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" Fantasy Island - The Dream Isle Called Sri Lanka"

Nigel Taylor

The night ended - as abruptly as it had begun - less than eight hours earlier somewhere over the Middle East.  At 37,000 feet or rather, "7 miles up", and now nearly 6,000 miles from LONDON GATWICK the sun, like an angry orange popped into view from behind the curvature of the earth, its rays burnishing the wings of AIR LANKA'S TRI-STAR flight inbound to KATUNAYAKA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, COLOMBO, SRI LANKA.

As the last few minutes of FLIGHT UL 516 fled away, the aircraft slipped neatly over the Indian Ocean, and crossed the coastline some nine miles from touchdown.

As the aircraft made its usual radar-identification turns prior to lining up on the COLOMBO I.L.S., our eyes saw their first and fleeting glimpses of steaming tropical vegetation, here and there the occasional clearing, in which stood tall and sinewy coconut palms adjacent to small clusters of local housing.  Peasant country folk could be seen attending to their daily rituals, of leading oxen to the paddy fields, and children on their way to a 7.0 am school start!

Away to the East, the magnificent sight of SRI LANKA'S famous 7,360 ft. mountain - "SRI PADRE" loomed out of the horizon.  Shaped like a pyramid, this mountain is also known as " ADAMS PEAK".  It is a HOLY MOUNTAIN, revered by most SRI LANKAN'S as either the place where the LORD BUDDHA first set foot on earth, or where ADAM set forth into the GARDEN OF EDEN.

Whichever notion you choose to accept, one point is indisputable, that SRI LANKA, or CEYLON as the British used to call it, is undeniably one of the most beautiful and fascinating places on this earth.  A veritable Garden of Eden.  It has been said by others more notable than I, that INDIA was the CROWN of the BRITISH EMPIRE, and SRI LANKA the JEWEL in that CROWN.

This magnificent pear or tear-drop shaped land is barely 220 miles in length from North to South and 115 miles East to West at its widest point.  It has a total area of some 25,000 square miles, which is roughly the size of IRELAND, and has a population of approximately 14,000,000 people.

The SRI LANKAN nation is composed of approximately 70% SINHALESE people originally from INDIA and 15% to 20% TAMIL, the remainder being either descendants of the Dutch and Portuguese traders and settlers these are called BURGHERS, and lastly a MUSLIM mixture of CEYLON MOORS, INDIAN MOORS and MALAYS.  More than three quarters of the country's population live and work in the rural areas of the land.

The sights that were to befall Viv and me over the next weeks were so incredible that I find great difficulty in expressing the enthralling nature of this 'Paradise Isle'. The SRI LANKAN people, like their country, are a beautiful smiling people.  Full of warmth, and gentility and when you have dealings with any of them you may sense an almost child-like innocence in them, that has long since disappeared in other areas of this planet.

The women are nothing short of beautiful, bronzed skin, brown eyed and slender with a serene air of grace about them, often this is enhanced by their saris of vivid and spellbinding colours.  It is a country where "National Dress", is in fact, just what is worn. My wife also notes that the men also have a certain "captivating charm"!!

We had visited SRI LANKA the previous year but alas only briefly, as a stopover point on a trip through South East Asia to THAILAND, HONG KONG and MACAO.  Our first impressions at that time had been very favourable, and we were both determined that we would visit SRI LANKA again as soon as we could.

Thus it was that we arrived again in SRI LANKA and with two battered PENTAX M SUPERS and an assortment of thirty-nine reels of KODACOLOUR GOLD and KODACHROME 64.  And here is another regret - no black and white film!  This country lends itself well to this medium.

We had left the U.K. at 13.00 hrs. on the 17th September, and via Amsterdam and Dubai finally landed some 13 hours later at SRI LANKA's only International Airport, by G.M.T. it was only 2 a.m. and it was only the fact that this country is 5 hours ahead of G.M.T. that explained why a crowd of several hundred SRI LANKAN's were clustered around the wire airport fences outside the arrivals hall at two in the morning in brilliant sunlight!

A large migrant population are employed in the middle eastern oil fields and most incoming European flights transit via ABU DHABI, DUBAI, BAHRAIN, KUWAIT and MUSCAT (Prior to the Kuwait crisis of 1990).  In consequence it is often the case that whole families of forty or fifty persons will come to say farewell or to greet one returning "Ex-Pat".

