John Kirman's Trip Report

Trip Report Title: 
SRI LANKA HOLIDAY LOG – JANUARY 2013 by John Kirman 5th to 21st January 2013
Tour Start: 
Saturday, January 5, 2013
Tour End: 
Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Trip Report Year:

SRI LANKA HOLIDAY LOG – JANUARY 2013 by John Kirman - 5th to 21st January 2013

John Kirman, Ginny Smith and Jan Kirman
John Kirman, Ginny Smith and Jan Kirman

Also read Kirman's comments on our guest book here >>

SATURDAY 5th January
Ginny arrived at Pavenham ~ 0915 with Mike (Bonney) from Sharnbrook who chauffeuring us to Heathrow.  Cynthia, who ‘living in’ to look after Roo, arrived a few minutes later.  We left for airport at ~ 0930.  An overcast, still, mild day.  Good journey to Heathrow, no delays & arrived ~ 1045 at Terminal 4 for our Qatar Airways flight to Doha & thence with the same airline to Colombo.  Negotiated check-in & meticulous security checks (more so than we’d ever experienced previously but obviously this was reassuring & we didn’t mind a bit) then went for coffee/tea & snacks in departure area until ~ 1315 when boarding gate info. came up on screens.  Boarded Qatar Airways Flight 012 for Doha (scheduled departure 1415) at ~ 1405.  A wide-bodied 3-3-3 abreast seating Boeing 777-300ER.  Pushed off the stand at 1430 & took off at 1445 (1745 Qatar time).  Aperitif of excellent Jacquart champagne & nibbles.  Route took us over/near Ypres, Brussels, Monschau, Frankfurt, Bamberg, to the south of Prague, Telc, Budapest, Arad, Varna, to the north of Ankara, Sivas, to the east of Baghdad, Basra, to the west of Kuwait & then Doha.  Dinner at ~ 2000 Qatar time – good food – couscous & pepper etc. salad for starter; then chicken with lime & coconut sauce & a hint of chilli on a bed of flat pasta; small bottle of Chilean Curico Valley Caliterra Sauvignon Blanc Reserve to accompany.  Then Cheddar & bread, a chocolate & orange mousse dessert, a piece of dark chocolate, water, Janneau Armagnac & coffee.  Brief sleep.  Orange juice, chicken fajita & shortbread biscuits ~ 1 hr. before arrival.  Landed Doha 2345 L.T.  Transferred by bus to Colombo flight – scheduled departure Sunday 6th Jan. 0050 L.T. 

Sunday 6th January (our 45th wedding anniversary)
Boarded A321 Airbus of Qatar Airways 0015 – 0030 & took off 0115 – scheduled flight time to Colombo 4h. 20m.  Time difference Qatar to Colombo 2 ½ hrs (& hence 5 ½ hr. London – Colombo).  Nice view of hazy wooded mountains as we crossed diagonally from around Kochin the southern tip of India.  Landed on time at ~ 0800 L.T.  Bit hazy, sunny, broken high cloud.  Fairly quick transit through airport.  Met Chaminda ~ 0845 & away in modern comfortable Nissan mini-bus at 0855 driven by our driver for the tour, Dilan, who lived near the airport at Negombo.  Cattle Egrets & Indian Pond Herons around the airport.  Lush green country;  bananas, pineapple plantations & cattle tethered by the road.  Through the town of Minawangoda at 0915 as we headed eastwards.  Some roadside ribbon development to either side & odd small villages as we continued eastwards to Nittambuwa where we arrived at 0945 & there crossed the main Kandy to Colombo road (these main cities of Sri Lanka being 116km. apart) in the centre of town.  More villages/ribbon development amidst the lush greenery after Nittambuwa.  Around 1000h. we started climbing into hilly country with rubber trees/plantations in strips adjacent to the roadside & larger plantations a bit further away from the road; also many palms, very green & red metamorphic rocks – Wikipedia says that at least 90% of Sri Lanka’s surface is of Pre-Cambrian rocks, more than 450 million years old!  King coconut stalls by the roadside.  Into Gonagaldeniya at 1015 & Ruwanwella ½ hr. later, the latter a quite sizeable settlement in the hills.  Then through Karawanella at 1050 where an elephant was pulling a felled palm tree of the ‘heart of palm’ species.  All along the route so far hundreds if not thousands of ‘tuk-tuks’ – the most popular vehicle by far!  The parts are imported from India & then assembled in Sri Lanka.  They cost Rs 400,000 new so with an exchange rate of Rs 200 = £1 this would be equivalent to £2000.  Through Yaliyantota at 1100 where a large river was visible in the valley bottom beside the road.  Then through Teligama & into Kitulgala, our final destination for today, arriving at The Rest House Hotel at  ~ 1130.  Nice rooms & a short walk across a lawn to railings with fine views both ways down on the ‘River Kwai’ quite some distance below us.  In fact the river is the Kelani River but this is the place where much of the film ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ was shot in the 1950’s.  The hotel had various photos on the walls of Jack Hawkins & other members of the cast who’d stayed at the hotel during the filming.  Relaxed in our room – Jan had a brief sleep -  until about 1300 when we went to the restaurant for lunch.  Nice buffet selection – various curries including dahl, chutnies & other trimmings etc. – all very tasty & washed down with equally good local Lion beer.  Jith arrived to greet us at ~ 1330 – meanwhile Chaminda had left while we were resting in our rooms.  Agreed that we would rendez-vous at reception at 1600 for a walk & bird-watch locally.  Back to rooms ~1400 for siesta.  Slept a bit too long, having had only ~ 2hrs. sleep on the flights, & met at 1615 for our excursion.  Dilan drove us & Jith to the east side of Kitulgala & short distance off main road on a minor road to the right.  Bird-watched there in the vicinity of the police station in green hilly country – see list below for birds seen; also numerous unidentified butterflies & very fine trees including a Jak-fruit tree which is now one of two Sri Lankan species of trees officially government-protected.  Although these trees are quite numerous the official protection is because there has been too much felling as a consequence of the yellow wood being prized for furniture-making whereas the fruits are regarded as an essential part of the food supply for country people.  The other officially protected tree – now very rare for obvious reasons – is the ebony.  Back to the hotel at dusk, ~ 1800.  Handed the balance of our trip money in cash to Jith, as he had requested, & later at ~ 1930 met with him in the dining room for dinner.  Jith kindly bought a bottle of Chilean “35˚” Sauvignon Blanc to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary.  For dinner – noodles with prawns etc. & other separate fish & chicken dishes & chop suey all Chinese-style & tasty.  Round of fresh pineapple for dessert.  Interesting chat with Jith about tourism in Sri Lanka, the government’s role in promoting it & other subjects.  Jith outlined our ‘programme’ for tomorrow which will involve local walks in & outside the forest by the Kelani river.  Turned in at 2145-2200.

Birds seen today 6/1
Colombo Airport to Kitulgala - Cattle Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Little Egret, Asian Openbill, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Spotted Dove;  At Kitulgala -  Green Imperial Pigeon, Layard’s Parakeet, Indian Swiftlet, Brown-backed Needletail, Asian Palm Swift, Ceylon Grey Hornbill, Lesser Goldenback, Red-vented Bulbul, Black Bulbul, Yellow-billed Babbler, Common Tailorbird, White-bellied Drongo, Indian Jungle Crow.

