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Sri Lanka – Our Man in Colombo

Sri Lanka - Our Man in Colombo

I left my hometown of Buenos Aires at 17 and never looked back. Now 43, I’m still on the road with no end in sight. Sometimes people ask me what my motivations were for choosing the life of a perpetual wanderer and I always tell them the same thing – fear of boredom.

One of my biggest inspirations has been ‘The Tao of Travel’ by Paul Theroux, while this quote from the Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy has always stayed with me: “Choose your country, use guidebooks to identify the areas more frequented by foreigners – and then go in the opposite direction.”

Europe, Latin America, Asia, I’ve travelled through them all, and never been tempted to stay in one place for long or stick to the map. Over the years one comes to realise that the memories from the road that stick to you most are the experiences that you never expected.

Life in Colombo

I fell in love with Colombo through literature, especially the brilliantly dark descriptions rendered by Carl Muller. He spoke of an obscure underlying force dwelling underneath the new malls, the fancy shops and cafes, one that has been there all along. With the right kind of eyes you might be able to see it for yourself, so keep yours open.

Something to remember when exploring Galle Face Green 

On the morning of April 4th, 1942, the Japanese launched a massive air raid on Colombo using over 125 aircraft commanded by Mitsuo Fuchida, the naval captain who led the attack on Pearl Harbor. Their target was the British Eastern Fleet, which the Japanese mistakenly thought was still at Colombo, but, in fact, it had been moved just days previously to the Maldives and Trinco. Fuchida had to content himself with sinking the HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall.

A few British Hurricanes took to the skies in defence. One pilot was hit but managed to land on Galle Face Green to the surprise of passers-by. He was able to walk to the nearby Galle Face hotel where someone called: “You need a drink!” He was handed an amber liquid that turned out to be cold tea. It was only 8.30am and the bar was still closed, but the Japanese had failed in its attack on Ceylon. 

Leonard Woolf in Ceylon 

Colombo can sometimes feel like a bit of a madhouse with the bustling crowds and the heat combining to form a heady effervescence. The writer Leonard Woolf described it thus: “…there was something extraordinarily real and at the same time unreal in the sights, sounds and smells – the whole impact of Colombo, the Grand Oriental Hotel, and Ceylon in those first hours and days, and this curious mixture of intense reality and unreality applied to all my seven years in Ceylon.”

If you’re planning a trip to Sri Lanka then a copy of ‘Woolf in Ceylon’ by Christopher Ondaatje makes for an insightful introduction to the country. The Grand Oriental Hotel which Woolf saw in the early 20th century is still standing, a wonderful monument to a bygone era.

Jaffna

For adventurous travellers or return visitors to Sri Lanka who want to see a different side to what they’ve previously experienced, Jaffna in the northern province should certainly be on your itinerary.

I wanted to create a programme in Jaffna that would help pave the way for tourism to return to the area and revitalise the economy.  In essence, many larger operators tend to use Sinhalese guides to take tourists to Jaffna, guides who often don’t know the area well, know even less about its history, and don’t get along with local Tamils.

We began a tourism program that is run by and for the benefit of local people. We believe this is the first initiative of its kind in Sri Lanka, and it has been met with amazing feedback from clients and locals alike, something that gives us immense pride.

We aim to develop Jaffna tourism in a way that’s true to our values and our vision of sustainability. We also want to highlight unique experiences here and open the door to more remote destinations such as Delft. Originally a Portuguese island known as ‘Isla de Vacas,’ it was taken over by the Dutch and renamed after their city of Delft which, as you may know, was the birthplace of Vermeer. This is a place of haunting beauty, with walls made of coral, no cars and wild horses that run freely around the landscape. In all of Sri Lanka, this is the place about which I am most passionate, and I love introducing it to first-time visitors.

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An Interview with Henrietta Cottam from Why House, Galle

There are an amazing group of people behind our collection of stunning hotels in Sri Lanka. With first-hand experience of Sri Lanka as a luxurious holiday destination, these interesting people each have their own unique story. We thought you might enjoy getting to know them too. Here we give you a Q&A session with Henrietta Cottam, Guest Relations Manager at Why House, near Galle.

