Original Travel Founder Tom Barber shares with us his fascinating story from his Sri Lanka tour in this 3 part blog series...
For an island of its size, Sri Lanka has incredible diversity. In terms of its topography you have the dry, arid zones of the north and east, the cool and mountainous central zone of the tea country, and the lush, wet zone of the south-west. These diverse climates and dramatic landscapes support a great variety of flora and fauna. Nestled within this natural backdrop is a nation that is welcoming, intriguing and full of warmth. This is the culture of the Sinhalese people who, despite having suffered horrific hardships over the past 30 years, are some of the friendliest people I have ever met.
Sustainable living alongside the animals
We started up north in the cultural triangle where we stayed at the Heritance Kandalama, an architectural masterpiece by Sri Lankan national treasure Geoffrey Bawa. The hotel is built into a rock face in the forest, on the shore of lake Kandalama. The design is 100% self-sustainable, contemporary, and yet blends harmoniously with its surroundings. The forest canopy sweeps down over the hotel rooms and, using this as cover, monkeys stroll past regularly, keeping beady eyes peeled for food or clothing to scavenge. In the surrounding area there are large Elephant migrations as well as an abundance of other types of fauna, from deer, water buffalo and mongoose, to monitor lizards and numerous species of snake. At night bats swoop through the hotel corridors!
Decadent ancient civilisations
As well as this bountiful natural setting, there is a fascinating cultural heritage dating back thousands of years. The ancient civilizations of Anuradhapura and Polonnarauwa are evidence of once great and vast kingdoms and Sigirya (meaning Lion) rock is without doubt the most extraordinary yet magnificent fortress I have ever seen. A gigantic granite rock rising up from the ground some 600ft upon which King Kassapa (477-495) built an extravagant fortress modelled on a Lion's head. Kassapa's rule was one of decadence and over-indulgence. Life within the fortress flowed from one party to the next, he even had frescos of his topless harem painted onto one side of the rock face! Suffice to say the kingdom was rather short lived! To read part 2 click here.