Ginny Smith, John Kirman and Jan Kirman

Monday 7th January
Overcast morning, pleasant temperature.  To breakfast at 0730 at our table at the corner of the restaurant overlooking the wide Kelani River.  Fresh pineapple & banana (small stubby but very tasty!) followed by white noodles, curry & side dishes then toast & jam, papaya juice (really purée) & v. nice tea.  Left in van at 0900 – short drive of few kms. to edge of Kitulgala then disembarked for a walk & said goodbye to Dilan who drove the van back to hotel.  As we set off on a path away from the road Jith pointed out partly beside & partly under a house a covered but otherwise open area used as a tea collection room as evidenced by odd camellia leaves left lying on the floor.  Not far on we reached and crossed the wide Kilani River on a long arching pedestrian suspension bridge built largely out of bamboo & ropes.  Clearly visible as we crossed the bridge was, on one side, a large Water Monitor, a type of lizard, swimming in the river &, in the other direction several Blue-tailed Bee-eaters catching insects over the water close to the river bank.  The first thing we encountered on the far side of the bridge was a house/shop where an old-ish lady was cooking, using calor gas burners, a sort of conical “pancake”, locally called ‘hoppers’, made from a batter consisting of rice flour, sodium bicarbonate & coconut cream.  We tried one & found it very tasty, rather like a slightly sweet pancake.  As we then walked along a path parallel to & at varying distances from the river we came across scattered very well kept houses, usually with verandahs (a word of Indian origin!) & very friendly smiling local people.  Also came across various plants, trees, butterflies & birds pointed out & identified by Jith:-

Tea (Camellia sinensis) in small plots which Jith explained was ‘Lowland’ or ‘Home-garden’ tea as opposed to plantation tea found in the Highlands.  Locals take their picked leaves to a communal tea collection point such as the ‘floor’ referred to above.  There the tea is graded, then sold to central processing factories & finally bagged off to be transported to Colombo for the tea auctions.  Camellia sinensis is the only variety of tea grown in Sri Lanka. 

The ultimate character & flavour depends on soil composition, climatic factors/altitude etc.  Lowland tea, as we saw growing on our walk today, is generally heavier in flavour & is grown at <300m. altitude.  Mid-altitude tea such as is found around Kandy has a lighter flavour & is grown at altitudes between 300 to 500m.  Highland tea is defined as being grown at altitudes of >700m. & has the ‘finest’ flavour & acidity.  However, commercial teas often contain a blend of teas grown within the various altitude ranges.

Other plants, shrubs & trees seen on our walk were:-  King Coconut of which only the milk is consumed;   Ordinary Coconut-grown for the flesh but the milk is also consumed;  Durian trees of which the fruit is eaten but the odour is very bad like faeces & is not allowed by law to be taken on public transport!; Lychee; Mangosteen; Pepper vines with green fruit clusters; Albesia, a leguminous plant which is planted in tea plantations as a fertilise because of its nitrogen fixing capability characteristic of all leguminosae; Manioc plant stems (roots not visible); Anthurium with scarlet red flowers & long projecting yellow stigmas;  Musanda with pearly orange flower clusters – this is a hybrid variety whereas another natural variety seen a little later had white flowers & white leaf bracts; an unidentified purple-flowering shrub of the leguminosae family; a Neem tree used in alternative medicine – the leaves are boiled & the fluid extract used for treating skin diseases; many species & varieties of bananas & plantains – ten varieties of bananas are sold in the shops!; Hibiscus; Beetle-nut palms – alias Arica nut palm – one of which flowering grey-white & with delicate fronds; Coffee plants; Caesalpinia – a bit like acacia in leaf structure – with yellow flowers known locally as Peacock flowers; Poinsettias; an unidentified shrub with large yellow trumpet flowers; Cats-tail tree/shrub with long fluffy hanging pink ‘flowers’; Mimosa – delicately pink-flowering;  ‘Bleeding-heart’ plant with flowers having a red centre hanging out of a surrounding pale-coloured structure.

Green Garden Lizard (Calotus calotus) & Asian Palm Squirrel

Hedge Blue, Large Swallowtail, unidentified & numerous yellow butterflies, Common Jezebel Butterfly, Indian Crow Butterfly

Sri Lanka Swallow, Red-vented Bulbul, Yellow-billed Babbler, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Brown-headed Barbet (H), Tailor Bird (very characteristic loud song for such a small bird!), Oriental Magpie Robin, Chestnut-headed-Bee-eater, White-throated Kingfisher, Black-capped Bulbul, Black Bulbul, Orange-billed Babbler (E), Sri Lanka Junglefowl, ? Cormorant.

Excellent morning walk terminating at dug-out canoe terminal by river a little upstream & on opposite bank from hotel.  We were paddled across by the ‘canoe-man’ & after a short walk along pebbles literally at the river’s edge trying not to get our feet wet we reached a metal gate & climbed some steps to the hotel.  Directly to lunch at our usual table overlooking the river.  I had rice, sweet/sour prawns (very good) & beer; Jan had Nasi Goreng & beer; Ginny had veg. curry & water.  Chatted awhile together after lunch then back to rooms for an hour’s siesta before meeting with Jith at 4 p.m. for our afternoon ‘expedition’.  It was then just starting to rain with a very ominously dull, rainy sky.  By the time we reached the police station around where we had birded yesterday it was raining hard with thunder & lightning.  Decided, after sitting in the van for ~ 10 mins. to drive back to base.  Sat at ‘our’ table in the corner of the restaurant overlooking the river – interesting philosophical & religious chat with Jith re. origins/basis of Buddhism & its influence then & subsequently on logic, science & the development of other religions, both conventional & unconventional.  We all decided we’d like a typical Sri Lankan curry for dinner so Jith instructed the waiters accordingly to brief the chef to produce a good chicken curry.  Turned out to be excellent – quite mild but wide spectrum of flavours.  Water with the meal.  Fresh pineapple & banana for dessert for Ginny & me.  Jan had buffalo curd & palm treacle.  Before turning in paid for our beers & today’s lunches (which incredibly cheap!) which, unlike all other meals, not included in our tour price.  To bed at 2130 – still raining quite hard.

Tuesday, 8th January
As pre-arranged, met in hotel lobby at ~ 0600.  Drove in van to eastern edge of Kitulgala by police station where we’d been birding before.  Walked downhill on single-track road then on the level for a while before going steeply down a track to a house at the bottom, the abode of a friendly chap & acquaintance of Jith.  Looked unsuccessfully for Little Owlet but both there & on the way there & back, we had various good sighting of birds & animals.

Giant Squirrel (long large bushy tail), Indian Palm Squirrel

Common Myna, Spotted Dove, Green Imperial Pigeon, Layard’s Parakeet (E), White-bellied Drongo, Lesser Yellownape, Red-vented Bulbul, Black Bulbul, Lesser Goldenback, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Black-hooded Oriole, Cattle Egret, Yellow-billed Babbler, Tailor Bird, Yellow-fronted Barbet…… & later en route (mainly, except for last two, at flooded roadside rice paddies on the N.E. outskirts of Dambulla)  : -  Pond Heron, Painted Stork, Little Egret, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Black-headed Ibis, Grey Heron, Red-wattled Lapwing, Little Cormorant, Jungle Crow, open-billed Stork, White-throated Kingfisher, Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Intermediate Egret, Woolly-necked Stork, White-bellied Sea-eagle

Red Banana Tree – very high growing,  Dipterocarpus tree with two-winged fruits on ground below.

Back to Rest House Hotel, Kitulgala for 0800 – good breakfast – fresh pineapple & banana, bacon & eggs, toast/jam, tea, papaya purée

Left Kitulgala in van at ~ 0900.  Drove E. to Ginigathena (0940) – twisty road.  Then turned north towards Nawalapitiya (1000) – now in mid-altitude lands – smallish tea plantations on hillsides. Rice growing in flatter patches of ground.  Still red sandy-looking soil – still twisty road.

En route Jith provided interesting info. on his country.  Sri Lanka similar in size to Ireland.  Population – 70% Singalhese, 20% Tamil, 9% Muslim, 1 – 2 % rest.  Total ~ 20 million people.  Religions: - Buddhist (Singhalese) > Hindu (Tamils) > Moslem/Christian – equal rights for all religions.  Main crops – rice > tea > rubber – coconut – spices (cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, pepper).  Gemstones – mainly sapphire & ruby.