Q: How long have you lived in / been coming to Sri Lanka?

A: I came for Christmas in 2009 and stayed at Why House, which was then owned by a great friend. I came back in 2011 to set up Why as a hotel at his request and, despite a change of ownership, I am still here five years later.

Q: What encouraged you to visit, stay and settle?

A: Why House has a magical quality to it and the staff I inherited are still here, which makes it hard to leave as we have all been on such a journey. I have also had the opportunity to create a product from nothing, which has been an amazing experience especially since this was my first foray into tourism. Timing has played a good part too as I hit Sri Lanka just as it piqued people’s interest again and is now a hot destination.

Q: What do you love about Sri Lanka?

A: The weather fascinates me as it truly is so changeable. I also have a deep regard for the people who also intrigue me. I love their humour…. Only in Sri Lanka am I rendered speechless on a daily basis. My favourite is: “Madam, I am 100% not sure!”

Q: Where is/are your favourite places for a Sri Lankan getaway?

A: Dare I say it, but Kahanda Kanda. It is a very romantic and special place to me and I love the peace and quiet, and the staff. I also love Mamboz in Tangalle because the food is delicious and it has a hippy vibe that I can just about handle (I am an air con sort of a girl).

Q: Name three Sri Lankan must-sees or experiences

A:  Polonnaruwa: I loved it and found it haunting and beautiful.

Ratnapura: For all the trading, markets and hustle and bustle.

Koggala Lake: Sunset on the lake is pretty fabulous from a boat or lake side villa.

Q: What three items do you consider essentials for a Sri Lankan road trip?

A: Some good snacks – Sri Lanka’s ‘short eats’ can be heavy going when it is all that is available – a soft pillow, pashmina and car chargers for phones!

Q: What do you love about Sri Lankan food, and can you name a favourite dish?

A: I love the freshness of the food, the variety of cooking techniques and the use of local produce. I could become a vegetarian easily as the use of vegetables is extraordinary. My favourite dish is an okra curry – who’d have thought it! What a total surprise!

Q: Can you share a surprising/little known fact on Sri Lanka?

A: At Sri Lankan parties, they go home as soon they have eaten! Hence, it’s best to eat before a party, as food is always served late and one can be ‘nicely refreshed’ if not careful before the food is served.

Q: Can you share any tips with tour ops planning Sri Lankan itineraries?

A: Be realistic about the transfer times and manage the client expectations on how far things can be from each other. Sri Lanka is big!

Contact our experts for a tailor-made Sri Lanka holiday on 01285 651010 or email inspire@steppestravel.com

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Flavours of Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan cuisine is very distinctive, an exotic blend of tastes and aromas enriched by ethnic diversity and centuries of interaction with outside settlers. From early Arab traders to the European colonisers, Sri Lankan food has a wide range of international influences and is rich in flavour and variety. From rice and curry – a meal with a deceptively simple name that incorporates seven separate dishes, from curries to sambols – to the ever-popular string hoppers served hawker-style on the streets, something to please everyone can be found on your Sri Lanka holiday.

Sri Lanka has long been known for its spices, which Sri Lankan people use liberally in their dishes. Visit a spice garden and see how some of them are grown and processed, including clove, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, mace and pepper – and other favourites such as chocolate and vanilla.

Tea is also widely cultivated on this fertile tropical island, especially in the cool hill country but also in the lowlands. Sri Lanka has been renowned for its tea since the 19th century and is now the world’s fourth largest exporter of the product – take a tour of a tea factory and watch how the plant is processed from the leaves into this much-loved drink.

From bustling local markets bursting with tropical fruits and bizarre vegetables, vibrant aromatic spices and glittering fish to the delicious fresh crabs, prawns and other seafood found all along the coastline, there are many culinary delights to be seen and sampled. Your chauffeur-guide will be only too happy to help find you some tasty treats whilst you are on the road, or recommend a restaurant renowned for its excellent food.

