Negombo & Pinnawala

From Singapore we flew into Colombo on Tiger Airways. Anton our guide/driver met us and drove to nearby Negombo which retains much of the Portuguese & Dutch influence with canals and Catholic churches. Hundreds of traditional sailing canoes, carved from a single large log, still fish in the Indian Ocean and bring their catch to the active fish market.

Traditional sailing canoes carved are still used for fishing in Negombo

A jumble of modern fishing boats bring in the catch …

… for sale in the fish market

Old Dutch canal used to bring spices down to the Negombo port

Sun sets into the Indian ocean


Next day we were delighted by the antics of the elephants bathing in the river at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage about 2 hours drive north of Negombo.

Elephants bathing in the river at Pinnawala

A mahout washing his elephant

Monkey in the trees outside our room at the Palm Garden Village Hotel

Cultural Triangle – Anuradhapura

Anuradhapura was the first ancient kingdom and capital of Sri Lanka. It prospered from about 300BC until 1100AD.

By 500AD, 5000 monks lived here. The scale of this UNSECO World Heritage listed site is incredible. We spent hours exploring the stupas, Buddhist shrines and monuments.

The biggest of the white Stupas at Anuradhapura

Bride and groom in traditional wedding dress

Moonstone at the bottom of steps shows the endless life and reincarnation cycle

Steps are guarded by dwarves

The lion, a symbol of strength, is on the Sri Lankan flag

Elaborately carved guard stone holds the steps in place

Buddha carved from a single stone was once covered in gold

Giant reclining Buddha

Lady making delicious banana rotis on a makeshift stove

The world’s oldest tree – from a branch of the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment

Imagine 5000 red robed monks coming here to bathe

120 meters tall and containing almost 100 million bricks, this is the world’s largest brick building: the 3rd largest structure in the ancient world, after the pyramids

Cultrural Triangle – Sigiriya & Polonnaruwa

Sigiriya, known as the “Fortress in the Sky” was built into a city complex about 500AD when the king moved from Anuradhapura.  It is another UNSECO World Heritage site and a “must see” for every visitor to Sri Lanka.

It took us about an hour to climb to the top.

Sri Lanka was ruled from Sigiriya in 500AD – the top is 200 meters above the surrounding plains

In a cave halfway up the mountain, a few 1500 year old frescos (pigment applied directly to wet plaster) of graceful female figures remain, part of what was once the largest gallery in the world

Only royal women were permitted to expose their breasts

The claws of the original lion’s mouth which led up to the royal palace

Royal pool atop the mountain



Polonnaruwa, the second Kingdom of Sri Lanka (after Anuradhapura), had its Golden Age in the 12th century AD, an era where trade and agriculture was at its peak.

We arrived in the scorching hot dry season. The 1000 year old irrigation systems are still functioning to supply the water for rice cultivation throughout the year.

All that remains of the royal palace at Polonnaruwa

This was the King’s audience hall

Elephant carved into the outer wall of the hall

Unique circular stone shrine, possibly built to hold the tooth relic of the Buddha

The pillars once supported a multi-storey building

Erected by the King’s Javanese mercenary body guard

Possibly the King who was responsible for the expansion of Polonnaruwa

The only female guards on a balustrade found

A magnificent moon stone with swans, elephants and cows at the base of these steps

Brick stupa holds precious relics

Sitting Buddha …

… and reclining Buddha both carved from the same rock

Of the 8 recorded lotus pools, only 1 has been discovered

Cultural Triangle – Dambulla Cave Temple & Kandy

The Dambulla Cave Temple is part of theUNESCO Heritage Cutural Triangle of Sri Lanka and is encrusted into a large rock which sits more than 160m above the surrounding land This ancient complex was initially established in 3rd Century BC.

We were awed. It is truly a wonder – the largest and best preserved cave temples in Sri Lanka; home to numerous religious and cultural paintings and sculptures.

Entrances to the Dambulla Cave Temple

There are 153 statues of Buddha in the caves

One of the early Kings

Murals on the walls depict the life of Buddha

Every square inch of the cave ceiling is painted

A giant reclining Buddha carved into the rock



The Temple of Tooth Relic is located in Kandy, the second largest city in Sri Lanka.  At 500 meters above sea level it rains a lot, in contrast to the hot dry northern plains we just left behind.

The Tooth Relic, one of Buddha’s teeth snatched from his funeral pyre, is one of the most venerable places for the Buddhists of Sri Lanka and all around the world.  Unfortunately we missed the annual Esala Perahera (the festival of the tooth) where the Relic is paraded on elaborately decorated elephants through the city.

The King’s summer palace was on this island in the middle of the huge man-made lake at Kandy

Hotel Suisse with its dark wooden floors and white walls is little changed since Lord Monutbatten stayed here the days of the Raj – Buffets 3 times a day in all tourist hotels

Traditional Sri Lankan drummer at the cultural show


Buddha’s Tooth Relic is in the building with the golden roof

Devotees buy flowers to place before the Tooth Relic

Inside the Temple complex

The Tooth Relic is behind this screen

Illustration of the elephants carrying the Tooth Relic on the annual festival of the tooth

Hill Country

Our trip through the Sri Lankan hill country started at Kandy (500m). We climbed through soft rain and fog to the cold Nuwara Eliya (2000m), stopping en-route to visit a tea factory and enjoy a nice cup of tea – complicated business this tea processing.

From Nuwara Eliya to Ella (1100m) we travelled by train. As we descended, the weather cleared allowing views of the tea growing plantations. For 2 days we stayed at the new 98 Acres Resort, built on top of a hill in the middle of a tea plantation. It was very quiet with wonderful views from our balcony. We enjoyed this place.

