Sri Lanka Tour Overview

Sri Lanka Tour Overview

Quick, come up with three things you know about Sri Lanka besides the tsunami.

If you’re like we were, your list is pretty short, and looks something like:
1. There was a long insurgency, with Tamil tigers blowing various things up (extra points if you know they were the assassins of Rajiv Ghandi)
2. It’s home of the famous author Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey)
3. It was formerly known as Ceylon, and famous for tea.
RiceFields

Not a lot on the list to make it seem a compelling place to visit. So, how did we end up here?
Last year, while on our Rajasthan, India tour, we met up with a friend of a friend in Jaipur. He and his family are posted there for a few years, but call Sri Lanka home. The kids didn’t care for India at all, and extolled the wonders of Sri Lanka. It sounded so lovely, we decided to put it on our agenda for this year.
The kids were right – it is a fabulous country, and very different from neighboring India. Its original name, Serendib, suits it well. Think of a cross between the garden of Eden, Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book” a quintessential British colonial outpost of the 1930s, then add some Buddhist monks. The Sri Lankan tourism tag line is “Like no other place in the world”, and I think they’re right. There are terraced hills of tea plantations, ancient cities pre-dating [Ref: /Asia/Thailand/ThaiVietCambodia1101/AngkorWat.html] by a thousand years, wild elephants, monkeys in the trees, exotic birds, spice and fruit trees of every description, garden flowers growing wild by the roadside, beautiful beaches locked in a permanent summer, highlands in perpetual late spring, and an exotic alphabet with letter shapes that look like they belong in a fairy tale. The people are friendly and in general not out to scam you, the prices are very inexpensive, it’s easy to get around, and it’s surprisingly organized for a developing country.
elephantheads
Of course, there are downsides, but they aren’t very evident when one is touring. The government, like most developing countries, is relatively corrupt. The twenty year battle with the Tamil Tigers ended with a cease fire four years ago, but tensions still run high, as evidenced by frequent checkpoints on the road and abundant military presence. During our tour, a Tamil member of the Sri Lankan parliment was assasinated (by a ultra-right wing Tamil); this was the first significant incident since the cease-fire. The Tigers have de facto control over the north and east of the country, but it’s relatively straightforward and safe to travel there. It is quite a poor country, with certain segments of the population, like the tea pluckers, living in absolute poverty (less than $1/day). The tsunami devastated the eastern and southern shorelines, but the rest of the country remains a great place to visit.As we did last year in India, we decided to book a tour with Intrepid Travel – two weeks that covered most of the country except the rebel-held areas and the tsunami-damaged beaches. Intrepid’s a different sort of travel company (have a look here if you’re interested). We like their style, and the people who tend to go on this sort of travel are interesting as well. More on this, below.

companions2
Normally, the tour consists of about 12 travellers plus a group leader. Despite the fact the tour was almost entirely inland, away from tsunami-damaged areas, most of the people on the tour cancelled out. There were only two other people on the tour, both of whom were experienced, adventurous travelers and both of whom were excellent companions on the trip.
Erik, a Norwegian who has been living in Australia for the last 10 years. He’s 39, a university lecturer in Electrical Engineering in Melbourne. He’s the fittest of the lot of us.

sri lanka tour map

James, a mostly-retired Primary School teacher in the UK, 62, he’s had the travel bug for 40-some years and it seems like he’s been just about everywhere including a stint in San Francisco during the “Era of love”. His wife wasn’t particularly interested in coming to Sri Lanka — so he’s rooming with Erik. Our tour leader Bruno, Intrepid’s Man in Sri Lanka is a handsome, ebullient 29-year-old, who spent two years in Seminary, then expanded into marriage counseling and psychology; ended up with NGO called “Woodlands Network ” then ultimately hooked with Intrepid. The small group simplified travel logistics quite a bit — we had one air conditioned van for the duration of the trip. Much better than the Indian public buses last year.

The tsunami didn’t affect our trip much, since we were mostly in the highlands. Two of our beach-town stops were eliminated; instead we got to tour an awesome elephant reserve and have a homestay visit.The first part of the trip we concentrated on the cultural triangle, an area of the country with fascinating ruins dating as far back to 700 BC. The second part of the trip was to the hill country — home to tea plantations and perfect weather. We ended up our tour with a homestay and walking trips through Colombo, experiencing what day-to-day life here is like. Throughout, we had some interesting and wonderful experiences with the local foods.

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