Tickle your taste-buds

From Market to Mouth – Galle

Meet your host chef early in the morning at bustling Galle market, who will show you the core vegetables and spices used in Sri Lankan cuisine. Then, take a boat ride and bicycle ride to a rustic wattle-and-daub hut in a rural village, where your chef will show you how to prepare a range of dishes.

Jaffna Crab Curry – Jaffna

Jaffna cuisine is renowned for its use of the fresh seafood, and the region is especially famous for its crab curry. Learn the secrets to cleaning fresh sea crabs and how to prepare a traditional Jaffna crab curry. To finish off the experience, sit down to one of the best meals you will eat whilst in Sri Lanka.

Cinnamon Experience – Koggala

Sri Lankan cinnamon is regarded as the best in the world, and is a major export of the island. After taking a walking tour of a working cinnamon plantation, try your hand at cinnamon peeling and head to the factory to see it being processed. Finish with a cinnamon-themed lunch at Kahanda Kanda on the beaches of Sri Lanka.

Artisan Tea Tasting – Colombo

Join the Founder of Sri Lanka’s first designer tea brand, TEAELI in Colombo, for a fascinating session where you will learn all about the processing and manufacture of tea and the many varieties of tea found in Sri Lanka. You will also taste a selection of green, black and fusion teas from the artisan TEAELI collection.

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Sri Lanka – an enchanting Christmas escape

Sri Lankan Fishermen

Sri Lanka is an exquisite choice for a holiday during the festive season: December arrives and with it comes the island’s peak season, which runs until April. Most of the country basks in glorious sunshine, and the seas of the sought-after beaches of the west and south coasts become safe to swim in.

Christmas is a very popular time to visit Sri Lanka – the hill country, Kandy, Galle and the south coast are booked up months in advance and will be bustling with tourists come December. However, for those still seeking to escape to the island at this time of year, there are many other beautiful parts of Sri Lanka to be explored.

This blog takes you from the north-west coast to the untouched east, highlighting the best areas for finding a lively atmosphere, utter escapism or complete tranquillity – however you want to spend the holiday season, you can find it in Sri Lanka.

The north-west coast is not frequented very often by tourists, but also enjoys the plus points of peak season – great weather, and calm waters ideal for swimming and whale and dolphin watching. This region boasts exhilarating water-sports and stunning colonial-period architecture, and is particularly suitable for families.

Negombo is a youthful coastal town positioned approximately an hour north of Sri Lanka’s capital city Colombo. Known for its laid back beach bars and lively atmosphere, Negombo also boasts beautiful old architecture, mainly in the form of colonial churches. The town was an important port during the colonial periods – in the late 17th century the Dutch built a network of canals, over 100 km in length, that were used to transport valuable cinnamon and other spices from the inland plantations to the coast. A photographer’s paradise, from the gaudy, chaotic festivals erupting on the streets to the bleached, beached and beautiful Oruva outrigger canoe catamarans. These driftwood sculptures have been used for centuries and are a key part of the fishing industry, which is the beating heart of Negombo – rise at dawn and watch the fishermen delivering their catch to the bustling, early-morning markets.

The Wallawwa – It might be situated just a few kilometres from the airport but this seventeen-room boutique property is far from being a transit hotel. Nestled amongst acres of stunning gardens, The Wallawwa is a 200-year-old manor house, the most ancient wallawwa in the entire province and still maintains many elements of its original architecture. The bedrooms are positioned around a central courtyard pool and the interiors are a blend of traditional décor and modern comforts. A sanctuary of serenity and style, The Wallawwa offers exquisite food, extensive spa facilities and is wonderfully convenient for both the airport and Negombo, which is just a thirty minute drive away.

Another vibrant coastal location, Kalpitiya is a beach town situated at the tip of a small strip of land on the north-west coast. Well-known for being a fantastic spot for water-sports, this is area is particularly good for kite-surfing and windsurfing due its close proximity to the ocean and the Kalpitiya Lagoon. It is home to a 17th century Dutch fort and church, stunning beaches and offers travellers the opportunity to see Blue Whales, Sperm Whales and the acrobatic Spinner Dolphins within a fifteen-minute boat ride.