Nawalapitiya a sizeable town with railway, plenty shops, people, large green football/cricket pitch/stadium.  Continued northwards towards Kandy, sometimes alongside the railway (the Colombo-Kandy line) & at other times weaving across it.  Kapok trees by the road; also pine, eucalyptus (used for paper manufacture) & acacia – introduced by the British.  Through Gampola, a sizeable town, at ~1040 – high proportion of Tamils (Hindus) & Moslems forming majority of population. Lots of plantations around & Tamils form the majority working in them.  Moslems are ethnically Arabs originating from ancestors who traded with & then settled in Sri Lanka long ago.  Durian fruits (the ‘smelly’ fruit!) on sale at the roadside.  Passed the University of Kandy buildings on southern outskirts of Peredeniya to the south of Kandy at ~ 1100 then crossed the wide Mahaveli River viaduct entering Peredeniya, ~ 10 kms. south of Kandy, at ~1105.  National Botanical Gardens, which is on our schedule to visit later when we return to Kandy from further north, are in Peredeniya & we stopped for a break at a government Rest House hotel nearby.  Away again at 1125.  Skirted to the west of Kandy to reach Katugastota on the north-west edge of the city ay ~ 1140.  Thence northwards to Matale.  Jith advised that hydro-electric generation provides 60 – 65% of Sri Lanka’s power.  Through Akurona at ~ 1200, a largely Moslem town – generally seems messier than Singhalese/Tamil-dominated towns.  We were now gradually descending back to a lowland region of the country.  Roadside rice paddies.  Still ancient red soil/rock geology – occasional small roadside landslides after the recent rains.  Virtually continuous roadside development – houses, shops, log factories etc. – between towns but strictly limited to the immediate roadsides.  Fine wooded hilly scenery to either side of the road.  Reached Matale at 1230 – a town famous for its spices – populated mainly by Singhalese people but has a large ornate Hindu temple for the Tamil population.  A few kms. to the north of the town a large Buddhist temple with a prominent golden Buddha high on the hillside behind it.  Through Palapatwela at 1245 – now in flatter lowland country.  Still fertile red sandy-looking land – small roadside plots of sweet corn & rice paddies.  Far less roadside development now, just the odd roadside veg. stalls, cafés & spice & herb stalls.  Still vibrant green & eventually larger rice paddy areas as the higher hills/mountains receded behind us & wider flat areas now stretched away from the roadside towards more distant lower wooded hills.  Between the rice paddies still plenty of areas of dense roadside vegetation.  Reached Naula at 1315 & nearing Dambulla saw a Jungle Crow chasing a large fruit bat.  Reached Dambulla, a quite large town, at 1335 – big wholesale veg. market for the large surrounding veg.- & rice-growing area on the southern outskirts & soon after a large Buddhist temple dominated by a giant golden Buddha.  Above this is an ancient Buddhist site which is on our itinerary on our way back in a few days time.  Stopped at a café/bakery in the town at 1345 – bought a packet of cashew nuts ‘impregnated’ with chilli, a puff pastry egg roll & a fried dahl ‘ball’ for lunch between Jan & me – didn’t care much for the latter two of which Jan had the lion’s share.  Cashew nuts OK but the cashew flavour rather dominated by the mild chilli.  Held up a bit as we negotiated out of the centre of town when a tuk-tuk backed out from roadside parking into the rear end of the van when we were held up in stationary traffic.  At 1415 we were on our way again & heading north & east towards Sigiriya.  Not much further out of Dambulla we stopped for ~ ½ hr. at roadside by some part-flooded paddy fields – various species of birds at close quarters – see day’s list above.  Away again at 1510.  Saw watch-huts atop trees by paddy fields for locals to observe & scare away wild elephants which come during night to eat the rice shoots.  Then close-up view of a Woolly-necked Stork in a roadside paddy field.  Soon afterwards we crossed a bridge over a small river in which a ~ 25 y.o. domesticated elephant was lying half-submerged & periodically using its otherwise submerged trunk to ‘water’ its exposed eye & ear.  Approaching our hotel at Sigiriya, the Sigiriya Village Hotel, saw a White-bellied Sea-Eagle flying over a lake.  Arrived at the hotel at 1555.  Nice rooms in small blocks of rooms scattered around lovely green grounds with plenty of trees.  Ginny & Jan soon went for a swim in the hotel’s outdoor pool.  I had a slight headache & stayed put completing today’s log, reading the guide book & watching cricket on TV (the Sri Lankans have a reputation of being fanatical about cricket!) – it turned out that I was sickening for a cold, probably having picked up the virus on the flight out.  The three of us met with Jith for dinner in the hotel’s large open-sided restaurant at 1930.  Excellent buffet – very wide choice of savoury & sweet food.  The savoury included various fish dishes, fish & meat curries, excellent selection of vegetables etc., fantastic choice & all v. tasty!  Same goes for the sweets – I had a small piece of warm bread & butter pudding from a large tray & a chocolate sweetmeat ball incorporating dried fruit.  Ginny kindly bought a bottle of S. African 2010 Chenin Blanc which went well with the savoury food, I having been asked by Ginny to do the selecting.  Moved to the open-sided lounge area directly adjacent to the restaurant after dinner to chat with Jith about the programme for tomorrow & to review today’s bird & other sightings.  Turned in 2200-2215.  Weather - a dry day, warm, mainly overcast, rather humid but not too hot.

Wednesday, 9th January
Eggs & bacon breakfast and fresh fruit at 0630.  Left in van at 0745, stopped awhile looking at the many birds on the nearby lake & then drove to a few hundred meters past the entrance to the climb to Sigiriya rock (translates as Lion Rock), a spectacular bulky intrusion towards the sky from the flat surrounding countryside & covering an area of ~ 1 hectare.  Jan & I alighted there ~ 0830 & walked back along the tree-lined moat at the base of the rock, birding en route(with some good sightings)& taking care not to get too close to the edge of the water which inhabited by crocodiles, until we reached the entrance to the climb up the rock.  Meanwhile Dilan had driven Ginny & Jith back the entrance where they alighted to tackle the climb of the rock involving a few hundred steps & passing at about ½ -way some ancient murals etc. in shallow caves hollowed out of the face of the rock.  It had been raining at breakfast time but dry, clear & sunny by the time we started & finished our respective walks.  We continued our walk past the entrance & continued the ~ 1 km. back towards the hotel, birding en route.  Met a tame elephant but no signs of any crocodiles despite the several warning notices to keep away from the nearby bank of the moat/canal.  Indeed we saw a local trimming the grass by the water’s edge but we didn’t hang around to see whether he survived!  Ultimately we reached the large Sigiriya Lake only a few hundred metres from the hotel & had spent ~ ½ hr. birding there when Dilan, Jith & Ginny drew up in the van beside us at ~ 1030, Ginny & Jith having completed the ascent & descent of the rock in only ~ 2 hrs.  Meanwhile, as we had been on our walk we’d had excellent views of the rock, a massive lump of granite, originally produced by volcanic activity. Sigiriya had been briefly the capital of Sri Lanka in ~ the 4th Century A.D. when one of the line of kings had set up his palace, of which there are now only ruins remaining, atop the rock.  However, he only lasted ~ 30 – 40 years before he was deposed in a battle at the foot of the rock by his brother-in-law who then set up his capital elsewhere.  The rock is now ascended by many steps with a different stepped route down, sometimes & sometimes not with guard rails.  We accepted Jith’s offer of a lift in the van back to the hotel where we remained only briefly before we were away again in the van bound for Polonnaruwa 1 – 1 ½ hrs. drive away to the east.  Travelled first on a narrow road for quite some kms., part recently paved but quite a long stretch unpaved & rough with many potholes and, in one place flooded over a length of ~ 200m. with up to ~ 1 ft. of water after the overnight rains. If we hadn’t taken this route it would have been a lot longer route involving the other 3 sides of a square.  Eventually we reached a good quality main road heading east & then south-east towards Polonnaruwa.  Jungle on both sides &, around the villages, cordoned off with electric fencing to keep wild elephants out of the villages at night.  Stopped for lunch at ~ two-thirds distance at a modern roadside restaurant by an army base – good rice, dahl etc. & chicken curry then ice-cream chocolates to finish.  At Polonnaruwa we first visited the excellent museum explaining the origin of these ancient sites which had been the capital of Sri Lanka in the 9th to 12th centuries with a succession of Buddhist & Hindu kings who left their mark with the impressive & different architectural features.  One of them deposed another in the same year that William the Conqueror invaded England!  After the museum we first visited the site of the king’s palace – originally it had been 7 storeys high but the two massive square tower ruins now remaining are down to only 2/3 storeys.  At the entrance ‘door’ a semi-circular carved moonstone in granite – similar carved moonstones were at the entrance ‘doors’ of other ruins on this & other sites in Polonnaruwa visited later; granite is a very hard rock & the carvings were in superb condition considering their age – no significant erosion at all!  Similarly for the granite stairways which showed no signs of wear.  From the King’s Palace we walked on to the nearby Parliament Building – multiple pillars, all carved & also carved floor markings for individual member’s positions, the king’s position being centrally at one end.  Then walked down to the nearby bath area with an ingenious running water arrangement &, again, a moonstone entrance.  Ruins of the outer walls consisted of a sandwich of granite & sandstone, both with multiple carvings.  We then drove a fairly short distance to the entrance to another site – this a complex of a number of religious buildings & essentially in toto a religious site.  We first explored, on the outer edge of the site, a Hindu temple or ‘shrining’ room reconstructed from granite blocks found when the entire Polonnaruwa site was excavated & restored by British archaeologists in the 19th century.  Each block had been marked with a number to indicate its order of placement during the reconstruction.  Apparently Hindus co-existed peacefully with the Buddhists during the history of the site.  Moved on then to an intact (following reconstruction) Buddhist temple/’shrining’ room – intact that is except that the large ‘standing Buddha’ which should have been at one end of the main temple adjoining the entrance structure was no longer there although there were numerous surrounding smaller Buddhas made of marble & mica still in place.  Entered the building without shoes & hat and similarly for the main temple at its far end after passing through a vestibule.  This main temple was of unusual & ingenious shape – a high parabola!  At a high level a small window was incorporated to allow the sun to illuminate at the appropriate time of day the principal, but now absent, Buddha statue.  This temple was reserved for use by the king.  Others on the site were used by sub-ordinate orders – the next one that we moved on to which had quite a number of its original pillars still standing was used by monks.  Close to this latter temple was another with even more of the original pillars still standing & all artistically inscribed.  This was the ‘Tooth-relic’ temple & had a large standing Buddha centrally at one end.  Opposite this temple was a large ‘stupa’.  As evident from reconstructions seen in the museum, this ‘stupa’ & some of the other buildings we’d seen were originally covered by large wooden structures but these were all burnt down when the Tamil king Chola from S. India eventually invaded the site in the 13th century & finished it off for good, all of the temples having been built under successive kings from the 10th to the 13th centuries.  The remains of the above-mentioned ‘stupa’ were still substantial, however, with ‘guard stones’ in the form of intricately carved pillars flanking the carved moonstone floor entrance.  There were then well preserved wide steps leading up to the circular central part which had some of its encircling brick structure remaining.  The focal point of this circular raised central part was a seated cross-legged meditating large Buddha statue.  From this ‘stupa’ we walked on a short distance to a giant horizontal granite slab ‘book’ inscribed in three adjacent horizontal pages.  Finally we passed the internal remains of a Thai/Burmese-style Buddhist temple, probably the last built in the 13th century before the demise of the site & situated on the extreme edge of the complex.  Left Polonnaruwa at ~ 1630 & same route back to Sigiriya as our outward route, arriving back at the hotel at ~ 1745.  Dinner at 1930 – a buffet with similar very wide selection of dishes as yesterday; curries, Chinese-style dishes, vegetables including an aubergine dish, an okra dish & mixed root vegetables.  Bottle of S. African Chenin Blanc to accompany.  Similarly a wide selection of desserts.  Turned in after another interesting day at ~ 2200.

