Post-yoga volunteering in Sri Lanka

Catherine Leech was a career-minded singleton – until a yoga retreat in Huzur Vadisi, Turkey, turned her life upside down

As one of 22 strangers on a week’s yoga holiday, I dreaded my turn when our teacher, Simon Low, asked us to “share with the group” why we had come to the Turkish mountains. I had no idea what to say, but when the moment came a few choked words tumbled out involuntarily: “I sense change in my life, but I have no idea what. I’m looking for some clarity.”

Four days later, I was contorted in a pigeon pose, a challenging position for any yoga novice. As the blood-red sun set over the vine-covered yoga complex every part of my body was flooded with a red-hot wave as years of pent-up, unfamiliar emotion spilt out. The experience was both terrifying and a release.

During that week in June 2004, I found clarity: the light came on for this forty-something child-free singleton with a great career, an overdeveloped sense of duty and an overcrowded diary. Here, in the label-free peace of Huzur Vadisi, nobody was judging me. I wasn’t there to impress, nurture others, or be the life and soul. It gave me the space to realise that my sense of change wasn’t about finding a new job or moving out of London; my life felt shallow, materialistic and unfulfilling, and only I could change it.

Five months later, at the age of 46 and after 23 years relishing a varied career in the travel industry, with a well-used passport, I resigned as managing director of Caribtours, the London-based luxury Caribbean tour operator. I intended to teach English in a Sri Lankan orphanage for reasons that I cannot fathom. I had never even been there. I was still working out my notice when the tsunami struck. On that terrible Boxing Day morning, my father was the first to say: “Think what you could do using your experience in tourism.”

I arrived in Sri Lanka in late April, 2005, after six weeks travelling in Thailand and Cambodia – the first ten days on another yoga holiday, followed by three days in and out of a recompression chamber after getting the bends while scuba-diving. I was armed with someone’s name and the possibility of “doing something to do with tourism” for six months with something called Sarvodaya.

Established in 1958, Sarvodaya aims to alleviate rural poverty through the sustainable development of village communities. Its work spans social, spiritual and technological empowerment, with specialist units at the headquarters supporting a network of 15,000 villages.

I was a square peg in a round hole, a commercially minded “doer” working for a grassroots movement based on Buddhist principles and without a commercial bone in its body. But somehow, especially in the posttsunami maelstrom of overstretched management and challenging donor relations, it worked – and I quickly felt part of the Sarvodaya “family”.

I volunteered for the first eight months and secured funding to stay for another year. I developed a Community Tourism Initiative with various community-managed projects now operating. Each is designed to develop sustainable livelihoods by offering tourists authentic experiences, such as Sri Lankan cookery demonstrations and cultural performances.

My role was to find out the villagers' needs, assess the tourism potential, develop project plans and funding and provide skills training and marketing assistance. I trained a Sri Lankan assistant, Jagath, who is now managing the CTI.

Living and working in Sri Lanka was not an instant transition, however. Ten days after arriving, I wrote in my diary: “My life has undergone a seismic shift. Colombo is quite unlike any city I’ve been to. It’s intense, steaming hot, chaotic, charming, ramshackle and endearing with psy-chotic driving and choking fumes. It’s a long story with fibbing estate agents, freaky old family retainers, armed security guards and nosy landladies, but I’ve found a small one-bed annexe, which is reasonably secure, clean and only ten minutes from the office by three-wheeler. London feels a million miles away.”

I quickly grew to love this beguilingly beautiful island, especially the multi-culturalism, ironic in a country racked by ethnic conflict. I looked around the table one birthday to take in the smorgasbord of Israeli, British, Australian, Canadian, Sri Lankan, American and Indian friends – Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus and an atheist.

I returned to the UK for Christmas last year with no desire to live in London again. I rented a cottage in southwest Dorset, trusting the same gut feeling that led me to Sri Lanka. By the end of April I had moved in to my new home, a thatched cottage in the picturesque village of Stoke Abbott. I feel roots spreading, possibly for the first time in my life. I am building up some part-time consultancy work that will allow me to keep the logs on the fire, write a book about my experiences in Sri Lanka, spend time with friends and my parents, go on rambling walks, get involved in the local community, pick apples from my garden – and perhaps even fall in love.

At the time, friends and colleagues variously called me brave, foolhardy, mad, inspired, lucky, virtuous or clearly depressed. To me, it always felt like the most natural thing in the world. Risk or no risk, brave or foolhardy, I felt a driving force to plunge into the unknown. My experiences in Sri Lanka were enlightening, sobering, often hilarious, challenging, never dull and filled with fascinating characters. I have regained a sense of curiosity, a hunger to learn and a happy sense of spirituality, liberation and humility. I am proud to have left a legacy in the shape of the Community Tourism Initiative. I will return to Sri Lanka from time to time – I left a piece of my heart there and found my soul.

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The Tea Factory Hotel among the world's Best 100

In an encouraging sign to Sri Lanka's tourism industry, The Sunday Times of UK has named Sri Lanka's first theme hotel, The Tea Factory among the "World's Best 100 Places to Stay" in its September Travel issue.

The UK's largest-selling Sunday newspaper commenting on The Tea Factory said: "Sitting on a grassy terrace at 2000m in the lush tea-planted hills of Sri Lanka, is the Tea Factory. For years that's exactly what it was, but now it's an arresting 57-room boutique hotel.

Outside it preserves its corrugated iron construction; within are still some of the old Professor Potts-style innards-machines for moving, sorting and drying tea" that whish and shirr into life each evening."

Situated 6,800 feet above the sea level, the magnificent Tea Factory is part of the Aitken Spence chain of resorts.

The Tea Factory lies, alone and unique, on the slopes of the tea plantations at Kandapola, high above the Nuwara Eliya town. Surrounded by the picturesque Hethersett Estate, the original tea factory was built in the 1930s by British planters.

There is a no more luxurious way to explore Sri Lanka's history of tea making. Managing Director of Aitken Spence Hotels and the Immediate Past President of the Sri Lanka Hoteliers Association Malin Hapugoda commenting on the achievement said: "We are really excited that one of Sri Lanka's iconic hotel properties has been featured in the list of the World's Best Places to Stay by UK's leading Sunday newspaper. The Tea Factory is truly unique to the world as it is the only tea factory which has been converted to a top-class boutique hotel."

The Tea Factory showcases some of Sri Lanka's best attractions as one irresistible package, from lush tea gardens, culture, exquisite cuisine to exceptional service.

The Tea Factory conducts exciting excursions to Horton Plains, Hakgala Gardens, Kurundu Oya Waterfalls and visits to ancient Hindu religious sites, a miniature tea factory, a wildlife sanctuary and the spectacular Randenigala Dam.

The Tea Factory holds the distinction of being awarded the South Asian Architecture Award in 1995.

The hotel also received outstanding recognition and fame when it was conferred with the RICS award by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, London in October 2000 for successfully restoring an abandoned building whilst maintaining its original facade.

The Tea Factory is also the recipient of the UNESCO Asia" Pacific Heritage Merit Award" 2001 for the impressive conversion of a dilapidated tea factory into a luxury hotel complex.

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Colonial magic in the hills - 'The Hemingford'

Present day Colonial Bungalows with the modern touch are big attractions in the local travel industry. Many tourists like to visit these bungalows mainly to get the real local touch from the surrounding villages and to see the true eco system in village society.

‘'The Hemingford’ Eheliyagoda is the latest entrant to the luxury plantation bungalow market. 'The Hemingford', which is fully owned and managed by Pussellawa Plantations, came into operation from last August.

This is the signature property of Pussellawa Plantations, which enters into this niche plantation bungalow/small luxury boutique hotel market with their colonial bungalows' explained Prashan Bandara, the Manager of Hemingford Estate.

Situated in Eheliyagoda off Parakaduwa, Hemingford is a British era plantation bungalow, approximately 97’ years old. Amidst tea and rubber plantations of the Hemingford Estate, the bungalow is situated on a five acre hillside valley with a splendid view of Adam's Peak and miles of countryside.

‘The most unique in this place is the travelling time. The guests can reach the bungalow in less than a two hour drive from Colombo’ he added. The bungalow is surrounded by tea plantation and the lower level of the estate is covered with rubber.