Bar Reef Resort – Bar Reef Resort is an eco-resort set on a private beach stretch in the rural fishing village of Alankuda. Set amidst swaying palms, this property is utterly tranquil and has an enchanting rustic feel. Six mud cabanas and two larger villas stand either side of a central avenue which is dotted with periwinkle flowers and lit with gas lamps at night. There is a large salt-water infinity pool fronting the property, shadowed by a majestic ambalama, which appears to blend straight into the ocean beyond. This swimming pool is illuminated at night with lights in the shape of star constellations, making for a magical evening dip. Beach living at its most classic, this property will charm you.

Spinner Dolphins and Blue Whales

Accompanied by an experienced naturalist, take the thirty-minute boat ride from Kalpitiya Beach out into deeper ocean waters. Before long you will be surrounded by Spinner Dolphins leaping and spiralling into the air – sometimes up to 300 can be seen together at one time. Blue Whales and Sperm Whales also travel through these waters, and between December and March there is a high likelihood of seeing these mighty creatures. Unlike the busy south coast, whale and dolphin watching here is a much more tranquil experience with far fewer boats, giving you a better chance of seeing these incredible creatures up close.

Wilpattu National Park
One of Sri Lanka’s largest and oldest parks, Wilpattu is spectacular. Comprised of dense scrub jungle, dry-zone forest, small lakes surrounded by grassy plains and a coastal border where you can see the remains of Queen Kuweni’s palace (thought to date from the ancient times), Wilpattu National Park is home to leopards and sloth bears, as well as elephants, different types of deer, wild boar, water buffalo and mugger crocodiles, and abundant species of bird and butterfly. Wilpattu is frequented much less than some of the more commercial parks in the island, such as Yala – you may not even see anyone else during your safari.

Gal Oya

Gal Oya is slightly inland from the east coast, centrally located between Batticaloa and Arugam Bay and positioned to the east of the Senanayake Samudra, one of Sri Lanka’s largest lakes. Gal Oya National Park, an extensive wildlife sanctuary, sits beside this lake, which is scattered with small islands that wild elephants can sometimes be seen swimming between. The park also houses Axis Deer, Muntjac, Water Buffalo, Sambar, Leopard, Toque Monkey, Wild Boar, Mugger Crocodile and Star Tortoise. Gal Oya is also home to the Veddas, the country’s indigenous people who still retain a distinctive cultural identity.

The Gal Oya Experience: a walk with the veddas, Sri Lanka’s indigenous people.
The veddas are the aboriginal people of Sri Lanka and are more shrouded in secrecy, mythology and mystery than any other group of people on the island. This walk with Gal Oya’s vedda chief provides a unique insight into a culture which is rapidly disappearing. Taste their honey and marvel at their traditional hunting weapons. This is a community on the brink of extinction: as you trek through the forest listening to the somber melodies they chant, you will gain a deeper understanding of how fragile this tribal existence is.

Get in touch with one of our experts to discuss a tailor-made holiday to Sri Lanka on 01285 651010 or email inspire@steppestravel.com

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Sri Lankan Cinnamon Production and Tri, Lake Koggala

Did you know that Sri Lanka is one of the most prolific cinnamon producers in the world? The island is heady with the aroma of cultivated spices, and is responsible for producing over 80-90 per cent of the world’s supply of true cinnamon (cinnamon zeylanicum), the purest form of the spice which is prized for its thin smooth bark, golden yellow colour, highly fragrant aroma and sweet taste. The spice is carefully cut from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree, peeled by trained hands, before being packed into cigar-shaped quills and dried to a papery golden brown. Whilst on a Sri Lanka holiday guests can get a glimpse into the humble world of cinnamon production by staying at Tri, on Koggala Lake.

History

Arabian traders were some of the first to trade in Sri Lankan cinnamon and it wasn’t long before Europe took interest, keen to eliminate the middleman, with navigators setting out for the world’s most aromatic shores. The first European country to wrest control of Sri Lanka’s spice trade, particularly cinnamon, was Portugal, when they stumbled upon the island in 1505. The Portuguese subsequently tamed Sri Lanka’s wild cinnamon into cultivated crops, and held a monopoly over the spice for over 100 years before they were ousted by the Dutch who established a trading post in 1638. As one Dutch captain reported: “The shores of the island are full of it… It is the best in all the Orient. When one is downwind of the island, one can still smell cinnamon eight leagues out to sea“. Subsequent battles for control of the island were largely down to the value of cinnamon, along with gems, ivory, pearls and elephants.