At (a) Sigiriya  (b) Polonnaruwa  (c) en route between the two
Sri Lanka Junglefowl (a), Indian Peafowl (a), Woolly-necked Stork (c), Purple Heron (a),
Cattle Egret (a)(b)(c), Great Egret (a), Little Egret (a), Little Cormorant (a), Indian Cormorant (a), Brahminy Kite (b), White-bellied Sea-eagle (a), Crested Serpent-eagle (c), Purple Swamphen (a), Pheasant-tailed Jacana (a), Whiskered Tern (a), Spotted Dove (a)(b)(c), Rose-ringed Parakeet (b), Indian Swiftlet (a), Palm Swift (b), Blue-tailed Bee-eater (b), White-throated Kingfisher (a), Common Kingfisher (a), Pied Kingfisher (a), Lesser Goldenback (a)(b), Common Iora (a), Jungle Crow (b)(c), Sri Lanka Swallow (a), House Swift (b), White-bellied Drongo (a), Red-vented Bulbul (a), Plain Trinia (a), Grey-breasted Prinia (a), Yellow-billed Babbler (a)(b), Common Myna (a)(b), Indian Robin (a), Thick-billed Flowerpecker (b), Indian Pond Heron (a). 

Thursday, 10th January
Rain again during the night but stopped at breakfast time.  In this part of Sri Lanka to the north of the central mountains at this time of year we were under the influence of the N.E. monsoon.  Good buffet breakfast – eggs cooked to order & large selection of other dishes.  Left in van at 0820 through essentially flat countryside back to Dambulla.  Rice paddies, orchards, garden centres, raised cultivation beds, mixed buildings & jungle.  Stopped on the south side of Dambulla at 0915 at the large hillside Buddhist temple with the giant Buddha presiding which we’d seen on the way out.  This is a modern ornate temple with its usual large Buddha statue opposite a gold-domed ‘stupa’ permanently enclosing, as per usual tradition, originally donated treasures.  Jith bought tickets here & then we drove around through the jungle up to the ancient temple high on the hillside above & behind the modern temple.  From the parking area it was a walk either via a steep pathway or some 300 steps up to the old temple complex which at an altitude of 340m.   Five Buddhist temples & one Hindu temple dating from the 1st century B.C. to the 1st century A.D. were situated in caves in a giant lava-flow rock.  In this period the site, occupied by monks, was visited by a Singhalese king deposed by Tamils from his base Anaradhpura to the north-north-west.  He requested shelter here so he could reorganise his army & the monks willingly vacated the place over a period of some weeks to allow him to do so.  This king then went back north & defeated the Tamil king.  The Singhalese king then returned to Dambulla & as a ‘thank you’ to the monks, built a monastery for them to live in rather than in the temple caves.  The long white building structure now fronting the various caves is of much more recent origin built by a subsequent king.  The entire site has now been designated a World Heritage Site.  Positioned a little before the entrance to the first of the caves is an 11th century inscribed stone tablet describing the previous history of the site.  We then entered the first cave containing paintings dating from the 1st - 4th centuries & later on the irregular surface of the rock roof.  A large reclining Buddha made from bricks & clay is sited on a plinth raised above floor level together with painted seated mini-Buddhas.  The second cave temple in sequence is Hindu, the only one on the site, with candles burning, statues of several gods& a man inside chanting in strong low voice.  The third cave temple is the largest of all, also from the 1st – 4th centuries & later, with many Buddha statues on three of the sides, one large & reclining & the others of smaller dimension, some sitting & others standing.  Also, by the entrance a single statue of a 13th century king.  We learned from Jith that a reclining Buddha is resting, a sitting Buddha is meditating, a standing Buddha with the palm of hand facing outwards is blessing and a standing Buddha with the palm of hand facing towards the side of the face is teaching.  The natural rock roof of the cave is again ornately painted.  Outside & in front of this cave is a pond with pink & purple water-lilies – the national flower of Sri Lanka.  The next, fourth, cave is similar to the third cave but smaller – one central enthroned painted wooden Buddha & many others around the periphery including, on one of the three sides, a large reclining Buddha, a king from the 17th century & very beautiful intricate roof paintings.  The fifth cave, known as the Queen’s Cave is much smaller still.  Again it has more seated & standing Buddhas, a painted roof & also a central ‘stupa’ where the Queen’s jewels were deposited.  The story goes that the Singhalese king & his pregnant queen were fleeing the Tamils in a horse & cart but progress was slow & the queen argued with the king to let her hide in the cave while he made faster progress in the cart.  Eventually she was granted her wish but was discovered in the cave by the advancing Tamils who killed her.  She had left her jewels with the king for safer keeping.  Later, the king, having avoided the Tamils, returned to the cave&, finding his queen had been killed, put her jewellery inside the central ‘stupa’ as a permanent memorial.  Subsequently, however, robbers broke into the ‘stupa’ as evidenced by a still clearly visible irregular large crack around it & stole the jewellery which was never recovered.  The sixth & final cave is the smallest of all with a large reclining & several other standing & sitting Buddhas; similar decoration of the buddhas & of the cave roof as in the other caves.  Interesting to note, looking at the vertical rock face above the entrances to all of the caves, that a short distance above the bottom edge of the rock face where it angled into the caves a continuous recess had been cut so that rain water running down the rock face just dripped off the top edge of the recess rather than clinging to the rock by surface tension & running into the interiors of the caves.  Associated with the previously mentioned single Hindu temple is another story related by Jith.  Outside the entrance to this temple is a table & on it were a few green coconut leaves.  The tradition has it that Hindu couples (& Buddhists – they all seemed to get on well, the two religions being somewhat related) who were unsuccessful in producing children came here & deposited a coconut seedling & prayed.  If then they were successful they came back with their child, gave thanks & took another different coconut seedling that someone else had deposited from the outside table & planted it at their home.  Another story is that people who were ill or needed something came to this Hindu temple with a coconut to pray & request the gods to grant their wish.  On leaving they would drop the coconut onto a strong plinth, several metres opposite the entrance to the cave temple, which is railed off on three sides.  If the coconut shattered into pieces this would be taken as a sign that their request/prayers would be answered!  Heavy rain started just before & continued during our descent from the temples via the many steps back to the van – fortunately we had our umbrellas but nonetheless the bottoms of our legs got pretty wet.  Left for Kandy at ~ 1200, heading south on the road we’d come up on two days ago.  Through Palapatwela at 1255 then stopped for lunch at 1315 at roadside Restaurant Napoli, run by a Moslem family, just to the north of Matale.  Very good chicken/rice biryani for both Jan & me – Jith informed us that biryani is a dish invented by the Arabs in India/Sri Lanka.  Ginny had chicken with fried rice.  Away again at 1355 – still raining heavily.  Through Matale at ~ 1400 & continued south.  Started climbing from the hitherto flat land at ~ 1415 when we were ~ 19 km. north of Kandy – numerous sharp & hairpin bends up to Alawatugoda & the up & down as the road wound through the jungle-clad hills.  Reached Katugastota at 1440 & crossed the Greater Sand River – the largest in Sri Lanka.  Heavy jammed-up traffic & very slow progress from here into Kandy.  Eventually passed alongside Kandy Lake – very attractive, looks clean, covering a large area & surrounded on both sides by hills dotted with mainly large houses & plenty of trees.  Soon reached at ~ 1530 the central area of Kandy &, still by the lake, our Hotel Suisse where we’re scheduled to spend just tonight.  No let-up in the heavy rain both now & for some hours more!  Amended our plans to visit Kandy Botanical Gardens some few kms. to the south at Peredeniya this p.m. – postponed this to tomorrow morning & retired to our rooms where wrote this & read relevant bits of the guide book.  Jan wrote postcards.  Dinner in the hotel at 1930.  Another excellent wide-choice buffet – seafood & noodles with spices cooked freshly on a hotplate especially good; also various curries, Indian & Chinese dishes.  Bottle of Chilean Chardonnay 2011 went well with the food.  A local group playing & singing in the restaurant, mostly at a distance from our table.  Jith, Jan & Ginny had desserts – I desisted, having indulged twice in main course savoury dishes.  I unfortunately snuffling with a cold, the symptoms of which had started to become manifest during the day.  Turned in at 2200 – still raining!

