushing to go in. The atmosphere was tense, guides waited to purchase permits to enter while guests wait patiently in respective jeeps. This was incredibly different from the South African safari experience we had in Kruger National Park. As soon as we got the permit, our guide rushed into the driver seat and drove rapidly pass the park gates.

“What was the rush?”, I thought. Eventually I found out that every visitor who enters the park has an unspoken expectation to see the elusive leopard. Guides who manage to ‘show’ their guests the leopard will be paid a higher tip. Our guide’s handphone rang, he picks up with a few words exchanged, we were sped off to an apparent sight where a leopard has been spotted. About 5-6 jeeps parked bumper-to-bumper and intrusive camera’s snapped away. To add to my annoyance, the engines of the jeeps were still puffing away while we ‘enjoyed nature’!

Disappointed at the lack of responsibility and respect these guides had for nature, I silently wished the leopard episode will soon come to a halt. As if the leopard heard my cry, she stood up and trotted away leaving the invasive crowd of human paparazzi.

Thank goodness the rest of the safari was conducted in a more respectable way. We cruised along quiet plains, stopped at water banks and simply observed nature – as is. We managed to catch a glimpse of a family of spotted deer lapping water in a bed of crocodile infested pond.

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We watched the solo elephant gallantly stroll pass swinging his clumsy trunk right and left. And we caught a peacock parading his fan in the bushes as we munched on our roti for breakfast. Yala is a pretty sight and the local guides need to learn how to respect it for what it has to offer, less nature and wildlife take a back seat.

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Nuwara Eliya – The Little England of Sri Lanka

While at Kandy we engaged a travel assistant named Pio Mendis who would be our driver / guide for the next 5 days. Traveling in Sri Lanka with a limited…

While at Kandy we engaged a travel assistant named Pio Mendis who would be our driver / guide for the next 5 days. Traveling in Sri Lanka with a limited time frame is best to be done with a guide who can take you from one place to another.

Pio, a jovial and ‘giant’ hearted man was a pleasure to travel with. We talked about everything under the sun, from politics to tradition to our families – Pio was a marketing manager in a manufacturing company who quit his job to help his brother-in-law in his travel business. Pio chimes, “I love my job, I get to meet new people, bring them around and show them my country. These people usually end up being my friends.”

Continuing our journey on an ascend, we climbed 2000m above sea level on tight two lanes roads avoiding potholes, oncoming traffic and the occasional villager who decides to walk halfway into the road. It was a long ride but we finally arrived and ready to sprint out of the van for a stretch. Surrounded by lush tea plantations and a breath of crisp cool air, the washed out sign saying “Welcome to Nuwara Eliya” beckoned us.

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Known as the “Little England” of Sri Lanka, this region is a haven for tea lovers. A pleasurable retreat with many old colonial style guest houses refurbished to treat the tasteful traveler. This is also the base for those who want to climb Horton Plains to catch a glimpse of the breathtaking panoramic view of World’s End – an abrupt end to a cliff that overlooks several mountain ranges. The latter was the main reason we decided to stay a night at Nuwara Eliya.

We checked into an unusual place to stay – a Catholic convent / kindergarden that has several rooms situation at the top of the convent block. Basic, simple and more importantly clean; we decided this was the place to stay as we were on a budget. The sisters were extremely friendly too attending to our every request for extra towels and a speedy repair for our shower heater.

Nuwara Eliya has a lot to offer tourists including visits tea plantations, horse riding, hiking, exploring the beauty of the landscaped gardens or simply retreating to a cup of aromatic warm tea. We visited to Heritance Tea Factory hotel about 45 mins from the town centre an old factory, restored and refurbished elegantly. Tucked away on a hill surrounded by tea plantations, this hotel is a sanctuary for those who opt just to relax and unwind. Since we just came from the Heritance Kandalama, we thought it would only be far to pay their ‘sister’ a visit. We were in awe at how much they managed to salvage keeping the main structures in place.

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Green Table-Clothed Gem In Sri Lanka

A backlog of travel tales. I’ve finally found some time to write, recollect memories and relish in the folders of vibrant photographic images that was captured during our one and…

A backlog of travel tales. I’ve finally found some time to write, recollect memories and relish in the folders of vibrant photographic images that was captured during our one and half week visit to Sri Lanka. And so the stories unfold…

All packed and set to leave, we bolted straight out of the door and into a speeding taxi bound for Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Mindful not to be late, we quickly zipped into the check-in lane only to find that our flight to Colombo has been delayed for 4 hours! Our measly compensation was two RM20 food voucher and a weak apologetic smile from the Malaysian Airlines staff. We quickly filled up the hours with reading, Facebooking and catching a few cat winks.

Arriving in Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport, we were surrounded by touts as soon as we exited the doors. Thankfully our hotel driver of Taj Airport Hotels quickly came to our rescue, whizzing us into his car and off to our hotel for a few hours of solid sleep. The next day holds and early start and a long journey to our planned destination.