After a brief stopover - in "NEGOMBO" a nearby beach resort, where the hotels are situated right on the foreshore, with large "open-to-the-sea" dining rooms and silver sandy beaches - we headed inland to the North East, through vast coconut plantations, spice farms and rice fields, great forests of teak and rubber trees.  All the time through lush green tropical vegetation, it is hard to convey the actual warm, lush smell of the greenery.  After several hours drive, our guide explained to us that we would shortly enter the "DRY ZONE" an arid but beautiful part of the country, where the scenery resembles a stage set for "OUT OF AFRICA" or "ZULU DAWN".  Within a few miles, the vista had changed completely; dense Brush and Jungle now lay just off the highway.  Deadly snakes like KING COBRAS and others abound in this area and the traveller when "taken-short" has to keep their eyes "well-peeled"!!

The wildlife also changes with the location, elephants and leopards can be found with no difficulty. But as for water? - The region had no precipitation for over six months, the ground was like concrete.

It was in this region that we stopped for the evening in the luxurious "SIGIRIYA VILLARIN HOTEL", a. short distance from the ancient ROCK FORTRESS of SIGIRIYA built in approximately 473 AD.

Imagine an enormous sheer-sided rock some 200 metres high rising out of a nearly flat jungle, and being about 4 acres in size.  Located in a natural gallery half way up this MONOLITH are the famous FRESCOES of the SIGIRIYA DAMSELS dating from the 5th century, these are nearly as beautiful as the SRI LANKAN women themselves.

The main idea of this holiday was to obtain a general insight into the delights this superb country has to offer the traveller, however I had a nagging thought in the recesses of my skull that the B.B. Editor would eventually call upon me to make some paltry contribution to the Belfry Bulletin, and therefore I had to keep a wary eye for any sight of caves or items of speleological nature!  So for "viewers at home only" I now will bore the pants off you in order to encourage at least one more B.E.C. member to head off to the Far East in search of a SRI LANKAN Cavern Measureless to Man!

The greater part of SRI LANKA consists of a solid mass of ancient crystalline rocks, known in Sinhalese as "KALUGAL".  A underlay of GNEISS is covered in the central and North-Eastern areas by thick metamorphosed sediments consisting of quartzite, crystalline limestone, granulite etc.  Most of these rocks are banded or have horizontal joint planes. often with many vertical cracks in each bed.

The crystalline limestone appears clearly in three regions of the country: -

1)       The most extensive lies to the east of PUTTALAM and goes towards KEGALLA, skirting the HILL COUNTRY, passing in front of ADAM'S PEAK to BALANGODA, WELLANAYA, and through the valleys of BADULLA OVA and MAHAWELI GANGA to TRINCOMALEE.

2)       MIHINTALE due south along the MATALE valley to WATTEGAMA and  HANGURANKETA, also with an area extending to KANDY and PERADENIYA.

3)       Between RATNAPURA curving toward HAMBANTOTA behind the RAKWANA HILL COUNTRY.

Limestone is quarried in all of these areas but the most numerous quarries are near to KANDY. MATALE and BADULLA, and evidence of KARST landforms with caverns is plentiful in these areas.

Anyone interested in a walking holiday would be well catered for in the area known as the "HILL COUNTRY".  There are over 150 mountains between 3.000 and 7.000 feet, together with twelve peaks ranging between 7,000 and 8,200 feet.  The highest mountain IS PIDURUTALAGALA at 8,292 feet, though since this is perched upon a 6,000 foot plateau it is "small-beer" when compared to the majestic ADAM'S PEAK (7,360 feet) .

If you plan to visit this area, ensure you trek across to "WORLDS END" on the HORTON PLAINS. The plateau is located south of NUWARA ELIYA and west of HAPUTALE.  It is a lofty plain set at around 7,000 feet with excellent walking.  The plains come to a dramatic end at WORLDS END dropping vertically 1,000 feet.

Such a name is a suitable end point for this narrative, yet I leave you with one thought quoting Fred Davis "caves be where you find them".  I should just add "and where in SRI LANKA you find the limestone too!!"  Above or below ground, SRI LANKA is a magnificent country.

References and Suggested Reading :-

" Sri Lanka” - A Travel Survival Kit Tony Wheeler.  Published by Lonely Planet ISBN 0908086 628

" Sri Lanka” - Berlitz Travel Guide.  Lib of Congress Catalog Number 81-67094

" Ceylon - Its Geography. Its Resources and its people"   by Elsie K. Cook FRGS - Published by McMillan. Lon. 1951

" Ceylon" - Nagels Encyclopaedia Guide - 1980 ISBN 2-8263-07047

" Sri Lanka" - Land. People and Economy - by B.L.C. Johnson and M.Le. Scrivenor - Heinmann. Lon. 1981 ISBN 0435-35489 2