'The Hemingford' boasts of having six king size rooms including two standard, two air-conditioned and two suites with attached modern bathrooms with hot and cold water open into a wrap-around verandah. The bungalow offers fine dining facility for 15 at with cozy living rooms, complete with TV, DVD collection and a library.

The freshwater swimming pool, clay tennis court, nature trails within the four acre garden and the sunset point are some of the attractions of this bungalow. ‘A variety of meal and menu options with butler service is available at the bungalow. Western and Continental menus, Sri Lankan cuisine is the top favourites’ said Marlon Saldin, who is the man behind the success story of 'The Hemingford'.

Some years back this colonial bungalow was a neglected property and was a burden for the plantation company. Soon they realized the value of the property and embarked on a project to resurrect the giant. The management of the bungalow has spent nearly 8 million Rupees in refurbishing and repositioning the place and thanks to Marlon the 'Hemingford Bungalow' is now one of the top tourist attractions of the area.

The bungalow also has five drivers' and guides' rooms, private reservoir, stand-by generator and in-house laundry service. BBQ terrace and Ayurvedic assistance are some of the other features of Hemingford. 'Step into a world of green, 5-acres of flowering plants and trees, most of which date back to over a 100 years. The sunset point, canopy lounge or wherever you wish to be in the lush tied gardens, you are surrounded by a timeless work of nature, carefully tendered by loving hands of the bungalow's gardeners' Marlon explained.

Nature lovers and photographers would be interested in the variety of birds that flock the garden as would the wild boar and hare. Streams, waterfalls and natural pools are in plentiful within the estate.‘This is also an ideal location to explore Bopath Ella and Kitulgala’ he said.

If you're the outdoor adventurous type we have mountain biking trails, from easy to extreme, canoeing, abseiling or take a walk along one of our many trails with the longest trail to Adam's Peak, being just outside our gates' he said. Apart from the discerning traveller this is also ideal for corporate outings, parties, weddings, cocktails, art, music and theme exhibitions.

'For a limited period of time, a special promotional offer ijavascript:void(0)
Publish Posts available for Sri Lankan and expatriates, where the entire property which can comfortably accommodate 15 is being offered at Rs. 15,000/- inclusive of all taxes' Marlon said. For further information and reservations, contact Pussellawa Plantations Ltd., 228, Havelock Road, Colombo 5.

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Hotel defends its $14,500 dessert price tag

The manager of a top Sri Lankan hotel has defended the decision to charge $14,500 (£10,269) for what it calls the world's most expensive dessert.

Axel Jarosh, general manager of The Fortress hotel in the southern town of Galle, said that the chocolate pudding was not obscene in a poor country.

He said that the desert contains a gemstone and was "especially designed for the hotel's exclusive clientele".

Aid workers say the idea is offensive when there is so much suffering.

"For many people in Sri Lanka it is a struggle of life or death, mostly because of the war but also because of the aftermath of the tsunami of 2004," one Colombo-based development worker said.

"In these circumstances such a publicity stunt is in extremely bad taste."

But Mr Jarosh insisted there was nothing excessive about his pricey puddings.

"We have had a positive reaction both locally and internationally to the dessert which we don't think is out of place, even in a country where there is considerable poverty," he told the BBC News website.

"This is not an idea imported by foreigners and imposed on Sri Lankans, nor is it a marketing gimmick.

"The idea was created by a local design team as suitable for guests staying in one of the country's most up-market hotels."

Mr Jarosh said that the dessert consists of a pedestal upon which is placed a model of a fisherman clinging to a stilt - an image for which Sri Lanka is famous. Ingredients include chocolate, champagne and caramelised sugar.

He said the reason why the pudding is so expensive is because it contains an 80 carat aquamarine stone about the same diameter as the head of a soup spoon.

"We felt that there has been so much negative news emerging from Sri Lanka in recent months in relation to the war," said Mr Jarosh, "and wanted to come up with something that was upbeat and fun."

Mr Jarosh said that one serving of the dessert had already been made.

The general manager said that while the conflict had hit tourism in the country, most European countries are no longer warning their citizens against travelling to Sri Lanka.

"We are optimistic that when the high tourism season starts in December, bookings from abroad will be significantly up."

The Fortress is one of the most expensive hotels in Sri Lanka, charging up to $1,700 per night.

Galle, some 100km (70 miles) south of the capital, Colombo, is a popular destination for tourists. It also suffered badly during the Asian tsunami.

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British High Commissioner in Sri Lanka praises Sri Lankan travel industry

British High Commissioner Dominic Chilcott praised the performance of the Lankan travel industry despite the difficult environment created by the conflict.

Highlighting the potential for tourism to contribute to Sri Lanka's economic development he encouraged the Government and the industry to realise the massive potential for tourism, particularly in promoting growth in rural areas.

"The variety of tourist sites, from beaches to temples to scenery to wildlife, together with the smiling Sri Lankan people, makes Sri Lanka a unique destination," he said.

Speaking at the Ceylon Hotel School Graduate's Association event in Habarana the High Commissioner highlighted three areas where change would significantly improve Sri Lanka's earnings from tourism: ending the conflict, more eco-tourism and improving the country's transport infrastructure.

The High Commissioner said strong historical and cultural links between Britain and Sri Lanka meant that British tourist arrivals had dropped only slightly compared to some other nations in recent months. British tourists remained the industries most valuable overseas customers.

On the eve of England's cricket tour he hoped the tourism industry and the country as a whole, were prepared for the arrival of England's touring fans, the "Barmy Army".

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Rustic charm of Giritale Hotel

BUILT on the bunds of the 12th century Giritale Tank with a magnificent view of the tranquil blue water dotted with green islands as a backdrop Giritale Hotel has what it takes to be a tourist paradise.

Built in 1974 and managed by Carsons Management Services (Pvt) Ltd., a senior company in Sri Lanka’s hospitality industry, the hotel exudes a rustic charm with the panoramic view of the Giritale Tank and the surrounding forest as an enticing backdrop.

The hotel has 42 rooms of which eight are deluxe rooms, offering star class facilities including TV, IDD telephone facilities, piped music and 24-hour room service. Resident Manager, Giritale hotel, versatile hotelier, T. Ganeshan and his ever-smiling staff treat all guests as VIPs.

This has resulted in Giritale Hotel being popular among ‘repeater’ guests, both foreign and local. The restaurant at Giritale under the guidance of Bar and Restaurant Manager Malika Edirisinghe offers the very best in Western, Eastern, Chinese and spicy Sri Lankan cuisine, prepared by a team of expert chefs. Giritale hotel is popular for family outings, conferences, workshops and for honeymooners due to its romantic setting.

The hotel is offering special discounted packages to Sri Lankans and expatriates. “This is a golden opportunity for Sri Lankan families to spend a memorable holiday in the rustic charm of the Giritale Hotel” RM, Ganeshan said.

The hotel offers Jeep Safaris to Kawdulla, Minneriya and Wasgamuwa National Parks, excursions to Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, Dambulla, Kandy and Anuradhapura. Elephant rides, Nature walks, Jungle Tracking, Bird watching, Village Tours and Indoors Games, Cricket, Badminton and Volleyball.

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French Tourism pledged support for Sri Lanka Tourism

Minister of Tourism, Milinda Moragoda on his recent visit to France met with Monsieur Luc Chaphel, the Minister (Secretaire de l’etat) of Tourism and Consumer Affairs in France and discussed several areas for corporation.

A framework for a MOU to be signed at a future date was also discussed in detail. Mr. Chaphel pledged his support in the areas of hotel classification, training of staff in hotel management and destination marketing. Mr. Chaphel further requested information on projects undertaken to combat global warming.

Minister Moragoda was accompanied by the Sri Lankan Ambassador in France Ms. Chitrangani Wagiswera, Chairman Sri Lanka Tourist Board Mr. Renton de Alwis and Additional Director General Sri Lanka Tourist Board Mr.Dileep Mudadeniya.

France has recorded an average 35,000 tourists along with 300,000 roaming in 2004 and 2005. Subsequent to the travel advisory in October 2006 arrivals dropped sharply. Sri Lanka Tourism is optimistic that the change of the advisory and the recent visit to France by the Hon. Minister, will provide a kick start for winter arrivals 2007/2008. Arrivals from France mainly patronize hotels and attractions in the Cultural Triangle.

