Surrounded by the Indian Ocean and the mystique of a diverse history, Sri Lanka is a country that pleases the eye and the soul.
Shaped delicately like an emerald, the island falls from the tip of India’s south coast and is known as the pearl of the Indian Ocean. Arab, Portuguese, Dutch and British influences have given Sri Lanka a distinct cultural flavour and experience. These colourful and diverse influences, combined with the beautiful landscape of the island, make this destination a sanctuary for the eye and the soul.
I like to begin my first day in a new city by finding a nice restaurant where I can relax, savour a great meal and build my energy for the rest of the trip. So I headed to the Harbour Room, located inside the colonial-era building of the Grand Oriental Hotel. Dating back 125 years, the hotel exudes British colonial charm with an Asian touch. It is located next to Colombo harbour, the busiest port in Sri Lanka and South Asia. As I entered, a picturesque view of the harbour greeted me through the floor-to-ceiling windows. After admiring the view, it was time for lunch, an assortment of Sri Lankan dishes, from fragrant lemongrass rice and devilled potatoes to string hoppers with rice flour and all kinds of spicy curries. For dessert, there was coconut cake and chocolate mousse, providing a perfect coda to a grand meal.
From Colombo, we head to Kandy city, about four hours away by car. This is where the sacred tooth of Buddha is located, housed in the beautiful Temple of the Tooth. The tranquil town of Kandy was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings and is a Unesco World Heritage site partly due to the temple. According to legend, the tooth was taken from the Buddha on his funeral pyre and smuggled into Sri Lanka hidden in the hair of a princess in the 4th century. Each July and August, the tooth is carried in a procession. Although one cannot see the tooth, the festivities are a sight to see. There are poojas (offerings), drumming and sacred chanting in honour of the tooth relic. There weren’t any ceremonies when we visited, but we got to admire the architecture of the golden-roofed temple, learn about the history and witness locals
Another Unesco World Heritage site, this is the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. The Golden Temple is the main point of access to the Royal Rock Temple and although you have to hike up, the climb offers gorgeous views of the lush greenery and Sigiriya in the distance, making it a pleasant stroll. This is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka, and offers archaeological and artistic treasures. Dating back to the 1st century, the temple has five caves under a vast overhanging rock, carved with a drip line to keep the interiors dry. Inside the five caves, the ceilings are painted with intricate patterns of religious images following the contours of the rock. The most remarkable sights are the 157 Buddhist and Hindu statues, among them 15-metre-long reclining Buddha.
Imagine the sight of 60 elephants playing by a river, especially if you can get as close as riding one and feeding them. Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage is home to about 60 elephants, many of them babies that were found abandoned or orphaned in the wild. It was started in 1975 by the Department of Wildlife on a 25-acre coconut property on the Maha Oya River at Rambukkana. They are cared for, fed and trained by the wildlife authorities. The best time to visit is during feeding time, when you can see baby elephants being bottle-fed. There are some restaurants near the river, so visitors can have lunch and take pictures.
A few hours at the spa is a proven way to relax, so imagine if you actually lived at the spa for a few days. Even the most troubled mind is guaranteed to achieve total relaxation. When we arrived at Siddhalepa Ayurveda Health Resort in Wadduwa, our fatigue slowly evaporated. The resort’s natural architecture blends seamlessly with the ancient heritage and culture of Sri Lanka through the extensive use of local materials and aesthetics; such as traditional terracotta roof tiles, hand-hewn stone walls, water features, medicinal wood floors and large balconies or terraces. Imagine being cleansed, exfoliated, massaged and wrapped in a rich herbal paste of flowers and leaves, then immerse in an aromatic floral bath. All the treatments use natural materials, including roots, leaves, flowers, seeds, fruits, milk, honey, pearls, iron, gold, silver and copper.
Text and photos by Astrid Natasastra