Sri Lanka Tour Review
What a fantastic time we had in Sri Lanka! Here are the thoughts and words from a few of our tour leaders...
Des Newton (The Lion Rock Tour)
When booking to visit Sri Lanka for a test match tour, our customers knew they were ordering guaranteed sunshine, beaches and top class cricket; and the Pearl of the Indian Ocean once again delivered. What we might not have expected was the sheer intensity of the heat; this was my fourth visit to Sri Lanka and it was by the far the hottest climate I have experienced there. I think the high humidity was a contributing factor. The temperature was also rising around the England cricket team; they arrived on the back of a 3-0 series defeat to Pakistan just a few weeks previously and were now hanging on by a thread to their number one test team status.
Upon arrival, the first destination for our group was Beruwela, and the wonderful hotel and beach at the Eden Resort & Spa. On our first day, some enjoyed a river boat cruise while others relaxed around the pool or on the beach. Once evening fell the restaurant and bar were investigated and a game of cricket on the snooker table, which required the players to bat and bowl while potting balls, provided a good variation to the normal snooker rules and seemed apt on a cricket tour.
Our hotel was an hour and a quarter away from the venue of the first test in Galle, but this did not prove to be particularly galling for us as on the return journey we could discuss the day’s play over a beer or two on the coach, which was a winning extra added by the Howzat Travel management. Expertise was added to the debate when we held an evening forum with former England batsman Allan Lamb. A bonus was the question and answer session with Howzat Travel tour member Kevin Whateley, who offered an intriguing insight to his life as an actor. In fact it was so good that Test Match Special copied our idea and invited Kevin and his son to be interviewed during an interval at the second Test.
Once again, the English batting frailties were to the fore and despite Jonathan Trott scoring the team’s first hundred of the winter and, for a short while the tantalising prospect that they might chase down a fourth innings total, the 180 scored by Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene proved decisive and England fell 1-0 behind in the series.
Our wonderful surroundings provided a distraction from the game and the clients enjoyed the variety of culinary delights on offer with a Sri Lankan food-themed evening, followed by a fish evening on the beach. In fact the people, if they so chose, had hardly any time to themselves. If they did have a quiet moment they could try and tackle the quiz that fellow tour leader Nick Joyce handed out at the start of tour - not the sort that you can find out the answers on the internet but rather one to use your own ingenuity, cryptic thinking and brain power to solve.
Our Lion Rock group now broke up into two to set off on our journey into the hinterland of this scenic island towards our destination of the romantically named city of Kandy. All the winding roads lead through every traffic-congested town on the way, so this brings the average speed of any vehicle down to about 20 kilometres an hour. These meandering roads through the countryside rewarded us with beautiful and sometimes breathtaking views of the forests and fields. We stopped at the Spice Garden to be educated about the healing and soothing effects of these plants, lotions, pills and balms and many bought products, so that they do not have to worry about snoring, a myriad of aches and pains or any afflictions any more. (Did they work anyone?) Meanwhile, our coach went off to fill up with diesel and duly developed an airlock in the fuel system. Fellow Lion Rock tour leader Dave’s coach had to kindly come back for us making a near impossible turn in these narrow roads. We transferred back to our own vehicle when we stopped for a break later and it had caught us up having sorted its problem.
Our hotel, The Mahaweli Reach, was superb. We had time to check in before setting off on our sightseeing experience of Kandy. The Royal Botanical Gardens lived up to its reputation of size, beauty and diversity of plants, trees and general flora. The Orchid House is world famous and is home to a great variety of this species; it provides an opportunity for some wonderful close-up pictures. After a pleasant hour and a half wandering through avenues of tall trees and incredibly tall bamboos, interspersed with pretty flowers on the banks of the river, we departed for our visit to the one and only Temple of the Tooth Relic. Now shoeless, we wandered through a number of rooms of devout beauty and knew we were in a place of reverence. It was statuesque, different and special. We waited for a glimpse of the spectacular urn containing the Tooth and were rewarded with a view thereof when the door was opened for a short while. After a spectacular cultural show capped off by some dedicated fire walkers, we returned to our hotel for some refreshments and rest.
