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The Ceylon Press Companion to Travel & Place in Sri Lanka

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Abrar Mosque

Claimed as the island’s oldest mosque, Beruwala’s Abrar Mosque dates back to 920 CE - but was brutally improved in 1986 by a Provincial Governor. Indeed, over the recent centuries, so much of the ancient mosque has been forcibly renovated that its tangible antiquity is more a whisper than a certainty. But its claims to a deep and real history are strongly grounded, for Beruwala, located on the SW coast of the island, is said to be the country’s very first Muslim settlement, established sometime in the 10th CE by a Somali Sheikh - Yusuf bin Ahmad al-Kawneyn. A man much given to spreading the word of the Prophet to neighbours near and far, the Sheik was called "the most outstanding saint in Somaliland". The Sri Lankan Moor descendants of these early settlers make up the town’s majority population, and the masjid’s devotees, 3,000 of which can fit into its cool interior at any one time in answer to the shahadah, calling them in five times a day.

Illustration courtesy of the mosque's Facebook Page.

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Acomodesan

A historical Sinhala term for land that is granted to someone for the duties they render or the office they hold.

Illustration: A Sketch map of Kandy and environ in1815. Public Domain.

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Adam’s Bridge

Until a cyclone hit it in 1470 you could just about walk - at low tide - from India to Sri Lanka. Today, you will need scuba gear – to glimpse the shattered path that still remains on 48 kilometres of partially sunken limestone banks stretching in salty shallows between the two countries. Named for the Biblical Adam, this thread of 103 coral reefs separates the Gulf of Mannar in the south from Palk Bay in the north, and connects Rameswaram, a modest fishing town in India’s Tamil Nadu to Thalaimannar, a still smaller fishing settlement on the tip of Sri Lanka’s Mannar Island. These salty stretches of reef platforms, sandy beaches and mangroves offer a unique home to thousands of species of fauna and flora – fish, lobsters, shrimps, crabs; and the now highly endangered dugon, a marine mammal heralded as the original mermaid by ancient sailors; and closely – if unexpectedly - related to elephants. The very shallowness of the waters means that sea faring traffic finds the aera almost impossible to sail through; and various schemes have, since the 18th century, suggested dredging the watery gaps to create a shipping throughfare. The most recent of these nakedly destructive and environmentally vandalistic schemes, the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, sits atop on a dusty shelf policed by the governments of India and Sri Lanka - an on-off Plan that has been discussed since the mid-1950s and, thankfully, with a price tag of several billion US dollars, one that is unlikely to undergo a malign hatching.

Illustration Courtsey of Google Maps.

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Adam’s Peak

Few Sri Lankans, and fewer still visitors, have not taken the trouble to ascend Adam’s Peak, a 7,359 foot mountain in the south of the island, flanked by forest, home to elephants and leopards, glinting with rubies, and sapphires, and the source of three major rivers. So it is unsurprising that no less a tourist than Alexander the Great is said to have made a journey up the sacred mountain. It holds at its top a depression that is claimed by Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, and Hindus, as – respectively - the footprint of the Buddha, Adam, and Siva.

Albeit somewhat late in the day, Ashraff, a 15th century Persian poet describes the royal visit, proceeded, he says, by obligatory orgies and partying, in his poem “Zaffer Namah Skendari”. A century before, the sweetly-named Arab explorer, Ibn Batuta (“son of the duckling”) describes coming across a grotto at the foot of the mountain inscribed with the word "Iskander," an Asian variant of the name “Alexander.” Fa Hein, a Chinese explorer, describes his trip uphill in 412 CE. and the Italian merchant Marco Polo mentions it in his Travels of 1298 CE. But long before this many a Sri Lankan king has made the ascent, starting with King Valagambahu who apparently discovered the famous footprint in around 100 BCE.

Despite being the country’s second highest mountain, its unique teardrop shape leaves it standing out from the surrounding mountains like a giraffe among a zebra herd, its distinctive shape immortalized in the “Sixth Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor” in Scheherazade’s “Thousand and One Nights”. The engaging royal storyteller wrote of “marvels which are indescribable” and that “the mountain is conspicuous from a distance of three days, and it contains many rubies and other minerals, and spice trees of all sorts.” But perhaps what makes it most remarkable is the fact that it is respected as a place of pilgrimage for all the important religions on the island; and has been trouble-free for nearly its entire history.

Three paths lead to the top – the Ratnapura route, the Kuruwita route and the Hatton route. The pilgrim climb, regarded by all as exceptionally meritorious, takes several long hours, and is usually scheduled between December to April, a reliably dry period. More reckless pilgrims visit it out of season, battling heavy rain, extreme wind, and thick mist, more in search of rescue parties than God. The aim of all pilgrims to get to the top just before daybreak so as to witness a glorious sunrise prior to carrying out an variety of religious rites. It is not place for hermits: on weekends it is estimated that 20,000 people make the challenging ascent and up to five people a season die on the journey.

Illustration: A photograph by Unbekannt of Adam's Peak taken in 1926. Public Domain.

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Adisham Hall

A comforting cross between the architectural outreaches of Kent’s Leeds Castle; and a cosy Cotswold Cottage, Adisham Hall overlooks the tea plantations around Haputale. Built in 1931, and standing proudly in a gentle time warp created by its architects R. Booth and F. Webster, it is as if the hit song of that year, Noël Coward’s "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" could still be heard drifting down its long green driveway. The house was built by Sir Thomas Villiers, a descendant of Lord John Russell, one of Britain’s most reforming prime ministers - but commerce not social enterprise ran in Villers’ veins – and he was to go onto become one of the principal businessmen of the colony. He retired in 1949, selling up and sailing back to England for the last ten years of his life. By 1963 his home had passed into the hands of The Benedictine Order and the house became Saint Benedict’s Monastery. Within its granite walls, many of the old rooms have been preserved, a Chapel created to house a chip of St Benedict himself; a shop set up to sell jams, cordials, and jellies; and inspirational quotations such as ”Lost time is never found again” dotted optimistically around its grounds and gardens.

Illustration: Adisham Hall courtsey of Diethelm Travel Sri Lanka.

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Administrative Structures

A country’s structural divisions are rarely able to inspire even the merest flicker of excitement, but even so, it helps one’s basic orientation to have some sort of semblance of order. During the time of the Anuradhapura kings, the country was divided into 3 areas, but time has inflated this to 9 provinces. The quickest way to envisage them is:

Three Gaze Seaward;
Three Gaze over Hills;
Two are Very Flat;
One is tiny but busy.

The largest, the North Central Province, ranges over 10,000 square kilometres of dry evergreen forest and, though centred on the old capital of Anuradhapura itself, supports a modest population. At just under 10,000 square kilometres, is the long Eastern seaboard province, dominated by Tamils and Sri Lankan Moors and managed from Trincomalee. The sparsely populated Northern Province, run from Jaffna and dominated by Tamils stretches over nearly 9,000 square kilometres – similar in size and population to Uva Province, though Uva, centred on Badulla, with its massive lakes and reservoirs and mighty mountains is as different to the flat dry north as it is possible to be. At just under 8,000 square kilometres is the North Eastern Province, paddy and coconut rich flat lands that stretch from the capital at Kurunegala to the lagoons of Puttalam and supporting a population nudging 3 million. Next door, smaller in size and larger in population is the lush tea-rich Central Province, centred on Kandy - similar in size and population to the long seaboard Southern Province, centred on Galle. At just under 5000 square kilometres is Sabaragamuwa Province, sparsely populated and centred around the gem-rich town of Ratnapura, leaving the Colombo-dominated Western Province as the smallest in size (under 4,000 square kilometres) and the largest in population. For the determinately bureaucratic these 9 administrative divisions open out onto yet more complexity – 25 districts that are split again into 331 Divisional Secretary's Divisions, under which come 14,022 Grama Niladhari Divisions, centred around villages. Order is the greatest grace, as John Dryden remarked; and it is to be found all across Sri Lanka, should you wish to find it.

Illustration courtsey of DigiAtlas.

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Ahungalla

A modest coastal town near Galle, noted for Geoffrey Bawa's Heritance Ahungalla Hotel.

Illustration: Heritance Ahungalla courtsey of TripAdvisor.

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Akkaraipattu

A Muslim dominated town on the south east coast, situated at the entrance to the vast Periya Kalappu lagoon.

Illustration courtsey of Devaka Seneviratne.

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Amangalla Hotel, The

For one hundred and forty years Galle’s most majestic hotel was known as the New Oriental Hotel before being rebaptised in 2005 as the Amangalla. Its real date stretches back to 1684 when it was the headquarters of the Dutch. Now a glorious heritage hotel, with deep, humbling verandas, it has wisely chosen to restrict its number of rooms to better focus on the sort of luxury you know you deserve the moment you find it.

Image courtsey of The Amangalla, Galle.

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Amanwella Hotel, The

Amanwella is the sort of hotel that guests often chose to arrive at by seaplane. One of 34 Aman hotels spread across 20 countries, it has a deep knowledge of how to best please its demanding guests. Shy celebrities, discarded Western prime ministers - all have found their way to this uber stylish retreat of infinity pools and gourmet menus that overlook the golden beaches of Godellawela near Tangalle.

Image courtsey of The Amanwella, Tangalle.

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Amba Estate, The

Just a short drive out of Ella lies the Amba Estate, which rather modestly defines itself as a farm stay. Set amidst lofty mountains, it is much more than that – a 130 acre organic farm, the centre of the growing artisanal tea movement on the island and a true social enterprise that delivers on its stated mission: “to maximise local employment and incomes, while preserving and restoring the natural environment.” With stunning walks and tea tasting like no other, a stay here gives you all the pleasure of earning a gold star, with none of the accompanying and often irksome typically effort.

Image courtsey of Amba Estate.

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Arankele Forest Hermitage

An illustration of an early 19th century drawing by Captain_Charles_Auber of the Arankele Forest near Kurunegala. Public Domain.

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Avissawella

Had Andy Warhol ever taken the trouble to visit Avissawella, some 50 kilometres east of Colombo, he might have rephrased his famous quip to read “In the past, everywhere was famous for at least 15 minutes.” For Avissawella, sleepy town that it is today, was once the seething capital of a nascent and short lived kingdom, forged at the fulcrum of the island’s fightback against its first European colonial invaders. Briefly did Avissawella glitter as the capital of the Kingdom of Sitawaka, a realm ruled from 1521 to 1593 by King Mayadunne and his son Rajasinghe the First. A younger son and later brother of the more senior King of Kotte, Mayadunne had carved out his own kingdom in protest at his family’s collaboration with the Portuguese who had first arrived on the island in 1505. Endless battles against the Iberian invaders followed; and when the old king died, his son continued the fight, despite an avalanche of patricide allegations that set him and the Buddhist religious establishment at odds just when unity might have been a more helpful position.

Rajasinghe’s death - of a festering wound in March 1592 - effectively ended his kingdom’s fight and Avissawella returned slowly back into the background. The opening up of the interior of Sir Lanka in the early 1900s by trains and train track gave the area a new jolt of life Today, it is best visited for being a stone’s throw from Seethawaka Botanical Garden, which specialises in conserving the most threatened endemic plants found in Sinharaja Rain Forest.

Illustration: A sketch by Edward Lear of Avisavella in 1874. Public Domain.

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Avukana

Past the occasional roadside shop, barber salon and office for Birth, Deaths, and Marriages, and almost lost in the jungle many miles north of Dambulla, the tiny village of Avukana hints at a more glorious past with its stunning 14 metre statue of Lord Buddha. Academics (as they do) argue about whether the statue is 5th or 8th century - but whomsoever wins that fringe debate, there is no argument about the sheer beauty of the piece.

The lofty standing Buddha is captured by his unknown sculptor making a gesture of blessing - but the way in which his delicate pleated clothing clings with astonishing realism to his body indicates that the sculptor was familiar with two key regional art movements - the naturalistic Hellenistic Gandhara school, and the more sensuous Amaravati school. There is - in such records as do exist – a tantalising hint as to its creator. A mere 15 kilometres away, at Sasseruwa, stands an almost exact copy of this statue – almost, but not quite as good; and one fatally left unfinished. The local villagers tell of a competition between a master sculptor and his pupil to finish the commission first; and the master won. Sadly, as the two statues are at least 400 years apart in age, this lovely tale could only have some residual truth in a parallel universe – but it amply shows how rich and ready are local folk tales to help fill in the many gaps in the island’s long and sometimes impenetrable history.

Illustration: the Avukana Buddha statue courtsey of en.advisor.travel.

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Balana Fort

“Balana” was never a place name to find favour with the Portuguese settlers of Sri Lanka. Since 1505 they had been annexing large parts of the island with little difficulty - Kotte, Sitawaka and Jaffna. But Kandy was to prove the nut that broke their teeth. Repeated attempts in 1594, 1603 and 1630 proved disastrous – and all because of the Balanna Fort - ‘look out’ post that more than did its duty. From its tower all Portuguese machinations could be seen – and stopped. Their last great attempt fetched up against the then Kandyan King, Rajasinghe II, then in secret negotiations with the Dutch to enlist their help to evict the Portuguese. Alerted to this by their spy network, the Portuguese Captain General in Colombo, Dego de Mello Castro frogmarched his army to Kandy, taking Balana as he went, and brushed aside attempts by Rajasinghe to negotiate. He gained the city – but found it abandoned for the king and his army had melted into the surrounding hills. As the Portuguese retuned to Balana on March 28, 1638, the Kandyan army struck. The Battle of Gannoruwa, as the moment came to be known, was a catastrophe for the colonial forces. Just thirty eight soldiers survived; the heads of their slaughtered comrades left in heaps before the king. The battle broke the Portuguese, and they were soon to leave the island altogether, Balana carved on their heart. Today only a few walls and steps remain.

Image courtsey of Amazing Lanka.

Batticaloa Fort

If ever there was a fort to convert into your dream home, it is the old fort in Batticaloa, built on one of the many small islands of Batticaloa on the east coast of Sri Lanka. The fort faces Batticaloa, the Batticaloa Lagoon and the ocean, its ramparts dotted with ancient cannons still bearing the arms of the Dutch East India Company. From its walls the keener hearing can sometimes catch the sound of singing fish from April to September. The original fort was built by the Portuguese in 1628 in a fit of pique when Constantino de Sa de Noronha took exception to a Dutch fleet that landed there in 1603, with the blessing of the King of Kandy, to try and oust the Portuguese. Sadly, the Portuguese were to enjoy the fort for just ten years./ By 1638 the Dutch had pushed them off the island, and with the not inconsiderable help of soldiers from King Rajasinghe’s army, the Dutch-Kandyan forces took the fort on 18 May 1638. The Dutch immediately set about improving its structure,, with four bastions protected by the sea from two sides and with a moat from the other two sides. However, the site itself dates back much further than the sixteenth century, with a first century BCE stupa marking far earlier times – and the lost Kingdom of Ruhuna. Love though, and some sympathetic builder-restorers, is what the fort most needs now. The isolating and deteriorating conditions the fort ensuring during the long civil war were considerably worsened by the impact of the 2004 tsunami.