We walked a few kilometers from Ella along the railway track in time to see the train crossing the 9 Arch Bridge, then walked another couple of kilometers to Demodara where the track makes a 360 degree turn.  We caught the old rattler back.

One of the waterfalls as we climbed up from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

Nuwara Eliya, known as “Little England” was an English hill station; the old houses are now hotels

Our guide, Anton, pointing out some of the fresh vegetables at the local market

The 10k of road to the Nuwara Eliya train station was terrible so we took a Tuk Tuk …

… It was a bit bumpy!

As we descended in the train, the weather improved giving us some nice views …

… of the tea plantations amongst the gum trees

All tea is hand picked

Tea flowers are not used

Our travelling companions on the train to Ella

Ella means waterfall in Sinhalese

Bullocks plough the fields …

… to produce the crops for the Ella roadside market

Pepper is a very popular addition to the curries

Young monk drying pepper in the sun

Flower of the cardamom bush

Boy waiting for the train

The new train crosses the 9 Arch Bridge near Ella

The old train appears from the 360 degree turn climbing tunnel beneath Demodara

Rice is grown in terraced fields on the mountain valleys

16th Century bridge wooden on the footpath from Kandy to Bogoda (thanks Anton)

Dawn from our balcony at 98 Acres Lodge, followed by ...

… a Sri Lankan breakfast - string hoppers with 3 different curries

National Parks – Udawalawe & Yala

After a steep descent from the hill country we arrived at the 30,000 hectares Udawalawe National Park (200m), an ideal place to view elephants at close range. In our first 15 minutes in the park we spotted two herds of elephants, a jackal, peacocks, buffalo, a crocodile and a pair of bright green parrots. Off to a good start!

A herd of elephants in the Udawalawe National Park

This old bull was not friendly!

Elephants use their trunks to feel for the bottom when crossing muddy water

Throwing dust to get rid of flies

Painted Stork fishing

Got one!

Indian Roller

Looks like the buffalo enjoys the mud

Sri Lankan deer

Croc sunning itself

Storks nesting high in a dead tree

Buffalo at dusk

Kottu – roti, vegetables, eggs and chicken curry finely chopped at high speed is a dinner staple


Yala National Park is the second largest National Park in Sri Lanka.  It sits on the Indian Ocean to the South East on Sri Lanka and contains the highest density of leopards in the world.  We didn’t see any leopards, but on an early morning walk we spotted tracks of elephant, bear and leopard all within 50 metres of our hotel – maybe that is why you need a guard to take you from your cabin to the dining room after dark!  We were there in the hot dry season.  Many birds and mammals are drawn to the few remaining waterholes.

Friday is considered a lucky wedding day in Sri Lanka

Beware of elephants when entering the Chaaya Wild Hotel in the Yala NP – run if you see one!

Egg hopper for breakfast – wafer thin pancake made in a bowl shape with an egg cooked in it and …

… filled with curries of your choice

The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami deposited this statue on the beach

Traditional fishing boats look too fragile for the surf on the rocks here

Wild pigs roam the hotel grounds at dusk

Heron sitting on a water buffalo in the lake near the hotel

Bird looking for food in the lake

White Breasted Kingfisher

There are lots of Palm Squirrels around the hotel

The croc has his eye on the heron!

Beautiful fly catchers

There are a lot of peacocks

Elephants love the water lilies

Like mother – like daughter

Unfortunately we didn’t see any leopards, but we did see the tracks 50 meters from the hotel


As we headed west along the south coast of Sri Lanka, the dry thorny forest of Yala gradually changed to lush and wet tropical with palm fringed coves and bright green rice paddies.

Galle, occupied by the Portuguese in 1619, expanded by the Dutch from 1640 and further developed by the British from 1796, is home to the World Heritage Fort “Santa Cruz”.

We enjoyed our day’s cooking class with Karuna, starting at the Galle market to buy the ingredients and spices. She is a lively humorous woman and a great teacher.

Southern coast of Sri Lanka

A Temple on an island

Traditional south coast fishing boat

Stilt fishermen near Galle

5 of the world’s 7 species of turtle nest in the sands of southern Sri Lanka

Launching a fishing boat

Fresh fish straight off the boat

Sunday afternoon at the beach – Galle

Galle Fort walls

Entrance to the Fort – Dutch 1668

The Fort is very quiet inside

One meat and three veg with rice is the standard lunch curry meal

Dutch Reformed Church, 1755

The old Dutch Market

Karuna explaining the banana flower curry recipe to Jeff

The chicken curry will be delicious

Cooking class end result


Colombo is the commercial and administrative capital of Sri Lanka; a city of contrasts from the quiet tree lined embassy district with its colonial buildings to the bustling modern traffic snarled streets.

But we were here for the lampries, the only traditional Sri Lankan dish we hadn’t yet tried. Anton rang ahead to the Dutch Burgher Union to put in our lunch order. Lampries (Dutch for “Lump of Rice”) are much more than a mixture of curry and rice wrapped in a banana leaf . There is a multitude of flavors – rice cooked in stock; eggplant curry; pork, beef, and mutton curry; some sambal; a paste made with dried fish, onions, lime, salt and spices – all steamed in a banana leaf and delicious!

Lampries – rice and various curries steamed in a banana leaf – our new favourite Sri Lankan food

An old colonial club house in the embassy district

Making manioc chips at a street stall on the Green by the Indian Ocean – they taste great!

The venerable Veranda Bar at the Galle Face Hotel (1864) where we stayed

Sun sets into the Indian Ocean on our last night in Sri Lanka

Anton got up early in the morning to make us these delicious rotis before driving us to the airport


And so our trip to Sri Lanka comes to and end. Thanks to Exotic Lanka Holidays for organizing it all.

And especially thanks to Anton – our wonderful driver, guide, companion and teacher for the last two weeks.