Not many recorded today because of the rain!   Little Cormorant, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Brahminy Kite, Jungle Crow

Friday, 11th January
Breakfast at 0630 at Hotel Suisse – a very comfortable fine old colonial-style hotel; nice spacious well-equipped rooms.  Had been the HQ of General Mountbatten of Burma during World War 11 from 1941 -1942.  Fine position beside & slightly above Kandy Lake.  Away in van at 0740.  Pleasantly cool, dry morning.  Kandy in a nice position at mid-altitude in a basin amidst tree-clad hills.  Headed south to Peredeniya for our visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens.  Garden first built in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s during the reign of the last Sri Lankan king.  British from Kew Gardens then took over the gardens in the later 1800’s & converted/expanded the original into the present garden which some 300 acres in area.  Saw fine specimens of inter alia:- Jak-fruit tree, Cinnamon tree (of which the inside cover of branches, under the bark, yields the spice), Bay tree, Nutmeg tree (these have male trees & female fruit-yielding trees which are usually planted in a ratio of 1:20 in plantations), Clove tree (the flower bud is picked before the flower opens & is dried to get cloves), Camphor Tree (the twig smells distinctly of camphor), Wild Poinsettia, Heliconia (which of the Musa genus same as  for Bananas…..but no bananas produced, just flowers), Ashoka (a historical king) – alias Yellow Saraca- tree (Saraca thaipingensis), with yellow flowers, Jacaranda - in flower – lovely mauve blossom, Bougainvillea – colourful pink & mauve flowers, Yellow-flowering Tababula serratifolia tree from Brazil/W. Indies, Then to the orchid house – various varieties with air plants & birds’ nest fern – wide non-serrated or divided leaves.  Orchids fall into three categories – terrestrial, epiphytes (grow on other living plants for support) & lithophytes (grows only on dead plants.  In Greek, orchid is said to mean ‘testicle’ & they used to be called ‘testicle plants’.  From here we went outside again to admire many more species including:- Coleus, Tradescantia, Ficus, Salvia, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue, Swiss Cheese Plant, Cola tree (which bears two pink fruits in each outer shell – used in coca-cola – fruits high in caffeine).  Various films have been shot here, e.g. in part, ‘Bridge over the River Kwai’; Tarzan/Ape Man films; Jungle Book films.  Further plants, shrubs, trees:- Hibiscus; the ‘Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow’, Dipterocarpus ceylonicus - 54 of 57 species of this genus are endemic to Sri Lanka, they are primary rain forest trees, very tall, greenery at the top, smooth, scaly bark.  Then a wide-diameter Elephant Foot Tree ex New Zealand – bark resembles the skin on an elephant’s foot/leg & the soft wood is used for matchsticks.  Double-coconut tree – the fruit is the heaviest & biggest nut in the world; two nuts in one fruit – not used as an edible fruit.  Wide spreading old Ficus tree with large spherical arboreal ants’ nests in the upper part amongst the foliage.  Large Ironwood tree – the national tree of Sri Lanka – very dense wood which sinks in water.  The white buildings in the gardens were part of General Mountbatten’s offices/HQ in 1941/2.  The Japanese attacked Trincomalee harbour in the north-east because there were British naval vessels stationed there & also oil storage tanks in the adjacent jungle.  Then a Flame tree – Delonix regia – native to Madagascar.  That part of the gardens, which cover an extensive overall area, in the vicinity of the ‘Mountbatten buildings’ (now government-owned & -occupied) is called The Great Circle, an area of lawn with an outer tarmac-ed pathway.  Near it a Baikea insignis tree – a low spreading specimen planted in 1941 by the Moslem Borrh community.  Around the outer pathway of the Great Circle are numerous fine trees planted by visiting heads of state/politicians.  The oldest tree, a Cannon Ball tree – Couropita guainensis – a species introduced into Sri Lanka from Guyana & this specimen planted by King George V & Queen Mary (as they were to become) in 1901.  Nearby a few of the trees on the Great Circle acted as home to a large colony of Fruit Bats.  Other trees around the Great Circle:- a Mahogany tree with spreading old surface roots all around it; a Coral tree – very large leaves & when it flowers (not when we were there) has bright red flowers; A Wild Bread Fruit tree – Atrocarpus nobilis – a large endemic tree with glossy leaves; Ficus religiosa with heart-shaped leaves & of religious significance to Bengal Buddhists – planted in 1875 by the future King Edward VII; A Rain tree – very large diameter & tall with mimosa-like leaves which close slowly if impending rain; Ficus Krishna, alias ‘Krishna’s Cup, with funnel-shaped leaves – planted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1954; Trumpet tree – Tabebuia spectabilis – with trumpet-shaped flowers ex Venezuela/Trinidad & planted in 1957 by Chou-en-Lai; India-rubber tree – Castilla elastica – from Panama; another large Ironwood tree planted in 1891 by the Tsar of Russia; Tulip tree - Stenocarpus sinuatus – from Queensland, Australia planted by Marshal Tito in 1959; a “Pride of Burma” tree – Amherstia nobilis - (named after the same Lady Amherst of pheasant fame) planted in 1925 by Albert I, King of Belgium…… & then, on the way back through the park after leaving the Great Circle, a Large-leaf Mahogany – Swietenia macrophylla – from Honduras with a heavily striated bark on a quite large dead-straight lower trunk & spreading surface roots.  Left in the van at 1145.  Lunch in a pastry shop in Peredeniya at 1200 – piece of pizza & a “minced pie” (minced dried fruit & spices).  Bought chocolate & a packet of biscuits in an adjacent small supermarket for a hike in the Highlands scheduled for tomorrow.  Away from Peredeniya in van at 1240 on a twisty road, passing after few kms. a hydroelectric installation & crossing quite a long bridge over a river at 1310. Soon afterwards at 1320, joined a main road, the A5, coming in on our right from Gampola &, after previous on-and-off spells of climbing, we started climbing steadily towards Pussellawa where we arrived at 1345.  We were now at the start of the Highlands with extensive tea plantations up the hillsides from the road on our left & occasional tall trees of unknown species interspersed with the tea bushes.  In places tea picking by Tamil women with long baskets on their backs was in progress – Jith advised that women do the plucking of the leaves & men do the soil cultivation, fertiliser application etc.  All of the plucking is done manually throughout Sri Lanka.  Road verges very neatly planted with stretches of decorative bushes alternating with stretches of red & yellow Canna Lilies.  Avocado trees also at the roadside.  Very attractive panorama of largely green shrub- & tree-clad mountains.  Red sandstone rock/soil which seems to be prevalent through all of the country we have been in so far.  Mile after mile of attractive neat tea plantations.  When the British left the Sri Lankan government bought plantations & subsequently sold some to private owners but some, like Mackwoods, (an original Scottish planter) retained their original names.  The route we travelled on was a corniche road part-way up the side of a mountain.  We eventually passed a large reservoir in the valley quite some way below us.  Fine view of high waterfall across the valley to our right at 1420.  Tea plantations almost everywhere on steep slopes almost to tops of mountains where vertical or near vertical rock faces became exposed.  More climbing & many hairpin bends & at
 ~ 1430 the road we had previously travelled on became visible a long way below us.  Still climbing at 1450 when we stopped at Mackwoods Laboukeillie Tea Centre/Estate.  Much cooler here!  Mackwoods have a total of over 1000 acres of tea plantations both here in the Highlands & at lower altitudes.  Interesting short guided tour explaining the picking of leaves from the tips of the bushes, the drying of the leaves, breaking, sieving, grading etc. & the drinking character of the types - according to the tea particle size grades - produced, e.g. Broken Orange Pekoe Fines (strong), Broken Orange Pekoe (Medium), Orange Pekoe (milder/finer) etc.  Nearly all of Mackwoods teas go to the tea auctions in Colombo where they are bought by blenders who then go on to produce commercial teas which may be all Highland or, more often, blends of Highland with Mid-altitude &/or Lowland grown teas.  Very small quantities of Mackwoods different specialist teas are sold to visitors like us & to high class stores like Harrods.  We bought five packets of their different grades/types – all except their top grade called ‘silver tip’ made using exclusively the single youngest top leaf from the harvested multi-leaf tip & which not on sale.  After our tour we sat at a table outdoors with a magnificent panoramic view of the surrounding mountains/valleys & plantations and were given a pot & separate cups for tasting their Broken Orange Pekoe;  we were also given for comparison single cups of Orange Pekoe (very orange in colour & lighter orange than the also orange Broken Orange Pekoe) & Broken Orange Pekoe Fines (black-brown in colour, very strong & tannic).  The relatively larger leafed Orange Pekoe was very fine & delicate whilst the Broken Orange Pekoe had somewhat more body & strength.  Left at 1610 – still continuously climbing – steep vegetable plots on the hillsides, carrots, leeks etc. amongst the much more extensive tea plantations.  Kept climbing steeply with a sequence of numerous further hairpin bends & tea plantation workers houses & schools on the hillsides.  Reached the summit of the climb at 1630 & descended to enter Nuwara Eliya (City of Light) – 67 kms. from Peredeniya – at 1640.  Parked ~ 10 mins. later & went for a walk in Victoria Park in the central part of the town – a large green area with various plants, areas of grass & landscaping; home to various species of birds including Grey Wagtail, Pied Thrush, Kashmir Flycatcher, Brown Shrike etc. (see list).  Left at 1750 & short drive to our hotel, the Binota Residency on a hillside above the centre of the town, a small friendly hotel with a surfeit of friendly staff.  Very cool up here in the Highlands.  Nice soup & beefsteak dish for dinner.