Bandara our transport assistant from Heritance Kandalama greeted us with a charming smile. Tan skinned and cherubic looking, Bandara constantly has a smile plastered on his face. He excitedly unveiled Sri Lanka in words as we journeyed 4 hours from Colombo to Dambulla, on the north-west region of Sri Lanka.

One must be super skilled and alert to be driving on Sri Lankan roads. The two lane dirt covered roads has no distinct lines on it, cars weaved in and our overtaking one another while skillfully avoiding oncoming traffic. I held my breath for the first hour every time Bandara overtook a car, but soon realized I may end up with a headache for lack of oxygen if I continued… I relented and sat back to blissfully enjoy the every changing scenery of paddy fields, verdant mountains and buzzing villagers.

The bumpy journey came to end as we rolled into a small lane canopied by trees on the left and right. Anticipating a huge majestic hotel in the middle of the forest, we saw instead we saw a basic structure covered with green creepers folding over like a natural tablecloth.

All packed and set to leave, we bolted straight out of the door and into a speeding taxi bound for Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Mindful not to be late, we quickly zipped into the check-in lane only to find that our flight to Colombo has been delayed for 4 hours! Our measly compensation was two RM20 food voucher and a weak apologetic smile from the Malaysian Airlines staff. We quickly filled up the hours with reading, Facebooking and catching a few cat winks.

Arriving in Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport, we were surrounded by touts as soon as we exited the doors. Thankfully our hotel driver of Taj Airport Hotels quickly came to our rescue, whizzing us into his car and off to our hotel for a few hours of solid sleep. The next day holds and early start and a long journey to our planned destination.

Bandara our transport assistant from Heritance Kandalama greeted us with a charming smile. Tan skinned and cherubic looking, Bandara constantly has a smile plastered on his face. He excitedly unveiled Sri Lanka in words as we journeyed 4 hours from Colombo to Dambulla, on the north-west region of Sri Lanka.

One must be super skilled and alert to be driving on Sri Lankan roads. The two lane dirt covered roads has no distinct lines on it, cars weaved in and our overtaking one another while skillfully avoiding oncoming traffic. I held my breath for the first hour every time Bandara overtook a car, but soon realized I may end up with a headache for lack of oxygen if I continued… I relented and sat back to blissfully enjoy the every changing scenery of paddy fields, verdant mountains and buzzing villagers.

The bumpy journey came to end as we rolled into a small lane canopied by trees on the left and right. Anticipating a huge majestic hotel in the middle of the forest, we saw instead we saw a basic structure covered with green creepers folding over like a natural tablecloth.

Heritance Kandalama – Man-Made Nature’s Glory

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Since its inception in 1992 for construction, Heritance Kandalama had a very close stake to sustainability ensuring that from its development to operations, the area’s biodiversity and community must be preserved. Among many awards the hotel has won, it is also the first LEED certified hotel to be recognized outside of USA.

As though emerging out from the lush of nature, the Heritance Kandalama building was aligned to fit the profile of the craggy land. Instead of blasting stones or removing trees, they elevated the Dambulla and Sigiriya on stilts in order to eliminate any ecological impact.

Situated in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle’s heartland, Heritance Kandalama is flanked by two UNESCO world heritage sites – the 1st Century BC Dambulla Cave Temple and the 5th Century AD Sigiriya Rock Fortress. The hotel is surrounded by rocky outcrops, lush forests, and overlooks the glistening Kandalama Tank.

With its commitment to sustainability, Heritance went one step further in setting up an Eco Park as a tool for wildlife and environment education. This is where waste from the hotel is being sorted and waste water treated. The Eco Park also has a unit for making paper out of elephant dung and waste paper and a nursery to cultivate indigenous seedlings. Over the years, this facility has also evolved into an animal rehabilitation centre where wildlife is rescued, cared for and prep for the wild.

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After 16 years, the hotel is not only conserving the environment, they are giving back to local communities and playing the role of a change agent in the country. Its doors are constantly open for the occasional sceptic, curious researchers, students and tasteful travellers who seek a different kind of travel experience.

This idea became a vision and turned into reality. Heritance Kandalama, not just a pride of Sri Lanka, but soon to be an example to the world. Watch the video and step into Heritance Kandalama, the ‘green table-clothed’ hotel as I dubbed it.

 

 

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Sweet Kandy

Kandy (literally pronounced as Candy) is Sri Lanka’s charming hill capital. Formally known as the capital city of country, this buzzing cultural centre is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage City….

Kandy (literally pronounced as Candy) is Sri Lanka’s charming hill capital. Formally known as the capital city of country, this buzzing cultural centre is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage City. Nestled in a large valley, the city is surrounded by low lying hills and buildings parade on the hills forming a concrete crepe-like sight. In the middle of the city is the Mahaweli Lake that connects to the Mahaweli River, Sri Lanka’s largest.

Kandy is a cultural hub with cultural shows of song, dance and fire rituals being staged daily for the curious traveler. Busloads of tourists are drawn to these shows, either by choice or great marketing, I’m not too sure. But I personally am not too keen with culture being staged, so we opted out and decided to walk the streets and observe life as is in Kandy.

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