The Sri Lanka Tourist Board recently conducted an independent securing audit which resulted in the French tourism operation resuming the selling of Sri Lanka as a holiday destination. The results of the audit was presented on the 11th September at UNESCO and followed by several of promotional activities.

A separate event was organized to launch the World Tourism Day celebration by inviting leading women to the travel and tourism industry in France. 10 French students studying tourism were invited to submit the projects they have worked on the degree programmes and same was presented to the panel consist of key women professionals. This session was conducted by a welknown TV personality Alexandra Debanne.

A separate cultural show was also organized at UNESCO with more than 1000 spectators that comprised of mainly travel agents and tour operators while Sri Lanka also launched a special promotional campaign titled “Half a price for better half” to increase the numbers immediately.

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Lanka to host UNWTO 2007

Themed 'Tourism opens doors for women', the United Nations World Tourism Day 2007 (UNWTO) will be celebrated on September 27 in the picnic area in Bentota from 5.30 p.m.-6.30 p.m. UNWTO has selected Sri Lanka to be this year's host country for this important event. Sri Lanka has been a UNWTO member for over 30 years.

International delegates, UN World Tourism Organization officials, architects, social scientists, lawyers, doctors, engineers, diplomats, librarians, writers, bankers, insurers, hoteliers, tour operators, travel agents, entrepreneurs, fashion designers, beauty consultants, sports and media personalities will be present.

In addition to the main ceremony several events have been lined up including a women tourism leaders summit, a UNWTO online Photographic Competition at the Taj Exotica Hotel, Bentota, International press conference and a special postal stamp will be issued to mark this day.

Announcing Sri Lanka as a "Green Lung Destination", the launch of UNWTO WPP world children's program and a cultural show in the evening in the Bentota Picnic Area after the Official Celebration Ceremony are also lined up. Many events have also been planned by the regional tourism authority along with stakeholders of the industry from September 26 to 28.

It includes a canoe competition, a mini marathon/fun run/a biking event, a competition on "Building Sand Castles" on the Beach, A one day cultural and sports program titled "Sinhala Aluth Avurudu", a mini marathon/fun run/a biking event and a painting competition and exhibition.

A promotional campaign themed "Men don't get it" and staging of pow wow events of professional women will be staged till October 31. Each provincial council too has planned a host of events to commemorate this year's WTO day.

Tourist Ministry Secretary P. M. Leelaratne said, World Tourism Day is commemorated on September 27 each year by appropriate events on themes selected by the General Assembly on the recommendation of the United Nations World Tourism Organisations (UNWTO) Executive Council.

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Bentota Beach, Sri Lanka, Worlds Most Romantic Beach - Forbes Traveller

Dangling like a dewdrop from the southern tip of India, the island nation of Sri Lanka is a topographical marvel, where rolling emerald plains gently blend into forested hills, and colorful Buddhist and Hindu temples dot the landscape like jewelry. But the beaches that fringe the perimeter of Sri Lanka are what best capture hearts, especially the sloping sands of Bentota, on the island’s southwestern ridge. Tucked between the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and a lazy blue river just behind it, Bentota Beach is a top choice among sun worshippers who know a garden paradise when they see one.

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The Fortress, Galle, Sri Lanka debuts world’s most expensive desert

Rocking the culinary scene with its innovative style

Located on the southern golden coast of Sri Lanka, this 49 roomed luxury resort has carved itself on the world map by creating the most expensive dessert in the world.

Priced at USD 14,500, ‘The Fortress Stilt Fisherman Indulgence’ is a combined effort by the resort’s culinary team to create a one of a kind dessert that is intrinsically linked with the destination, offering both long lasting memories and a keepsake of the experience. Available now on special request, the dessert’s inspiration comes from the resort’s logo of the ‘stilt fisherman’, a centuries old fishing practice that continues to this day and can still be seen along this spectacular coastline.

A combination of a gold leaf Italian kasata flavored with Baileys and served with a mango and pomegranate compote and a champagne sabayon enlighten, forms the mouthwatering base of this delicious desert, however, the finishing touch is the 80 carat aquamarine stone nestled on the handmade chocolate stilt fisherman. This one of a kind culinary delight has definitely got people around the world buzzing with awe.

Legend has it that an aquamarine has the power to calm, sooth and heal. Its blue colour is often reflective of the ocean and the life giving properties of water and has been used over the years by sailors and fishermen for protection and luck. It also has a soothing effect on relationships and is said to endow the owner with foresight, courage and happiness, the recipe for a long and happy marriage and the perfect gift for those looking to surprise their loved one.

This dessert is served at Wine³, The Fortress’ sensational glass wine cave which houses over 2,000 of the world’s finest vintages and is accompanied by handmade studio flared glass cutlery – the first glass cutlery of its kind in the world which has been exclusively designed for The Fortress by Glass Studio.


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Germany, UK review travel advisories

Subsequent to the successful tourism promotions in France and The Netherlands, Sri Lanka Tourism had further good news in the German and the UK markets. The travel advisory in Germany was reviewed by the authorities.

The earlier 'advice against travelling to Sri Lanka if not essential' has been deleted from the text of the German travel advisory. Director of the Tourist Board Office in Germany Channa Jayasekera said "this would definitely be most encouraging to the tour operators and travel agents selling Sri Lanka, as the earlier advisory led to confusion and was negatively interpreted by the public.

After a stakeholders meeting organised by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board Office in the UK, where our concerns were shared through the Pacific Asia Travel Association's (PATA) UK Chapter, Association of National Tourist Office Representatives (ANTOR) and Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), the FCO has further softened their travel advisory to Sri Lanka.

"The advisory has been reviewed and reissued with an amendment to the Summary and local travel section, where it now states 'we no longer advice against travel to the city of Anuradapura' Director UK and Ireland of the Tourist Board Jean-Marc Flambert said.

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Hotel Flower Garden - The Paradise Garden in Unawatuna

UNAWATUNA beach, in the Galle district, is classified as one of the most beautiful and fascinating beaches in the world. Unawatuna is a paradise for beach lovers, both foreign and Sri Lankan.

The beach is surrounded by a number of star class hotels, and cabanas and is one of Sri Lanka’s most popular tourist destinations. Most of the hotels which were damaged by the tsunami, have now been completely refurbished, and Unawatuna has regained its glamor and splendor.

True to its name, Hotel Flower Garden, at Unawatuna, has been built on a marvellously landscaped one-acre garden which resembles a min-flower garden. It is located within walking distance to the world famous Unawatuna beach, in Galle district.

The hotel which began with nine cabanas in 2003, now offers 25 luxury cabanas with all modern facilities to the discerning traveller.

All cabanas are equipped with A/C, hot/cold water, mini-bar and room service. Hotel Flower Garden has a beautiful and large swimming pool and a well stocked bar.

The restaurant offers the very best in Western, Eastern and Sri Lankan cuisine, together with an ‘A-la-carte’ menu.

The restaurant specialises in French, Italian and German cuisine, the preparation of which is personally supervised by the young owner of the hotel, K. Sassi, who holds a Degree in Food and Beverage, having successfully completed a course in Hotel at Ricken, St. Gallen, Switzerland, for five years as its Food and Beverage Adviser from 1992 to 1996. The hotel offers tours to Koggala Lake, Turtle Farm, fishing in Weligama Bay Beach.

A visit to the ‘jungle beach’ is a unique feature offered by the hotel to tourists.

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French to return to Sri Lanka

French tourists, hopefully in droves, are poised to return to Sri Lanka after the country was cleared for travel as a tourism destination.

A Sri Lanka Day organized by its Tourist Board office in Paris was held last week with Minister of Tourism Milinda Moragoda, Chairman of the Tourist Board Renton de Alwis and the Additional Director-General Dileep Mudadeniya attending in order to introduce new products and the measures taken to re-launch the destination and renew its identity.

The Tourist Board said in a statement that the Sri Lanka Day provided an opportunity for the Board to reveal vital information for the French market.

