Twenty two bleary eyed but excited people gather in the dark of a late October morning. When I was at school I went on a day trip to Bognor Regis; nowadays travelling to the beautiful island of Sri Lanka is a regular biennial trip run by the teachers at King James’s School. It’s almost a tradition, this being the seventh such trip. Sri Lanka, a teardrop shaped isle nestled in the Indian Ocean, washed with sunshine and warm winds and blessed by an abundance of flora and fauna; a tropical paradise island. So back to that cold late October morning, the first glimmers of the sun emerge from the gloom as a coach of merry souls speed towards Manchester Airport for what would be the trip of a lifetime.
Etihad proved to be a great airline with good food and entertainment; fast and efficient we were soon coming in to land at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo the Sri Lankan capital. The wall of humid heat that hit us was surprising given that it was four in the morning and with a five hour bus journey still to tackle spirits were surprisingly high. We would also meet our inimitable host and guide Gamini, a man so knowledgeable about Sri Lanka you could literally ask him anything and would be rewarded with a detailed reply. This certainly made him popular as his phone never stopped ringing, usually when he was mid talk.
Our first hotel was beautiful and not even the unusually early arrival of the monsoon could dampen our spirits and after a relaxing time around the pool we looked forward to our first adventures the next day.
A new day, warm but grey, however elephants were on the menu and everybody was really excited to be seeing and riding these beautiful beasts. Everybody climbed into the baskets on top and the brave few even climbed on to the elephants’ neck occasionally feeding them bananas or cucumbers, what a way to start the day.
There followed a great trip to a silk shop where the students dressed up in saris and sarongs, then in the afternoon a visit to our first world heritage site of the trip; the rock temples at Dambulla. These house some of the oldest paintings and statues of Buddha in the world; a remarkable sight to round off our first incredible day.
The next day was to be a highlight; we were to climb the rock fortress of Sigiriya, another world heritage site. We set off in the cool of early morning and strolled towards the rock, soon realising as we got closer how enormous it was and what a daunting climb it would be. The oldest known cave paintings in Asia greeted us halfway up, accessed by a slightly unsettling climb up an old cast iron spiral staircase which was reputedly taken from a disused underground station in London. The paintings were of semi naked Sri Lankan maidens, the old kings of Sri Lanka certainly enjoyed the female form. Then up another climb and as we rounded the final corner the feet of a huge brick lion. Looking through the lions paws we saw the precarious metal walkway snaking its way up the sheer rock face - a climb not to be underestimated. Once at the top we were greeted by one of the most awesome views anywhere in the world, definitely worth celebrating or just chilling out enjoying the cool breeze. This would be a day to remember forever.
Over the next few days the students would learn about so much, see so much, hear and smell so much. Sri Lanka is an assault on the senses and in Kandy the old capital of Sri Lanka there would be Spice farms with ayuverdic massages, Gem shops, Batik factories, a local market, woodcarving workshops, traditional Kandyan dancing, the famous botanical gardens with trees full of huge fruit bats and, of course, tea plantations and tea factories. Soon haggling became second nature and a 50% reduction on the shop keepers’ initial price became normal. Then finally in Kandy there was Sri Dalada Maligawa or the temple of the tooth, reputed to contain one of Buddha’s teeth taken directly from his funeral pyre. A wonderful sight all lit up at night. The students were lucky enough to glance the very casket which contains the tooth. The temple is a world heritage site, the third we had seen in as many days, amazing.
Arguably the main highlight of the trip; the elephant orphanage at Pinnewala still to go! OMG those baby elephants are the cutest. We watched them bathe in the river, drink their milk and scratch their itchy trunks on the local rocks. Pinnewala had it all, the students loved it.
And so after the most hectic few days a chance to relax on the coast at Negombo; a huge swimming pool and a beach close by, what could be better? Getting up at 4.30 in the morning to see the local fishermen land the catch, that’s what! Huge Tuna, huge crowds, huge noise and huge smells - it had it all in bucket loads, what an eye opener, a never to be experienced again moment.
Finally some relaxing times, the pool was amazing, the sun was shining. Nobody wanted to go home.
Ayubowan from Sri Lanka!