Image of Batticaloa Fort by Baldaeus, 1672. Public Domain.

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Cape Weligama Hotel, The

One of Resplendent Ceylon’s Relais & Châteaux hotels, Cape Weligama is made up of 39 villas and suites gathered loosely together, village style, on a headland overlooking Weligame Bay opposite Mirissa. Expect nothing less than the best.

Image courtsey of Cape Weligama, Weligama.

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Ceylon Tea Trails

Established by Resplendent Ceylon, Ceylon Tea Trails is a rare Sri Lankan inclusion in Relais & Châteaux’s list of Leading Hotels. The mini chain specialises in super luxury hospitality and has five properties across the island. Tea Trails, near Hatton, comprises 5 separate planter’s bungalows perched at 1,250 metres and overlooking a working tea estate and is the kind of place Louis XV might have dropped into for a decent cup of tea, had his armies ever strayed out of 18 th century India.

Image courtsey of Ceylon Tea Trails, Hatton.

Chilaw Fort

Just one year after they had taken control of all the Portuguese territories in Sri Lanka, the Dutch, under Governor van der Meyden, set about building a fort at Chilaw to protect the cinnamon trade. The Portuguese had already constructed one, probably on the foundations of an earlier fort made by the Kings of Kandy, which the Dutch had also adopted. Nothing of either fort remains visible today, except possibly a mildly disputed tunnel. Observers at the time were scathing in their commentary of the fort, which was built of mud walls, with a house for the commander, a powder magazine, hospital, two churches and a collection of “low, ill-built houses.” Lord Valetia writing in 1803 noted what was probably its most famous siege: “the Fort of Chilaw is the most trifling thing I ever beheld under that name, It consists of a ditch , in some parts three feet deep, with a rampart of earth that slopes equally both ways, and is about ten feet high on the top of which is a row of hedge stakes driven in close to each other. In the front of this, on the edge of the ditch is a range of trees with their branches placed outwards. This is a late addition; yet without this it stood a siege against a the Second Adigar and three thousand Cingalese. They carried their approaches very regularly and at length brought their batteries so near the fort that they conversed with the garrison. Mr Campbell, who commanded, though a Civil Servant, had with him but sixty Sepoys and Malays; yet the enemy who could see everything never attempted to storm the place. He had not shot, and only a barrel and half of powder. He was obliged to use pice, of which he had six thousand rix-dollars in the place, and to manage his fire sparingly, as he did not know when he might be relieved. He had not great occasion to fear in other respects for not a man was killed on his side, His havildar told him there was no use in loading with the ball: ‘Put in powder enough’ said he ‘and the noise will be sufficient to keep them off’ . Repeated offers of reward were made to the garrison if they would give him up, but without effort. At length Captain Blackwall with forty men came to his assistance by water from Negombo, and the Candy army retreated with the utmost expedition.”

Image: Public Domain.

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Cinnamon Grand Hotel, The

The flagship hotel in a chain of Cinnamon Hotels, the Grand is a stone’s throw from the President’s Office in Colombo. Despite its rather corporate, blocky architecture, its secret weapon is its people. It tends to make a point of knowing who you actually are and what you really want. From lavish pools to flaky croissants, themed restaurants to battleship-large reception desks, it offers all you would hope for from a large, successful hotel.

Image courtsey of The Cinnamon Grand.

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Colombo Court Hotel & Spa, The

Affordable, and very environmentally-minded, this much overlooked boutique hotel is within walking distance of many of Colombo’s nicest haunts. Sitting just off the traffic jam that is Duplication Road, it is a habitat of rare calm and tranquillity, its lush pool and rooftop bar among its many subtle delights.

Image courtsey of The Colombo Court Hotel & Spa.

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Colombo Cricket Club

A photograph by Unbekannt of the Colombo Cricket Club Ground in 1912. Public Domain.

Colombo Fort

As the Metropolitan Museum of Arts was being erected on side of the world, on the other, in Sri Lanka, the British set about destroying those parts of Colombo, known then, as they are still today, as Fort. This act of vandalism, conducted in the interests (as ever) of urban improvement, stripped the city of much of its most tangible history, leaving behind mere street patterns, engravings and the odd wall or building to tell of an area first developed sometime between 1505 and 1528 by the Portuguese. Sailing in, green dragons blazing on the flags of their stout galleons, the Portuguese set about building themselves a small fort on the “Hook of Colombo” (which the Dutch called Point of St. Lawrence), on the southern boundary of the harbour of Colombo. It was soon upgraded and given three bastions, with stone and mortar replacing mud walls; and was christened “Our Lady of Victories.” A town, complete with Franciscan friars grew around it - but by 1554 everything was once again upgraded. This time the Portuguese moved the fort to the area now known as “Fort,” adding to it regularly so that by 1630 it boasted fourteen bastions, residences, churches, and many of the facilities of a small and busy town. When, in 1656, the fort and the island fell to the Dutch, the new colonialists proved no less enthusiastic for military improvements. The fort was restructured to better sit astride the natural defences offered by the lake and the sea, and a moat dug on the landward side and stocked with crocodiles. It was separated out from the old town or Pettah, and given nine bastions and two batteries. The fort became a walled city with storehouses, residential buildings, churches, shops, a parade ground, stables for horses and elephants and streets lined with shady trees. When, in 1796 betrayal rather than military prowess saw the fort fall to the British, life continued with little structural change until the 1870s when the British then began to systematically destroy large sections of the fort to expand the space for money-making operations. The city soon expanded beyond the boundaries of the fort - for example into Cinnamon Gardens, a fashionable address for diplomats, bankers, administrators, and tycoons. What remained was a melting pot of cultures – Sinhalese; Parses, Moors, Malays, Tamils; and Portuguese and Dutch who had stayed behind, or inter married, becoming known as Burgers. It was not until the disastrous ‘Sinhala only’ policy in the late 1950s that these families finally disappeared, migrating to Australia, Canada, and the UK. . An Englishman writing in 1803 noted of Colombo that: “there is no part in the world where so many languages are spoken, or which contains such a mixture of nations, manners, and religions.” Hints of the old fort can still be glimpsed in several places:
1. Kayman’s Gate Bell Tower – an entrance to the Fort located at the foot of the Wolvendaal Hill in Pettah.
2. Delf Gateway – one of the main entrances to the Colombo fort, now part of the premises of the Commercial Bank.
3. Fortified Dutch Warehouse – now the Maritime Museum of Colombo Ports Authority, built in 1676.
4. The Battenburg battery – a 50 metre sliver of wall inside the Harbour.
5. The Enkhuysen bastion / Dan Briel bastion Wall – a section of wall now located beside the Junior Police Officers Mess.
6. Dan Briel Bastian – built in 1751 and now inside the Navy Headquarters.
7. The Slave Entrance - now found within the Navy Headquarters, this entrance was built in 1676 to access the land between the sea and the fort where the Dutch kept their ill-stared Kaffir slaves.

Image of the oldest known map of Colombo Fort by J. L. K. van Dort: Public Domain.

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Colombo Seven

Jetwing is the island’s leading independent hotel chain with over thirty hotels and villas operating to standards and dining most other international hotel chains might be smart to pay attention to. Jetwing hotels promote strong environmental values; and their Colombo hotel, Jetwing Colombo Seven, offers one of the best sunset views in the city, its abundant bar enfolding a pool and languid seats from which to enjoy the urban panorama.

Image courtsey of Jetwing Colombo Seven.

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Commandement

An historical term for an administrative division under Dutch rule; sometimes known as a commandery.

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Dambulla

A watercolour by Clive Wilson of Dambulla. Image courtsesy of the artist.

Deduru Oya, The

At one hundred and forty-two kilometres, the Deduru Oya is the country’s firth equal longest river, collecting its waters in the Gommuna Mountains near Kurunegala, the start of a catchment area one and a half thousand square kilometres in size. Harnessed by massive hydroelectric structures and vast reservoirs, and fed by over three thousand million cubic metre of rain annually, it still manages to deliver over a quarter of its total water to the sea at Chilaw on the eastern seaboard, a Heraclean labour for which it gets little commendation. Even so, a small pean of praise is due for these waters help feed the brackish lagoons for which Chilaw is famous and where live – perhaps, still – that most elusive and endangered of sea beasts, the dugong.

Image courtsey of Daily MIrror.

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Dehiwala - Mount Lavinia

Once the seaside playground for the inhabitants of Colombo, which lies just a few kilometres up the coast, Dehiwala - Mount Lavinia has become a garden suburb of the city, through it remains a municipality in its own right. To its south stretch the many inlets of Bolgoda Lake, a marshy wetland and freshwater landscape on whose shores rise the glittering facades of the prized, secluded mansions of the nicely rich. The area also boasts an old, small zoo with something of a mixed reputation.

Dehiwala - Mount Lavinia’s diffident life as a collection of quiet villages during the Kotte kingdom and Portuguese and Dutch occupations came to an abrupt halt in 1806 when the colony’s British Governor, Sir Thomas Maitland, decided to build a private holiday home there on land known as Galkissa" (Mount Lavinia) - a small promontory with beaches on either side. In between governing and throwing parties, Maitland fell in love with a Portuguese Burger, a dancer named Lovinia, to whose house he had a secret tunnel constructed from his wine cellar. The affair must have ended by 1812 when Maitland was recalled to fight in the Peninsular War; and his house later became a hotel, one of the few in or near Colombo to look directly out across the beach into the Laccadive Sea.

Illustration Credit courtsey of MySL Travel.

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Devale

A shrine to Buddhist gods.

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Devalegam

Villagers and villages attached to a devale, or shrine to Buddhist gods.

Illustration by the celebrated artist Samuel Daniell -of a village scene between Galle and Matura about Six Miles from Galle in 1801 ( bodycolour over graphite on paper). Public Domain.

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Dikwella

A coastal village near Matara, Dikwella is a much loved by sea-seeking tourists; and by those moved by impressive Buddhist temples. The little settlement boasts an 18th century statue of Lord Buddha that is 160 feet high. The statue sits outside a temple, much enlarged from its earliest beginnings 250 years ago. The temple is unusual in the space it gives to celebrating, in uncensored detail, what happens to sinners who fails to follow the path of enlightenment. Being swan into pieces, boiled alive or merely disembowelled are just three of the options available.

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Disavanti

A Sinhala term for the provinces of the old Kandyan kingdom, governed by a Disave.

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Divel

A Sinhala term for property that is granted to individuals employed by the state or its monasteries.

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Elahera

A district in the North Central Province, Elahera is noted for its abundance of gemstones. It is estimated that 35% of the country’s gems are mined from this area - leaving the greater balance being mined in Ratnapura. Its history is one of rediscovery. Recent archaeological discoveries show Elahera as an active gem mining area for centuries - excavations revealing the remains of tools and even some engraved stones. The remarkable Polonnaruwa king, Parakramabahu the Great (1153 – 1186 CE) even permitted foreigners to mine there. But the burden of civil wars and repeated foreign invasions led to the mines being abandoned and overplanted by rice paddy. This insensible interregnum came to a sensational end in the 1940s when a Sri Lankan engineer spent an afternoon searching for a lost ring along the banks of the Amban River. He never found his ring - but he did discover a number of blue and red pebbles that were to gladden the heart of his bank manager. He kept the secret of the stones to himself, and it took a later discovery by construction workers of sapphires washed out in heavy rain for the gem rush to begin. By the 1960s the as area was once more back in the business of gem mining. Today it is noted for its blue, pink, yellow, violet, and "padparadschal' sapphires; spinels; rhodolite and hessonite garnets; chrysoberyls (including alexandrite and chatoyant varieties); zircons; green and "cognac" tourmalines; garnets, rock crystal quartz, amethyst, and topaz.

Image courtsey of Andrew Lucas/GIA.

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Eravur

A suburb of Batticaloa, facing inland into a large eponymous lagoon.

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Flame Tree Estate & Hotel, The

An art deco plantation manor close to Kandy, the Elephant Orphanage, Sigiriya and Dambulla, The Flame Tree Estate & Hotel has been described as “a little slice of heaven and a big dose of serenity.” Surrounded by jungle, and its own plantations of spices, timber, coconut, and rubber, it mixes collections of contemporary Sri Lankan art with European Modernism; and fuses classic Sri Lankan food with familiar European dishes. Restored with the help of the celebrated Sri Lankan architect Channa Daswatte, the hotel is set beside the Galagedera Pass, where the Kandyan King Kirti Sri Rajasinha thwarted the attempt the Dutch East India army to invade the island’s last independent kingdom in 1765. The hotel is also the home of The Ceylon Press, a digital publishing initiative set up to tell the story of Sri Lanka.

Image courtsey of The Flame Tree Estate & Hotel.

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Fort Bazaar Hotel, The

A seventeenth century merchant’s townhouse in downtown Galle, Fort Bazaar is now home to a boutique hotel of handsome guestrooms, delicious food, and verandas from which to watch the busy world worry past.

Image courtsey of Fort Bazaar, Galle.

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Fort Printers

A small eighteenth century building in Galle, Fort Printer’s is now run as a boutique hotel. Its restaurant serves some of the very best food on the island, a dazzling gustation played out on Sri Lankan, Lebanese, and Pakistani themes.

Illustration Credit: "The Fort Printers Hotel" Photo provided by management to TripAdvisor.

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Fortress Resort & Spa, The

Situated near Galle, this seaside boutique, overlooking sandy beaches and stilt fishermen, is spacious, luxurious, and calming. Its polished bedrooms, yoga and excellent menu foster such as sense of well-being as to bring even Lazarus back to life, where he to drop by unexpectedly.

Image courtsey of The Fortress Resort & Spa.

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Gabadagam

A Sinhala term for the Kandyan kingdom’s royal villages.

