Colombo and Kandy, SRI LANKA, October 17-19 – Our arrival into Colombo was slightly ominous. Just after we landed a huge thunderstorm enveloped the airport, and the airport lost power and all computers went down. That was an unusual arrival for us. Notably the ’emergency lighting’ worked all over the Duty Free stores. After about 30 minutes power restored and computers back up. Right outside our VIP Arrival Lounge we were met by energetic Sri Lankan tribal war dancers. Upon arrival at the Taj Samudra, located on the Indian Ocean, we were greeted by young girls dressed in traditional Sri Lankan attire and singing a national welcome song.
We were soon gathering on the top floor ballroom of the hotel for an extended cocktail reception with lavish food plates, carveries and chef cooking stations. We enjoyed the view as the sun set over the Indian Ocean. During our private event we were entertained by excellent local theatrical trained dancers with modernized & traditional Sri Lankan dances, as well as Sri Lankan myths expressed through exotic dances. Our flight crew joined us for this fun evening.
We awoke to a beautiful day and transferred to a nearby city sports field where our large helicopter awaited us. We were flying away into the central mountains and the renowned bustling hill town of Kandy, last royal capital of Sri Lanka, and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (In fact Sri Lanka claims no less than 8 World Heritage Sites). It was a quick 35 minutes flight. Today we started with a visit to Geragama, a working tea plantation to see first-hand the way our famed Ceylon tea is plucked from the tea bushes and processed in the factory. This included a tea tasting with our better understanding of the several different grades of Ceylon tea. Also a visit and short walk about of the exotic Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, including the Orchid House. Our excellent private lunch was at a hotel with pretty gardens and huge swimming pool alongside the Mahaweli River (Sri Lanka’s longest river). As we enjoyed lunch deluges of rain began as well as thunder and lightning. We headed over to the nearby most sacred Buddhist temple of Sri Dalada Maligawa – famed for housing the relic of tooth of Lord Buddha. It was a wet and soggy visit, no shoes allowed in the temple; but the temple – set within the former royal palace – was filled with ardent Buddhist worshippers and monks in prayer and chanting, giving their brightly colored lotus flower offerings and even monkeys scrambling around in the rafters. As the tropical thunderstorm extended, it was obvious that we were not returning to Colombo by speedy helicopter as planned. And so instead, in our local coaches, we started the long winding drive down the mountain. We were all so thankful to get back to our luxury hotel.
A brand new day brought us morning sightseeing around the city of Colombo, another rather chaotic and frantic city of hustle and bustle. We drove around sights of the city, through the “Fort” area, originally built mostly by the Portuguese in the 16th Century and later added on to and expanded by the Dutch, as well as the British. Grand colonial era buildings stand alongside modern glass towers. Noisy street bazaars abound. Buddhist temples rub shoulders alongside Hindu temples, Catholic and Protestant churches. Sri Lanka is a ‘melting pot’ of religions … peacefully so. We visited the National Museum of Colombo. We drove through the wealthy Embassy area, past the President’s official residence and the US Embassy located right on the coast. We also visited a leading gemologist museum/store to learn more about the precious and semi-precious stones mined in Sri Lanka … and of course the urge to shop for beautiful gems was hard to pass up. In the afternoon, some elected to experience an authentic Sri Lankan cooking class … while others opted for a small selection of Colombo’s shopping. It was a full day in Colombo … all too soon from the comfort of our hotel’s Club Lounge we watched the sun set over the Indian Ocean.
A new day brings us back to our private ‘speed bird’ luxury jet … A four hour luncheon flight jets us away from the humid heat of the tropics into the dry heat of the desert area alongside the Persian Gulf. Into Oman, one of the most authentic and traditional Arab countries on the Arabian Peninsula, and its waterfront capital city of Muscat. From our recent immersion in Buddhist and Hindu cultures, we head out to learn of Islamic culture – our Arabian adventures await us.