It said fully aware of its negative image in the French market , Sri Lanka Tourism opted for transparency and requested an independent private French security firm to conduct a security audit related to tourism activities. The evaluation, conducted over a period of 12 days by Sécurité Sans Frontières (SSF), covered various tourism sites, hotel infrastructures, airport and other forms of transport as well as general conditions of security (political, social, health and weather-related issues). The findings and methodology and the fact that it was performed independently (no complicity) of the audit were revealed to the public on September 11 at UNESCO. According to Frédéric Bauer, Président of SSF, “the in-depth study of the security conditions has permitted us to make specific and detailed technical recommendations. The terrorist risk is not that greater in Sri Lanka than other countries visited by the French …. In conclusion, the security situation for us is acceptable for tourism visits to Sri Lanka and I take responsibility for recommending the destination for French Tourists.”

The Board said this positive conclusion is a welcome change to the position adopted by the travel advisory of the French Foreign Ministry which contributed to a great extent the increasing negative perception of the destination due to the security problems related to the North and East of the country.

The active re-launch of the destination will be put in place through various activities with the tourism professionals. They included a “Half Price for your Better Half” from October to December 2007 and January 2008 package; Incentive for Travel Agents; Mega fam trips; Joint Promotions by the Sri Lanka Tourist Board and Tour Operators willing to participate on an equal basis in the costs; a Treasure Hunt that will take place from October 5-12 in Sri Lanka to discover exceptional tourist sites for travel agents.

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Sri Lanka hopes for tourism recovery with easing of travel advisories

Sept 15, 2007 (LBO) – Sri Lanka is confident of achieving its target of attracting 600,000 tourists this year following the relaxation of travel advisories in key markets, tourist board officials say.

"We are confident that this year, looking at the progress we have, we'll be able to achieve 600,000 tourists for this year," S. Kalaiselvan, director general of Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB) told LBO.

Some 44,500 tourists visited the island in August, considered one of the peak seasons, with a traditional Buddhist pageant in the central hill country town of Kandy in which a phalanx of elephants parade, being a major attraction.

Although the number was lower than last year's arrivals for the month, the SLTB is confident the winter season will be better than last year's as European countries have lifted and relaxed some of the travel warnings that were in force.

"The French travel advisory has been liberalized now and is more conducive for the French tourists to visit us. The Netherlands have also lifted their travel advisory," Kalaiselvan says.

"These are good signs to say that the situation in Sri Lanka is conducive for tourists to visit."

The country got over 313,000 tourist arrivals up to August but it was nearly 92,000 lower than the number of visitors compared to the same period last year.

The travel advisories were issued last year when the conflict between the between Tamil Tigers and the government forces intensified.

The Tigers attacked key points in the capital as well as other parts of Sri Lanka during the last quarter of 2006 which led to a sharp fall in tourist arrivals.

This resulted in many hotels being virtually empty during the off-season with average occupancy dropping to around 45-50 percent.

According to statistics, Sri Lanka was unable to achieve the 600,000 visitor target last year and had to settle for 559,000 tourist arrivals.

The country's 26-billion-dollar economy earned nearly 400 million dollars from tourism last year, the fourth largest foreign currency earner behind tea, clothing and remittances from abroad.
Source : LBO

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Thilanka : A Jewel in the Kandyan crown

A few decades ago, Kandy was not a busy tourist destination like nowadays and there were few hotels to accomodate them. Apart from traditional names, Hotel Thilanka was one of the oldest hotels to join the new Kandyan era of the post tourism boom in the seventies.

It started as a guest house in the mid eighties, which turned out to be one of the most sought after destinations in Kandy. Even after the Esala Perehera, the hotel is fully patronised by many Sri Lankan and overseas tourists. Nestled in the foothills of popular Udawatta Kele, just on a higher elevation to the Dalada Maligawa, Hotel Thilanka reflects the typical Kandyan traditions.

Over looking the city of Kandy and the Lake, Thilanka has well appointed 87 standard and deluxe rooms. This four star hotel has gone through a massive refurbishing programme during the past few months, which gives the complete face lift to the hotel. According to Thanuj Gunawardena, the Managing Director of the hotel, Rupees 30 to 35 million was spent on up grading 30 rooms.

‘The old wing is totally refurbished and we are currently completing the rest including ten balance rooms, coffee shop and the public area' he said. 'We simply do not close the entire hotel for this project. We have maintained our occupancy rate at very healthy level during the past months and we do not want to stop this success. It was a packed month for us during the Perehera season. So we go on step by step refurbishing programme and it will be ready for the coming winter season' he explained.

Bathiya Gunasekera, the General Manager of the hotel said most of the top travel agents are working with them and they stick to them for various reasons. They always come back to us because we have some extra points such as close proximity to Maligawa, City, Udawatta Kele and of course the service' he said.

It began life as a private house, built by a wealthy Kandyan towards the end of the colonial era. It has now been enhanced by a six-storey new wing, the minimalist décor of the rooms including elegant wooden furniture, television, telephone and mini-bar with all other facilities.

Hotel's main restaurant serves menus from around the world. Traditional Kandyan dishes are favourites among Sri Lankan clientele. Continental, Chinese, Indian and Japanese food are popular with Sri Lankan and foreign travellers. Lobby Bar and Woodpecker Bar are two top attractions. Thilanka overlooking the picturesque view of the Kandy Lake, the giant Bahirawakande seated Buddha statue, is the ideal base for excursions and relaxation.

'We arrange tours to various places of tourist attraction such as Dambulla Cave Temple, Sigiriya, Aluvihare, Lankatillake and Embekke Temples of Cultural and artistic value' GM Gunasekera said. The banquet hall is one of the biggest revenue earners of the hotel, which can accommodate 400 persons. The Board Room is air conditioned with seating capacity for 50 persons, for all conventions and banqueting . The major attraction of the hotel is its Ayurvedic Spa.

The ancient healing arts of the Himalayan Rishis are there to savour at our 'Ayurvedic Spa. Like the Nawaratna - the nine precious stones that make up one ring for protection, power and lasting health, our Spa offers the herbal secrets to fitness, wellbeing and regeneration' GM Gunasekera said. Massages, sauna and herbal baths, facial treatment, yoga sessions, medicinal oils, the wonder of floral ingredients, the help of facial packs, toning, and cleansing are some of the treatments available at the Hotel.‘We have Ayurveda treatment too’ he added.

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Clunes Villa: Haven in the valley

By Sanath Weerasuriya

Clunes is a popular name from Scotland. After Scottish planters, Sri Lanka inherited many Scottish names in the plantation sector. Like in Victoria, Australia after the European settlers in the nineteenth Centaury, Clunes came to stay in Sri Lanka not as a township but as a estate name in low country.

But our story about Clunes is a Sri Lankan holiday destination situated just one hour and fifteen minutes drive from Colombo.‘Clunes Villa’ is a Colonial estate bungalow turned to a modern holiday home specially catering for nature lovers. Situated in the middle of rich rubber plantation in Errachi Division in Talduwa Estate, Dehiowita, the Villa is nearly 87 years old.

‘It is just six kms away from Avissawella town on the main highway to Hatton and you can arrive at the Villa within two hours from the Bandaranaiake International Air Port’ said Thushara Sanjay Gunaratne, the Manager of the Villa.

Clunes Villa was originally built in 1920 for the exclusive use of the Scottish Planter John Dunlop. The bungalow maintains its past glory to fit with modern times although extensive repairs were carried out by Clunes Villa's present owner Gajaba Pitigala, the former Sri Lankan cricketer.

This colonial bungalow is exquisitely built in the centre of five acre tropical jungle with spacious halls, three large bed rooms and two roomed suite with all modern amenities.

‘After I took over this place in 2005, I have spent nearly 15 million on refurbishment to bring it to the present look’ said Gajaba Pitigala, the proprietor of this beautiful bungalow. The biggest change will be the newly constructed swimming pool. 'It will be ready for the use of holiday makers within a couple of months' Pitigala said.

All the rooms are fully air-conditioned, a private balcony with a spectacular view of the forest or lake, hot/cold water, laundry services, tarnish baths and on call doctor service, Neutral tones of brown beige and yellow comprise the brightly lit interior which is traditional yet modern which create the slick but simple picture.

The culinary experience at the Villa is one of the highlights of the holiday at Clunes. Clunes Villa allows dining in air conditioned comfort or in the more informal settings of the landscaped garden. It also has an adjacent bar and large area which is strictly for members and visitors of the villa for pre or post dinner drinks, cocktails and coffee.