Gal Oya, The


At one hundred and eight kilometres, the Gal Oya is the country’s sixteenth longest river, collecting its waters in the mountains around Badulla, a town built on tea. The town is also home to two of the country’s most notable shrines: Muthiyangana temple, one of the sixteen places on the island that Buddhists believe to have been visited by the Lord Budda himself; and the remarkable Badulla Kataragama Devalaya, a shrine dedicated to Kataragama, a Tamil goddess who transitioned into Buddhism. The river flows out into the Indian Ocean near the Eastern Province town of Kalmunai, a place noted for its Muslim community. The river’s journey is as fine a meander through the country’s varied religions traditions as it is possible to have. Not that it gets to flow out immediately for in 1948 the river was dammed to create the Senanayake Samudra — a large reservoir and part of the Gal Oya scheme. This colossal water resource grew to one hundred thousand acres, and though it is now an essential part of the region’s agriculture, the resettlement of Tamils and Sinhalese at the time provoked some of the earliest ethic riots in the country.

Image courtsey of Ceylon Pages.lk.

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Gal Vihara

A photograph by an unknown English Photographer of the Gal Vihara Standing Buddhist Statue dating from 1870-90 . Public Domain.

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Galle Face Hotel, The

With a Victorian era guest list that reads like Who’s Who of the time, this iconic hotel is the only one in Colombo that still enjoys direct sea access – though to bathe off its slim rocky beach to invite prescient thoughts of mortality. It started life as a modest Dutch Guesthouse before the opening of the Suez Canal turned the tickle of eastward bound Europeans into a river. Continually enlarged and upgraded, most notably by Thomas Skinner in 1894, it became the city’s top luxury meeting point attracting an international A List. Gandhi, Noel Coward, Che Guevara, Yuri Gagarin, Nixon, Prince Philip, and Elizabeth Taylor all booked rooms. Vivien Leigh sulked in her bedroom, sent home in disgrace by her husband Laurence Olivier. Little has changed since her repeated calls to room service: it is just as lovely, weathering a recent upgrade with rare good taste. It is the best place to Wedding Watch as it hosts around one thousand society weddings a year. Enjoy them as you nibble Battenburg cakes on the terrace, sip Pimm’s and watch the Crow Man scare away the birds.

Image: Public Domain.

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Galle Fort Hotel, The

A gem merchant’s grand mansion; RAF barracks; post office; bakery; lapidary; and playground for local cricketers - this small, ultra-luxurious, boutique hotel in downtown Galle saw many iterations before it settled most happily down upon its present one.

Image courtsey of Galle Fort Hotel.

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Gallery Café, The

In a fair just and equitable world, one would go to The Gallery Café simply to appreciate its stunning architecture. The business address of the architect Geoffrey Bawa, this beguiling building leads you ever deeper into peace, like a benign Pied Piper. Once through the gates, the humid decibels of Colombo fall mute.

As you walk through the building, the inner courtyard patrolled by languid koi, the calm cool rooms beyond and a garden and verandas beyond that, the hustle of the city evaporates. Surrounded by Ugly Sisters, this Cinderella of a building just keeps giving, for it now houses one of the more edible parts of Shanth Fernando’s Paradise Road empire, the café’s menu guaranteed to lock you in for several happy hours; and its walls, home to a changing gallery of contemporary Sri Lanka art, guaranteed to infuriate, delight or seduce you, depending on what is on show. Rarely does one building satisfy so many desires.

Gin Ganga, The

At one hundred and thirteen kilometres, the Gin Ganga is the country’s fourteenth longest river, collecting its cool waters from the mountains around the Sinharaja Forest, a Jurassic era rainforest whose scores of endemic trees, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals make it the Celestial City for nature lovers and spotters of all sorts. The Gin Ganga flows south, pausing briefly at Thelikada where it has been dammed to create a reservoir, before flowing towards Gintota, a little village near Galle famous for being where many of the country’s plywood tea chests are made.

Image courtsey of mithra weerakone.

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Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya, The

The definitive jewel in the collection of excellently run Tangerine Group Hotels, The Grand Hotel was built by the Duke of Wellington’s adjutant, Sir Edward Barnes in 1828, a holiday home fit for the busy Colonial Governor he was. In his short time governing, he arranged the construction of the Colombo and Kandy road, the first census of the population, and introduced coffee to the island. By 1843 the home had become a hotel, to be added to over the decades with a Governor’s Wing; a Southern Golf Wing, Tudor facades; and all the other opulent necessities of a first class colonial hotel. Its Edwardian luxury is now mediated by such things as a Mindfulness Studio, a dizzying range of restaurants and bars, and gardens large enough to keep at bay the ever greater crowds who cleave to the cool climate of Nuwara Eliya.

A photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of The Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya, taken in 1890-1910. Public Domain.

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Grand Oriential Hotel, The

Home to Dutch governors and British squaddies, The Grand Oriental Hotel was turned into a luxury billet back in 1875; and fights on still. Its bar offers one of the best views of Colombo Harbour.

An illustration by Unbekannt from the turn of the 20th century of The Grand Oriental Hotel in Colombo. Public Domain.

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Habarana

A village with uncertain pretentions to becoming a town, Habarana is situated bang in the middle of the northern part of the island. It is the gateway to the Minneriya National Park, elephant safari central, where, at the right time of the year, the big beasts gather in their migrating hundreds.

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Hakgalla Botanical Gardens

An illustration of a photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of Hakgalla Gardens from the Lotus Pond, Nuwara Eliya in 1890s. Public Domain.

Hakmana Fort

One of the long forgotten and vanished Dutch forts of Sri Lanka, Hakmana Fort was probably built a little before 1650 by the Dutch Governor, Joan Maetsuycker, to help secure the cinnamon lands on the frontier between the Dutch controlled areas and the Kandyan Kingdom. The fort was to become a casualty in the internecine wars between these parties, and was destroyed on February 10, 1761, by the army of the Kandyan king. Nothing now remains – except a sketch of the fort in the National Archives of Netherlands.

Image: Public Domain.

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Hammenhiel Fort

An illustration by Cornelis Steiger of Hammenhiel Fort. Public Domain.

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Haputale

Nestling in the heart of the hill country south of Ella, Haputale is a craggy cool world of lush tea plantations, and misty cloud-festooned mountains. The town is largely Tamil - yet also houses a miniature Anglican church, St. Andrew's, circa 1869; and, in an adjacent valley, an almost abandoned 1st BCE Buddhist cave temple, reached through the remains of an ancient Ambalama, its tiny stupa protected by overhanging rocks. From its famous pass the southern plains of the country open out, a luxuriant panorama of tea, tea, and tea. This was a view much enjoyed by Sir Thomas Lipton, the once penniless, probably gay, Glaswegian tea baron, who did so much to put the island’s tea into the living rooms of homes the world over. His Seat, literally a seat to sit down on, in order to enjoy the view, is now probably one of the most visited outdoor armchairs in the world, with tea-loving tourists flocking to perch on its planks. And just outside the little town is Adisham Hall, the faux Tudor country house folly built by a much later tea baron, Sir Thomas Villers.

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Helga’s Folly

No list of Sri Lankan hotels would ever be complete without Helga Blow’s famous anti-hotel. Sri Lanka’s last great eccentric, Helga Blow, Dior model, and niece of the eminent architect Minette de Silva, returned to her homeland in 1988. Seeking therapeutic distractions from a tortuous divorce, she set about decorating her home with the extraordinary murals that still adorn every spare inch of wall space. Home became a hotel and guests can still find Madame Helga (as in the Kelly Jones Stereophonics song), walking the lush corridors of her eyrie in Philip Treacy hats, doyenne of “an eccentric collision between Faulty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous”.

Image courtsey of Helga’s Folly.

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Hilton, The Colombo

Weathering a troubled birth, the Colombo Hilton was nevertheless one of the first globally branded hotels to wash up on Colombo’s then more parochial shores. It was finally launched in 1987, a year which, but for this, the country would chose not to dwell upon. Civil war raged, Jaffna was besieged and a serious of murderous race riots broke out. But to honour the hotel’s thirty years of indefatigably providing guests with all the best services of a major hotel (and one of the best brunches on offer in the city), a stamp and a first day cover were issued by the Sri Lanka Post in 2017.

Image courtsey of The Hilton.

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Hotels

Of Sri Lanka’s 10,000+ places listed as offering accommodation, the greater majority are privately let villas and apartments, supplemented by homestays. Less than a quarter of its accommodation is classified as a hotel – 2,500 in all. A third of these hotels are 4-star and less than 8% (200) are rated as 5-star.

For a small island still greatly overlooked by international visitors who are more accustomed to visit Thailand, the Maldives or India, this may seem more than sufficient – but most of the 200 5-star hotels are small private operations that focus on providing authentic boutique experiences rather than long corridors of identical bedrooms.

The hotel chains that dominate the rest of the world – Taj, Sheraton, Marriot, Starwood, Meridian, etc. – have yet to put in much of an appearance in Sri Lanka. Even so, as tourism roves forward on its somewhat uneven upward trajectory across the island, local chains – such as Jetwing, Cinnamon, Resplendent, Tangerine, Teardrop, Taru and Uga - are developing a growing reputation for exceptional hospitality that can be evenly experienced in any of their branded hotels.

Most hotel development has, of course, followed the tourists and so hugs the coastline from Negombo, near the airport, to Yala in the far south, with the greater number coalescing around Galle. A much more modest sprinkling of other 5-star hotel dusts such locations as Kandy and the cultural triangle, with a few outstanding examples reaching out into the north and east.

Although it is invidiously partial to pick out the best, here are the most likely contenders for happy stays in 2024.


COLOMBO

1. Colombo Court Hotel & Spa
Affordable, and very environmentally-minded, this much overlooked boutique hotel is within walking distance of many of Colombo’s nicest haunts. Sitting just off the traffic jam that is Duplication Road, it is a habitat of rare calm and tranquillity, its lush pool and rooftop bar among its many subtle delights.

2. Cinnamon Grand
The flagship hotel in a chain of Cinnamon Hotels, the Grand is a stone’s throw from the President’s Office in Colombo. Despite its rather corporate, blocky architecture, its secret weapon is its people. It tends to make a point of knowing who you actually are and what you really want. From lavish pools to flaky croissants, themed restaurants to battleship-large reception desks, it offers all you would hope for from a large, successful hotel.

3. Galle Face Hotel
With a Victorian era guest list that reads like Who’s Who of the time, this iconic hotel is the only one in Colombo that still enjoys direct sea access – though to bathe off its slim rocky beach to invite prescient thoughts of mortality. It started life as a modest Dutch Guesthouse before the opening of the Suez Canal turned the tickle of eastward bound Europeans into a river. Continually enlarged and upgraded, most notably by Thomas Skinner in 1894, it became the city’s top luxury meeting point attracting an international A List. Gandhi, Noel Coward, Che Guevara, Yuri Gagarin, Nixon, Prince Philip, and Elizabeth Taylor all booked rooms. Vivien Leigh sulked in her bedroom, sent home in disgrace by her husband Laurence Olivier. Little has changed since her repeated calls to room service: it is just as lovely, weathering a recent upgrade with rare good taste. It is the best place to Wedding Watch as it hosts around one thousand society weddings a year. Enjoy them as you nibble Battenburg cakes on the terrace, sip Pimm’s and watch the Crow Man scare away the birds.

4. The Grand Oriental Hotel
Home to Dutch governors and British squaddies, The Grand Oriental Hotel was turned into a luxury billet back in 1875; and fights on still. Its bar offers one of the best views of Colombo Harbour.

5. Hilton
Weathering a troubled birth, the Colombo Hilton was nevertheless one of the first globally branded hotels to wash up on Colombo’s then more parochial shores. It was finally launched in 1987, a year which, but for this, the country would chose not to dwell upon. Civil war raged, Jaffna was besieged and a serious of murderous race riots broke out. But to honour the hotel’s thirty years of indefatigably providing guests with all the best services of a major hotel (and one of the best brunches on offer in the city), a stamp and a first day cover were issued by the Sri Lanka Post in 2017.

6. Jetwing Seven
Jetwing is the island’s leading independent hotel chain with over thirty hotels and villas operating to standards and dining most other international hotel chains might be smart to pay attention to. Jetwing hotels promote strong environmental values; and their Colombo hotel offers one of the best sunset views in the city, its abundant bar enfolding a pool and languid seats from which to enjoy the urban panorama.

7. The Kingsbury
A splendidly straightforward 5-star hotel situated at the top end of Galle Face Green with views onto the Old Parliament, the sea, and the docks. Yue Chuan, one of its several restaurants, serves up some of the best Chinese food in Colombo.

8. Mount Lavinia Hotel
Built in 1806 by the British Governor, Sir Thomas Maitland, Mount Lavinia gained immediate fame for its not-so-secret tunnel linking the governor’s wine cellar to the home of his burgher lover. Successive governors would go on to use it as their out-of-town seaside retreat, enjoying its smart siting on a rock overlooking the sea and two pleasant beaches, restyling it in 1830 as an Italianate palace. With two hundred and seventy five rooms, it has been operating as a hotel since 1947, much loved as a wedding venue and brunching spot.

9. Maniumpathy
By checking in at the beautifully restored walawwa that is Maniumpathy, you can pretend that you are anywhere but in a big city. Cool, quiet, and calm, the little hotel, despite having changed hands multiple times, is a great option for anyone wishing to replace big brand hotels with something on a much more human a scale.

10. Number 11
Hidden down the 33rd Lane that turns off Colombo’s Bagatelle Road is Geoffray Bawa’s private town house, a rambling architectural marvel and museum which, whilst not run as a regular hotel, lets out two rooms to visitors. With demand far outstripping supply, getting to stay there can prove tricky – but lucky guests then have the great good fortune of having the entire museum, with its gorgeous assemblage of curios and masterpieces, all to themselves once the day trippers have gone.

11. Shangri-La
One of the milestones in Colombo’s journey from a overlooked and embattled post-Independence past into a more materialistically glamorous future was the creation of the high rise Shangri-La Hotel. Built by the Chinese as a sort of off-shoot of their Belt-and-Braces mission, it overlooks the sea at Galle Face Green with half a dozen bars and restaurants, and lavish bedrooms well able to match the best in any other globally branded five star hotel. Just a stones throw away is China’s greater investment in the country - Colombo International Financial City, a 300 acre, $15 billion, special economic zone reclaimed from the sea which, the suits claim that will be a place that “fuzes the culture and energy of a nation with best international practice.” Whilst the exact meaning of this penetrating solipsism is hard to unpick, and the planned architecture so modernistically predictable as to make it tricky to know whether you are in Dubai, Shanghai, or London Docklands, Pricewaterhouse Cooper insists it will add almost twelve billion dollars to the country’s annual GDP.

