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Mike HampshirePhotos Sourced by our Photo Editor Sarah Harvey

Sri Lanka Tea Plantation

Photos - click to enlarge.


Many hotels in Sri Lanka have staff expert in local wildlife. Mike Hampshire and his wife chose two such hotels on their visit to the island he describes as ‘a Garden of Eden, set in the Indian Ocean’.

A satellite's view of Sri Lanka

The reasons for a holiday in Sri Lanka are numerous. Consider the tropical sun, fantastic deserted beaches, the cultural and religious mix and ancient cities, and then there are lush green hills and mountainsides, bustling towns and villages, new food sensations and very reasonable costs. Some writers suggest that Sri Lanka was given the name ‘Serendip’ by past Arab traders and with serendipity meaning ‘making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident’ the island fits this fabled label perfectly. Around every bend in the road is yet another scene that engages all the senses – bright vibrant colours, new aromas from this spice island, bird calls mingled with hooting car horns and warm winds and seas. The varied delights that assail the visitor defy listing.

The peaceful Temple at Kandy

Although we had had a few days staying at the south western Bentota beach, we decided to focus our March visit to Sri Lanka chiefly on the wildlife of the island. Given its geography, Sri Lanka has a number of local climatic regions within its relatively small size (approximately the size of Ireland) and so by visiting Harbarana in the Cultural Triangle in the centre of the island and then moving to the mountains just north of Kandy we planned to take in two quite differing natural habitats with their attendant varied flora and fauna.

The friendly and relaxed staff in Sri Lankan hotels are always ready and willing to point out interesting birds and animals – I saw my first otter thanks to the keen eyes of our breakfast waiter, but additionally, a number of Sri Lankan hotels have appointed naturalists to their staff, and this helped our choice of where to stay. Although we like exploring on our own, the opportunity of gaining knowledge from a local expert and joining guided walks provided an extra dimension to our discoveries.

The shores of Lake Harbarana

Our first hotel was Cinnamon Lodge at Harbarana in the island’s dry zone. The hotel is sited on the southerly shore of Lake Habarana, a veritable Piccadilly for migrating birds. Guests stay in very comfortable, high quality lodges set in majestically wooded grounds. Egrets patrolled the lawns in their unhurried style, being occasionally disturbed by the antics of the numerous palm squirrels or a passing troupe of monkeys. A land monitor trundled past intent on some mission known only to him. The red backed barbet provided a constant, restful background birdcall to this idyllic scene. New guests at the hotel stand in awe at the vista and reach for their cameras and binoculars; more established guests just quietly drink in the atmosphere, sitting under the canopy of a tall ebony tree and looking out over the lake towards the distant, misty outline of the Ritigala mountain.

We were sitting by the swimming pool for an arranged meeting with the enthusiastic head naturalist at Cinnamon Lodge And with little prompting he was quickly describing and naming some of the hundreds of different species of trees, 166 species of birds, 54 species of bats and 60 species of frogs all to be found in or around the hotel’s 40 acres of grounds.

So far we had only managed to see a fraction of his long list so it was clearly time to arrange an early morning walk with his assistant. The next morning found us, armed with binoculars and cameras, frantically following the resident ornithologist’s rapid-fire sightings of birds and animals and identifying the various trees and shrubs along our walk. Watching a pelican bobbing up and down on the lake in the early morning light and being amused by a hornbill attacking his reflection in a lodge window were highlights for us, not forgetting the lovely purple plumage of the patient pond herons intent on studying their breakfast menus at the edge of the lake.

Half way through our holiday we transferred to Hunas Falls set high up in the Knuckles mountain range some 1,750 metres above Kandy. Road journeys in Sri Lanka are slow, but full of interest. Just how many school children dressed in gleaming white uniforms are crammed into that tuk tuk? What a striking sari that woman is wearing. Can you see that waterfall in the distance behind the kapok tree? Roadside stalls selling a colourful array of fruits punctuate the paddy fields and the banana, palm and rubber tree plantations. As the car climbed towards the mountains so the vast hillsides became covered with tea plantations with occasional eucalyptus trees providing shade for the colourfully dressed tea pickers.