The next day we enjoyed a visit to the Dambulla Rock Temple. We had to take our shoes off again and I have a vivid memory of most of us doing our own version of the fire walk hurrying across the sun- baked walkways desperately seeking the nearest shade to cool our burning feet. The Temple hewed out of the rock in the mountainside was cool.
After booking into the Amaya Lake Hotel it was onwards and quite literally upwards to the mount that is Sigiriya. This is truly a special phenomenon. This mountain, which looks like a monolith, stands tall and unmistakably proud surveying the countryside for miles around. It looks like a natural fortress and indeed it was such and is famous in the history of Sri Lanka for being used by kings as their palace about 1500 years ago. Apparently one such king used to walk down to the swimming pools at the foot of the mountain to frolic with his 500 concubines and had to be carried back to the top on a litter. Nothing changes. Now it offers us a spectacular climb to its summit by way of steps and stairways not for the faint-hearted. Our group of intrepid travellers tackled the climb with gusto and high spirits and congratulations must be extended especially to those who made it to the very top. It certainly is an experience to remember and one of my favourite places I have seen.
The Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawela was our last stop on our return journey to Colombo. They have the show down to a fine art and after seeing the babies down their two-litre bottles of milk in about two seconds, we went down to the river restaurant to await the arrival of the herd. They came in full force to revel in the waters spraying themselves to cool down in the great heat. It is a fabulous viewing site to see these pachyderms in a natural habitat though the handlers do intervene if they stray too far away. After a good meal and the purchase of some lovely writing paper made from elephant dung we set off for the capital.
Colombo was even hotter without the sea breeze of Galle. The second test match took place at the wonderfully named P. Saravanamuttu Oval. Once again we watched Mahela Jayawardene make a hundred, but luckily for the passionate England supporters, the best cricketing moments of the tour were to come with a magnificent hundred from Kevin Pietersen; his batting was majestic. We now had an English victory to savour, one that was particularly sweet for those clients who had been to Dubai and Abu Dhabi previously and had therefore witnessed four consecutive defeats.
The farewell dinner - in a magnificently-presented room at the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel - was a fitting climax to the tour for all two hundred of our guests. Aggers was our esteemed speaker and he did a wonderful job regaling us with his stories and insights. The drinks estimate was perfect as the last bottle of Arrak was finished at Steve’s diehard table at about midnight when all agreed that it was 'time gentlemen please'.
Laurence & Helen Brown (The Orchid Tour)
All the 'Orchids' had a fabulous tour in Sri Lanka. The emerging seedlings that arrived on March 24th soon came into blossom as a full blown Orchid family.
After a disappointing exhibition by England in Galle, the performance in Colombo made the tour a success in cricketing terms. However, it was much more than that... Sri Lanka itself has stunning scenery and the people of Sri Lanka have a perpetual smile, and can’t do enough to please.
David Hewitt’s surprise 60th birthday dinner at 'The Palms', Beruwela was particularly magical set by the pool and the beach. Champagne flowed freely thanks to Christine. David Lumb was particularly touched by the effort put into his birthday drinks session. The Orchid tour group dinner at 'Amal Villa', at Bentota beach had fresh fish to die for (fortunately nobody died from) and all the troops turned out for these events!
Our forays into the Sri Lankan countryside included trips on the Bentota River, a turtle hatchery and a temple visit - with Dave doing a commentary and Buddha impressions! Andy and Mike (the 'Bush Babies') managed to enjoy some water sports and Nick joined them in a visit to Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. The boys also put up a brave fight at the charity quiz.
David and Neil jumped ship to join another group of Howzat Travellers' when we got to Colombo, but reinforcements arrived in the shape of Alastair, Chris and Nick.
We shared some hilarious moments when arranging the terms of the guesser, particularly when 'Teacher Dave' got involved. Ruth, our resident nurse, came to the rescue of the 'Halt and the Lame' on several occasions with her trusty sidekick Christine. Mike and Judy celebrated their wedding anniversary in the colonial splendour of The Galle Face Hotel and the Orchids turned up en masse to help. They also managed to visit the school they had been helping to sponsor. Everyone managed to achieve all their aims hoped for during the tour.
