Sri Lanka revisited -2015

A bowl of floating flowers is often seen at the entrance to temples, houses, villas and hotels all around Sri Lanka. It makes a beautiful, tranquil welcome statement. Welcome to this Sri Lanka special, I recently spent quite a bit of time there on a tour and then back in Colombo where I had a couple of dinner events. It was hectic but we had fun as well. So this whole blog showcases all things Sri Lanka – from the tour we did and all the sites and food as well as featuring one of my very favourite ingredients from the land – the coconut – Enjoy!

A Sri Lanka Diary
It was an extremely enjoyable holiday, travelling around Sri Lanka with a group of people who were all connected in one way or another, and to be able to show them around and introduce them to some of my favourite places and a special extra, the food of the country. As not all of the group were first time visitors it took a lot of forward planning to satisfy the newcomers as well as the more seasoned tourists.

Jetwing Lagoon, Negombo Arriving at different times from the UK and Australia, we started our tour in Negombo, not far from the international airport, staying at Jetwing Lagoon which was a great place to meet up. As almost all of the group were in various design fields this tour covered design, culture, architecture, food and gardens. Jetwing Lagoon was one of renowned architect Geoffrey Bawa’s first commercial projects and is beautifuly designed, spacious and comfortable with the added bonus of a 100m swimming pool. After 2 nights there our group of 12 set off on the rest of our 17 day tour.

Day 3

We travelled to Sigiriya, just over a 5 hour journey to the central part of the country. We were in an air-conditioned coach with Prashan our guide, the driver and a porter. The roads now are so much better than in the past, but there were inevitable delays due to the traffic in the bigger cities and towns. The varied and lush countryside however made the journey so very interesting. Also pointing out all the local fruit and vegetables at roadside stalls as well as the handicrafts, pottery, and local products of the towns we drove through.

Reaching Sigiriya we arrived at Jetwing Vil Uyana, a unique hotel of individual villas built on a marsh, surrounded by river, jungle and with the famous rock fortress just visible in the distance. The entrance is breath-taking, as we cross stepping stones over a water-lily pond, through a pinky/terracotta coloured colonnade which looks like an eastern temple built on the water. Each dwelling is separate and connects by pathways to the main building that houses the lobby, restaurant, swimming pool, shop, bar and library/lounge. It really is a beautiful and magical place. After a relaxing afternoon and time off to enjoy the surrounds we met for pre-dinner drinks, and then dined at the very lovely restaurant.

Vil Uyana

Day 4
Dambulla rock cave temple

A very early morning start – up and out at 6.00 am to climb the rock fortress which is about a 30 minute drive away. The climb up the hundreds of steps and the steep spiral stairway was hard, but to see the murals was worth it, as was the final climb to the top of the fortress – the view from the top is spectacular. We were glad we left early before the sun had risen as it was much cooler, then we were back to the hotel for a welcome breakfast, and then after a short break most of the group went off a little further east to the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.

Later that evening I did a demonstration to the group using local vegetables and prawns for the entrée: a tempura with red kurakkan [maize] flour batter, served with a chilli and tamarind dipping sauce.

Day 5
We left that morning for Kandy – stopping enroute to visit Dambulla where the rock caves and temples are completely covered with beautiful paintings and then a refreshing morning tea break at the Kandalama Hotel, another Bawa showpiece hotel, built into the hillside and covered with a camouflage of jungle vegetation.

We arrived at Kandy a couple of hours later, staying at the Elephant Stables which has spectacular panoramic views of the mountain ranges surrounding Kandy.

Day 6
Kandy Lake, Helga’s Folly and fruit stall at Kandy market
An excursion to the bustling Kandy market took in all the fruit, vegetable and spice stalls as well as the beautiful fabrics, sarongs and saris. We followed with a quick visit to the very crowded temple of the tooth and a drink at the old Queen’s Hotel then headed back to the hotel for a swim before dinner. I did a quick demonstration of a sour fish curry and showed the group how hoppers are made. Hoppers are a bowl-shaped rice flour-based crumpet with a wafer thin crust and are delicious for breakfast or dinner.

Day 7
We drove around Kandy, exploring the city and the lake, and walked around the Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, before visiting Helga’s Folly – a quirky, whimsical, eccentric little hotel tucked into the hills overlooking the lake and owned by the Sri Lankan family of Helga De Silva Blow Perera, who now owns and runs it. It has to be seen to be believed… ‘Each room is an explosion of flamboyant colours, rich fabrics and gaudy furnishings’

Day 8
Welcome by dancers and drummers at Galle, sweet and sour prawns, sunset at Jetwing Lightouse

We left Kandy and headed south to Galle, stopping en route to visit a tea factory and see the process of manufacture. Arriving at Jetwing Lighthouse Galle, we were greeted by Kandyan dancers and drummers and shown to our very lovely rooms in the new Spa Wing. Another beautiful Bawa designed hotel, with great restaurants and food, and spectacular ocean views, particularly at sunset.

Day 9
Galle market – fruit and vegetables, Pots of buffalo curds

We went into the town of Galle, walked along the ramparts of the Dutch Fort, took in the sights, and explored the neighbouring areas. Later that evening I did a demonstration of my Sri Lankan version of sweet and sour prawns using kitul treacle and tamarind, with deep-fried crispy murunga leaves, and rice cooked in coconut water, followed by kitul treacle and buffalo curd, with a cashew and treacle praline for dessert.

Day 10 – 15
Mosvold Villa Thalpe, breakfast demo, drawing king coconuts

We went further south to Thalpe to Jetwing Mosvold Villa, which we had to ourselves for five days of relaxing by the beach in a beautifully restored villa. We spent our time walking along the beach, exploring the nearby towns, swimming in the pool and enjoying lovely food either out by the pool or on the veranda. Some of us were finally relaxed enough to bring out the sketchbooks, pencils and paints and get creative. I got around to doing the illustration of the bunch of King Coconuts on the masthead of this page.
We also visited two lovely properties in the neighbouring areas: Khanda Kanda, a stylishly designed boutique hotel for drinks, and Why House, a beautifully restored and furnished old house run by the delightful Henrietta Cottam, where we had a delicious lunch.

Of course I still had to do some work! and did 3 demonstrations:
- a breakfast of dosais with a coconut chutney and sambols
- a lunch of tempura prawns
- and our farewell dinner of a gigantic 5kg red snapper stuffed with a spiced cashew filling and wrapped in banana leaves and barbequed

Day 16 – 17
Tintagel Colombo, the group

After a very relaxing 5 nights we headed back to the Capital on the fast, new motorway and stayed at Tintagel Colombo. The former residence of a Prime Minister is now restored as a very exclusive and stylish boutique hotel, part of the Paradise Road group. Colombo with its teeming traffic, whizzing tuk tuks and areas of beautiful old colonial buildings was a blur but the whole tour was an enjoyable and memorable experience…
Thanks to Jetwing Travel, Jetwing Hotels

Well, plans are now underway for a tour in August 2016, this time taking in the magnificent pageant of the Kandy Perahera with its procession of hundreds of decorated elephants, Kandyan dancers, drummers and the stately Maligawa tusker [elephant] carrying the relic of the Buddha’s tooth. Also included is a visit to the beaches on the East coast. All this plus the food, the scenic countryside, the ancient cultural sights and the hospitality of the people – not to be missed!