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Sri Lanka

SRI LANKA | Wednesday, 30 April 2014 | Views [1757]

Picking tea leaves, Kitulgala

Picking tea leaves, Kitulgala

IF YOU CAN'T QUITE PLACE “SRI LANKA," it is the teardrop island off the tip of India, the tea and spice island formerly known as Ceylon.  And despite its proximity to India, Sri Lanka is definitely not India.  Most noticeably, Sri Lanka is much cleaner.  There are more people in Mumbai than in all of Sri Lanka, where the majority are Buddhists.  (I have no proof that Hindus are more likely to toss rubbish on the sidewalk than Buddhists, but my experience tells me there may be a connection.  Or maybe it’s just the absence of cows!)  Sri Lankan English is easier to understand, the food is more palatable, the roads are better, the air is cleaner….  You get the idea.  Sri Lanka has had some bad times and bad press, mainly a bloody civil war followed by a devastating tsunami.  But all that is history and the island is definitely a place on the come.

Our British Airways flight from Male arrived on schedule at Bandaranaike International.  We could have skipped Colombo entirely – should have, actually.  Negombo is nearer to the airport and, as it turns out, more convenient to the area we want to visit.  But I booked ahead without all the information and we couldn’t cancel our reservations.  My bad!  


   Our cottage and pool

I redeemed myself with the Royal River Resort near Kitulgala where the 1957 Oscar-winning Bridge on the River Kwai was filmed.  Today the town is becoming Sri Lanka’s adventure sports capital; white-water rafting, jungle trekking, caving.  And birdwatching!  Twenty-three of the 27 endemic species are area residents and the chance to see them will get any birder’s adrenaline flowing.

Royal River Resort isn’t actually in Kitulgala.  It is six kilometers up a rutted dirt track through tea fields, rubber plantations and dense forest.  Four very secluded cottages preside over the cascading Royal River and we had it all to ourselves.  Our room is spacious with air-conditioning, hot showers, satellite TV and a balcony overlooking the river.  The open-air restaurant was a pleasant surprise – hearty breakfasts and imaginative dinners.


     Layard's parakeet

Birding is best in the early morning.  Morning fog hung heavy in the valleys as we wandered along the trails through the tea plantations.  As the sun rose higher in the sky we were rewarded with fifteen new species, thirteen endemic to Sri Lanka.  We returned to the lodge for breakfast at nine then did a bit more birding before the monsoon rains send us scurrying back to our room at noon.


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