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usk at Yala National Park and our
safari jeep is racing for the gates
to get out before the night-time
park curfew when Sajith, our
guide, yells 'Stop!' to the driver.
Mere metres away, a male leopard
has appeared from a thicket of trees and the
commotion causes him to pause and turn his
enormous head to look at us, an unhurried
gesture of curiosity from this majestic spotted
cat. We all hold our breath, and he slowly
continues on his way. It is just one of many
memorable moments on this incredible trip
across Sri Lanka, the exotic teardrop-shaped
island in the Indian Ocean.
Anyone who enjoys combining culture,
adventure and relaxation in a holiday should
visit Sri Lanka, a country emerging from the
civil war that ended six years ago.
As the troubles fade slowly into memory, a
new generation of luxurious properties with
a laid-back atmosphere has been springing
up. I have come for a fortnight to explore the
country's riches, travelling from giant rock
fortresses to emerald-green tea plantations,
from wildlife-packed nature reserves to
luxury resorts where your every whim is
immediately catered for.
Dilan, my delightful driver for the trip,
meets me at the airport, and we head out
on the road.
Handily, many of Sri Lanka's best sightseeing
destinations are located in the 'cultural
triangle', an area in the middle of the island
between the ancient settlements of Kandy,
Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.
I base myself at the luxurious Ulagalla
eco-resort, a small collection of high-spec
chalets spread over 58 acres of stunning
grounds, and start exploring from there.
First comes Sigiriya, the 5th-century rock
fortress that rises from the ground like a
smaller Uluru. A clamber up the winding steps
brings us to some ancient wall paintings,
before we step between two huge lion paws
to reach the summit, which oers superb
views of the atlands stretching out below.
Closer to Ulagalla are the ruins of
Anuradhapura, with its collection of Buddhist
temples and crumbling monasteries. It's a
sprawling complex that's brilliant to explore
by bike, a tour oered by the resort.
On the way down to my next major stop,
the hill country, we pause at Dambulla, a
series of cave temples adorned with intricate
paintings and statues. If you make only one
cultural visit, make it this one. Dilan brings the
site to life, explaining the symbolism of the
paintings and teaching the Buddhist customs.
An absolute must-do in Sri Lanka is a train
journey, and I board at the station in Kandy.