Little Cormorant, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Pond Heron, Spotted Dove, Alexandrine Parakeet, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Asian Koel, Asian Palm Swift,, White-throated Kingfisher, Crimson-fronted Barbet, Grey Wagtail, Orange (Scarlet) Minivet, Red-vented Bulbul, Brown Shrike, Pied Ground Thrush, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Kashmir Flycatcher, Oriental Magpie Robin, Yellow-billed Babbler, Common Tailor Bird, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Loten’s Sunbird, House Sparrow, Common Myna, White-bellied Drongo, Jungle Crow.   

Saturday, 12th January
Up early & left at 0605 with a different van & driver, heading to the high altitude Horton Plains National Park.  Hazy but dry cool morning.    At ~0635 saw muntjac, Pied Bushchat, Hill Swallow & then a herd of Ayrshire cows being driven along road in opposite direction to us for milking at the milk & milk products factory we had recently passed.  Continuously rough road but our guts are getting used to it!  Lush green mountain scenery.   Crossed twice the main Kandy to Bandulla mountain railway at unguarded level crossings.  Slow progress because of the rough road – only  
~ 22 kms. in total from Nuwara Eliya to Horton Plains National Park entrance but it was 0720 by the time we stopped at the ticket office 1 -2 kms. from the National Park entrance & car park.  Now quite thickly misty.  Altitude ~ 2100m.  Continued to the end-of-road car parking at the start of the hiking route in the National Park where we arrived at ~ 0740.  Saw mongoose, sambah deer & Jungle Fowl.  The Park is a mixture of montane forest & grassland patina – high & quite deeply undulating.  Ate breakfast, as taken with us, in car park – bacon & egg sandwich, ginger tea, cake, pineapple & banana.  Saw Zitting Cisticola, Sri Lanka White-eye, Yellow-eared Bulbul, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Greenish Warbler & Great Tit around the car park.  Embarked on our ~8 km. circular walk at 0830-0845.  Substantial numbers of Rhododendron ceylenium bushes (native) & much bracken & gorse (introduced by British planters as game cover) near the start of the walk.  Rainbow trout (also introduced by the British) & native shrimp (which depleted by the trout feeding on them) in the small river/streams also near the start of the walk.  First we crossed a feature called the Red Bridge & then up & down, not over-steeply, through forest & open areas, sometimes on stony tracks, occasionally following streamlets, & sometimes on smoother tracks.  Leopards inhabit the park but we didn’t set eyes on any.  After ~ 2 hrs. & ~ 3 kms. we reached the vantage point called Little World’s End by a sheer 270m. drop cliff face but it was misty below & we were denied seeing the entire drop.  Near here Jith & I saw Velvet-fronted Nuthatch – the girls were a little way ahead.  Also saw terrestrial orchids – several small delicate pink flowers on one stem.  Next, at about the ½ -way point of our walk (~ 4 kms.)  we reached ‘Greater World’s End’ – another sheer cliff face, this time 870m high!  Dense fog was obscuring the view of the drop when we arrived at 1135 but in the short time we were there the fog lifted to reveal part of the drop & the opposite tree-clad hillside beyond the deep valley separating us from it.  The sea was said to be visible a long way beyond that on a clear day but it was a long way from clear enough when we were there!  Completed the loop of our walk at ~ 1415 & then the short common outward/return path of ~ ½ km. back to the car park.  Saw during the 2nd half of our walk Paddyfield Pipit, Common Kestrel, Himalayan Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Feral Pigeon & Brown Shrike.  Excellent walk & didn’t feel the altitude of nearly 2500m. even though I was suffering from a cold but for the last mile or so we were all beginning to tire & it did seem a bit more than 8 kms. in total – maybe the altitude did deceive us?  Welcome drinks & a Chocolate Bounty by the van & then we were away following the same route as outward at ~ 1515.  After only about 2 kms. from the car park we started the long descent  with quite a number of hairpin bends which I hadn’t noticed was quite so long & quite so steep on the way out.  Very soon on the descent we entered thick cloud.  Fortunately there had been no mist/thick cloud on our walk at our altitude – we were obviously above it - & for the last ~ 80% of the walk the greyish sky cleared & we were in nice clear sunshine at a pleasant temperature of a little over 20˚C.  We emerged below the cloud a few kms. before reaching overcast Nuwara Eliya.  Back at the hotel at ~ 1645 & Jan & I enjoyed sharing a Lion beer on the verandah even though the temperature was cool & the beer a bit too chilled!  Dinner at 1930 – very tasty chicken curry & usual variety of equally tasty side dishes.