12. Taj Samudra
One of the oldest luxury hotels in Colombo, the Taj was constructed before astonishing premiums was put on the capital’s sea facing land. It therefore enjoys a rare calming green skirt of lush gardens and wings that go out rather than up. Scion of the Taj India chain, it offers its guests everything they might hope for from a massive corporate hotel, including excellent restaurants (especially YUMI), a useful hair salon – and, hidden in its gardens, all that is left of the once mighty Colombo Club, established in 1871 for the purpose of establishing and maintaining reading, billiard, card, and refreshment rooms in Colombo for the benefit of the members”.

13. Tintagel
The graceful Colombo residence of the Bandaranaike families and scene of the assassination of S.W.R. Bandaranaike, Tintagel is now an impressive boutique hotel run by the Paradise Road designer and entrepreneur, Udayshanth Fernando. If sinking into unquestionable peace and luxury is your principal need, this is the place for you.

14. Uga Residence
The landmark hotel in a small and growing local chain, Uga Residence is a 19th century mansion that has morphed delightfully into a lavish boutique hotel. Set like a delightful navel in the heart of the city, its bar offers an inexhaustible range of whiskeys.


CENTRAL

1. The Flame Tree Estate & Hotel, Kandy
An art deco plantation manor close to Kandy, the Elephant Orphanage, Sigiriya and Dambulla, The Flame Tree Estate & Hotel has been described as “a little slice of heaven and a big dose of serenity.” Surrounded by jungle, and its own plantations of spices, timber, coconut, and rubber, it mixes collections of contemporary Sri Lankan art with European Modernism; and fuses classic Sri Lankan food with familiar European dishes. Restored with the help of the celebrated Sri Lankan architect Channa Daswatte, the hotel is set beside the Galagedera Pass, where the Kandyan King Kirti Sri Rajasinha thwarted the attempt the Dutch East India army to invade the island’s last independent kingdom in 1765. The hotel is also the home of The Ceylon Press, a digital publishing initiative set up to tell the story of Sri Lanka.

2. Helga’s Folly, Kandy
No list of Sri Lankan hotels would ever be complete without Helga Blow’s famous anti-hotel. Sri Lanka’s last great eccentric, Helga Blow, Dior model, and niece of the eminent architect Minette de Silva, returned to her homeland in 1988. Seeking therapeutic distractions from a tortuous divorce, she set about decorating her home with the extraordinary murals that still adorn every spare inch of wall space. Home became a hotel and guests can still find Madame Helga (as in the Kelly Jones Stereophonics song), walking the lush corridors of her eyrie in Philip Treacy hats, doyenne of “an eccentric collision between Faulty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous”.

3. The Kandy House, Kandy
Built by the last Chief Minister to the Kandyan kings just before the British overran the kingdom, The Kandy House is discreet, deeply peaceful luxury hotel outside Kandy. One of the first really outstanding boutique hotels on the island, it attracts such guests as Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent and Madhur Jaffrey, the grand dame of Indian cookery whose Sri Lankan Fish Curry remains the apogee for any ambitious pisces cisternina.

4. Queen's Hotel Kandy
The crown has slipped slightly at this once grandest of grand hotels. Built by the last King of Kandy before being grabbed by the British Governor, The Queen’s Hotel opened as one of the island’s top hotels in 1869 attracting the great, the good and the wickedly wealthy. Its bar served Lord Mountbatten of Burma and every luminary before with rounds of cocktails and peppery gins. From its priceless position next to the Temple of the Tooth, guests can watch the birds on the Sea of Milk, as the lake opposite is called. Now more of an elderly stolid county maiden than a glamorous queen, it remains a decent and charming place, especially for those in search of shade, beer, and a rest from the relentless tide of busy Kandyans shopping and sightseeing just beyond its doors.

5. The Suisse Hotel, Kandy
Originally built in the 17th century by a minister of the Kandyan king, the Suisse hotel got its name when it was sold to Madam Burdayron, an intrepid Swiss hotelier. Lord Mountbatten gave her a block booking from 1943-45 when he took over the entire hotel as the Headquarters of the South East Asia Command. It is now run as a ninety room hotel owned by the Ceylon Hotels Corporation, standing in four acres of gardens, and offering a service and décor that is serviceably vintage.


SOUTH

1. Amangalla, Galle
For one hundred and forty years Galle’s most majestic hotel was known as the New Oriental Hotel before being rebaptised in 2005 as the Amangalla. Its real date stretches back to 1684 when it was the headquarters of the Dutch. Now a glorious heritage hotel, with deep, humbling verandas, it has wisely chosen to restrict its number of rooms to better focus on the sort of luxury you know you deserve the moment you find it.

2. Amanwella, Tangalle
Amanwella is the sort of hotel that guests often chose to arrive at by seaplane. One of 34 Aman hotels spread across 20 countries, it has a deep knowledge of how to best please its demanding guests. Shy celebrities, discarded Western prime ministers - all have found their way to this uber stylish retreat of infinity pools and gourmet menus that overlook the golden beaches of Godellawela near Tangalle.

3. Cape Weligama, Weligama
One of Resplendent Ceylon’s Relais & Châteaux hotels, Cape Weligama is made up of 39 villas and suites gathered loosely together, village style, on a headland overlooking Weligame Bay opposite Mirissa. Expect nothing less than the best.

4. Fort Bazaar, Galle
A seventeenth century merchant’s townhouse in downtown Galle Fort Bazzar is now home to a boutique hotel of handsome guestrooms, delicious food, and verandas from which to watch the busy world worry past.

5. The Fort Printers, Galle
A small eighteenth century building, Fort Printer’s is now run as a boutique hotel. Its restaurant serves some of the very best food on the island, a dazzling gustation played out on Sri Lankan, Lebanese, and Pakistani themes.

6. The Fortress Resort & Spa, Galle
Situated near Galle, this seaside boutique, overlooking sandy beaches and stilt fishermen, is spacious, luxurious, and calming. It polished bedrooms, yoga and excellent menu foster such as sense of well-being as to bring even Lazarus back to life, where he to drop by unexpectedly.

7. Galle Fort Hotel
A gem merchant’s grand mansion; RAF barracks; post office; bakery; lapidary; and playground for local cricketers - this small, ultra-luxurious, boutique hotel in downtown Galle saw many iterations before it settled most happily down upon its present one.

8. Kahanda Kanda, Galle
Kahanda Kanda is the star hotel in a small group of luxury South Coast boutique hotels (The KK Collection) founded by George Cooper, a British interior designer. Its two siblings are The Villa Bentota, and KK Beach. Kahanda Kanda, perched on a very private hill near Koggala Lake, is an indulgence of sequestered English country style villas that have happily woken up in a more tropical wonderland than Hampshire, Harrogate, or Hartlepool.

9. The Last House, Tangalle
Said to be the last building created by Asia’s famous architect Geoffrey Bawa, the Last House overlooks a sandy beach near Tangalle, its capacious gardens enclosing a calm and beautiful building of just five bedrooms that offers every necessary luxury.

10. The Long House, Bentota
The most glamorous of a collection of Taru villas and hotels, The Long House overlooks the sea in Bentota, its artfully designed spaces and rooms, gardens and menus offering all that is needed to satisfy a seaside sojourn.

11. Lunuganga, Bentota
You can now do better than briefly visit Geoffry Bawa’s country house estate – you can stay there too. “ Each vista,” wrote Michael Ondaatje, “each location feels like another elegy or another voice—the first person, then the third person, the vernacular, then the classical. You discover you wish to be at one location at noon, another at twilight, some when you are young, others later in life.” The estate stretches across a peninsula, the lagoon water of Dedduwa Lake on both sides; and views of water dominating the gardens as much as the many statues do - classical and animal, urns, pots, and follies. The house itself gazes out through the branches of a massive frangipani tree onto its sequestered landscape, the hotel side of it now managed by Teadrop Hotels, a local chain that knows all that is needed to be known about comfort.

12. Malabar Hill, Weligama
Ten very discreet villas make up this luxury retreat high on a hill surrounded by paddy fields and less than three miles from Weligama’s surf crazy beach. From its menus to its infinity pool, the hotel is beautifully thought through, a gloriously successful expression of hospitality and striking architecture.

13. Owl and the Pussycat Hotel & Restaurant, Galle
Thalpe’s homage to Edward Lear provides everything you might want from a small boutique seaside hotel. Overlooking the ocean, its pool and restaurant, bedrooms and open spaces are just the place to sit back “hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, (to dance) by the light of the moon”. Lear himself made a brief visit to the island in 1874, travelling by train, mail coach and one-horse trap to the South, Ratnapura, Colombo and Kandy, painting his way from place to place and leaving behind 76 landscapes that beautifully capture the alluring charm of the tropics to a jaded western eye.

14. Pedlar's Manor
A stylish private hotel created within an old manor; Pedlar's Manor is located in Unawatuna near Galle. It has but a handful of rooms, a heartfelt collection of vintage cars and the promise of almost-perfect peace in what has become one of the busiest and most visited sections of the Sri Lankan south.

15. The Sun House, Galle
The ideal place to avoid the tourist crowds of Galle – and yet still be as close to it as any lover, The Sun House was built by a Scottish spice merchant in the 1860s. Elegantly casual, with gardens of frangipani and an enviable menu, it is the kind of hotel that truly makes itself your home.

16. Wild Coast Tented Lodge, Yala
Described as “a chic safari lodge,” this cluster of cocoon-like seed pod ocean facing villa-etts lies adjacent to the famous Yala National Park. Whilst offering both utter seclusion and all the amenities of a luscious hotel, it also has on hand a well-informed team of young naturalists to help you make sense of the wildlife.


TEA COUNTRY

1. Amba Estate Sri Lanka, Ella
Just a short drive out of Ella lies the Amba Estate, which rather modestly defines itself as a farm stay. Set amidst lofty mountains, it is much more than that – a 130 acre organic farm, the centre of the growing artisanal tea movement on the island and a true social enterprise that delivers on its stated mission: “to maximise local employment and incomes, while preserving and restoring the natural environment.” With stunning walks and tea tasting like no other, a stay here gives you all the pleasure of earning a gold star, with none of the accompanying and often irksome typically effort.

2. Ceylon Tea Trails, Hatton
Established by Resplendent Ceylon, Ceylon Tea Trails is a rare Sri Lankan inclusion in Relais & Châteaux’s list of Leading Hotels. The mini chain specialises in super luxury hospitality and has five properties across the island. Tea Trails, near Hatton, comprises 5 separate planter’s bungalows perched at 1,250 metres and overlooking a working tea estate and is the kind of place Louis XV might have dropped into for a decent cup of tea, had his armies ever strayed out of India in the 18 th century.

3. The Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya
The definitive jewel in the collection of excellently run Tangerine Group Hotels, The Grand Hotel was built by the Duke of Wellington’s adjutant, Sir Edward Barnes in 1828, a holiday home fit for the busy Colonial Governor he was. In his short time governing, he arranged the construction of the Colombo and Kandy road, the first census of the population, and introduced coffee to the island. By 1843 the home had become a hotel, to be added to over the decades with a Governor’s Wing; a Southern Golf Wing, Tudor facades; and all the other opulent necessities of a first class colonial hotel. Its Edwardian luxury is now mediated by such things as a Mindfulness Studio, a dizzying range of restaurants and bars, and gardens large enough to keep at bay the ever greater crowds who cleave to the cool climate of Nuwara Eliya

4. Jetwing St Andrew's, Nuwara Eliya
The Sri Lankan hotel chain, Jetwing, has made a potent name for itself by rolling out outstandingly good modern hotels. But - at least once - it has combined the best of this tradition with a rare historical twinning. St Andrew's, its Nuwara Eliya hotel, is one of the country’s most iconic heritage hotels, and began life in 1875 as the Scot’s Club. A somewhat tortuous life then lay before it - as a hotel flickering between boom and bust, a rest centre for soldiers and sailors, a refuge for Tamil labourers – before finally being bought by Jetwing in 1987. Since then, it has gone from strength to elegant strength, big enough to be impressive but small enough to be personal

5. Living Heritage, Koslanda
Tucked away inside an area known as God’s Forest, Living Heritage is a most personal hotel, a one-off home-from-home type of place close to Adam’s Peak and Lipton’s Seat. With understated elegance and a focus on ecology sustainability, it connects its guests most gently to its wonderful surrounding wilderness.

6. 98 Acres Resort & Spa, Ella
Its panoramic lookouts stretch across and beyond its own 98 acres of tea near Ella that surround this organic grunge-lux hotel. Made up of a series of chalets perched on a hilltop, its style is laid out in generous helpings of real wood, granite, railways sleepers and large windows whose sweeping views will out compete most other holiday photographs.


EAST

1. Jetwing Surf
The 20 ocean facing cabanas of Jetwing Surf offer a deliciously comfortable and luxurious bolt hole from which to enjoy the surfing rigors of Arugam Bay.

2. The Spice Trail, Arugam Bay
Arugam Bay, rated as one of the top ten surf destinations in the world, remains – just – one of the surf world’s better kept secrets – but now is now beginning to attracts plane loads of dudes with boards set upon a week or so skimming its waves. For most hotels, it remains frontier country but for those who wish to go a little further up the pecking order of comfort and luxury, it offers The Spice Trail, a hotel on the main beach with an ethos of local provision as to gladden even the hardest environmental heart.

3. Uga Bay, Pasikuda
The beaches of the far eastern seaboard are long, sandy, and still relatively little visited, though a number of group-oriented resorts have set up shop on its coves. The best however is not in the least bit group oriented. Uga Bay in Pasikuda is a rare hotel in the area because it knows all about the magic “X” in “luxury” – as you would expect from an Uga branded hotel. Simple, sophisticated, and scenic, it gives you access to all the best sea sports, from a base of reassuring indulgence.


NORTH

1. Heritance Kandalama
The Kandalama Hotel is the indubitable jewel in a small group of large hotels owned by Aitken Spence and operated under the brand name Heritance. Aitken Spence is one of the island’s most conscious conglomerates, with businesses in such diverse fields as plantations, garments, financial services – and, of course, hospitality. Overlooking a lake near Dambulla, the Kandalama has gained much of its reputation for being one of the unquestioned masterpieces created by the architect Geoffry Bawa. Built in 1981, the hotel is literally wrapped around a cliff and so well planted that it is all but impossible to tell where nature ends, and the reception desk begins. Across one kilometre, its one hundred and fifty two rooms rise up seven floors almost invisibly, the entire exterior of the building clad in jungle vegetation. An architectural marvel, it has minimal environmental impact – yet within is everything you would expect of tropical modernism: simple, stunning, efficient, open. Its views over the great lake below are unmatched, as is the entertainment value of having a shower on the top floor with monkeys gambolling outside the windows.

