With a geographical outline like a teardrop falling from India's tip as a pearl, Sri Lanka boldly claims refreshingly idyllic surprises. See the world’s oldest living tree in Anuradhapura, stand awestruck by hundreds of elephants gathering in Minneriya, discover a favorite beach, meditate in a 2000-year-old temple, exchange smiles while strolling a mellow village, marvel at birds and wildflowers, try to keep count of the little dishes that come with your rice and curry. Stroll past colonial gems in Colombo, then hit some epic surf.
Colombo: 'The garden city of the East' showcases Galle Face Green's long stretch of lawn facing the sea. Its National museum boasts an enigmatically smiling large 9th-century stone Buddha, 19th-century reproductions of English paintings of Sri Lanka, an excellent collection of antique demon masks, as well as the 9th-century bronze Bodhisattva Sandals.
Do: Take in misty highlands, tea plantations, dense jungles and national parks by bike. Take part in a knock-around on the beach, or join cricket-crazy spectators for a Test match in Colombo or Kandy. Witness cultural performance by traditional Kandyan Dancers. Take a wildlife safari in Minneriya National Park. Try age old practiced stilt fishing in Galle.
Shop: Check out designer Barbara Sansoni’s beautifully laid-out shop, located in an old villa. Buy fulsome cashews – of a size and quality usually hard to find – at Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation.
Eat: With candlelit tables right on the sandy beach, BuBa seafood pub is a hidden treat. Try the thick and chewy nut musket at Bombay Sweet Mahal on Galle Rd.
Beware of Buddha Tattoo Taboo
The Hill Country: Emerald tea-plantation-carpets and waterfalls clinging to forests amidst mists, Nuwara Eliya – Sri Lanka's ‘Little England’ – with its red telephone boxes, brick Victorian post office and a well-tended golf course gives a rose-tinted, toy-town English country village feel to it. During April’s spring release, it is crowded with holidaymakers enjoying horse racing, sports-car hill climbs, and Sri Lankan New Year celebrations. The lovely Victoria Park at the centre of town is home to quite a number of hill-country bird species, including the Kashmir flycatcher, Indian pitta and grey tit.
Do: Stand in Buddha footsteps, paddle-raft down a raging river, enjoy traditional drumbeat dance and be surrounded by a hundred wild elephants. To see where your morning cuppa originates, head to Pedro Tea Estate.
Haputale: The largely Tamil town of Haputale, lit at night with pulses from the Hambantota lighthouse in the distance has many extraordinary views.. While the railway hugs one side of the ridge in a minor victory for 19th-century engineering, Bandarawela road's graveyard is filled with poignant memories of earlier times. The small stream of Diyaluma Falls – cascading down Koslanda Plateau – leaps over a cliff face and falls in one clear drop to a pool below.
Do: Visit Benedictine Adisham Monastery through Tangamalai bird sanctuary and nature reserve. Sip on a cuppa at Dambatenne Tea Factory built in 1890 by Sir Thomas Lipton, one of the most famous figures in tea history or look forward to the company of Tamil tea pickers going off to work as you walk uphill to Lipton’s Seat.
Ratnapura: Amidst well-irrigated valleys between Adam’s Peak and Sinharaja Forest Reserve, busy Ratnapura (‘City of Gems’) is a famous trading centre for the area’s ancient wealth of gem stones apart from being a take-off point for one of the oldest routes up Adam’s Peak (leeches are a particular menace on this trail though.) Its National Museum displays fossilized remains of various animals discovered in gem pits.
Do: Observe gem merchants sell their wares along Saviya Street, northeast of clock tower.
Shop: The biggest local gem market convenes most mornings (except on poya/full-moon) in Newitigala, however, make sure not to be lured by less-than-modest showrooms; visit Ratnapura Gem Bureau, Museum and Laboratory instead.
Badulla: One of Sri Lanka’s oldest towns, Badulla was torched by the departing Portugese. The British who arrived then made it into an important social centre with pretty gardens, a clock tower, racecourse and cricket club. It is now a bustling Sri Lankan town.
Do: Take a look through St Mark’s Church and peruse old headstones if you are a history buff.
Horton Plains National Park and World's End: Horton Plains is a beautiful, silent, strange world with some excellent hikes in the shadows of Sri Lanka’s second- and third-highest mountains, Kirigalpotta (2395m) and Totapola (2359m). The plateau comes to a sudden end at World’s End.
Do: Early morning; before the clouds roll in – between 6 to 10 – spy toy-town tea plantation villages in the valley below World's End.
More of Sri Lanka
Natural Moonstone: Sri Lanka is famed for its moonstones, which are among several priceless gemstones available in the country. From the time the deposit is found to the time the moonstones emerge ready to adorn a piece of jewelry, Meetiyagoda is dotted with gem traders and sign-boards by the roadside boast of “the world’s one and only natural moonstone mine”.
Tantalizing Lobster: By far the most expensive seafood in Sri Lanka, amongst an abundance of the island's fish, prawns, octopus, scallops, oysters, mussels, is lobster meat, considered a great delicacy that is variously described as tender, sweet and succulent. With tourists and natives all keen to sample this delicacy, coastal restaurants beckon offers of their own special variations of lobster cuisine. The lobsters are a big draw.
'Waxing Lyrical' about Sri Lankan Batik: Sri Lanka's brilliant colors and ancient culture are conveyed best graphically through its batik industry. The hot wax process used for making batik – meaning 'writing in wax' in Javanese – brought to Sri Lanka during Dutch colonial period from Indonesia, spread throughout Sri Lanka once the British imported mass produced cotton cloth and linen from Great Britain during the island's British period.