Himalayan Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Common Kestrel, Ceylon Jungle-fowl, Rock Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Hill Swallow, Grey Wagtail, Paddyfield Pipit, Yellow-eared Bulbul (E), Brown Shrike, Pied Bushchat, Greenish Warbler, Great Tit, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Sri Lanka White-eye (E), Jungle Crow.

Sunday, 13th January
Breakfast at 0745 – good fried eggs & bacon.  Chatted with young woman, Louisa, from Hitchin who having a holiday in Sri Lanka as a break from her job as a chef on small cruise boats owned by the Foreign Minister of the U.A.E. & cruising in various parts of the world.  Left Nuwara Eliya at 0855.  Fine view of distant conical Adams Peak – the highest individual mountain in Sri Lanka although there are higher ranges of joined-up ‘collective’ mountains.  Nice clear sunny morning – 18-20˚C.  Drove out of Nuwara Eliya alongside the extensive Gregory Lake.  Past extensive suburban market gardens with terraced plots of carrots, beetroot, leeks etc.  Soon winding downhill – more extensive terraced plots on hillsides.  Stopped 0905 by one of oldest  Hindu temples in Sri Lanka – highly decorated & painted in various colours.  Temple sandwiched between road & very nearby hillside & built on a foundation just above a river well below road level although part of structure extended upwards to above road level.  Soon after leaving here we encountered a landslide by the road leading to traffic being restricted to a single lane – not sure which god caused it!  Actually it occurred last month during heavy rains; there were several smaller landslides by the road before & after this.  By 0915 we’d descended to & into cloud level.  Colonies of Toque (Macaque) monkeys by roadside close to habitations strung out along the road.  We were on the A5 road heading eastwards towards Badulla.  At 0930 we were still winding continuously downhill, good road surface &, now, just below cloud level.  Reached Welimada at 0940 – here we forked right, off the Badulla road to head towards Bandarawelle – still continuously twisty road, sometimes level, sometimes descending.  Stopped at Bandarawelle at 1020 for toilets & a drink at the 100 year-old attractive Bandarawelle Hotel – numerous old photos on the walls of the lounge from colonial times – very colonial atmosphere.  Still in the Highlands & temperature 18˚C – although we’d descended quite some way we were still at an altitude of ~ 4500 ft.  The Bandulla to Kandy railway passes through the town – saw a train travelling along the hillside several hundred yards from the hotel.  Enjoyed nice cups of refreshing Broken Orange Pekoe tea.  Away again in van at 1110 – towns quite busy with people – shops open on Sundays but Government offices closed.  Travelled N. E. towards Ella, descending on still twisty road.  At ~ 1130 saw a Black Eagle circling low over a nearby hillside.  More tea plantations, these part of the large Kinellan Estate.  Reached Ella at 1135 & there turned southwards towards Wellewaye.  Still a bit hazy but sun now breaking through.  Road now descending quite steeply starting at a high level on one side of deep green narrow valley.  Stopped at Rewana Falls at 1150.  Rewana a legendary king from long ago.  Waterfall spectacularly high & descending in a series of long irregular drops.  Jith bought from some locals near the van some bags of sliced mango seasoned with salt & chilli – delicious!  Away again at 1200.  Continued descending & now feeling noticeably warmer.  At ~ 1220 the road ended its twisty descent & became much straighter as we got towards the bottom of the valley though still mildly descending until we reached Wellewaya at the start of the Lowlands at  ~200m. altitude.  Continued southwards on the A2 road through Watta & Kuda Oyo.  At 1255 passed a large herd of domesticated buffalo being driven along the road in our direction.  Through Tanawalwila at 1305 after previously passing through a number of other small settlements.  ‘Settlements’ refers to a concentration of dwellings in small to larger villages but between them along the road almost continuously but usually fairly well strung out were domestic houses of varying quality from rudimentary to relatively sophisticated & also occasional small shops.  At 1310 we were stopped by a speed ‘gun’ – allegedly doing 65 km./hr. in an area (not a village or a town!) said to have a 50km./hr. limit.  We never saw any signs here or previously on our trip indicating a 50 km./hr. limit….or, for that matter, any indicating a 70 km,/hr. limit!  Dilan had to pay an on-the-spot fine of Rp 1000 equivalent to ~ £5 – he said there was no point in protesting or arguing because they would just increase the fine.  At 1325 we stopped for 5 – 10 mins. by a large flat wetland area, not far from our final destination for today, near Tissimaharama many birds (see list for full count) e.g. Egrets, Brahminy Kite etc.   At 1340 we were in the outskirts of Tissimaharama & many cars & people by the roadside.  Jith advised that these were Buddhist pilgrims visiting one of their special 3rd Century A.D. temples nearby.  Arrived at the Hibiscus Garden Hotel at 1350 – a nice modern hotel up a quite long very pot-holed driveway – the arrival building had a reception at ground level & the open-sided restaurant above on the first floor;  accommodation was in blocks of 4 units scattered in the grounds amongst lawns around a swimming pool.  Behind our accommodation block there was a pond said to be the home of one or more crocodiles …..& no doubt it was but they usually only leave the water, & then not very far, at night.  We were now in the S.E, corner of Sri Lanka ~ 35 kms. from the coast.  Lunch in the hotel restaurant at ~ 1500 after Jan & Ginny had had a spell in the pool.  I didn’t venture in - still feeling somewhat congested with cold although now improving.  Nice dishes for lunch – Ginny had a vegetable curry, Jan had prawn & vegetable tempura (nice batter but more veg. than prawns!) & I had a prawn & cuttlefish dish although the latter turned out to be squid rings.  Jith was not staying at the hotel but at accommodation in town.  At 1600 we met Dilan, as prearranged, in the hotel car park & drove into the town/village where we picked up Jith & then drove further ~ 10 – 15 mins. out of town & up a rough track to the edge of a large area of grassy wetland with lots of water, large areas of water hyacinth, a herd of domesticated water buffalo & many birds – see list for today.  Started back to hotel ~ 1750.  Dinner at ~ 2030 in the hotel restaurant – all 3 of us had a mixture cooked fresh on the hotplate of chopped noodles, vegetables, chilli, egg & spices.  Bottle of S. African 2011 Sauv. Blanc – reasonably priced for a hotel here at < Rp 4000 equivalent to ~ £19/bottle.  It had been a dry nice day throughout – not too cool in the Highlands & not too hot in the Lowlands.  Turned in at ~ 2200.

Spot-billed Pelican, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Cattle Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Painted Stork, Asian Openbill Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Lesser Whistling Duck, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Black Eagle, Sri Lanka Jungle-fowl, Indian Peafowl, Purple Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Black-winged Stilt, Whiskered Tern, Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon), Spotted Dove, Green Imperial Pigeon, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Stork-billed Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Lesser Pied Kingfisher, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Barn Swallow, Hill Swallow, Red-vented Bulbul, Black-headed Munia, Rosy Starling, Common Myna, White-bellied Drongo, Jungle Crow.