2. Jetwing Lagoon, Negombo
Facing the ocean on the further reaches of the Negombo Lagoon, Jetwing Lagoon is the best positioned and most restful of one of a number of Jetwing hotels in Negombo. It owes much of its stunning design to the fact that it was one of the first creations of the architect Geoffrey Bawa back in 1965, but it owes to Jetwing its abiding fine hospitality.

3. Jetwing Mahesa Bhawan, Jaffna
Getting one of the (just) four rooms at this Jetwing villa is as good a reason to be happy as any. An art deco villa tucked away in Jaffna city, it serves the sort of delicious Tamil food that necessitates a glad rescheduling of the rest of the day’s activities. Few tourists venture as far north as Jaffna, but its dazzling history, kovils, shallow seas and fishermen’s villages make it the sort of place wiser visitors might chose to retire to forever.

4. Uga Ulagalla, Anuradhapura
Only those who have spent time in Anuradhapura can be said to get a real insight into Sri Lanka. The ruins of this once-mighty capital are mesmerising and breathtaking - and Uga Ulagalla offers a rare touch of luxury within which to reflect on all that you might have seen. Set inside almost 60 acres of garden, this restored 150 year old mansion is as good a reason to hope that the nascent Uga brand might go on creating more such lovely hotels.

5. Wallawwa, Negombo
Despite being most conveniently close to Colombo’s Bandaranaike Airport, Wallawwa is as far removed from a typical airport hotel as it is possible to get. An 18th century manor house, run with precision elegance by Teardrop Hotels, its eighteen rooms are the perfect place to land into if your flight to the island has proven to be too bumpy.

6. Water Garden, Sigiriya
Created by the architect Channa Deswatte, and within sight of the vast rock fortress of Sigiriya, the Water Gardens comprises 30 villas artfully arranged around a series of lakes. Minimalist, low-key and calm, it is a happy place within which guests can recover from the often life-threatening climb to the top of Sigiriya Rock.

Image: Galle Face Hotel, Public Domain.

Hunnasgiriya Fort

Thirty three kilometres east of Kandy are fragments of stone walls and structures – the remains of a fort and village that provided the stage for what was probably the last act of the Kandyan Kingdom. Atop a mountain once known as Medamahanuwara Mountain and today more familiarly as Hunnasgiriya Mountain, these are the remains of a fort palace, possibly built by King Senarath who rule ruled the Kandyan kingdom until his death in 1635. Linked to it is a village called Bombure; and it was to here that hapless King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha fled with his wives and a few allies as he attempted to evade the pursuing British. In 1815. Deciding that the village offered insufficient protection, the party attempted to find the hidden passage that connected the village to the fort palace. The tunnel entrance lay behind a waterfall. But repeated attempts to probe the water with sticks revealed nothing but hard rock. The king remained where he was, soon to be captured and exiled to Vellore in southern India where he was to die of dropsy. Villagers today state that the waterfall long since dried yup but point also to a place called Dora-Bombure (Door of Bombure), which they claim was the entrance the doomed king failed to find.

Image courtsey of Niroshan Edirsinghe.

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Independence Arcade

With unexpectedly droll humour, the authorities at the Urban Development Authority (UDA) converted the Jawatte Lunatic Asylum into one of Colombo’s top shopping malls. Within its beautiful 1889 colonnaded walls, the Independence Arcade houses a cinema, and scores of top trademark shops, and restaurants that will allow you to stretch your credit ratings. The renovation has been done with evident care and effectiveness. Even so, luxury brand shopping has yet to really catch on - and has some considerable way to go before it replaces religion - as it has done with such notable success in the West. But a start, albeit modest and disquieting, has been made.

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Issurumuniya, The

An illustration of The Issurumuniya by Felse taken in 1926. Public Domain.

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Ja-Ela

A sturdy, burgeoning town on the indices of major roads to Colombo, Katunayake, Gampaha, Negombo and Kandy, Ja-Ela is, more interestingly something of an etymological puzzle. “Ela” in Singhala means stream – but “Ja” in both Malay and Singhala, means Javanese. Quite how the name came to be is a trail long gone cold. Buddhist invaders from Java are recorded as having briefly ruled over Jaffna; and possibly elsewhere on the island; whilst later Dutch colonists favoured Sri Lanka as a place of exile for the many Javan chieftains they destoned as they conquered Indonesia. Little but such tantalising cross cultural names remain and almost none of the descending Malay Moors speak Sri Lankan Malay today. To paraphrase Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “tomorrow we disappear into the unknown. This account I am transmitting …may be our last word to those who are interested in our fate.”

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Jaffna Fort

An illustration by Cornelis_Steiger of Jaffna Fort. Public Domain.

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Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi

An early 20th century French illustration of the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, the sacred Bo tree in Anuradhapura. Public Domain.

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Jetwing Lagoon, Negombo

Facing the ocean on the further reaches of the Negombo Lagoon, Jetwing Lagoon is the best positioned and most restful of one of a number of Jetwing hotels in Negombo. It owes much of its stunning design to the fact that it was one of the first creations of the architect Geoffrey Bawa back in 1965, but it owes to Jetwing its abiding fine hospitality.

Image courtsey of Jetwing Lagoon, Negombo.

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Jetwing Mahesa Bhawan

Getting one of the (just) four rooms at this Jetwing villa is as good a reason to be happy as any. An art deco villa tucked away in Jaffna city, it serves the sort of delicious Tamil food that necessitates a glad rescheduling of the rest of the day’s activities. Few tourists venture as far north as Jaffna, but its dazzling history, kovils, shallow seas and fishermen’s villages make it the sort of place wiser visitors might chose to retire to forever.

Image courtsey of Jetwing Mahesa Bhawan, Jaffna.

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Jetwing Surf Hotel, The

The 20 ocean facing cabanas of Jetwing Surf offer a deliciously comfortable and luxurious bolt hole from which to enjoy the surfing rigors of Arugam Bay.

Image courtsey of Jetwing Surf.

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Kachcheri

A Sinhala term for a provincial secretariat.

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Kadugannawa

Snug within its mountainous walls, the kingdom of Kandy resisted colonial occupation until the British tricked their way inside, in February 1815. An ancient Singhalese prophesy had foretold that no foreigner would ever rule the kingdom if it was unable to piece its mountains. And so, when constructing the 1820 road from Colombo to Kandy, the British did just that, choosing, it is said, to include a tunnel on the road – the Kadugannawa Pass, a small section of pierced rock for which the little village of Kadugannawa claims its gentle fame. Many dispute the veracity of the story, but it has a wily charm about it and so deserves to be true even if it is not.

The construction of the road itself, a mere five years after capturing the kingdom and the country, was something of an engineering feat – and one carried out by the relatively junior Captain William Dawson. Although he never saw the completion of his work, being bitten by a poisonous snake three years before it was completed, his memory lives on in the village’s Dawson Tower, erected in his honour, and still standing. A wayside Ambalama, or resting place for weary travellers, was also erected in the village which has, since the opening of the National Railway Museum in 2009 also become a favoured place for ferroequinologists, eager to photograph old motors, trains, rail autos, trolleys, carriages, and other railway memorabilia not still used on the current railway grid.

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Kahanda Kanda Hotel, The

Kahanda Kanda is the star hotel in a small group of luxury South Coast boutique hotels (The KK Collection) founded by George Cooper, a British interior designer. Its two siblings are The Villa Bentota, and KK Beach. Kahanda Kanda, perched on a very private hill near Koggala Lake, is an indulgence of sequestered English country style villas that have happily woken up in a more tropical wonderland than Hampshire, Harrogate, or Hartlepool.

Image courtsey of The Kahanda Kanda Hotel.

Kala Oya, The

At one hundred and forty-eight kilometres, the Kala Oya is the country’s third longest river, collecting its waters in the Omaragolla Mountains in the centre of the island and snaking its way through the flat dry zone to drain into the Puttalam Lagoon near Kalpitiya. True to its long-established function, it discharges it waters into over six hundred tanks and reservoirs along its length, its most famous being the Kala Wewa reservoir built across Kala Oya, one and a half thousand years ago and still in use today. At Kalpitiya its seeps out into the ocean through reefs, saltpans, mangroves swamps, and marshes creating an environment perfect for nature spotters of all sorts.

Image courtsey of NishD

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Kalametiya

Half way between Tangalle and Hambatota lies the island’s oldest bird sanctuary – Kalametiya. From November to March its thousands of acres of mangrove, lagoon and wetland provide twitchers with the best possible opportunities to spot some 150 species from Black-Capped and Stork-Billed Kingfishers, Brahminy Kites and Reef Herons to Jungle Fowl and Glossy Ibis.

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Kalpitiya

On the edge of the vast Puttalam Lagoon, running up the island’s western seaboard, and facing inland is the coastal town of Kalpitiya. Once a beneficial participant in the pre and early Medieval maritime trade that ran from SE Asia to the Horn of Africa by way of India, the town became a notable part of Portuguese Ceylon in the early 17th CE before passing into Dutch hands and equipped with a star fort in 1667.

Almost all this early history-in-stone is now a wreck, fragile archaeological lines demarking the boundaries of barracks, a prison, warehouses, a Jesuit chapel, a commander’s, house, and a graveyard. The church font stands there still, surrounded by a few forsaken gravestones. Though of little value as a harbour, Kalpitiya nevertheless commanded the entrance to Puttalam harbour which bestowed on it a certain modest authority, later exploited by the Dutch to help maintain their monopoly on cinnamon. The coconut groves and salted fish that provided it with its basic economy linger on, though today the area is being rediscovered by tourists lured by the prospect of kitesurfing and scuba diving, dolphin and whale watching. Parts of it have even been declared a marine sanctuary, from whose reefs, and swamps, mangrove and dunes live a wide variety of marine life – including the elusive and almost extinct. Dugong.

Kalu Ganga. The

At one hundred and twenty-nine kilometres, the Kalu Ganga is the country’s tenth longest river, collecting its waters in Seetha Gangula and draining them out in Kalutara. Few rivers could have so illustrations a footprint for Seetha Gangula is one of several streams that runs out for Adam’s Peak, a site revered by almost all the country’s religions. Even so, the best is yet to come, for the Kalu Ganga moves on to flow through Sinharaja, the Jurassic era rainforest that is the country’s greatest biodiverse zone. As it runs, it passes through Ratnapura, with its history of throwing up glittering gemstones from riverbanks and on past Richmond Castle, an Edwardian palace as grand and sad as a disposed Tsarist princess. It finally reaches the western seaboard and the Laccadive Sea at Kalatura, home to the mangosteen. This fruit is rarely seen beyond the island – an quarantining that could quite possibly be deliberate, to moderate the inordinate moral damage its decadent and fragrant flesh has on the lips of anyone so fortunate as to bite into it.

Image of Kalu Ganga at Rathnapura c.1870s. Public Domain.

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Kalutara

A photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of the Banyan Tree at Kalutara around the 1890s. Public Domain.

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Kandalama Hotel, The

The Kandalama Hotel is the indubitable jewel in a small group of large hotels owned by Aitken Spence and operated under the brand name Heritance. Aitken Spence is one of the island’s most conscious conglomerates, with businesses in such diverse fields as plantations, garments, financial services – and, of course, hospitality. Overlooking a lake near Dambulla, the Kandalama has gained much of its reputation for being one of the unquestioned masterpieces created by the architect Geoffry Bawa. Built in 1981, the hotel is literally wrapped around a cliff and so well planted that it is all but impossible to tell where nature ends, and the reception desk begins. Across one kilometre, its one hundred and fifty two rooms rise up seven floors almost invisibly, the entire exterior of the building clad in jungle vegetation. An architectural marvel, it has minimal environmental impact – yet within is everything you would expect of tropical modernism: simple, stunning, efficient, open. Its views over the great lake below are unmatched, as is the entertainment value of having a shower on the top floor with monkeys gambolling outside the windows.

Image courtsey of The Heritage Kandalama.

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Kandy House, The


Built by the last Chief Minister to the Kandyan kings just before the British overran the kingdom, The Kandy House is a discreet, deeply peaceful luxury hotel outside Kandy. One of the first really outstanding boutique hotels on the island, it attracts such guests as Prince and Princess Michael of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent and Madhur Jaffrey, the grand dame of Indian cookery whose Sri Lankan Fish Curry remains the apogee for any ambitious pisces cisternina.

Image courtsey of The Kandy House.

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Karainagar

A small island and harbour town north east of Jaffna, Karainagar has seen cross border footfall since before records began. To the north stands a lighthouse built by the British in 1916; and to the south Fort Hammenhiel, a Portuguese-cum-Dutch fort that guarded the entrance to the Jaffna peninsula until repositioned by the British as a maximum security prison; a hospital for infectious diseases and finally a base for Special Operations. After Independence, it was used a prison for JVP prisoners, including (in 1971) Rohana Wijeweera, before being taken over by the Sri Lankan Navy as a place to detain errant sailors. It has now become a luxury hotel, where, its management claim, “a feeling of exclusivity is rampart;” and where guests “can experience real time living and sleeping within an actual cell.”

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Kelani Ganga, The

Despite enjoying the kudos and bravado that goes with being the river that flows through Colombo like a celebrity through the doors of the Burj Al Arab, the Kelani River is forever bound to be second best, heir to a position held by a watery queen who will never abdicate. For at three hundred and thirty give kilometres long, the Mahaweli River is the country’s longest river by any country mile. At one hundred and forty-five kilometres, the Kelani River is the but the country’s fourth longest river. As Colombo has grown exponentially, the river has become every more its work horse, used for everything from sewage disposal and mining to hydroelectricity production, transport and – of course – the supply of (in this case) eighty percent of the city’s water needs. One of four rivers that the poets say, “jump from the Mountain of Butterflies, Crawl through the hills and valleys, flow, hiding glistening gems below,” the Kelani today often passes barely noticed as it reaches the city and the neat embankments of cement constructed to channel its course. But every so often torrential floods upstream and in the city itself upend its banks and remind its punters that, yes, it is there, and it is not always well behaved.

An Illustration by W & S Ltd of a view of the Kelani River from Kurunegala, taken in 1895. Public Domain.

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Kingsbury Hotel, The

A splendidly straightforward 5-star hotel situated at the top end of Galle Face Green with views onto the Old Parliament, the sea, and the docks. Yue Chuan, one of its several restaurants, serves up some of the best Chinese food in Colombo.

Image courtsey of The Kingsbury Hotel.

