Tea and sym­pa­thy

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - SRI LANKA -

Ryan Ver Berk­moes raises a cuppa to Sri Lanka’s beauty and re­silience

OURISTS con­tinue to pour into Sri Lanka in ever greater num­bers. About 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited the is­land in 2013, an ap­prox­i­mate 20 per cent in­crease on 2012 fig­ures. What makes Sri Lanka such a hot spot? Try fab­u­lous beaches, an­cient cul­ture, great surf­ing, wildlife-filled sa­faris, tasty food, fa­mously re­fresh­ing tea and warm, hos­pitable peo­ple.

My fascination with Sri Lanka be­gan when I read Paul Th­er­oux’s The Great Rail­way Bazaar as a child. His won­der­ment at the is­land’s end­less con­tra­dic­tions stayed with me. In 2004, I was in the west and south in the weeks after the tsunami. I was struck by the sto­ries of the sur­vivors and deeply moved by their ef­forts to re­build. In the years since, I have been end­lessly amazed by the Sri Lankans’ abil­ity to over­come dis­as­ter, war and myr­iad other chal­lenges as they work tire­lessly to make their coun­try match its po­ten­tial, while re­main­ing some of the most charm­ing peo­ple on the planet.

FIVE TOP EX­PE­RI­ENCES UDA WALAWE NA­TIONAL PARK

This huge chunk of sa­vanna grass­land cen­tred on the Uda Walawe reser­voir is the clos­est Sri Lanka gets to East Africa. There are herds of buf­falo (although some are do­mes­ti­cated!), sam­bar deer, croc­o­diles, masses of birds and ele­phants – and we don’t just mean a few ele­phants. We mean hun­dreds of the big-nosed crea­tures. In fact, we’d go so far to say that for ele­phants, Uda Walawe is equal to, or even bet­ter than, many of the fa­mous East African na­tional parks.

AN­CIENT ANU­RAD­HA­PURA

Here, bits of Sri Lanka’s cul­tural and re­li­gious her­itage sprawl across 3sq km. In the cen­tre is one of the world’s old­est trees, the more than 2000-year-old Sri Maha Bodhi. It has been tended by guardians for all those cen­turies. The re­gion’s fields of crum­bling monas­ter­ies and enor­mous dagobas (or stu­pas) at­test to the city’s role as the seat of power in Sri Lanka for a thou­sand years. Bik­ing through this heady past is a thrilling ex­pe­ri­ence.

SURF­ING AT ARUGAM BAY

The heart of Sri Lanka’s grow­ing surf scene, the long right break at the south­ern end of Arugam Bay is con­sid­ered Sri Lanka’s best. From April to Septem­ber, you’ll find surfers rid­ing the waves; strag­glers catch the ran­dom good days as late as Novem­ber. Through­out the year you can revel in the surfer vibe: there are boar­d­rental and ding-re­pair joints, plus plenty of laid-back cheap han­gouts of­fer­ing a bed on the beach. And there are fine breaks at nearby Light­house Point, Whiskey Point and Okanda.

ADAM’S PEAK

For more than 1000 years, pil­grims have trudged by can­dle­light up Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada) to stand in the foot­prints of Bud­dha, breathe the air where Adam first set foot on Earth and see the place where but­ter­flies go to die. To­day, tourists join the lo­cal pil­grims, who stand in the predawn light atop this per­fect pin­na­cle of rock to watch the sun crawl above waves of moun­tains.

VISIT TEA PLAN­TA­TIONS

It wasn’t re­ally all that long ago that Sri Lanka’s Hill Coun­try was largely a wild sweep of jun­gle-clad moun­tains, but along came the Bri­tish who felt the need for a nice cup of tea. So they chopped down the jun­gle and turned the Hill Coun­try into one gi­ant tea es­tate.

WHAT’S NEW HO­TELS & MALLS, COLOMBO

Sev­eral huge ho­tel and mall com­plexes are set to open

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