‘Dining at the Villa is the most important thing. From simple village meal to five star dining experiences is on the menu at Clunes. Our experienced cook is capable of handling any kind of dish’ said Gajaba.

H. G. Karunaratne, popularly known as Karu, the main cook at the Clunes Villa has more than 40 years of culinary experience behind him.He was the chief cook at the Flight Kitchen of the former Grosvenor Caterers, the caterers for the former Air Ceylon and for all outbound flights from Katunayake.

‘At Clunes we treat all guests as Colonial Masters. From English Breakfast to Sri Lankan lunch and High Tea to candle lit dinner is possible at the Villa’ said Karu.

‘If you are a lover of Western, Eastern or Chinese food our kitchen caters for all your needs. Special BBQ nights can be arranged on request to make you feel comfortable and at home’ said Manager Thushara. Clune is also apopular place for foreign weddings.

‘We have already done about 15 weddings of European couples’ said Pitigala. The Villa is centrally located in close proximity to most of Sri Lanka's natural beauty and its world-renowned heritage. The Villa is an ideal base for excursions to Sinharaja Forest, Udawalawe Wildlife Sanctuary, Botanical Gardens, Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, Horton Plains, Nuwara Eliya, Adam's Peak, Saman Devalaya, Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, Beli Lena and many more places of interest.

The Villa is surrounded by rubber and tea estates and is in close proximity to popular waterfalls.‘Clunes Villa is a place for adventure lovers. You can experience white water rafting at Kithulgala just 30 minutes away from Clunes Villa. Experience a day out with your family at Water World in Hanwella, which is just 20km from the Villa' Mr Pitigala said.

The ruins of Seethawaka Kingdom, Burundi Kovil, Dahanwela Seethawaka Oya are some of the attractions at the close range just fifteen minutes away from the Bungalow. 'The Villa is just 60km north of the world famous Sinharaja Forest and tours can be arranged for all guests on requests to visit the forest which takes just under 2 hours journey' Gajaba explained about the arrangement on excursions.

Like wise Udawalawa Wild Life Sanctuary is just under 21/2 hours journey and Udawalawe, which lies within the Ratnapura and Moneragala Districts, acts as the catchments to the Udawalawe Reservoir and is located in the Dry Zone. This Park comprises grasslands and thorn scrubs and many valuable species of trees are found within it. Large herds of Elephants and Deer species such as Spotted Deer, Sambhur, Barking Deer and Langur, Wild Boar, Water Buffalo, Jackal are some of the prominent wild animals found in this Park.

Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya and Haggala too are just under two and half hours drive from Clunes. Nuwara Eliya, Horton Plains, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage , Tea Garden and Water falls are around two to three hours drive from the Villa. Official web site of Clunes Villa :

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The parent trip

Simon Hoggart embarks on a holiday in Sri Lanka with the kids — but this time they are the ones in charge

Where to go ... daughter Amy's advice includes a visit to the celebrated Dambulla cave temples. Photograph: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa/Corbis

When your kids are small, you inform them where the family holiday is going to be. If they don't like it, they know what they can do — which is, come along and enjoy themselves. Or else. But when they're older — ours are 21 and 18 — and you want them to choose your trip in preference to them spending a riotous week in Spain with their friends, you have to ask them politely where they would like to go. And it's you who must like it or lump it.

Which is why we went to Sri Lanka this year. Our daughter Amy, the 21-year-old, had spent part of her gap year working in an orphanage there, up country, near Kandy. She and the other volunteers had been adventurous, using every weekend to visit historic sites, temples, national parks, the tea-growing area and, of course, the beaches. They met some delightful people, ate terrific food, and had a thoroughly exciting time. It was these places that she wanted us to enjoy. Meanwhile, she planned to spend a few days back at the orphanage, getting to know the nuns again, caring for the children.

We could not have chosen a better time. The fear of terrorism (irrelevant to tourists, so far as we could see) has kept visitor numbers down. Many of the best hotels — and Sri Lanka has some superlative ones — are desperate to fill their rooms and will offer eye-watering bargains. ("Rack rates" of hundreds of dollars a night listed on websites, and can be confidently ignored.)

What most people do is to tailor their holiday to their requirements. We went through Jetwing Travels, which also operates many of the best hotels. We told them our daughter's recommendations, and a few days later they sent back an itinerary.

The package included an air-conditioned van with driver. Don't think of driving yourself; Sri Lanka is not great on English signage, and the roads are less highways than social gathering places. Pedestrians flap a casual arm just before they cross the road in front of you, bikes and tuk-tuks (three-wheeled taxis) spring out of nowhere. It's like trying to drive between the stalls in a crowded market. You'll also want to stop and look at the roadside attractions: we saw kingfishers, peacocks, water buffalo, mongoose and hundreds of fruit bats hanging asleep from a tree, all on our first day. And the fruit stalls are more enticing than any supermarket: paw-paws, melon, pineapples and mangos, alongside the more exotic — rambutans, sour sop and the dreaded durian, famous for combining a stinking exterior with perfumed flesh.

Our driver, Mohd, was affable, spoke decent English, and knew plenty about the places we visited. So after two days recovering from jet lag at a fine beach hotel near Negombo The Beach, just north of Colombo airport, we headed up to the orphanage, pausing for lunch at the elephant orphanage (elephant numbers are down to around 2,000 in the whole country, thanks to deforestation) where we watched a herd bathing and splashing happily in the river.

There was a touching moment when we arrived at the orphanage, and the children who remembered our daughter were thrilled to see her: "Amy, auntie!" they shouted. The nuns were gentle and kind, and the children clearly well-fed, healthy and lively, though it is deeply sad to meet a three year old whose highest ambition is to be picked up and hugged.

So the rest of the family set off on the travels Amy had recommended. We started high in the hills above Kandy, at the Hunas Falls Hotel, which has stunning views down the valley and the most vertiginous golf course I have ever seen. I am no golfer, but even I know that a 40ft vertical drop is unusual at any hole. (They also have the one where you have to get the ball up 40ft.)

After exploring Kandy, with its temples and astounding trees, we headed toSigiriya, the greatest site in the country, a 660-ft high slab of rock topped with a combined fortress and pleasure palace, built 1,530 years ago by a king so evil he seized power by walling up his own father. The climb is steep but easy; you'll be passed by hundreds of schoolchildren, and teenage monks in red, orange, saffron and brown robes. Our hotel there was the remarkable new Vil Uyana, built on water gardens, every room a small house, reached by a bridge.

On Amy's advice we took in Polonnaruwa, one of the two finest archaeological sites, and the celebrated Dambulla cave temples. We picked her up at the orphanage, then set off for Nuwara Eliya and the tea country – you sip tea at the plantations, looking out on the deep, pleated, 40-shades-of-green valleys. We took a train to Ella, a journey along rickety tracks barely clinging to the mountainside, like flying at 10mph.

Our last stop was the Lighthouse Hotel near the old Dutch fort of Galle on the south coast. Here we spent a week doing little more than lazing and swimming, reading, eating and drinking. Sri Lanka offers a variety of food, but much the best is their own cuisine: fresh, zingy curries utterly different from the industrial sludge served in some UK Indian restaurants. Or you can eat in guest houses, negotiating the menu in advance with the owner, and a feast there will cost you little more than £2 a head.

Now is certainly the time to go to Sri Lanka, and it's easily arranged by letting the organiser know where you want to go, and how much you want to spend. We were very grateful to Amy for her guidance. She will make a great parent: "I tell you we're going to Sri Lanka, and you'll like it!"

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Sri Lanka travel industry gears for better times

Tourist arrivals in the first half of this year dipped by 24.4% but with the industry counting on the improved prospects for the upcoming season has been backed by travel advisories that have been relaxed in the run-up to the winter season just ahead.

In this respect it was pointed out recently that the government of Netherlands, which had a negative travel advisory on Sri Lanka has relaxed its advisory to enable Dutch Tour Operators to aggressively market Sri Lanka. The advisory which earlier started that it was unsafe to travel to Sri Lanka, now sates that Dutch travellers must b cautious when traveling and that they must use formal means of transport and tour operations.

In 2006, there were 19,360 numbers of tourist visitors from the Netherlands. Between January and July in 2006, the Dutch arrivals stood at 12,593 and for the same period in 2007, it was 10,083 register in a drop of 19.9%.

