Ex­otic break that’s help­ing heal Sri Lanka

Huddersfield Daily Examiner - - FRONT PAGE -

BE­FORE the tragedy, Kevin and San­dra had swapped the rat race for a life of travel, and the fam­ily had spent the pre­vi­ous five years ex­plor­ing In­dia, even vol­un­teer­ing at or­phan­ages and slums.

Gandys, which started with flip-flops but has grown into a whole fash­ion and life­style brand since its 2012 launch, was a way of con­tin­u­ing their par­ents’ legacy, giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity that shared in the dev­as­ta­tion, and help­ing other or­phans.

They also set up a char­ity foun­da­tion, Or­phans for Or­phans, to which 10% of their prof­its go, and opened a chil­dren’s home in Sri Lanka in 2014 (a sec­ond, in Malawi, was opened last year).

It also en­abled the broth­ers to carve out a fu­ture for them­selves, a tri­umph-over-tragedy tale the whole fam­ily would be proud of. AR­RIV­ING at Colombo Air­port af­ter a 10-hour flight from the UK, we’re re­freshed with co­conut wa­ter and juicy rambu­tans (a red, hairy fruit that’s a pop­u­lar snack across Asia), as we set off by road to Habarana, ab­sorb­ing the ever-chang­ing land­scape, as our schol­arly guide, Aloy, re­gales us with a pot­ted his­tory of Sri Lanka.

En­gulfed by the sweet fu­sion of bougainvil­laea flow­ers, heat and gaso­line, and sur­rounded by lush green land­scapes and dizzy­ingly tall palm trees, Sri Lanka is less in­tense than In­dia but, in ways, sim­i­lar, with the same splut­ter­ing au­torick­shaws, har­ried driv­ers dodg­ing la­conic cows and chil­dren rac­ing to school in Daz-white uni­forms.

Be­gin­ning with a steep in­cline, the ‘Lion Rock’, as it’s known, plateaus into two tiers, where the king’s 500-strong harem once as­sem­bled.

Af­ter the king’s death, the royal palace was aban­doned. It was used as a Bud­dhist monastery un­til the 14th cen­tury and even to­day, monks flock to the site, al­beit now with mo­bile phones in hand. The Si­girya Rock was also the back­drop for Du­ran Du­ran’s Save A Prayer video.

A two-hour trek, and the stun­ning panoramic view of the lush Sri Lankan plains, that in­spired some of the Gandys broth­ers’ de­signs, is am­ple re­ward for your ef­forts. OF course, no trip to Sri Lanka would be com­plete with­out ele­phants. At the Min­ner­iya Na­tional Park in Habarana, we see 300 of the gen­tle gi­ants, who dwell in the sur­round­ing forests of Matale, Polon­naruwa and Trin­co­ma­lee and con­gre­gate daily at a wa­ter­ing hole in the park.

We watch in awe as an ele­phant fam­ily saun­ters past, heads bob­bing, seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to the con­voy of jeeps trail­ing them. There’s even a two-day-old LATER, a five-hour drive takes us to the mist-shrouded tea plan­ta­tions at Nuwara Eliya. Af­ter a whis­tle-stop tour of the fac­tory, which sup­plies tea to UK su­per­mar­kets, we walk to the plan­ta­tions, where tea pick­ers smile for cam­eras as they toss fresh leaf tips over their heads and into bas­kets. Af­ter a night spent in the Her­i­tance Tea Fac­tory ho­tel, which sits high up in the plan­ta­tions, we set off on the two-hour jour­ney to Ella, where nestling into the hill­side, the pic­turesque Nine Arches Bridge is a draw for tourists. But it’s poignant for the Gandys broth­ers for very dif­fer­ent rea­sons; it was here they fled the hor­ror of the tsunami as chil­dren. “We fol­lowed the train tracks to get to the near­est town for help,” ex­plains Rob. “We’ve come full cir­cle. To­day, we’re here with Gandys. Now we can do some­thing to help those peo­ple who helped us.” An­other five-hour drive from Ella, our home tonight is the Cin­na­mon Wild re­sort in Yala, where wild an­i­mals wan­der the re­serve – and the pos­si­bil­ity of cross­ing paths with a leop­ard, or find­ing an ele­phant loi­ter­ing out­side your lodge is ex­hil­a­rat­ing.

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