Through all this the twin shining lights of 'Little & Large' - a.k.a. John & Jim - kept us amused and entertained with their gripping anecdotes about Bury Football Club and life in the 'Nasty North'. On the odd occasion they enjoyed a tincture or two in the bar as well.
The 'Farewell Dinner' was a rip-roaring success and all of the Orchids attended. It was a fabulous way to end a 'simply perfect' tour! (as quoted in our 'thank you' card from the group). We were both touched by the boxed bottles of wine and the beautiful Orchid plant that the group sent us after the tour.
We both had a wonderful tour and made some great new friends who we are planning on seeing again in the near future at our Orchid reunion at the Cheltenham Cricket Festival in July. We are really looking forward to the next tour wherever it may be and hope that lots of the Orchids will join us again.
Any of the other 'Howzatters' are very welcome to join us at the festival if they wish. Just call Laurence on 07768 288569 to find out details...
Jenn Allen (The Turtle Tour)
The Turtle tour was the shortest itinerary of the Howzat Travel Sri Lanka trips and with the Galle Test being number one on the agenda, we needed to get settled and relaxed as soon as possible!
The first batch of ‘Turtles’ arrived early on Friday morning to their hotel for the week, the Hotel Citrus, Hikkaduwa, greeted by a traditional dance and music troo... and a cold drink!
No matter what kind of journey one might have had en route to Hikkaduwa, the Citrus Hotel knew exactly how to re-focus you with the immediate view of the sea - an amazing pool area and bar, right on the beach.
By Saturday evening, everyone had arrived and we enjoyed some drinks at the bar with a few welcome words from me. Manoj was also on hand to offer his expertise on the local area, as a partnering tour leader from Asian Adventures, Howzat’s Sri Lankan ground handler.
The weekend was enjoyed relaxing, getting to know the area and preparing for day one of the cricket. Another additional perk to the hotel wwa the fantastic sunsets every evening around 6pm. Cold beers and an Indian ocean sunset – can’t be bad!
So, Monday arrived and off we went to Galle. With only a 30-minute journey to the ground, we were soon in our seats. By the time Tuesday arrived, we were all quickly into the swing of things, keeping refreshed and enjoying both sun and shade throughout the day, whilst watching the cricket.
Thursday afternoon came by and the cricket was over – not with the result we hoped, but some of us decided to take advantage of the extra time and took a short bus ride into the fort at Galle. We enjoyed some great views of the town from the top of the fort and wandered around taking in the history and the Galle ground from a distance. We finished the day with more cold beers Rampart Hotel.
The Turtle Tour group was a mixed bunch of couples, individuals and groups and was pretty low maintenance from a tour leading point of view! This meant we were all happy to do our own thing, but we did have a large interest in a day excursion planned for Friday - and we had a great day.
Manoj joined us and was able to share his vast local knowledge throughout the day. We started with some time at the nearby Tsunami memorials, which gave everyone a real reminder of the reality of what happened to the Sri Lankan people in 2004.
Next up was the wonderful turtle sanctuary. We were given a brief talk about the conservation project in place for the turtle population - very heart warming and then we were able to see the hard work of the team at the sanctuary. Turtles only 12 hours old and an albino turtle who had suffered in the tsunami were all part of our experience. A highlight for most of us was the opportunity to carefully handle the baby turtles. Such peaceful creatures and yet so vulnerable .
A lagoon boat tour through the Mangroves was our next plan for the day. A two-hour tour through a vast expanse that we couldn’t believe had been so close to where we were staying. A great spot for birds and komodo dragons! A special stop off on the trip was to Cinnamon Island. We were met by a family whose livelihood was the production of cinnamon products – e.g. oil for medicinal purposes, cinnamon sticks for cooking. We learnt how they made these products, they showed us their craft and we were able to support them by purchasing some of their hand-made products at the end of the tour.
Lunch wasn’t too far away, but before we headed back, we stopped off for some local fish pedicures. Most of the gang sampled this – although the fish were pretty big! An anticipated 'bite' rather than a ‘nibble’ meant I was initially a little reluctant to join in, but succumbed to Turtle Tour pressure.
An enjoyable day, but like most days, everyone was happy to get back to the hotel for a refreshing dip in the pool or a late afternoon snooze. The humidity really did take it out of you!