“We expect the arrivals from the Netherlands now progressively to get back to normalcy with the softening of the Travel Advisory. Sri Lanka Tourism will carryout strong promotions in the Dutch market in the future to regain and develop strong market share. We are also thankful to our Ambassador in the Netherlands Ms. Pamela Deen for her determined efforts made to bring this change” said Renton de Alwis, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board.

Minister of Tourism, Milinda Moragoda who will be leading a promotional delegation to France after the softening of the French Travel Advisory, has asked Sri Lanka Tourism officials and the private sector to also meet with the Dutch Tour Operators to discuss future plans.

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Sri Lanka win Spirit of Cricket award

Cricinfo staff
September 10, 2007
The Sri Lanka team was named as the recipient of the Spirit of Cricket Award at the ICC Awards celebration in Johannesburg on Monday.

The Spirit of Cricket Award was presented to the team which, in the opinion of the elite panel of umpires and referees and the captains of the ten Test teams, has best conducted themselves on the field within the spirit of the game. The award was presented to Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene by former South Africa batsman Jonty Rhodes.

Upon receiving the award on behalf of his team Jayawardene said: "I think it's important to remember the spirit of cricket. We try to enjoy what we do, playing against other countries. That was shown in the World Cup with Ireland - they really enjoyed themselves there and it was great to play against that team too.

"We are there to win a match but we are also entertainers as well. The most important thing we can do is enjoy the game. We are very lucky to do what we do and it is vital that we remember that. We play a different brand of cricket and we all enjoy playing. There is so much pride to wear the cap for our country. Spirit of cricket can be explained in many different ways."

This Spirit is described in the preamble to the Laws of Cricket: "Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself."

This is the first time Sri Lanka has won the award, after England collected the last two and New Zealand took the honour at the inaugural ICC Awards in 2004. Sri Lanka was one of several teams that demonstrated the Spirit of Cricket to great effect over the past 12 months and they narrowly defeated Ireland and New Zealand for the prize.

© Cricinfo

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Lady with the Lotus - Sojourn in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

“No flash! No Flash!” It was too late. I had already captured the Lady of the Lotus on film as well as many of her companions, all half nude and gorgeous. I thought the guide would rip the film from my camera. Instead he actually held my left elbow and moved me along the narrow rock trail of Sigiriya and lectured me. “Light destroys color. Picture is 479 AD.” He said the last as ‘Ayedeee’. I felt bad and said that I had moved the setting from flash to auto, but clouds and shade at the instant I took the picture brought the flash. Sorry. I like my color picture better than the black and white one in Ajit Mookerjee’s The Arts of India, 1966! But his is pretty good too. I actually missed the lotus in his picture the first time I saw it.

So where in the world is this place? Sigiriya, or Sinhagiri, or Sihagiri which means ‘lion of the rock’. It is in Sri Lanka. What a wonder it is. Ayers Rock in Australia is grand but this stone, this monolith is huge and appeared black when I first saw the massive rock with the sun behind it. It rises out of the green steaming jungle like a supine lion. It compares to Machu Picchu or the Masada. The latter comparisons are appropriate in that both were places of human settlement, on the rocks, as was Sigiriya.

Our party spent the night in the Sigiriya Village Hotel. The rooms were wonderful, though we did have to ask for bug spray. Buzzing mosquitoes in the room make for whining, irritable, unhappy campers. The next day our gang of four was deposited at the base of the big rock and we began our hike to the top. The first two hundred feet were relatively easy. That is where I got into trouble taking pictures of the naked women. The rest of the climb was up to us. The guide had been up those metal ladders a hundred times and we did not look like the type that would leave a big tip. He glanced up at the top, at the snaking, spiraling metal rungs and ladders that stuck to the face of the rock like clinging ivy. He smiled politely and left, shaking his head and muttering, perhaps some words like pagal amni.

Up, up we climbed. No big deal as long as you don’t look down. Stretches of the climb were steps carved into the rock itself which were shiny with a paten of hundreds of thousands of feet that had polished it since the 5th. Century. On top at last! At one time there was a small city at Sigiriya. There are cisterns and baths, foundations for many rooms, strolling areas, cooking areas, (slave quarters were down below, they had to commute-climb to work each day). The drop-off was something to write home about. It had claimed the lives of quite a few, we were told, including unhappy princesses and concubines left all alone, perched high above the jungle floor, their lord and masters slain in a fraternal war.

The legends of Sigiriya feature Kasyapa, who according to some was a security nut who used the rock as an impregnable palace. Our guide had mentioned that this usurper of the throne of Anuradhapura loved beautiful women. He had five hundred of them, each one more beautiful than the other. And he was really smart; he had their pictures drawn on the rock surfaces, kind of a Playboy fresco thing. Really, that is what the guide said. I think Kasyapa had read about Solomon of old who had a thousand, but had never left any pictures to prove it. Was Kasyapa an ancient historical role model for Hugh Hefner?

Solomon of old, wise old Solomon reputedly had a thousand wives, but that is just a story that emerged from the Old Testament. No pictures please. (Muslim and ancient Jewish guys didn’t like to have other men snoop around in their private zennanah or harems. Some covered up their women so only their eyes could be seen. They had strong religious inhibitions against displaying the female form.) But one of Solomon’s favorites was enshrined in history in the Song of Solomon. His words still have a pretty good ring to them. “Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor... Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins...Thy neck is a tower of ivory... How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights.” Wow!

Kasyapa left no flowery words behind, he paid artists to draw his beauties. The Lady with the Lotus is a knock-out. Let me name her Sita. When I see her there, high on the cliff above the jungle far below I say, “Tell me, female of the forest, who thou be and whence thy birth. Much I fear thou art a Raksha wearing various forms on earth.” (From Romesh C Dutt’s translation - Book 6, The Ramayana, Sita Lost). She holds a lotus flower that I had not noticed at first. Typical occidental reaction, the prurient first, the artistic second and the meaning behind it all, the religious connotations, last. “To the oriental and especially the Buddhist, the lotus flower is sacred and its blossom is filled with meaning. For the occidental this flower contains little more than satisfying beauty.” (William Ward, The Lotus Symbol: Its meaning in Buddhist Art and Philosophy, 1952, page 135.)

The historical version that is least liked in Sri Lanka is the one put forward on
“Think Devil Tower with a health spa on top. “Rising 650 feet out of the ground, this Eighth Wonder of the World, long believed to be the fortress of a mad king, has been revealed for what it really was: a Tantric sex initiation. King Kasyapa had 500 wives. He was a 5th Century Hugh Hefner. Sigiriya was his Playboy Mansion.”

I found it very disappointing to read in this person’s account that he had never even been there. Terrible. Playboy themes sell.

One who did visit at a time when the pictures on the walls were fresh was John Still who in 1907 observed that; “The whole face of the hill appears to have been a gigantic picture gallery...the largest picture in the world perhaps.” The pictures covered an area, 140 meters long and 40 meters high, and there is ancient graffiti which refers to the 500 ladies in these paintings."

The story goes that later on, this glorious wall of paintings became a disturbance, a distraction. Sigirya had become a religious monastery, and the young monks kept sneaking down to take a peek and neglected their holy books and uplifting thoughts. You have it, most of the best pictures, frescos, were destroyed. That hurts philosophically. Remember the Bamiyan Buddhas that were destroyed because of religious zeal? Amazing!

The gardens at the foot of the monolith are beautifully laid out. In their hay day they must have been stunning, filled with jasmine and rat ki rani; the fair ladies must have taken excursions down from their high life to stroll and sit beside the pools and listen to the birds and watch the peacocks strut. The gardens have three aspects, Water, Cave and Boulders. The water gardens are the most sophisticated in design and water fountains work today that were designed long, long ago. A visit to them will give a grounded perspective to Sigiriya.