Process

The delicate golden cigar-shaped quills of cinnamon are produced entirely from hand in a long and painstaking process with no wastage; oil is extracted from the leaves and the unwanted wood is used for cooking. The inner bark is carefully peeled off using a knife and then tightly packed together to form traditional quill shapes. It is an innate skill, and very hard to master. The quills are then air dried. Cinnamon peeling is traditionally a family business with skills passed down through the generations and family members taking on different roles.

The cinnamon experience

Cinnamon used to grow wild inland from the south and west coasts, though is now neatly cultivated. One of the best areas to see the process of cinnamon production is around the spicy shores of Koggala Lake, near Galle, on the island’s south coast. This meandering waterway is home to ‘Cinnamon Island’, and the Tri Hotel, which overlooks the lake, offering its guests trips by dhoni to the island for a cinnamon peeling demonstration. On returning to the hotel having enjoyed a superb journey across the lake, guests will return to a feast of traditional Portuguese pastel de nata (egg custard tarts infused with cinnamon) and cinnamon iced tea.

Get in touch to learn more about our holidays to Sri Lanka. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.

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Discover the vibrancy of Sri Lanka

I am writing this blog retrospectively and as I do so I look out of the window at the kind of grey, bare, biting November day that inspires travel-related day dreams of a holiday to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka is so vibrant. Not just vibrant in the sense of colour, spice, sun, and tropicality but also vibrant in the sense that the country is changing. Fantastic hotels are springing up, Living Heritage Koslanda by way of example. Interesting new excursions are bursting on to the scene – walking around the capital city with a hugely knowledgeable local guide (a doctor and an engineer, no less) opened my eyes and totally changed my perception of Colombo that, in large part owing to the civil war that ended in May 2009, had all but completely hidden its charms from its visitor.

Now there is a buzz in Colombo that demands one’s attention. Wonderful old department stores, such as Cargill’s, are being renovated and the Old Dutch Hospital now boasts designer shops and magnificent eateries. The chilli crab I ate at the ever popular Ministry of Crab hit me for six. It was sublime.

Away from the capital the country is as sleepy and as scenically splendid as I remember it from my previous visits but you can now see more of it and, importantly, see it in style. The old favourite hotels are still there and still excellent but they are now facing more and more competition which is healthy and good for the traveller.

Now is the time to visit Sri Lanka.

Start your Sri Lanka holiday with us, call us on 01285 880 980  or email inspire@steppestravel.com.

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Wilpattu National Park | A Tall Order

It has it all, turtles walking across busy roads, Land Monitors lizards sloping around looking like they are up to no good, elephants en masse, casual leopards posing for pictures and shy sloth bears jumping out of bushes.

For an island around the same size as Britain, a Sri Lanka holiday can certainly pack a lot in. The first park I visited on my trip was Wilpattu in north Sri Lanka, it recently opened its doors again to the world and thankfully for me tourism has yet to take hold.

We entered Wilpattu National Park through an enchanted wood, trees bent around one another, twisted and turned forming a frame around the road ahead, an unusual and mysterious way to enter a national park. As the drive went on we drove through fjords, around stunning lakes that were full of mugger crocs and spotted several of the national bird – Jungle Foul, which always scurries around busily in and out of bushes, never staying long enough to get photographed.

Before coming out to Sri Lanka I was asked what animal I would like to see and never in my wildest dreams did I actually think that I would see it. I have been to many safaris in India and always wished I would see a real life Balou. Sightings are few and far between and when they happen it is usually too quick to photograph but today was my lucky day.

