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Sri Lanka

Expansive luxury

Little island...

Sri Lanka is the new addition to the itinerary of the discerning
Jetwing Vil Uyana

traveller. In its little boutique hotels that promise that most-wanted commodity – personalised luxury – you can be a responsible tourist
text and photographs Shalini Seth

Jetwing Vil Uyana resort

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hen in Sri Lanka a luxury tourist can expect the Siddartha tour. Just like the Buddha when he was a prince instead of a monk and spared all suffering by a royal edict, you can spend days being guided gently from Colombo to Sigiriya to Kandy without ever setting foot anywhere that might shock your senses.

Discerning tourists can customise each aspect of their tour, with a little help from the Sri Lankan Tourism Board, its responsible national guides, baby elephants, restaurants dotting all major roads and spice and tea gardens. all of these conspire to make sure you never step out of the picture postcard. our first stop was at the Hilton in Colombo, before going on to the hill country of Kandy and Sigiriya for the


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The pool at Amaya Hills

latter part of our trip. The hotel is located in the most security-heavy zone in the city, with the Presidential Palace in clear view. The closest you will come to a reality that is not about swans, misoglazed oysters and blue fish in fountains with exotic flowers is the tiny notice that you should avoid photographing anything through certain windows. “Sri Lanka has seen five million tourists since 1983. no harm has ever come to them,” Faizer mustapha, the country’s deputy minister for tourism, tells us. The minister’s office is located close to another attraction where, we are told, guests are scrutinised for suitability before they are admitted. one step into the world of Galle Face hotel and you see that the raj never actually went anywhere. in the more recent past, the Galle Face has hosted personages such as richard nixon, indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal nehru, Emperor Hirohito, Don Bradman, roger moore and Yuri Gagarin. While the elevators belong to

another era, there is nothing primitive about the guests lounging in the verandah by the sea. nearby, in the particularly touristhappy negombo, the flower era has come and not gone, along with all its Dutch, Portuguese and British influences. resorts like Jetwing’s ayurveda Pavilions give you luxuries such as an open air bathroom right in the middle of a resort town. Little shops sell everything from Sri Lankan masks to ayurvedic cures and the gemstones for which the country is famous. in Colombo, as in most of Sri Lanka, you can choose your scenery. While the area around the Hilton has all the lushness of a tropical rainforest, Galle Face and negombo startle you with a seascape, and hotels in Kandy actually boast cloud-level pools. For an island that is 435km by 225km, it packs a huge amount of variety. Though chartered planes and helicopter drops are available, most tourists choose

At the meeting point of its three wings, the swimming pool Allows guests A swim on the edge of the vAlley
to hire a vehicle and travel around Sri Lanka by road, sampling everything that is on offer. on the way to Kandy, most restaurants that see tourist traffic offer standard fare – continental or Sri Lankan. You come across little spice gardens that ensure tourists get a whiff of the real thing without having to go to a specialised farm. a few shrubs each of cardamom, pepper, tamarind, cinnamon, clove and saffron find a place in a little garden where a spice doctor explains

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Bedroom at Vil Uyana

Monks strolling at the Peradeniya Botonical Garden

their medicinal uses to visitors who stop by for an hour or two. most tea factories have a little shop and will let you have a cuppa of their special brew after you have taken the tour. Ditto with gem mines, batik shops and anything else that might have souvenir value. a man sits playing the flute on a makeshift deck outdoors while you have your lunch on your way to Kandy. You encounter absolute luxury combined with unassuming courtesy from doe-eyed hotel staff clad in sarongs with fan-shaped detail – and you begin to wonder what happened to all the touts, beggars and souvenir-sellers ubiquitous to tourist destinations. anywhere else in the world, hotels may spend millions hoping for just the right service staff; in Sri Lanka, you would have to try really hard to fault the service. at a wayside lunch place, a lady server takes me into a restroom to demonstrate how to wear the sarong; in the Herbs and Spice café at the ayurveda Pavilions, a banjo-

player presents us with a selection of indian and Western songs beyond his standard working hours; at amaya Hills, the staff welcome us at dusk by letting us light the brass lamps. Even the security forces are the most polite you would see anywhere. at the Temple of the Tooth relic a gun-toting female security guard has no qualms helping a tourist tie her makeshift scarf a little more modestly. Perhaps it is Buddhism that truly envelopes the country and its inhabitants in a peaceful existence, in stark contrast to the violence that makes it to the news headlines. While the temple may be heavily guarded, this does not disturb the serenity that reigns inside. For an equally picturesque look at daily life, you pass Buddhist monks waiting at bus stops or strolling at the Botanical Garden famous for all the diplomats who have planted trees there; and village women carrying bouquets of anthurium flowers that grow wild, like a five-star hotal lobby >

The gong at the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy

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Ayurveda Pavilions

The 100-year-old Giant Java Willow Tree at Peradeniya Botanical Gardens near Kandy

recreated on a hillside. maybe it is the fact that Serendib is almost impossibly rich. “no one goes hungry in my country,” says Sampath, our guide, one of the battalion of responsible national guides trained by the Sri Lankan Tourist Board, on the way to a spice garden. “if nothing else, there is the coconut tree. You can climb up, get yourself a coconut and make a curry,” he says.