I took out my photograph of the Lady with the Lotus from the album yesterday. The Ektachrome colors have faded; she looks pale, washed out. There is only one way to fix it. I must visit Sri Lanka again, this time with a digital camera so I can download Sita and make her my screen saver.
Sita’s Dream
The lotus seed sinks into muck
Sleeps, then awakens from calls of ancient past
Listening, it stirs, shudders open and puts forth
Green tender leaves seeking sun and air

The lotus lies deep within black ooze
Awakens, draws life and strength from dark decay
Raises a brave and jubilant head within a day
Lifts its gold-pink face to kiss the sky

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Under the Greenwood Tree

hey don’t sell hats outside the Colombo zoo, those bright green and pink palm-leaf mementos which, from almirah tops or forgotten corners, keep reminding a visitor to the Calcutta zoo of dust and animal smell. There are balloons instead, and tiny pinwheels made of shiny paper that glisten in the afternoon sun. Once inside, you realize why the idea of selling hats never occurred. A thick canopy of green offers shade to swathes of the zoo that would seem minuscule in comparison to the spread in Alipore. But as you take a walk down the shaded paths, the shrub-lined alleyways and the carefully-designed moats and sprawling lawns, you realize what a success the Sri Lankans have made of their legacy. Like the Calcutta zoo, the Colombo zoo in Dehiwala grew out of the menagerie of zoologically-inclined foreigners. But unlike the former, which owes its origins to the initiative of the governor-general of Bengal, Arthur Wellesley, in the late 19th century, the Colombo zoo has a more recent and less illustrious history. Its founder, John Hargenberg, got together the collection to facilitate his brother’s trade in animals with the West. It was taken over by the government as late as 1936.

Since then, the collection has been amply diversified to include an enormous variety of animals, reptiles, birds and fish, all cramped into 23 acres of land. Fortunately, the landscaping allows the exhibits to be arranged all around in tiers. On entering, one can either take the route to the right, and go straight to the pits of growling tigers, lions, cheetahs and the lone bear. Or one can go left into a darkened cave full of acquariums stashed with amazing kinds of fish, and then emerge to meet the twin penguins and the sea lion.

Unlike Alipore, the big cats here have no luxury of space. There are several, including a black panther, in cages so alarmingly small that you sometimes marvel at their agility. But they are there, well-fed, well-toned, with not a worry in the world, dozing or just looking out with eyes narrowed to slits. One wonders if they are let out for their daily exercise at night since they are so obviously preoccupied in the day.

The road to the reptilium is a raised wooden structure which accommodates a harmless-looking small estuarian crocodile beneath. But looks can be deceptive and one has to control the urge to feel its back, only an arm’s-length away. The most fascinating thing about the reptilium, especially for someone used to the Calcutta zoo, is the discovery of creeping and crawling members behind every glass partition, and the fact that there has been an effort to make things comfortable for the inhabitants, be it the anaconda, the East African Green Mamba or the more commonly available vipers and kraits. The rare albino Sri Lankan cobra and a spitting cobra add to the thrill.

The aviary in the zoo is an experience. An artificially created waterfall plunges into a small lake with a little hut in the middle. Just above the waterfall is the road to the big cats, one of the marvels of the zoo’s landscaping. There is thick vegetation all around, and the place, cool and moist, is overrun with gaily chirping birds that even target your candyfloss for food. The bird cages are well-stocked with a variety of eagles, hornbills and owls. The cockatoos and macaws, placed strategically alongside the children’s play area, caw endlessly, adding to the happy noise. The butterfly garden, with its small yet magnificent collection of 30 different types of butterflies, is a major attraction.

The zoo accommodates a number of primates, some in larger areas than the big cats. But the most distressing sight is that of the elephants, five of them, all chained to the ground. Thankfully, Alipore zoo now has them in open spaces surrounded by moats, although it still cannot stop visitors from feeding them all kinds of rubbish. Yet the elephants are the USP of the Colombo zoo which, together with the famous elephant orphanage in Pinnawala and the farm at Gonapola, form the National Zoological Gardens. The beasts provide entertainment in the form of joy rides at fixed hours, fodder for zoo research and bring in much of the international attention the zoological garden delights in. Space again proves the obvious spoiler. But couldn’t there be some other way to exhibit these creatures?

The Colombo zoo seems to have arrived at a compromise between the principles of conservation and entertainment. Since Pinnawala takes off much of the conservationist baggage from its shoulders, the Dehiwala zoo is free to entertain its visitors with sea lion and elephant shows, animal rides and pelican-feeding without guilt. Some of it may even shock animal-rights activists, but then the zoo has no pretensions of aspiring towards the neo-modern concepts of zoo-keeping. It manages its premises well, and has even successfully sold itself as a centre of serious research, inviting students from abroad to serve as volunteers to help with projects. It may not have the parkland of France’s La Palmyra, or gardens as luxuriant as the Chester zoo, but Colombo zoo has a quaint charm of its own. If you forgive its attitude towards the big cats and the elephants, the Dehiwala zoo is one of the most pleasurable spots in the city.

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Sri Lanka's sun, tea and sand

Anna Murphy relishes Sri Lanka's lush plantations, tasty curries, quaint traditions, lovely beaches - and lack of fellow travellers.

Much of my life I have wanted to go to Sri Lanka. But every time I've been on the verge of booking, the Tamils have caused trouble. This year, when I finally bought a flight, things kicked off again. But I went anyway, and am glad I did. Avoid the north-east, the centre of the troubles, and you feel safe.

At times I felt that I had the island to myself - and what a superb island it is: its beaches are Bounty-advert perfection, its tea country the prettiest I've seen, its temples drip with character. The food is sublime and my accommodation was fantastic - and affordable.

You could spend a fortnight visiting Sri Lanka's sights, but in a convenient cluster near the island's centre - north of the hill town of Kandy, where I began my trip - lie three of the most remarkable.

At Sigiriya, a slab of rock rears out of the forest like a giant's thumbnail. Paintings of pneumatic women adorn the stone, with poems alongside that were engraved 2,500 years ago. A royal winter palace once sat on top of the rock.

Just to the south are the cave temples of Dambulla. In the main cave are colourful statues of Buddha, lined up like schoolchildren in front of a psychedelic backdrop of swirls and chequerboard. Locals leave offerings of lotus flowers - pink, white and lilac - or trays of intricately cut watermelon and guava.

A few miles to the east, at Polonnawura, the island's medieval capital, are the vast figures of the Gal Vihara - four Buddhas carved into the granite in various poses.

Despite the many sights that are ripe for exploring, it was tempting to relax at base. Kandy House, a 200-year-old walauwa (or manor house), is built around a cool courtyard; its rooms furnished with antiques and its garden a manicured jungle. In the evenings I sat outside, admiring birds of paradise, drinking a concoction called a ginger kick and steeling myself for the feasting ahead. Supper was a panoply of curries - beef, okra and, most deliciously, hibiscus - followed by wattalapan, Sri Lanka's answer to crème caramel.

My next stop was a surprisingly luxurious 1930s tea plantation bungalow, reached by a train that winds among the hills. We crossed slopes covered in a brilliant carpet of green tea bushes, which looked almost like the lawns of English suburbia. The illusion strengthened when we arrived at Norwood, the bungalow, with its Axminster rugs, its well-upholstered sofas and its bay windows overlooking a garden of begonias and hydrangeas. Beyond lay more plantations, the ant-like figures of Tamils - imported from southern India in the 19th century and identifiable by their dark skin and bright clothes - working away with huge baskets on their heads. In the distance rose dramatic peaks.

Visitors can cycle or walk between the four plantation bungalows, but I found it hard to drag myself away from Norwood. This was a place where, should I wander out of my room and ask for a cup of tea at around 4pm I might find myself served a full high-tea, a tottering fine-china tower of scones, ham-and-mustard sandwiches and lemon tarts. Then it was cocktail hour and the staff would press me to accept a Castlereagh Signature - I never discovered what the recipe was, but it tasted lethal. On my pillow at bed time was a bud of tea - the "first flush", picked in the morning - and between the sheets a tartan-covered hot-water bottle - it can get chilly at 3,100ft.

From the tea plantations I travelled to the fortress town of Galle on the south coast. Europeans and Americans have been buying property there for a song for years, and I suspect that if it weren't for the effects of the tsunami and terrorism it would have turned into a sort of Marrakesh-cum-Lower East Side.

Galle's Dutch-built Old Town was largely untouched by the tsunami, thanks to its beefy ramparts. Its streets are lined with charmingly named dwellings - Jasmine Cottage; Ernest House - with pitched roofs that sweep down to verandas. Small wooden gates and fences separate cottages from the street, and front doors are of stained glass. Around one crumbling square are the courthouses, where lawyers sit outside, tapping away at ancient typewriters.