At first I could only see his back side, it looked a bit like a boulder but once he turned and looked through the bushes at me I could see his whitish long nose. He stared at us for a few minutes, then looked away and tried to hide behind a bush. I find it amazing how a big black fluffy bear can be so well camouflaged in the dry bush of a Sri Lankan park, everything else seems so well suited to its environment apart from the sloth bear. I am fascinated to know why they are only native to Sri Lanka and India when they both have such hot climates. Of course they are nocturnal animals, only venturing out in the cool of the night or very early in the morning which is why I was lucky enough to spot one, just as the sun was coming up.

The fluffy mass of bear that I saw was shy and inquisitive, he didn’t look like he would hurt a fly but appearances are obviously deceptive. Along with buffalo, sloth bears are the most dangerous animals in the park, they have claws long enough to scratch through termite mounds (built as hard as rock) and if they are confronted by an enemy or human they are renowned for scratching and clawing to death.

Eventually he found the confidence to dart cross the path we were on, his black mass of fluff and white nose now clearly defined against the burnt red path, it couldn’t have been a better sighting for me, the best thing about it was that it was just our jeep full of lovely people from Leopard Safaris, the bear and possibly a sly old leopard watching from afar to share the experience with – perfection!

We have a number of holiday ideas and suggestions that take in the National Parks, our Family Adventures in Sri Lanka can be perfectly tailored to your needs and family requirements. Contact our experts for a tailor-made Sri Lanka holiday on 01285 651010 or email inspire@steppestravel.com

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The forgotten north, Jaffna & Little Delft Island

There were no other vehicles for about a mile, it felt as though we were zipping along an American highway but instead of burger joints and service stations there were UN Habitat houses, Australian Aid camps, army camps, special task forces outposts and police headquarters scattered equally along the long straight road.

I was on my way to Jaffna, passing through Killinochi town where a huge water tank lay on its side as a result of the civil war, and was heading for the Elephant Pass. Along the highway, for about half a mile, danger signs mark the sites of unexploded land mines which haven’t yet been cleared from the area.

Once I had reached Elephants Pass I walked up to the large war memorial which sits looking over salt pans. The water around it is bright green and the sand gleams in strong sunlight, it’s beautiful but sobering at the same time. It was along this pass that the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE had three major battles and where the Sri Lankan Government cut off Jaffna’s supplies in hope that the lack of food, petrol, oil, soap, telecommunications and much more would weaken the LTTE defence.

Almost immediately after entering Jaffna’s city I was taken to the interestingly shaped cubic Fort (originally built by Portuguese), not much is left of it after the war but what little remains is being lovingly restored with Dutch funding. Inside I found the remains of a church, prison, bell tower and a small war monument in memory of soldiers that were killed there in my life time. It looked as though a bulldozer had charged its way in, leaving parts of the buildings still recognisable. As I passed through the fort gates it was easy to make out the thousands of bullet holes and graffiti left on the walls; parts have been patched but whats left leaves a lace like pattern all through the walkway.

I also went to the library, where in the 1980’s the Sinhalese government are rumoured to have burnt all the books in an attempt to hinder the education of local Tamils. When I left I spotted a man walking towards me, he had also been inside, under his low worn, washed out red baseball cap his big eyes looked around nervously, as he continued to walk closer I smiled at him, all of a sudden he turned direction and walked away looking back over his shoulder towards me again. My driver, Brian gave me a knowing look and I realised that it wasn’t just me that thought the man was acting strange.

The following day in my attempt to dig deeper into Jaffna’s past it was recommended that I contact Dipesh a local guide and it wasn’t until half way through a tour of the city that Dipesh announced it was him at the library, he wanted to approach me to ask if I needed a guide but had second thoughts and walked away.

Dipesh was a tall man, he looked old before his time, he had huge brown eyes with yellowed whites, he wore what was left of his hair combed over to one side and hidden underneath his cap. He had studied geography! Sri Lankan history and he had also survived a war of 30 years in his home town, he announced shortly into the tour that he had seen a gun before he seen or used a telephone and that to listen to the radio they would wire up push bikes to make a dynamo. I could tell instantly that he was well read, an intellectual not really a socialite.