To round off the Turtle tour, we had our 'farewell dinner' on the Saturday evening. A secret location had been arranged and a great night was had by all. We enjoyed sunset drinks and a four course dinner on the beach at the Aditya Resort – a boutique hotel ten minutes away from the Citrus Hotel. A lovely end to a really enjoyable tour!
David Stewart (The Lion Rock Tour)
I turned up at an early hour at Heathrow for my debut as a tour leader, a mixture of nerves and excitement – a bit like a first time tourist, I suppose.
A full briefing from Ian and Steve a week before departure, a few tips from the ‘old fox’ tour guide Des Newton, and an exceptional group of travellers combined to make the whole endeavour a real pleasure.
Some personal highlights...
The wonderfully-appointed Eden Resort hotel complex on this beautiful and interesting country’s west coast; the fun of silly quiz games on the coach ride to the Galle Test and back; a most illuminating talk after close of play one evening from a leading television actor who was part of our group; the majesty and intricacy of the Dutch fort behind the ground
The skill of our driver in navigating a 45-seater up the steep and twisting road to Kandy; the delicious taste of freshly picked tea in a plantation founded by a Scots migrant a long time ago; an invigorating hike up Sigyria Hill, and the reward of the stunning views from the top; the sheer and simple pleasure of young boys playing our great game everywhere we went!
The welcome from the locals as we excited the P Sara Oval via one of Colombo’s poorer suburbs, waving and smiling each afternoon; a splendid Test, a highlight being the return to form of England’s senior South African batsman before his parents, who had travelled from Durban to watch him; an outstanding cricket quiz in the outdoor quad of the Barefoot Cafe in aid of a street-children charity run by an English lass who has settled locally; and at our final night farewell dinner, the spontaneous generosity of a veteran tourist who on winning a signed shirt from an England fast bowler immediately passed it to another guest to be enjoyed by the latter’s cricket-mad son.
Like I said earlier, an exceptional group of cricket enthusiasts, female and male, young and not-so-young..
Ray & Megan Julian (The Blue Sapphire Tour)
What a great time we all had in Sri Lanka watching England in Galle and Colombo - losing the former and winning the latter.
This was our second visit to this lovely island and our first as Tour Leaders for Howzat Travel. Not much has changed from this island’s great coast line although the roads are still very slow to travel on.
Howzat Travel provided us with top class hotels, and at Galle, we had the England team staying at the same hotel, which made it most enjoyable for our Blue Sapphire tour travellers. On two trips to the Galle Cricket Ground, we followed the team’s police escort in style to the match. As we told our friends, it pays to book with Howzat Travel!
The welcome drinks evening at the start of the tour was an ideal chance to get to know the tour group in the perfect setting by the beach and was enjoyed by all.
The weather was very hot on all days and there were many red faces each time. All the friends enjoyed the two matches at venues... very different to Lords, Edgbaston etc.
Each match we had a 'red shirt day' with photos taken in order to provide an everlasting memory. All the Howzat Travel tour teaders looked very smart in their contrasting blue shirts.
We celebrated a birthday on our trip and we also experienced our own wedding anniversary, entertaining our friends around the hotel pool with a few drinks.
At the end of the tour, we had a four day trip around the island, visiting Kandy with its wonderful temples and great views. The roads were very busy and it took a lot of time to get to the various destinations. Stop offs for food and refreshment were very welcome.
We visited Sigiriya Rock fortress, with eight of our group climbing the formidable steps, whilst four of us took the easy way and relaxed with a drink. In Kandy, we visited the Temple of the Tooth Relic and witnessed traditional dancing and other highlights. The Royal Botanic Gardens were interesting and picturesque, our tour guide Aktar gave us much information on various trees and plants.
We think we would be speaking on behalf of our group that the Elephant Orphanage was one of the highlights. If one was to go to Sri Lanka it would be the one to most see... after the cricket of course!
Howzat Travel gave us a top class guide who looked after us and gave top class information, making sure we saw the best of Sri Lanka.
Most of our friends were very interested in future tours with Howzat Travel, Sri Lanka in September, India in November and the most interest was the upcoming trip to New Zealand in the New Year.