Kirindi Oya, The

At one hundred and seventeen kilometres, the Kirindi Oya is the country’s eleventh longest river, collecting its waters in Namunukula, a spectacular mountain range near Badulla that stand so tall that the Ming Admiral, Zheng, was able to use its mass to navigate his way towards Sri Lanka in the fifteenth century. The Kirindi Oya then flows out into the Indian Ocean at Bundala, whose almost-four thousand square hectares of wetland supports a glamorous roll call of rare native and distinguished international visitors, including the always-welcome but increasingly rare pink flamingo.

Image courtsey of Forest Bird.

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Korale

An historical Sinhala term for the administrative unit of a province of the Kandyan kingdom. It was later used under British rule to describe a revenue district, overseen by a Mudaliyar in low country districts or a or Korale Mahaththaya in upcountry districts.

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Kosgoda

Illustration of a watercolour of Kosgoda Beach from 1835. Public Domain.

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Kruys Kerk

An illustration by Cornelis Steiger of the interior of the church in Jaffna Fort, seen from the South side. Public Domain.

Kumbukkan Oya, The

At one hundred and sixteen kilometres, the Kumbukkan Oya is the country’s twelfth longest river, collecting its waters near the blameless hill town of Lunugala and flowing out into the India Ocean at Kumana National Park through a series of lagoons and tanks of shallow brackish water. This is home to many visiting or endemic species, especially birds including the black-necked stork, and the exhausted pintail snipe that will have travelled over ten thousand kilometres to escape the Siberian winter. Quite how the area will survive the proposed Kumbukkan Oya development project, which aims to create a reservoir of almost fifty million cubic metres of water, is yet to be fathomed.

Image courtsey of @haneekkk.

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Last House, The

Said to be the last building created by Asia’s famous architect Geoffrey Bawa, the Last House overlooks a sandy beach near Tangalle, its capacious gardens enclosing a calm and beautiful building of just five bedrooms that offers every necessary luxury.

Picture courtsey of The Last House, Tangalle.

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Lighthouse, Galle

Illustration by Wilhelm Joseph Heine of the Light House at Point de Galle in1855. Public Domain.

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Living Heritage Hotel, The

Tucked away inside an area known as God’s Forest, Living Heritage is a most personal hotel, a one-off home-from-home type of place close to Adam’s Peak and Lipton’s Seat. With understated elegance and a focus on ecological sustainability, it connects its guests most gently to its wonderful surrounding wilderness.

Image courtsey of The Living Heritage Hotel.

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Long House Hotel, The

The most glamorous of a collection of Taru villas and hotels, The Long House overlooks the sea in Bentota, its artfully designed spaces and rooms, gardens and menus offering all that is needed to satisfy a seaside sojourn.

Image courtsey of The Long House Hotel.

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Lunuganga

Country houses with large, attached, specially landscaped gardens are two a penny in the West; but in Sri Lanka they are a rarity. One example is Lunuganga, an ex-rubber estate bought by the architect Geoffrey Bawa. The purchase was a form of alternative compensation, for not having settled on the shores of Lake Garda in Italy when faced with his mother’s illness and the choice of returning to Sri Lanka or not.

Walkways and copses of large ancient trees lead to carefully designed outdoor spaces. A Pavilion overlooks a heart-shaped pond, providing the architect with a place of shelter for his morning read. A Blue Pavilion looks out over jars and a pond; a hen house provides an impossibly luxurious space for pampered poultry. A riverside bench is shaded by trees and hung with bells - each sound linked to a different need (cup of tea, gin, and tonic) that the architect and his friends would sound as required.

“He made no attempt, wrote Michael Ondaatje, “to turn it into a pompous estate. Each vista, each location feels like another elegy or another voice—the first person, then the third person, the vernacular, then the classical. You discover you wish to be at one location at noon, another at twilight, some when you are young, others later in life.” The estate stretches across a peninsula, the lagoon water of Dedduwa Lake on both sides; and views of water dominating the gardens as much as the many statues do - classical and animal, urns, pots, and follies. The house itself – one of several that Bawa built there with unrivalled easy elegance, gazes out through the branches of a massive frangipani tree onto its sequestered landscape. It is not surprising that, of his many homes, this is where Bawa chose to lay his own ashes. And as the house now takes in guests, you can book in to enjoy a little bit of the lingering magic for yourself.

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Mada Idam

A Sinhala term for the muddy land on which wet paddy (rice) is grown.

Maduru Oya, The

At one hundred and thirty-six kilometres, the Maduru Oya is the country’s eighth longest river, collecting its waters in the mountains beyond Mahiyanganaya, halfway from Kandy to the Indian Ocean at Batticaloa. The streams around its nursery collection points are much revered, being said to have once hosted Lord Buddha himself who came to settle a dispute between warring tribes. All along the dry scrubland banks that enclose it can be found the ruins of the outer most reaches of the Anuradhapuran Kingdom – including sixth century irrigation structures – bisokotuwas, built to maximise drainage - that it took the west a hundred years more to invent. The river drains out at Kalkudah, a small town surrounded by beaches still abandoned since the ending of the civil war.

Picture courtsey of infolanka.lk.

Maha Oya, The

At one hundred and thirty-five kilometres, the Maya Oya is the country’s ninth longest river, collecting its waters in the Rakshawa Mountains – home, it is said to Ravana’s golden bed on which sat the lovely Sita, a married goddess for whom, sadly, almost no disaster was ultimately unexpected. As if in recompense history for this folly, the river is known to be one of the country’s hardest working waterways , supplying H2O to such major centres as Kurunegala, Gampaha, and Kegalle and providing, en route, multiple sites for sand, and clay mining. It flows out on to the western seaboard near Negombo at Kochchikade, a town famous for housing a scrap of St Anthony of Padua’s tongue at his eponymous Shrine, a church magnificently restored by the Sri Lanka Navy after the Easter Bombings of 2019 exploded amidst its pews.

Image of Sita kidnapped. Public Domain.

Mahaweli River, The

At three hundred and thirty-five kilometres, the Mahaweli River is, by a long shot, the country’s greatest river. Twice as long as its nearest rival, it winds down from Horton Plans, through Kandy before its jubilant union with the ocean at Trincomalee. But, as Winne-the-Pooh so wisely knew: “by the time it came to the edge of the Forest, the stream had grown up, so that it was almost a river, and being grown-up, it did not run and jump and sparkle along as it used to do when it was younger but moved more slowly. For it knew now where it was going, and it said to itself, “There is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” True to Pooh, the Mahaweli’s long and mesmerising course achieves a condition rare to most rivers: seclusion. As it moves in slow Pooh-style, it bypasses, ignores, and rebuffs most of modern Sri Lanka, its main cities and settlements, its most popular regions and places, temples, profane or spiritual. The nearest it gets to strident popularism is as it flows through Kandy. Thereafter, until it reaches the near-perfect natural harbour of Trincomalee on the eastern seaboard, it passes through a dry and underpopulated land, little visited by tourists, politicians on the make, entrepreneurs, paid-up members of the A, B or C list, or even environmentalists. Nothing about this area is remotely fashionable. Even so, Like Robert Frost’s “Road Less Travelled,” it becomes a river of great tranquillity, stillness, silence; everything that is that has become the antithesis of the modern world – even though from upstream run off and illegal mining pollution has started to poison its waters leaving several species of butterflies extinct and driving other endemic species to new levels of existential threat.

Image by Constance Frederica Gordon Cumming (Australian, 1837–1924)- The Mahaweli Ganga below Gangarowa, Ceylon , 1873. Public Domain.

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Malabar Hill Hotel, The

Ten very discreet villas make up this luxury retreat high on a hill surrounded by paddy fields and less than three miles from Weligama’s surf crazy beach. From its menus to its infinity pool, the hotel is beautifully thought through, a gloriously successful expression of hospitality and striking architecture.

Image courtsey of Malabar Hill.

Malvathu River, The

At one hundred and sixty-four kilometres, the Malvathu River is the country’s second largest river, and was once what the Tiber is to Rome, the Thames to London or the Nile to Egypt. Spiling from the streams of the Inamaluwa Mountains around Dambulla and Sigiriya, it flowed onto the ancient city of Anuradhapura, connecting the renowned capital with what Ptolemy mapped in the second century CE as Medettu - known in Sri Lanna as the port of Mannar, the maritime gateway to the island. Much of the ancient port now lies beneath the sea - but once, through its roads and the Malvathu River came the gems, pearls, cinnamon, elephants, and spices, packed up for export. And back came a royal princess in the fifth century BCE to marry the county’s first Singhala king; the warrior Tamil invaders; the merchants and emissaries from Persia, China, and Rome. All this excitement awaited the Malvathu as it arrived at Anuradhapura, reaching a fever pitch of activity at Mannar itself. Today the river knows no such glamour, harnessed by water resource schemes and travelling through lands long forgotten by the mainstream, to provide the workaday water solutions needed by the farmers and settlements around its banks.

Image courtsey of 307kamalp.

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Maniumpathy Hotel, The

By checking in at the beautifully restored walawwa that is Maniumpathy, you can pretend that you are anywhere but in a big city. Cool, quiet, and calm, the little hotel, despite having changed hands multiple times, is a great option for anyone wishing to replace big brand hotels with something on a much more human a scale.

Image courtsey of The Maniumpathy Hotel.

Mapagala Fortress

To enjoy a fulfilling and ambitious professional life as a builder in the fifth century BCE, you would need to relocated to Wu, where one of the more ambitious Chinese kings was constructing the Han Canal. Or to one of the many Anatolian palaces of the infamously wealthy Croesus. Or the temples of Delphi. Or Sri Lanka. Either way, pursuing your profession in, say Watford, Versailles, Swindon, Dundee, or the Baltic, would soon have you pressed bored and hard against the modest limits of the wattle and dab that defined European construction technology. The great rock fortress of Sigiriya is proof enough of this – yet there exists, just seven hundred and fifty metres south of Sigiriya the remains of a fortress that may predate the Lion Rock fort itself. A great deal of imagination is needed to reconstruct it – should a visitor ever get to the top, for there is no regular path cut. What remains is a space bordered by immense granitite boulders enveloping once substantial buildings, now just traces on the ground. Excavations have also uncovered traces of iron tools that would have been all but essential to prepare the stones from which it was built.

Image courtsey of https://justaboutev3rything.

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Meetiyagoda

A few kilometres north of Hikkaduwa on Sri Lanka’s south western seaboard lie the moonstone mines of Meetiyagoda. Beneath the tiny village stretches one of the largest pegmatite rock veins of moonstones known on earth. Since 1906 the stones have been carefully mined and treasured, for many of them carry the exceptional dark blue reflections that mark out Sri Lankan moonstone as amongst the most prized. Fondly fashioned by the Romans into pieces of artful jewellery, they were much later taken up in the Art Nouveau period by Rene Lalique whose own moonstone creations still sell for tens of thousands of dollars.

Menik Ganga, The

At one hundred and fourteen kilometres, the Menik Ganga is the country’s thirteenth longest river, collecting its waters in Namunukula and draining then out at Yala. If given the choice of any river to flow at the bottom of your garden, this would be one of the better choices you could make, for Menik Ganga means River of Gems. There, in the soil under, beside and and around the river are fecund deposits of bling waiting to be discovered and to enrich their prospectors. The river flows on through Kataragama, whose temple has defied decades of religious tension to remain a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and even Veddas – all much minded to take a dip in its waters before walking into the holy site. Having done more than most reivers ever do, the Menik finally flows out through Yala and into the Indian Ocean, offering to Neptune just ten percent of the waters it has captured along its way.

Image courtsey of Harsha Wijewardene.

Mi Oya, The

At one hundred and nine kilometres, the Mi Oya is the country’s fifteenth longest river, collecting its waters in the flatlands halfway between Kurunegala and Anuradhapura. Although no toddler in terms of water catchment - receiving over one and a half thousand cubic metres of rain a year in a catchment area of over a thousand square kilometres - it releases a mere three percent of what it gains into the Palk Straights on the western seaboard near Puttalam. The town is noted for its tiny but stills surviving population of Kaffirs, descendants from Bantu slaves deported from Niger and the Congo as part of the sixteenth century Portuguese slave trade. The faintest murmurs of Portuguese Creole can still be heard spoken in their homes. As rivers got the Mi Oya is unremarkable, unless of course you are a admirer of water pants, for growing in its waters – and only its waters – is Cryptocoryne Wendtii, an aquatic plant with small lushes fronds of reddish leaves that leave its small but loyal band of admirers mad with delight.

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Mihintale

A photogrpah from 1926 (photographer unknown) of the beginning of the stone steps at Mihintale. Public Domain.

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Mount Lavinia Hotel, The

Built in 1806 by the British Governor, Sir Thomas Maitland, Mount Lavinia gained immediate fame for its not-so-secret tunnel linking the governor’s wine cellar to the home of his burgher lover. Successive governors would go on to use it as their out-of-town seaside retreat, enjoying its smart siting on a rock overlooking the sea and two pleasant beaches, restyling it in 1830 as an Italianate palace. With two hundred and seventy five rooms, it has been operating as a hotel since 1947, much loved as a wedding venue and brunching spot.

An illustration of a photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of The Mount Lavinia Hotel and Bathing Pavilion from 1890-1910. Public Domain.

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Muragala

An illustration of a photograph by Henry W Cave entitled "Ruined Cities of Ceylon, Moonstone Guardstones and Steps" from 1904. Public Domain.

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Nainativu

For such a small island, Nainativu, situated just off the coast from Jaffna, has a dense and striking history, and features in some of the country’s more elaborate myths. Lord Buddha himself is said to have intervened to settle a dispute between two Naga princes here. A Naga princess from the island is said to have given birth to a son who went onto found the Pallava dynasty that from the 6th to 9th CE ruled over most of southern India. Indeed, the Nagas were the dominant people on the island before assimilating with the Tamils; and their worship of Nayinaar (a five headed cobra) continues to this day within the massive walls of the Nainativu Nagapooshani Amman Temple. The present temple, through dating from 1720, reaches back into antiquity and the very earliest records of Tamil life on the island; and is recorded too by the ancient Greek cartographer, Ptolemy. Today the island supports less than 3,000 people, its modest modern impact disguising a far more formidable ancient past.

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Nallathanniya

A tiny pilgrim village – also known as Dalhousie – that is most useful positioned for those determined to climb Adam’s Peak. Its shops are full of such beneficial items as warm clothing and water flasks; and its name comes from the nearby Dalhousie tea estate whose ownership, though not noticeably Scottish, goes back to at least at a Mr F.G.A. Lane in 1885.