The new policy is to send the elephants back into the wild,” says Sampath.

a late entrant on the world tourism map, Sri Lanka has the advantage of being able to weave responsible tourism into each activity instead of relying on cosmetic changes. right from the time you flip the pages of Serendib, the in-flight magazine, to the moment you land, the words keep reminding you to leave the smallest ecofootprint possible. For the discerning tourist this is a definite draw. resorts such as Jetwing Vil Uyana make it a point to advise you about the “less friendly wild life”, keep separate bins for dry and wet garbage in your room, and let you know that if you throw towels for a wash every day you will be responsible for polluting the rivers. Whether it is a spice garden visit or a batik demo, Sampath assures us that he takes us only to producers who support local workers and their families. The little country has at least three large botanical gardens. at the end of the day that began with elephants is Vil Uyana. already familiar with the eco-resort from our in-flight reading, we are still pleasantly

Elephants are so plentiful in Sri Lanka that in certain areas you might have to give way to them as they cross the road. at the Pinnawala elephant orphanage there are now some 80 pachyderms living on state support. Their minders bottle-feed the babies and the grown-ups are allowed to mate and have families. Twice a day they cross the road for a bath in the river maha oya. Tourists are not mere hangers-on. Like most other places in Sri Lanka, their presence in the orphanage is woven into the schedule and the landscape. Just outside are little factories that make paper from elephant dung. and on the path to the river, numerous restaurants serve as viewing posts for the bathing elephants. “We do not encourage human contact with elephants any more.

Flute player at lunch

The library at Vil Uyana

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Frescoes at Sigiriya

Bath time for elephants

surprised to see wooden cottages nestled amongst paddy fields, over water. The resort has introduced a wetland system on reclaimed agricultural land creating a private nature reserve with lakes and reed beds. When it is time, guests can even participate in both the farming and harvesting of paddy if they wish. Each cottage or chalet is secluded but interconnected with timber walkways. There are separate decks that function as outdoor dining areas. Some rooms have individual swimming pools, some others have plunge pools and the largest villa comes with a jacuzzi. Just outside ours a peacock chose to grace us with a dance announcing a few raindrops. outside there is an island spa, a library and dining areas. inside, in our chalet, there is wireless internet, a shower with a skylight cut through the thatched roof, a sunken bath next to the bed, a timber floor and thatched coconut-palm roof, a ceiling made out of rattan and bamboo. air conditioning is at its most discreet – you can almost pretend it’s the weather. We spend the evening climbing a rock to see the ancient frescos and the ruins of a palace at the top. Back at the resort one is most reluctant to leave

– until we are assured that the next stop is even more beautiful.

once in Kandy we spend a lot of time just looking and pointing. The winding road which is to take us to amaya Hills is full of delights. Every turn houses a hotel – including quirky ones such as Helga’s Folly, where the most luxurious suite is called the nutcracker. amaya Hills, where we are headed, is a bit higher up, which automatically denotes the luxury of a better view. Understandably, the biggest draw of the hotel is its pool with a view. at the meeting point of its three wings, the swimming pool allows guests a swim on the edge of the valley. The other candy is the chance to play billiards with cricketers. in the billiards hall, autographs from international cricket teams are strewn on cricket bats around the room. “as amaya Hills is a favourite spot for visiting cricket teams, you may even have a chance to enjoy a round of billiards with some of the players in person,” we are promised. But billiards is all you should dare to play. Back in Dubai, when one visitor asked a member of the Sri Lankan Trade Council about what not to do in Sri Lanka, he answered: “Don’t play cricket. You will lose!”
Nutmeg at a spice garden

Millionaire was hosted by: AMAYA HILLS Heerassagala, Kandy, Sri Lanka Tel: +94 81 2233521/2 Fax: +94 81 2233948

HILTON COLOMBO 2 Sir Chittampalam A Gardiner Mw, Colombo 2, Sri Lanka 02 Tel: +94 11 2492492 Fax: +94 11 2544657 JETWING AYURVEDA PAVILIONS Ethukale, Negombo, Sri Lanka Tel: +94 4 870764 0/ 31-2276719 Fax: +94 31 4 870765

JETWING VIL UYANA Sigiriya, Sri Lanka Tel: +94 66 4323583-6 Fax: +94 66 4923587
Millionaire flew Sri Lankan


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