Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka

Short trips from Dubai – visiting Sri Lanka

Only a short hop from Dubai, Sri Lanka makes for a great short break, as such it was the first destination I explored from the UAE, and I was reminded of this trip recently on hearing about the Lanka Challenge happening this September (details here).

Large Minority‘s unique self-drive tuk tuk challenge sounds like a lot of fun, enabling people to get off the beaten track and really explore the Spice Island beyond the usual tourist traps which I was sadly limited to on my short visit. My limitations were due to the fact that I wanted a short break to somewhere only a short flight from Dubai, and whilst I am sad I couldn’t see more, I am so happy that I was able to have a brief introduction to the country, which I can build on, hopefully on next year’s Lanka Challenge!

We stayed in Mount Lavinia Hotel, a beautiful colonial hotel in a southern suburb of Colombo and a popular venue for weddings, as such it was not unusual to see ceremonially dressed elephants wandering around the manicured lawns! It was monsoon season when the Eid holiday fell that year (September) but the rain didn’t bother us, falling around 6pm everyday, and providing a great atmosphere for cocktails on the colonial terrace.

As a result of the time limitations, we took a couple of day trips with a driver, one inland to Kandy via Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. I have mixed feelings about the orphanage, I don’t normally like seeing animals in captivity, but these babies and/or mothers have been rescued and when I visited several years ago the animals were clearly well looked after. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the porcupines and bears that are chained to the side of the road on the way to the centre, their handlers flogging the poor things to get them to perform tricks for tourists.

Kandy is the second biggest town after Colombo, and is well-known for the gems that are extracted and sold here, as well as for the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, which is believed to house the tooth of Buddha. I bought a couple of gems from a basket under the counter at one of these gem shops, here they had gems that were a little damaged but not that you could see with the naked eye, so if you’re not too fussy, I’d recommend asking shop assistants about this.

The second day trip we took was along the coast to the south of Colombo, down to the historic port of Galle. Along the way we visited an adorable little turtle hatchery at Kosgoda which helped young turtles make it safely on their way, we also watched men toddy tapping, even trying some of the potent fermented coconut drink! Galle was a beautiful historic town which oozed character and charm, obvious even from our brief lunch stop at the Galle Fort Hotel. More sobering sights included all of the monuments to the tsunami victims – driving alongside the railway tracks at the end of the beach we could fully appreciate the tragedy that occurred on the island.

The remaining couple of days were spent in and around the hotel in Colombo, we found some beautiful handmade goods shops, as well as exploring the streets around the capital, and of course making the most of the gorgeous beaches.

I missed going further inland and across the country to Yala National Park to climb Elephant Rock, but at the time, there was still a warning from the foreign office about visiting the country so we didn’t want to take too many risks travelling too far. As it was we were only made aware of the threat from the couple of roadblocks and checkpoints we encountered. As I understand the situation is more much more stable and the risk has been reduced and I am therefore looking forward to registering for next year’s Lanka Challenge which will take more than 15 teams of tuk tuks across the Northern Province, raising money for charity at the same time. Anyone looking for a last-minute adventure can enquire about his year’s challenge here, leaving on 6th September – just tell me how it goes!