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Negombo Canal

An illustration of a photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of the Negombo Canal showing Padda Boats between 1890-1910. Public Domain.

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Nilaveli

Fluffy white sand, long ,still-almost undeveloped beaches, sea eagles gliding overhead and dolphins swimming in the seas – Nilaveli, which rather gorgeously means moonshine over open land in Singhala, is generally considered to be wholly gorgeous. Situated a little north of Trincomalee, this tiny Tamil town is in full recovery after the devastating 2004 Tsunami, its prospects also much improved by the ending in 2009 of the Civil War. Its natural history is enriched by the presence of the vast Sinnakarachchi Lagoon and Pigeon Island National Park, whose coral walls provide a home for home to over 300 fish species, and a variety of rare turtles.

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Ninty Eight Acres Resort & Spa

98 Acres Resort & Spa's panoramic lookouts stretch across and beyond its own 98 acres of tea that surround the organic grunge-lux hotel near Ella Made up of a series of chalets perched on a hilltop, its style is laid out in generous helpings of real wood, granite, railways sleepers and large windows whose sweeping views will out compete most other holiday photographs.

Image courtsey of 98 Acres Resort & Spa.

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Number 11

Hidden down the 33rd Lane that turns off Colombo’s Bagatelle Road is Geoffray Bawa’s private town house, a rambling architectural marvel and museum which, whilst not run as a regular hotel, lets out two rooms to visitors. With demand far outstripping supply, getting to stay there can prove tricky – but lucky guests then have the great good fortune of having the entire museum, with its gorgeous assemblage of curios and masterpieces, all to themselves once the day trippers have gone.

Image courtsey of The Geoffray Bawa Trust.

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Nuwara Eliya Golf Club, The

A photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate entitled "18th Hole and Club House Golf Links Nuwara Eliya Elevation 6200 Feet" dating to 1890-1910. Public Domain.

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Nuwara Eliya Lake

An illustration of a photograph of a corner of Nuwara Eliya's Lake taken in 1890. Public Domain.

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Owl and the Pussycat Hotel & Restaurant, The

Thalpe’s homage to Edward Lear provides everything you might want from a small boutique seaside hotel. Overlooking the ocean, its pool and restaurant, bedrooms and open spaces are just the place to sit back “hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, (to dance) by the light of the moon”. Lear himself made a brief visit to the island in 1874, travelling by train, mail coach and one-horse trap to the South, Ratnapura, Colombo and Kandy, painting his way from place to place and leaving behind 76 landscapes that beautifully capture the alluring charm of the tropics to a jaded western eye.

Image courtsey of The Owl and the Pussycat Hotel & Restaurant.

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Pansala

A Sinhala term for a place of worship, most typically a Buddhist temple.

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Paraveni

A Sinhala term for hereditary property, also known as pamunu.

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Pasikudah

A beach town on the east coast north of Batticaloa, its sandy shores protected by a long reef.

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Pattu

A Sinhala term for the sub division of a korale, which is part of the administrative unit of a province.

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Pedlar's Manor

A stylish private hotel created within an old manor; Pedlar's Manor is located in Unawatuna near Galle. It has but a handful of rooms, a heartfelt collection of vintage cars and the promise of almost-perfect peace in what has become one of the busiest and most visited sections of the Sri Lankan south.

Image courtsey of Pedlar's Manor.

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Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O), The

An illustration by Percy Macquoid, entitled "For the Shore a - Sketch in Colombo Harbour" from the 1890s. Public Domain.

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Pilimathalawa

West of Kandy is the little town of Pilimathalawa, home to three of the island’s most remarkable medieval temples - Gadaladeniya, Lankathilaka, and Embekka. For those in search of traditional brassware, it is also a retail magnet for oil lamps, elephants, statues and icons.

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Pingo Carrier

An illustration of a photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of a Pingo Carrier in the 1890s. Public Domain.

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Pirivena

A Sinhala term for a place of education that is attached to a temple.

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Pitawala Pathana

A celebration of that most modest of all plants, grass, Pitawala Pathana is found in the middle of the island beyond the road to Matale and north of The Knuckles. Here, at over 1200 metres above sea level grows a grass no taller than 10 mm, across ten square hectares of thin soil. The resulting natural grassland meadows play host to only the hardiest and least demanding species including the rare Marble Rock Frog, so endangered as to be facing extinction full on, with little hope of a reprieve. For those who like their fauna and flora to be on the flasher (Versace) side, Pitawala Pathana will only disappoint; but if subtlety, utter peace, and the road less travelled is your beat, then it will have been well worth the journey to have come here.

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Point Pedro

Shallow seas, coral reefs, rangy sand dunes and golden beaches, dotted with little fishing hamlets - all marks the area around the little town of Point Pedro, the island’s northmost settlement. Tourism in almost any form, has yet to declare itself here.

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Purana Village

A Sinhala term that for an ancestral village or a village that has a long and ancient history.

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Queen's Hotel, The

The crown has slipped slightly at this once grandest of grand hotels. Built by the last King of Kandy before being grabbed by the British Governor, The Queen’s Hotel opened as one of the island’s top hotels in 1869 attracting the great, the good and the wickedly wealthy. Its bar served Lord Mountbatten of Burma and every luminary before with rounds of cocktails and peppery gins. From its priceless position next to the Temple of the Tooth, guests can watch the birds on the Sea of Milk, as the lake opposite is called. Now more of an elderly stolid county maiden than a glamorous queen, it remains a decent and charming place, especially for those in search of shade, beer, and a rest from the relentless tide of busy Kandyans shopping and sightseeing just beyond its doors.

Image: Public Domain.

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Railway, Kandy-Colombo

Illustration by an unknown English Photographer of Construction of the Kadugannawa Railway Incline in 1866 on the Colombo-Kandy line. Public Domain.

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Ramboda

A small village famous for hosting the country’s longest road tunnel, a 738 foot long structure much feared by claustrophobics along the A5 Peradeniya to Nuwara Eliya highway.

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Ratemahatmaya

A Sinhala term from the Kandyan kingdom to describe the chief of a district.

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Ratnapura

Illustration shows a sketch by Edward Lear of a view of Ratnapura from 1874. Public Domain.

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Ritigala

Barely forty kilometres south east of Anuradhapura, stand the 4 peaks of Ritigala mountain, its sheer wooded sides easily outstretching the more famous peaks of Sigiriya, Dambulla, and Mihintale. Its unique micro wet climate has led to it becoming an important nature reserve today, a happy by product of its creation myth which saw it being formed when Lord Hanuman accidently dropped a chunk of the Himalayas as he flew overhead. Monasteries, temples, and pavements followed on from the development of a 4th BCE reservoir. But almost from the outset the site was notable for the extreme austerity of its monks. Not for them were statues, bo trees, stupas or, one assumes, any other more modest comforts. The very name of the monks (“Pansukulikas” or “rag robes”) making clear exactly what their priorities were.

Rivers of Sri Lanka

No nation amounts to much without water, but in Sri Lanka the management of water became a national science and obsession since Vedic times. Perfected during the reigns of the great Anduraupuran kings, the turning of water into food and then gold propelled the country in its early and early medieval ages to levels of sophistication that dwarfed most
countries in the west. Rivers were dammed, massive tanks and reservoirs dug out, and canals and water streams cut in gradients of breathtaking precision using a tank cascade system dating back to the first century BCE. Even the trees and bushes that grew along the water’s edge were carefully selected to deter evaporation and loss. It is therefore unsurprising that almost sixty percent of the power generated now comes from hydroelectricity. Twenty four massive dams and over twenty vast reservoirs lie behind this power source, backed up by over sixty smaller dams and eighteen thousand smaller tanks and reservoirs, many going back well over a thousand years. With an average rainfall of over one thousand seven hundred millimetres per year, Sri Lanka receives more rain than all European and most African and Asian countries. Most of this is carefully collected – but, claim the detractors, it is then poorly managed, and, they say, the country has plenty of room to improve its hydroelectric contribution by greater efficiency in storing and protecting the water it accumulates. Central to all of this, are of course, the country’s rivers. Most start their tiny rivulet lives amidst the great mountain ranges that rise up in the central section of the island, and cascade down through cloud forest, rainforest and dry zone scrubland towards lagoons and the sea. Many – like the Kalani Ganga – have become workaday work horses, supplying water, and facilitating mining along their banks. Others combine this role but flow into shallow brackish lagoons, rich with wildlife – such as the Kala Oya, the Kirindi Oya, the Kumbukkan Oya, and the Maha Oya. Some, like the Kalu Ganga or the Menik Ganga, glitter with gemstones washed into their waters. One – the Malvathu River – comes as close as any river can to the memory of a once grandiose history, connecting to ancient trade routes from China to Rome, exporting previous stones and jewels and taking, by return, princesses, invaders, and emissaries. But the greatest river - by a long shot - is the Mahaweli: three hundred and sixty five kilometres long flowing out from Horton Palins, through Kandy and across the dry scrubland of the north east of the country towards its ultimate destination at Trincomalee


COLOSSAL
1. Mahaweli River - 335 km) running from Horton Plains to Trincomalee.

CAPACIOUS
2. Malvathu River - (164 km) running from the Inamaluwa Mountains to Vankalai.
3. Kala Oya - (148 km) running from the Omaragolla Mountains to Kalpitiya North.
4. Kelani River - (145 km) running from Baththulu Oya to Colombo.
5. Yan Oya - (142 km) running from Ritigala to Pulmoddai.
6. Deduru Oya - (142 km) running from the Gommuna Mountains to Chilaw.
7. Walawe River - (138 km) running from Belihul Oya to Ambalantota.
8. Maduru Oya - (135 km) running from the Akurugala Mountains to Kalkudah.
9. Maha Oya - (134 km) running from the Rakshawa Mountains to Kochchikade.
10. Kalu Ganga - (129 km) running from Seetha Gangula to Kalutara.

GOODLY
11. Kirindi Oya - (117 km) running from Namunukula to Bundala.
12. Kumbukkan Oya - (116 km) running from Lunugala to Kumana.
13. Menik Ganga - (114 km) running from Namunukula to Yala.
14. Gin Ganga - (113 km) running from the Kabaragala Mountains to Gintota.
15. Mi Oya - (109 km) running from the Kuda Madagala Mountains to Puttalam.
16. Gal Oya - (108 km) running from the Hewa Eliya Mountains to Oluvil.

PLENTIFUL
17. Attanagalu Oya - (76 km) running from the Kegalle District to the Negombo Lagoon.
18. Nilwala Ganga - (72 km) running from the Rakwana Mountains into the Indian Ocean.
19. Kanakarayan Aru - (70 km) running from Semamadu Kulam to the Chundikkulam Lagoon.
20. Kotmale River - (70 km) running from Horton Plains National Park into the Mahaweli River.
21. Parangi Aru - (60 km) running from near Vavuniya into the Palk Strait.
22. Kehelgamu Oya - (50 km) running from Horton Plains into the Kelani River.
23. Pali Aru - (50 km) running from Puliyankulam into the Palk Strait.

SLIGHT
24. Maskeliya Oya - 40 km) running from the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary into the Kelani River.
25. Nay Aru - (40 km) running from near Vavuniya into the Palk Strait.
26. Per Aru - (32 km) running from Vavuniya to the Nanthi Lagoon.
27. Mandekal Aru - (30 km) running from near Mullaitivu into the Palk Strait.
28. Nanu Oya - (27 km) running from Pidurutalagala into the Kotmale River.
29. Pallavarayankaddu Aru - (27 km) running from near Mullaitivu to the Palk Strait.

TINNY
30. Akkarayan Aru - (25 km) running from near Mullaitivu to the Jaffna Lagoon.
31. Netheli Aru - (24 km) running from near Mullaitivu to the Chundikkulam Lagoon.
32. Theravil Aru - (23 km) running from near Mullaitivu to the Chundikkulam Lagoon.
33. Nay Aru - (20 km) running from near Mullaitivu to the Nai Aru Lagoon.
34. Piramenthal Aru - (20 km) running from near Mullaitivu to the Chundikkulam Lagoon.

WEE
35. Kodalikkallu Aru - (19 km) running from near Mullaitivu to the Nanthi Lagoon.
36. Valukkai Aru - (16 km) running from near Jaffna to the Jaffna Lagoon.

Image: River scene, Ceylon: Lord Valentia travelling to Colombo, his palanquin loaded on three canoes. 20 December 1803, by Henry Salt (1780-1827). Public Domain

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Road Development Agency

An illustration of a photograph by William Louis Henry Skeen taken in 1880 by whihc time over half the island’s road mileage of 2,096 had been metaled and gravelled. Public Domain.

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Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya

A photograph by Alfred William Amandus Plate of the avenue of Cabbage Palms in Peradeniya Gardens, taken in 1890-1910. Public Domain.

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Ruwanwelisaya Stupa, The

Illustration of a photograph of the Ruwanwelisaya Stupa. Public Domain.

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Sakkotai Cape

Perched on the rocky northern most point of Sri Lanka, this little settlement offers a home for the navy, a lighthouse in need of love; and for the eagle eyed – the coastline of southern India.

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Sasseruwa

Picture this: a small road, cutting through jungle and hills far north of Dambulla , going nowhere special. In between rocky outcrops and volcanic tree roots lie the many scattered remains of stupas, moonstone entrances to lost sacred rooms, antique inscriptions, cave cells for over 100 hermetic monks; and the many linked buildings and structures for a substantial monastery.

Welcome to Sasseruwa, famous - when there was a collective memory for such things - for its massive (almost 12 metre) standing statue of Lord Buddha. It rises, dwarfed by a vast overhead rock canopy, unfinished, much weathered, but resiliently present, one in a style of increasingly few similar examples of rock-carved Buddhas left around the world since the Taliban decided to blow their own up in faraway Afghanistan. Once so important as to merit one of the actual saplings of the Sri Maha Bodhi tree; a meeting place for kings and armies, a sanctuary for the avenging Anuradhapuran king, Valagamba in the 1st BCE, Sasseruwa is today almost entirely forgotten.

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Shangri-La Hotel, The

One of the milestones in Colombo’s journey from a overlooked and embattled post-Independence past into a more materialistically glamorous future was the creation of the high rise Shangri-La Hotel. Built by the Chinese as a sort of off-shoot of their Belt-and-Braces mission, it overlooks the sea at Galle Face Green with half a dozen bars and restaurants, and lavish bedrooms well able to match the best in any other globally branded five star hotel. Just a stones throw away is China’s greater investment in the country - Colombo International Financial City, a 300 acre, $15 billion, special economic zone reclaimed from the sea which, the suits claim will be a place that “fuzes the culture and energy of a nation with best international practice.” Whilst the exact meaning of this penetrating solipsism is hard to unpick, and the planned architecture so modernistically predictable as to make it tricky to know whether you are in Dubai, Shanghai, or London Docklands, Pricewaterhouse Cooper insists it will add almost twelve billion dollars to the country’s annual GDP.