The former New Oriental Hotel, renamed Amangalla and now part of the Aman chain, is right in the middle of it all. These days it is even more glamorous than in its 19th-century heyday and its vast proportions are made more elegant with an array of antiques. If you lounge long enough by the pool in the garden, you're liable to be offered a bowl of delectable home-made ice cream. The hotel has an excellent hammam, and its barber will provide the closest of shaves while you recline in the original N O H-marked chair.

It was not always so perfect, as illustrated by an entry in a guestbook from the 1970s. "This is the Fawlty Towers of Asia," wrote one unhappy customer. "If you are reading this when you have just checked in, check out now…"

Today, though, I advise the opposite for this wonderful island: check in as soon as you can, before the rest of the world discovers its charms.

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KumbukRiver nominated for World Travel Awards

Sri Lanka’s KumbukRiver has been nominated for the Leading Eco-Lodge in the World at the World Travel Awards, the Oscars of the travel and tourism world. This is first time Sri Lanka figures among the ‘world’s leading’ classifications at the showpiece annual event which also includes awards by continent as well, the promoters of the eco-lodge said in a statement.

KumbukRiver has been voted among the world’s eight leading eco-lodges and will vie for the top slot when professionals from over 160,000 travel agents in over 200 countries vote for the first-ever Green Awards category at the 14 year-old event hailed as the most coveted awards scheme of the travel and tourism industry.

“KumbukRiver’s dramatic entry receives further significance as the other resorts nominated are all large-scale and well-established enterprises and only seven countries from the world are on the honours list.

The nomination by the WTA puts the eco-lodge from far-flung Buttala on the world tourism map, not for the first time, with KumbukRiver securing two other international accolades. KumbukRiver has currently been shortlisted for an award at the Virgin-Responsible Tourism Awards while Times-Online voted it among the world’s 50 best green places to stay, last year, making KumbukRiver the hottest Sri Lankan destination in the world of tourism,” the statement added.

Two other Sri Lankan entities are recognized this year by the WTA – Jetwing’s Ayurveda Pavilion has received two nominations, one under ‘Asia’s leading Resorts’ and the other in the category of ‘Asia’s leading Spa Resorts’ while Sri Lankan Airlines is named amongst Asia’s best airlines, completing an unexpectedly good year for Sri Lanka.

The promoters say KumbukRiver leads Sri Lanka’s resurgence on the world tourism market. The entire concept for the unique eco-lodge was a wild idea mooted by The 7th Frontier, an ad agency whose executives have had no exposure to the tourism industry previously.

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Sri Lanka: A land like no other

IF, as the legend goes, God created the world in six days, then it is entirely likely that he devoted the seventh day wholly to creating Sri Lanka! Paradise is a word too easily bandied around these days on the global tourism front, but in its application to this jewel of an island hanging like a teardrop in the Indian Ocean, it matches the description in every sense of the word.
Indeed, early explorers were in such bewiderment over Sri Lanka’s abundance of natural beauty—from golden beaches lapped enticingly by pristine blue waters to carpets of green foliage that make up the breathtakingly picturesque tea country nestled in the country’s highlands—that they coined the word “Serendib” (meaning a fortunate discovery by accident) to describe the island.

In fact, “serendipity” and “a land like no other” were two of the befitting names attached to the country long before it made its international mark as Ceylon (in colonial days) and later, in the years following independence, as Sri Lanka. The names alone bear witness to its richness and beauty, and the intensity of the affection it evokes in everyone who has ever visited the country.

But as chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board, Renton de Alwis and his hard-working team take great pains to point out, the negative vibes created by the reign of terror inflicted in the north by the Tamil Tigers’ terrorist outfit do not in any way impact on the fantastic beach resorts of the south such as Bentota and Hikkaduwa, nor in the cool recreational climes of Nuwara Eliya and Bandarawela where the colonial British created a home away from home—with these parts more redolent of Scotland than any place you associate with in the orient.

Concerns about the “business in the north” are easily displaced by an ethnicly diverse people (whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim) who are the most friendly and hospitable on earth, and whose gleaming smiles are worth a thousand words of friendly greeting. And dig this—a Sri Lankan holiday luxuriating in sun and sand (along with insights into a glorious culture that is over 2000 years old) does not only provide top grade recreational quality but the prices (whether you are counting dollars, euros, pounds or yen) are probabaly the most affordable in the world.

But the Sri Lanka Tourist Board is not just sitting back on its laurels. Explains Chairman de Alwis: “Today’s consumer is conscious about the environmental and social effects of tourism. With this in mind, the Sri Lanka Tourist Board has unveiled plans for a new and exciting project designed to raise Sri Lanka’s profile as a destination, offering socially and environmentally responsible tourism”

Outlining the rationale behind the “Sri Lanka Tourism’s Social Responsibility Service Project,” he adds: “The new plan is designed to bring greater numbers of socially and environmentally aware tourists to Sri Lanka, and to enhance their holiday experience while here. Local communities are the focus of the new plan and a key objective is building community support in the development of tourism.

To this end, the plan aims to link communities with tourism activities to ensure that the benefits from tourism actually contribute toward sustainable community development. Visitors to Sri Lanka who are interested will be able to take part in a community service project in one of five broad areas—carbon off-setting, child welfare, animal welfare, peace education and facilitation for the differently abled.”

It is clear that a growing number of tourists want to “give something back” while on holiday. This plan will give visitors to Sri Lanka the chance to fulfil this wish, and in doing so contribute toward the sustainable, socially responsible development of local communities. (To get involved contact the Sri Lanka Tourist Board on 0094 112426929, or e-mail

Whilst we were on the island, we had the wonderful experince of journeying to the hill capital of Kandy to witness the famous annual August festival (or Esala Perahera in the local vernacular) where every night for ten days, a specacular three-hour long procession of almost a hundred elephants coupled with scores upon scores of colorfully dressed native dancers, fire eaters, acrobats and drummers take to the streets in a dramatic exposition that is part theater and part fiesta.

The ritual is to bring out the scared relic of the Lord Buddha’s tooth that is kept in the Temple of the Tooth, which is one of Kandy’s—and indeed the country’s, primary landmarks.

Incidentally, the elephant is akin to being the national animal in Sri Lanka. And a magnificent tusker is given the honor of carrying the casket bearing the scared relic. Fitting that, since elephants in Sri Lanka were once royal property, and it was forbidden to kill them. Today there are just under 3000 wild elephants left, compared with nearly 15,000 two decades ago.

In order to protect the species, the Sri Lankan government has created an elephant orphanage in Pinnawela, which is not too far away from Kandy. Here care and protection is given to the many baby elephants found in the jungles without their mothers who had either died or had been killed by poachers.

Tea is easily Sri Lanka’s best-known gift to the world. As the biggest exporter on the planet of tea—unarguably the world’s healthiest and most popular brew—the Sri Lanka Tea Board is at the forefront of spreading the good word about the drink that in a quaint touch is still branded worldwide under the colonial name of Ceylon

Says Chairman Lalith Hettiarachchi: “Tea is what comes to most people’s minds around the world when they think of Sri Lanka. The main task of the tea board is to enhance this association by highlighting the benefits of tea to the market abroad, while at the same time promoting corporate social responsibility within the home grown tea industry.”

Sri Lanka’s tea country is contained primarily in the cool climes of the hills and valleys of what is known locally in the “up country” region. We stayed in the St. Coombes Estate where the Tea Research Institute is situated. And as its name suggests, the TRI is at the very core of protecting and scientifically developing the industry literally on ground level.

The picturesque and mountainous tea country provides for a contrasting holiday experience from the sun-kissed beaches of the south coast, and the cultural gems of the interior such as the 5,000-year-old Sigiriya Rock (with its amazing frescoes) and the ancient ruins of Anuradhapura and Pollonaruwa—all treasured wonders from the past. In fact, Sri Lanka is home to seven World Heritage Sites.

All in all, Sri Lanka has something for every holiday seeker, whether discerning traveler or just backpacking tourist. Rightly can it be heralded as the “Land like no other.”

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Britain's Got Talent - Connie Talbot Did it Again

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