When Leonard Wolff visited in the 1920s, he wrote: “I once in Anuradhapura saw a man sweeping the courtyard around a dagoba. He was dressed like a sweeper, but there was something rather strange about him. I got into a conversation with him and found that he had been a wealthy businessman in Colombo; he was highly educated and spoke perfect English. Suddenly at the age of about fifty, he had felt an irresistible need to throw it all up and follow the path of Buddha which led him, not to penance or mortification of fakirs, sannyasins, dervishes, or monks, but to the life of gentle contemplation sweeping the dagoba. It is not a withdrawal and occupation which would ever appeal to me personally, but I respect the man to whom they appealed and the religion which inspired him.”
The Sri Maha Bodhi at Anuradhapura is thought to have been brought to Sri Lanka by no other than Sangamitta, the daughter of the emperor Asoka, sometime around the third century BC. According to tradition, it is a sampling of the Bodh Gaya under which Buddha attained enlightenment. At the time when Anuradhapura was abandoned in search of a new capital further south, a group of monks stayed behind to protect it – especially from elephants looking to feast on its young leaves. People have been coming here and paying respect for a whopping two thousand years, making it the oldest living tree of which there is a record. Today it is still a place of veneration as it was back in the days of King Devanampiyatissa.
After that, proceed to Ritigala Archeological Monastery. Ritigala has that feel of the undiscovered, a world away from the most famous sights in Sri Lanka. Make sure you take time to explore thoroughly and walk all the way to the higher part of the complex. The archeological site bears a certain mysterious nature owing to the long meditational pathways that open into the thick jungle and large stone-lined reservoirs. Take time to sit down and connect with nature in these ancient meditation sacred grounds. Afterward, proceed to your hotel in Sigiriya and relax. Your stay will be at Jetwing Vil Uyana, a property designed with attention to detail, reflecting different ecosystems throughout its different clusters of well-appointed dwellings. Overnight stay at Jetwing Vil Uyana, Sigiriya – Garden Dwelling. (B)
Day 5 – Gal Oya National Park: After a relaxed breakfast, it’s time to proceed to Gal Oya. Gal Oya is an unexplored treasure in Sri Lanka. A national park surrounded by water and islands. A unique experience awaits. It is rustic, but it has all you need. Wonderfully appointed lodgings, an excellent team of local guides, and some of the best food to be found in the country. One ‘feature’ of note – there is no phone signal at the property, which is a real luxury in this modern age. Later in the afternoon, join a resident naturalist for a walk around the lodge, enjoying the abundant birdlife and beautiful surroundings. The walk offers a number of possible routes through the trees and around the nearby lake where you can observe a wide range of bird species such as kingfishers, waggles, kites, and many other aquatic birds. Feel free to discuss your interests with your naturalist guide for a tailored trip to suit your preferences. Overnight stay at Gal Oya Lodge – Bungalow (Non-A/C). (B, D)
Day 6 – Gal Oya National Park: Today, enjoy a boat safari at the Gal Oya National Park. You will also enjoy a picnic breakfast at a remote island within the park itself. It’s a wonderful opportunity to observe the wildlife from the stunning Gal Oya Lake, including crocodiles, deer, elephant, and many rare and endemic species of birds. This is the only experience in Sri Lanka that enables you to spot wildlife from the water and to truly immerse yourself in the animals’ habitats. You may be lucky enough to see elephants swimming between islands or bathing at the lake’s edge. Today, you’ll ride through the national park and embark on a boat. As you cruise over the lake, make sure to keep a sharp eye out for the wildlife! Spend the afternoon on your own leisure enjoying the beauty of the surroundings. Overnight stay at Gal Oya Lodge – Bungalow (Non-A/C). (B, L, D)
Day 7 – Yala National Park: After a relaxed breakfast, proceed to Yala, where another unique experience awaits you.
Note: The Elephant Tollway – If you happen to be driving from Buttala on the road to Yala, chances are you will encounter Rajah, an elephant with the habit of standing right in the middle of the road! The story told is that during the war, people traveling this way would often see this elephant and give him some food and eventually, he became a feature on this lone part of the country
After enjoying a mouth-watering lunch, set out on your first afternoon safari into Yala National Park. Yala National Park is Sri Lanka’s most famous national park and with good reason. It is home to an amazing range of wildlife. Unfortunately, with fame came overdevelopment and if you enter the park from Kirinda – which is what most travelers do – you might end up in a traffic jam of jeeps and even buses. Traveling halfway around the world to be stuck in traffic eating dust is not really anyone’s idea of a safari, but it happens. We prefer to avoid the crowds, and by working together with Kulu Safaris we found a way to do just that by entering Yala through the Kataragama entrance – there might be some jeeps around but nothing as chaotic in the main gate area. If you stay at the camp for two nights, then there is a chance to explore the more remote areas of the national park such as Yala block 3 and 5 where there are hardly any visitors! If you spot a leopard it is a bonus, but Yala is much more than leopards! There are wild elephants, buffalo herds, boar, pythons, innumerable birds, bears, jackals, and more. So, as with many safaris around the world, bring your patience and if you don’t see a leopard, no worries – there is a lot more to it. Overnight stay at Kulu Safari’s, Yala – Tent. (B, L, D)
Day 8 – Yala National Park: Today, it’s all about wildlife! Set out on early morning and afternoon safaris into Yala National Park. Just in case the lure of safaris isn’t enough, the campsite has several activities available to keep you busy. Feel free to hop into a kayak and get out on the water for a couple of hours of solitude and exercise where you can experience a different aspect of nature. You can also set out on a jungle walk with one of the in-house naturalists. The walk provides a rare opportunity to learn interesting tips on the art of tracking, animal behavior, and offers a unique perspective for birding as well as photography. Overnight stay at Kulu Safari’s, Yala – Tent. (B, L, D)
Day 9 – Galle: After another delicious breakfast, proceed to Galle along the southern coastline. Set out on a walk around the Galle Fort in the afternoon. There are places in the world that speak of an era of times gone by, the Galle Fort is one of them. Imagine cobbled streets that have seen four hundred years of history from Arab merchants to the adventurous Portuguese and the industrious Dutch, with colonial homes complete with their red-tiled roofs, an impressive rampart surrounding a small peninsula jutting out to the Indian Ocean and you begin to get an idea of the fort in Galle. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the fort is that it is a living monument. Families that have lived there for generations continue to inhabit it’s fortified streets. In the afternoon, you might stop for some thambili from a local vendor or some crispy vaddais. The fort is alive, yet the development of the tourist industry means that many families are choosing to sell their homes to be turned into a new boutique hotel. If you visit Galle today, you will still get a chance of seeing it as a small Sri Lankan microcosm where Buddhists and Muslims live together. It is likely only a matter of time before this changes, as more development nearly guarantees the appearance of new hotels and tourist restaurants. Our advice is to come and see it now before it changes forever. Overnight stay at Fort Bazar, Galle – Bazaar Bedroom. (B)
Day 10 – End Of Itinerary: Sadly, it’s time to leave the Isle of Serendipity! You will be transferred to the airport to fly back to Colombo and then connect to your international flight. (B)