Image courtsey of The Shangri-La Hotel.

Sigiriya Fortress

Used since prehistoric times and now one of the country’s seven world heritage sites, Sigiriya is known mostly for the palace built by the regicidal King Kasyapa in the fifth century CE. But like all great fortresses, it was something that evolved over time. Professor Senake Bandaranayake, who has worked on the site for over twenty years, notes that it “has a very complex rampart system. The city was walled and moated. Besides the inner and outer cities within the ramparts, there is evidence of suburban dwellings immediately outside the walled area. The complex is three kilometres from East to West and one kilometre from North to South. It speaks of grand urban planning. A brilliant combination of a geometric square module and natural topography.” The architects and engineers at the time took care to incorporate nature and never to deny it. Existing lakes, rocks and hills were cleverly woven into the general plan.“ Sitting atop a two hundred metre rock that dwarfs the flat plains beneath, it is everything a fortress should be – even with its own water supply. On Kasyapa’s death, probably at the hands of his half-brother Moggallana, who arrived with a borrowed Tamil army and managed to entice his brother out to battle, the fortress was given over to monks, and little more is recorded of its more military functions.

Image - The Lion Rock, Sigiriya 9 February 1868. Watercolour by Stanley Leighton. Public Domain.

Sitawaka Fort

Following on from a most successful regicidal patricide, the Sitawaka kingdom was caved out of the Kotte kingdom; and for a while was the scourge of both the Kandyan kings and the new colonialists. The kingdom was destined to last for but a short time, and today almost nothing remains of either the palace or the fort constructed by Mayadunne, its inaugural king. The Portuguese captured the kingdom and reduced the fort to more modest garrison before the later British reused all its stones to build a rest house. Even so, Dr. John Davy the surgeon and physician of Governor Brownrigg, was to write in 1821 in his book “An Account of the Interior of Ceylon, and its Inhabitants:” “Sittawakka, once a royal residence and a place of considerable consequence is now merely a name. No traces of what is once was traces of what it once was are now to be seen by the traveller passing along the road, and for a considerable time, none were supposed to exist. Lately some remains of a building has been discovered. In June 1819, when travelling this way the third time, I was conducted by the natives to an old fort concealed by wood situated on the tongue of elevated ground, formed by the confluence of a small deep stream with the river. I went in a boat and ascended from the river by a short flight of hewn-stone steps, and after walking about 100 yards, came to the building which I found to be nearly square, formed of three walls, one within the other thus. The walls were of Kabook as the stone is called by the natives; and in this instance, as in most others appeared to be clay strongly impregnated with red oxide of iron, to which, probably it owes its property of hardening by expose to the atmosphere. The outer wall was between eight and ten feet height and six and eight wide. It was widest at its angles, where it communicated with the enclosure by steps. Between this wall and the next, the distance might be twenty four or thirty feet; the space was overgrown with bushes. Here I observed a deep well carefully made, and it sides lined with masonry. The inner enclosure was probably roofed and was the donjon-keep of the fortress. There were no marks of its having been divided into different compartments, and indeed it was hardly enough to admit of it. Natives who call this ruins Kotuwa (a fort), have a tradition, which is probably correct, that it was built and occupied by the Portuguese when the neighbourhood was the arena of bloody contention these bold invaders and the prices of Sittawakka. The nature of the building, the circumstances of there being a good well within its walls, its situation of the Columbo side of the river and nearly opposite to the spot on which there is reason to believe the palace and the town of Sittawakka formally stood, seem to be proof of the correctness of the tradition. Be this as it may, the ruin was not uninteresting. and might have been worth preserving; I say might, – knowing that the work of destruction has commenced and that the walls which two centuries, at least, had spared, have been pulled down either in part or entirely, and their stones removed to build a new rest-house. The curious traveller may complain of this measure; whilst the indolent one will bless his stars for being saved the trouble of forcing his way through the thickets to see an old ruin, the material of which, newly arranged, afford him a comfortable shelter.” Today all that remains are a few mounds of earth that the Archaeology Department are valiantly excavating.

Image courtsey of Amazing Lanka.

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Spice Trail Hotel, The

Arugam Bay, rated as one of the top ten surf destinations in the world, remains – just – one of the surf world’s better kept secrets – but now is now beginning to attracts plane loads of dudes with boards set upon a week or so skimming its waves. For most hotels, it remains frontier country but for those who wish to go a little further up the pecking order of comfort and luxury, it offers The Spice Trail, a hotel on the main beach with an ethos of local provision as to gladden even the hardest environmental heart.

Image courtsey ofThe Spice Trail.

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St Andrew's Hotel, The


The Sri Lankan hotel chain, Jetwing, has made a potent name for itself by rolling out outstandingly good modern hotels. But - at least once - it has combined the best of this tradition with a rare historical twinning. St Andrew's, its Nuwara Eliya hotel, is one of the country’s most iconic heritage hotels, and began life in 1875 as the Scot’s Club. A somewhat tortuous life then lay before it - as a hotel flickering between boom and bust, a rest centre for soldiers and sailors, a refuge for Tamil labourers – before finally being bought by Jetwing in 1987. Since then, it has gone from strength to elegant strength, big enough to be impressive but small enough to be personal.

Image courtsey of Jetwing St Andrew's, Nuwara Eliya.

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Stupa

A Sinhala term for a religious structure built over a relic, most typically a dome shaped monument.

Illustration: A full reconstruction of the first stupa in Sri Lanka, along with its later Vatagage which was built over the monument. Known as the Thuparama Stupa in Anuradhapura, today only the stupa remains. The Vatadage structure reconstructed in this model in the main museum of Anuradhapura. Public Domain.

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Suisse Hotel, The

Originally built in the 17th century by a minister of the Kandyan king, the Suisse hotel got its name when it was sold to Madam Burdayron, an intrepid Swiss hotelier. Lord Mountbatten gave her a block booking from 1943-45 when he took over the entire hotel as the Headquarters of the South East Asia Command. It is now run as a ninety room hotel owned by the Ceylon Hotels Corporation, standing in four acres of gardens, and offering a service and décor that is serviceably vintage.

Image courtsey of The Suisse Hotel.

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Sun House Hotel, The

The ideal place to avoid the tourist crowds of Galle – and yet still be as close to it as any lover, The Sun House was built by a Scottish spice merchant in the 1860s. Elegantly casual, with gardens of frangipani and an enviable menu, it is the kind of hotel that truly makes itself your home.

Image courtsey of The Sun House.

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Taj Samudra Hotel, The

One of the oldest luxury hotels in Colombo, the Taj was constructed before astonishing premiums was put on the capital’s sea facing land. It therefore enjoys a rare calming green skirt of lush gardens and wings that go out rather than up. Scion of the Taj India chain, it offers its guests everything they might hope for from a massive corporate hotel, including excellent restaurants (especially YUMI), a useful hair salon – and, hidden in its gardens, all that is left of the once mighty Colombo Club, established in 1871 for the purpose of establishing and maintaining reading, billiard, card, and refreshment rooms in Colombo for the benefit of the members”.

Image courtsey of The Taj Samudra Hotel.

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Talpe

Talpe is to Unawatuna what Greenwich Village is to Manhattan – a right-next-door sort of place well placed for partial release from the business of the main drag - its coral encased beach dotted with cafes sitting astride the outlet for the Koggala river.

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Taprabane Island

A painting (acrylic on paper) by Lincoln Seligman of Taprabane Island. Image courtsey of the artist.

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Temple of the Tooth

A watercolour by Clive Wilson of The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Illustration courtsey of the artist.

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Thanthirimale

Forty kilometres north west of Anuradhapura and now so far off the beaten track as to render it firmly backwater, Thanthirimale nevertheless has a most glamorous past. Some even claim it to be the long lost capital of one of the country’s very first kings, Panduwasdewa. Capital or not, it shot to fame when the daughter of the Indian Emperor Ashoka, the Princess Sangamitta, brought a sapling of the original Bo tree to Sri Lanka in 288 BCE. As the princesses disembarked from her ship and travelled south she paused for the night in Thanthirimale, and here the pot with the sacred sapling rested, through ‘rested’ is to understate the botanical energy of the little tree. The villagers insisted that overnight one branch grew separately out from the pot, and this they planted in their village, thereby beating by several days the claims of the famous Sri Maha Bhodi of Anuradhapura to have been the first and original plant sent from India.

As the centuries ticked on, and the terrible invasions that destroyed the Anuradhapura Kingdom erupted, the debates about the tree must have slowly fallen into silence; and all was lost. At some point in the 19th century the place was reidentified, and the ruins of temples and marvellous structures, ponds and statues were gradually uncovered. So too were special caves ear-marked for meditating monks of the 1st century BCE, and decorated with the sturdy scripted letter of Brahmi, one of the most ancient writing systems of South Asia.

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Thiriyai

A small village north of Trincomalee, Thiriyai is nevertheless more than worth a detour to - for nearby stands what is said to be the island’s first Buddhist Stupa, built to house the hair relics of the Lord Buddha. Constructed around the 4th century BCE by traders from the Pallava Kingdom, the temple, known as the Girihandu Seya, is surrounded by that rarest of architectural forms, and one unique to Sri Lankan Buddhism – a vaṭadāge. This circular structure was typically constructed around a stupa to protect and enhance it, carved with elaborate designs and ascending with concentric columns that supported a wooden roof. Very few of these still exist; that one does so from so long ago is little short of a miracle.

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Thombo

A Sinhala term for a register of land.

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Thunhavul Land

A Dutch Sinhala term from the late 18th century that referred to Dutch land grants which mandated that a third of the land had to be planted with cinnamon.

Thuntota Fort

Poised like a spear at the heart of Kandy, Thuntota Fort in Holambuwa, sometimes known as Manikkadawara Fort, was built by the Kotte kings at the turn of the fifteenth century but soon taken over by the Portuguese who arrived on the island in 1505 and lost little time in seizing territory. Front the outset they focused their energies on taking Kandy – and Manikkadawara was perfectly positioned for this purpose. The Portuguese General Jerónimo de Azevedo greatly enlarged the fortress and added outreach mini forts on its access points. Over the decades the fort was on the front line of attacks into Kandy or defending itself from Kandy. An Englishman, Mr H.C.P. Bell, writing in the 1880s noted this history of attrition:

“After the gaining of the victories in the Seven Corlas which we have described, and the destruction of the enemies stockades, the General D. Jeronymo d’Azevedo determined to send and make a stockade in Manicravare. as it was nearer to the kingdom of Candea, in order to be able to conquer it from there; and to build m that stockade a military magazine and barrack, that it might serve as a garrisoned fortress near the Four Corlas. This stockade he decided should be of stone for better fortification and security of the troops who were to be stationed there. Wherefore he collected a large number of pioneers and workmen, and all the tools and materials necessary for the work. These he entrusted to Salvador Pereira da Silva, who set out with an ample body of Lascoreens and as many Portuguese soldiers as could be assembled ; and, one league before reaching the fort of Manicravare in the past September of [15]98, he pitched his camp, in which he remained some days. During this halt was collected the plant necessary for the work, in order to complete everything the day they arrived. He suspected that the Tyrant had a mind to surprise our troops before they had fortified themselves, so as to hinder a work which would be of great embarrassment and harm to him, as they [the Portuguese] would thereby block the gates of the kingdom of Candea where he would be confined. The requisite materials having been collected, our men set out for the place where the fortress was to be made, and on arriving at it they at once fortified themselves ; and when the following night came on which the enemy had determined to surprise them, there was already made a defensible fort of wood, our men quite secure inside it, and the enemy frustrated in their design without daring to meddle with them. Our men soon put their hands to the work of [building] the fortress of stone, on which they spent a period of four months at great loss and labour ; and whilst engaged therein they did not fail to make several incursions into the territories of the Tyrant, from which they always returned victorious. The Tyrant seeing that he could not stop that work, determined to draw away the General. Wherefore he proceeded with his army to the frontiers of Dinavaca, and commenced to make war vigorously on those districts which were ours. Upon this the General hastened thither with another army which he had formed of soldiers taken from the garrisons in various parts, leaving them, however, guarded. He sent Captain Salvador Pereira da Silva in command to oppose the enemy: this the latter did, and in several encounters routed them. ‘The fortress of Manicravara was carried on until the whole was completed, with its walls, bastions, and a tower of two stores in the middle, the work being so well finished and strong, that it was considered impregnable throughout that Island. Thither the said General proceeded with the rest of the army at the beginning of the past January of [15]99 and made preparations for making an inroad into the Corlas. D. Hierome de Azevedo in Ceylon raising a strong fort at Manicravara be the nearer to the kingdom of Candea, the conquest whereof was his chief aim, so perplexed the usurper that he, setting out several bodies with the king of Uva to distract our General, was in all places by him overthrown. D. Jeronymo being informed of this (the incursion of the Kandyans into Portuguese territory) provided the stockade of Manicravara, which he was, with three companies of soldiers, the Captains of which were Thome Coelho, who was head of all, Joao Serrao da Cunha, and Diogo de Aranjo, and with victuals and ammunition for many days.”

Later historians have argued for the presence of a second fort, a Dutch four- sided Star Fort with curtain walls enclosing a central bastion. As only a few depressions on paddy fields are all that is left, it is impossible to be sure what really existed where and when. All about, the area is today bucolically calm; and reimaging the earliest colonial days of war and bloodshed, is a task beyond reason.

Image - 17th century map of Portuguese fort at Menikkadawara identified as Tontotte Fort, Public Domain.

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Tintagel Hotel, The

The graceful Colombo residence of the Bandaranaike family, Tintagel is now an impressive boutique hotel run by the Paradise Road designer and entrepreneur, Udayshanth Fernando. If sinking into unquestionable peace and luxury is your principal need, this is the place for you. But spare a moment to dwell a little on the country’s recent past for on an otherwise ordinary morning in 1956, the radical Prime Minster S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, was seated on the veranda of Tintagel - and approached by the Buddhist priest who shot him twice at point black range, letting off several more shots as he followed the stricken leader into the house. He was to be the first leader of the modern state to be murdered – but not the last.

Image courtsey of Tintagel Hotel.

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Town Hall (New), Colombo

Illustration of the New Town Hall Colombo bulit by the British; Photograph 1890-1910, Public Domain.