Tea covered slopes of a Sri Lanka plantation

The last ascent up steep zigzag roads emphasised just how remote the Hunas Falls hotel is, set high up in a peaceful mountain setting, blending well with the scenery. Tired travellers are immediately greeted with a scented towel and a refreshing drink in the cool and welcoming reception area. Suitcases are whisked away by smiling, willing staff. Energy immediately returns. The gardens, full of hibiscus, agapanthus and many other striking flowers, demanding to be explored began to throb gently to the evening chorus of frogs. The ponds near the drive were full of purple lotus lilies, the national flower of Sri Lanka. The balcony to our room, when eventually vacated by the two baby hill swallows and their hard working parents, provided a view for miles across lush, green forests to the valley floor dotted with the striking canopies of flame trees. The restaurant’s open-air terrace was set high above a large lake patrolled by Brahminy kites and darting kingfishers and occupied by a family of otters.

Brahminy kite

As at our previous hotel we met with the head naturalist, but this time in his eco room crammed full of information and displays. The Hunas Fall hotel is in the hill country, and so provides a contrasting range of animals and plants, but just as exciting and enthralling, as those on our visit to Habarana. How many other hotels find numerous guests up at 6.00am leaning on balcony rails simply wanting to experience this vivid world awakening and building up to another sun drenched day? The resident naturalist organises a number of bird watching trips or visits to nearby national parks and in his knowledgeable company the visitor sees so many things otherwise missed. We quickly fell for the long billed sunbirds constantly flitting around the hotel’s gardens, above them the ever weaving and diving swallows.

The hotel is actively involved in a programme of environmental awareness and conservation including a tree planting initiative. Eco awareness is promoted especially among Sri Lankan schoolchildren. There is a real concern that their delightful island is increasingly experiencing unusual and often violent weather patterns. While we were staying in Sri Lanka an extremely heavy nighttime downpour, well ahead of the normal monsoon season, had severely damaged vital rice crops leaving already impoverished farmers in yet greater difficulties.

The hotels we stayed in provided a very high level of comfort and quality.
This tropical island has charm and beauty beyond description. A holiday in Sri Lanka provides the visitor with a wealth of memories and images capturing some of the best that mother earth has to offer. However this exotic island needs careful nurturing and the committed work of the naturalists we met is clearly aimed at preserving the delights for future generations as they visit this pearl, this Garden of Eden in the Indian Ocean.


AND NOW - Tour-smart brings you

Sri Lanka UK!

Mike Hampshire travelled to Sri Lanka and saw the genuine article. However, tantalising glimpses of this beautiful island can be seen at Twycross Zoo and were also seen at May’s Royal Horticultural Society's (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Visitors and judges alike were bowled over by the Orchid Society of Great Britain’s stand at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower show, sponsored by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.

This stunning stand was awarded one of the much-coveted Gold Medals. Down a moss-covered mountain, topped by white Phalaenopsis orchids, a river ran through a cave, eventually cascading into a silent pool. Guarding the mouth of the cave were two replica stone lions from the Yapahua dynasty of 13th century Sri Lanka. It made at least one bystander determined to visit Sri Lanka to see the island’s own orchids, the lush jungles and botanic gardens where orchids grow naturally.

Orchids at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

It was not the only stand connected to Sri Lanka to win a Gold Medal. Sri Lanka is the adopted home of Borneo Exotics who won their third Gold Medal at this year’s show. All the plants on the stand had been grown from seed in Sri Lanka. The Directors of the company say they chose the island for their business as much for the warmth and hospitality of the people as for the climate, advising everybody they met to take a vacation there and see the beauty of this many faceted island.

Twycross Zoo

July saw the opening of the elephant habitat and walkway Uda Walawe at Twycross Zoo in the East Midlands. Uda Walawe, named after Uda Walawe National Park and Animal Sanctuary in Sri Lanka, is the first Sri Lanka themed elephant habitat in the Western Hemisphere.

Pool Parade at Twycross Zoo

Visitors to the Uda Walawe Elephant Experience follow a jungle pathway to a village classroom environment where they are shown the diversity and cultural attractions of Sri Lanka. The highlight of the classroom is a ceremonially dressed tusker model, as seen during festivals in Sri Lanka. A traditional village shop, farmer’s hut, lily filled lake and a replica of Lord Ganesh line the walkway to the elephant enclosure.

Uda Walawe is promoting the conservation of the Asian elephants and the crucial wildlife conservation programmes in Sri Lanka. The Uda Walawe National Park was, in part, set up to provide sanctuary for some 300 elephants who live there along with other wild animals including water buffalo, water monitor lizards, sambar deer, monkeys, birds and the occasional leopard. It is also running a programme for reintroducing orphaned elephants back to the wild.

Mother & Calf at Twycross' Uda Walawe Elephant Experience

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