Education has always been important in Jaffna, in fact it is home to one of the countries best universities and during the war education is what focused the young and helped them look towards a brighter future. The problem the city now faces is that highly educated young people with top class degrees no longer want to stay in the northern province and are tempted by better opportunities elsewhere, either in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo or further afield in Australia.

It’s rumoured that locals who fled Jaffna during the war to seek refuge in other countries are now beginning to return, but a good number of them are claiming claiming back their land, selling it and taking their cash back home with them. The city is recovering slowly but until people are confident that the troubles are over it seems unlikely there will be any major investment in the near future, which can only add to the problem of unemployment.

Most people in this province are involved in agriculture or fishing and although you wouldn’t know it now, the hard working farmers did well when the area was cut off from the rest world, people had no choice but to source their food locally and as a result demand was high. These same farmers survived for many years without modern irrigation systems, pesticides or fertilisers, they invented clever ways of irrigating their land using the wells which are still doted all around and used organic methods such as planting marigold plants near crops to deter pests.

As you move north it is obvious that fishing is the main source of income and at the recently opened, most northerly tip of Sri Lanka I found fishing villages that suffered badly from the tsunami. It is a beautiful, lively part of Jaffna and like the rest of the north, it’s been untouched by tourism and is seeped in history. I was lucky enough watch the huge red sun set from the end of the road with music from a near by temple blasting through the air.

During my visit to the north I also visited Delft, a strange and intriguing little island where the pace of life is slow, the landscape reminded me of the isle of Gigha on the west coast of Scotland apart from the dry stone (or coral!) walls made from dead brain and fan coral that neatly divide the land. The little 30km island has a post office, court, prison, market area, several schools, some of which are funded by the church and international aid. To reach the island I took a cargo boat, it’s blue wooden sides had been battered from years of hard work ferrying essential supplies and passengers to and from the main land. The journey took just over an hour, not to be sniffed at when there were no seats or shade from the blazing sunshine, it was gruelling and I had to return exactly the same way.

Whilst on the island I met with Reverend David who gave me a whistle stop tour of the island, he showed me the baobab tree, one of only two found in Sri Lanka and the ruins of a fort, prison and hospital that had all been sadly destroyed during the war. After the short tour we stopped at the beach, the water was clear blue and waves were gentle, it felt far removed from the sophisticated beach resorts near Galle, in the south of island, but there was no one in sight, no honking horns, no beach touts or beer to be found. To my horror I though, also saw the beginnings of a small hotel, a two or three story monstrosity that has been promising to open this year and I realised that this little island may not stay undeveloped for long, as tourism creeps it’s way further up to the north leaving luxury hotels in its path, it will eventually hit little Delft and when it does, I can only hope that it’s charm and innocence isn’t lost along the way.

We have a number of holiday ideas and suggestions that take in Jaffna and the north, our North Sri Lanka Discovery can be perfectly tailored to your wishes and must see places. Contact our experts for a tailor-made Sri Lanka holiday on 01285 651010 or email inspire@steppestravel.com

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Whales and Leopards of Sri Lanka

I’ve just spoken to one of our well travelled cilents who are keen wildlife enthusiasts who are both delighted travellers following their holiday in Sri Lanka. The main reason for their trip was to see wildlife so I was thrilled when they told me of the amazing sightings they’d had.

While based in Galle we’d booked a private boat for whale watching trips and while on the water they’d seen pods of dolphins, Pilot whale and the elusive Blue whale – what a rare treat. Moving onto Yala National Park they were lucky enough to have seven leopard sightings and all this topped off by an hour observing a solitary Sloth bear.

Sri Lanka really does manage to offer something for everyone but if wildlife is you’re thing and you’d like to experience these sightings for yourself then why not consider our Wilderness and Beaches holiday idea?  You could visit the Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Society, working hard to support wildlife on this enchanging island or explore he waters off Trincomalee, home to a historical harbour and where dolphin and whale watching trips can be organised.

Do give me a ring if this appeals, having visited Sri Lanka three times I’d be more than happy to regail travel stories – I promise not to bore you!  Sally Walters. Product & Commercial Manager, Eurasia.

Contact our experts for a tailor-made Sri Lanka holiday on 01285 651010 or email inspire@steppestravel.com