Monday, 14th January
Early 0600 start to board our transport for a Jeep safari into Yala National Park which ~ 45 mins. drive away.  Public holiday (Tamil but the whole population joins in) today.  Our Tata ‘jeep’, with elevated canvas-covered (but open at the sides) rear seating & exclusively for the three of us & Jith, driven by its owner, Gayan.   About 40 -45 mins. drive from Tissimaharama we entered Yala Wildlife Reserve & drove through this for an hour including several stops for birds & animals.  Fine, sunny, part-cloudy day – warm, 25˚C or a bit higher as the morning progressed.  At ~ 0845 we reached the Yala National Park admin. buildings where Jith went & paid fees to enter the Park; the actual entrance to the Park was 2 -3 kms. further on.  Continuously heavily pot-holed dirt/sand roads in the park but there was enough of interest to distract attention much of the time from the ‘pneumatic drill-like’ ride quality of the roads.  Principal vegetation – various spp. of acacia.  Many birds seen today & some superb views – see list.  Yala (West) National Park extends inland from the coast – our picnic lunch stop was in a clearing by the beach parked under the shade of several trees.  Park rules allow movement outside the vehicles at this point but not elsewhere…….although I did have to get out for a pee in the Park later in the afternoon ….& survived!  Cheese sandwiches & fruit for picnic lunch for Jan & me.  Ginny & Jith had reportedly very good curry prepared by Gayan’s wife.  We had excellent pre- & post-lunch drives in the park, again with many stops for viewing birds & animals.  The highlight was two sightings of single leopards, the second with the animal up a tree & its tail dangling but the much superior first sighting was of a very wary animal walking in the opposite direction to our travel ~ 30m. off to our right, although we were stationary, & then turning to cross the road behind us at a similar short distance away.  Also saw during the day, Soft-shelled Terrapin, Ruddy Mongoose, Brown Mongoose, Lemur Monkey, Grey Langar (Toque) Monkey, Golden Jackal, Crocodiles, Spotted Deer, Wild Boar.  En route in a few places there were isolated rounded rock formations – some only knee level but one butte similar in appearance to Sigiriya rock & called Elephant rock because of its similarity to an elephant’s foot & rising to a height of a few hundred feet.  Exited the National Park at ~ 1730; took another rough pot-holed road (different to the one we had gone out on) past well-spaced habitations, roadside market garden stalls etc. & eventually reached the main road to Tissimaharana.  Back at hotel at 1820.  Goodbye to Jith & Gayan until 6 a.m. start again tomorrow for a morning visit to Bundala Ramsar Wetland site.  The three of us had dinner in the hotel restaurant at 1930.  I had a spicy vegetable concoction cooked on-the-spot on the hotplate, rice & lightly done tuna steaks.  Banana & pineapple for dessert.  Water to drink.  Attractive young drinks waitress.  Turned in at ~ 2100.

Birds (Yala National Park)
Spot-billed Pelican, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Oriental Darter, Little Egret, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Black-crowned Night-heron, Painted Stork, Asian Openbill Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Lesser Whistling Duck, Brahminy Kite, White-bellied Sea-eagle, Crested Serpent-eagle, Shikra, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Common Kestrel, Ceylon Jungle-fowl, Indian Peafowl, Barred Buttonquail, White-breasted Waterhen, Kentish Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Red-wattled Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt, Indian Thick-knee, Gull-billed Tern, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, Spotted Dove, Orange-breasted Green Pigeon, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Jacobin (Pied) Cuckoo, Grey-bellied Cuckoo, White-throated Kingfisher, Indian Roller, Lesser Green Bee-eater, Common Hoopoe, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Jerdon’s Bushlark, Ashy-crowned Sparrowlark, Barn Swallow, Richard’s Pipit, Paddyfield Pipit, Black-headed Cuckooshrike, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, White-browed Fantail, Red-vented Bulbul, White-browed Bulbul, Yellow-billed Babbler, Purple Sunbird,     

White-rumped Munia, Scaly-breasted Munia, House Sparrow, Rosy Starling, Common Myna, White-billed Drongo, House Crow, Jungle Crow.

Tuesday, 15th January
Nice morning - & stayed hot & sunny all day.  Left at 0615 in same Tata high-seated wagon but with different driver, Asela.  Jan a bit queasy after she woke up but decided to come on the trip & quickly felt better as the morning progressed.  Saw Greater Coucal outside the hotel reception as we were leaving & then a Brown-headed Barbet in trees by the main road in Tissamaharama.  Had picked up Jith in ‘Tissa’ just before latter sighting & drove out south-westwards towards Bundala Ramsar Wetland Site & National Park.  After + ½ hr. drive we turned left off the main road onto a minor single-track road into the Bundala flat wetland habitat leading towards the entrance to the National Park.  Stopped after few hundred yards & some very good bird sightings over an hour or so as we walked on a further few hundred yards to where Asela had parked the ‘wagon’.  Then drove on 1 – 2 kms. to the National Park admin. buildings.  Had our packed breakfast parked here at ~ 0815 – 0830.  After breakfast, drove on another ~ 1 km. to reach a right turn & through the barrier into Bundala N.P.  At the N. P. buildings we’d been joined by local park guide Prasanna so we had 2 guides to help us spotting as we drove along the N.P. tracks – sandy & much better surface than yesterday in Yala N.P.  This park extends to ~ 3000 acres.  Green, thicker vegetation than Yala – different species of acacia & cactus, some of each with yellow flowers.  This Park, like Yala, borders on the coast with sea banks visible.  Mostly very broadly undulating landscape.  More good bird sightings here within the Park generally & in particular by some lakes with adjoining evaporation salt pans;  good sightings too of animals& flowers; re. the latter, quite a number of low growing pink candytuft-like flowers of unknown identity.  Animals - a baby gaping crocodile resting on a mound & adult crocs. elsewhere, termite mounds, fresh elephant droppings but no sightings, langar monkey colonies & some with young, land & water monitors, baby & adult star tortoise – our guide Prasanna advised that these can live for up to 100 yrs. & thought the adult we saw might be around 100 y.o.  The baby was no more than 3” in diameter as compared with 9 – 12” for the adult.  Completed our tour & back at the Centre at 1050 where said goodbye to Prasanna.  Drove back to the hotel the same route as out via Weerawila & arrived at ~ 1130.  Relaxed in our rooms awhile, then lunch at the hotel & then some time by the pool.  Away again in our van with Dilan at 1600 – picked up Jith en route.  Drove out to same place by the lake ~ 15 mins. from the hotel where we’d been on the first afternoon here.  There we picked up & met young 20 y.o. owl expert Sandhu.  Drove a short distance along tracks to see a resting Collared Scops Owl – well secreted but clearly visible up a tree.  Then drove on to a house close to a canal - scrambled along & then down the canal bank from the house with very helpful young locals diligently assisting me!  There scoped a very large Brown Fish Owl dozing on a side branch of a tree adjacent to the opposite bank of the canal.  Then drove back to our original spot by the lake & walked a few hundred yards up the lakeside track – a favourite route for small motorbikes!  Nevertheless saw various spp. of birds here incl. a pair of Coppersmith Barbet, White-naped Woodpecker, Small Minivet (Jan), Black-crowned Night-heron, Waterhen & others – see list below.  Promised Sandhu I’d give Jith a European Bird book to bring back for him next time I see Jith in U.K. in August.  Left ~1750 – light fading & back to hotel.  Dinner at 1930 – grilled tuna for me & grilled chicken & garlic for Jan & Ginny, all with potatoes & veg.  Jan had curd for dessert; Ginny & I had fresh pineapple & banana.  The exclusively mini-bananas in Sri Lanka are consistently excellent!  Accompanied dinner with a bottle of S. African Chardonnay.

Birds (Bundala Wetlands & National Park & near/at Tissimahrama
Spot-billed Pelican, Little Cormorant, Indian Cormorant, Darter, Little Egret, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret, Indian Pond Heron, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night-heron, Yellow Bittern, Painted Stork, Asian Openbill Stork, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Lesser Whistling Duck, Brahminy Kite, Osprey, Indian Peafowl, White-breasted Waterhen, Watercock, Purple Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Great Thick-knee, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Lesser-crested Tern, Great-crested Tern, Whiskered Tern, Rock Pigeon, Spotted Dove, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Greater Coucal, Indian Scops Owl, Brown Fish Owl, Crested Treeswift, Common Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, Little Green Bee-eater, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Brown-headed Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet, Lesser Goldenback, White-naped Flameback, Barn Swallow, Western Yellow Wagtail, Paddyfield Pipit, Small Minivet, Red-vented Bulbul, White-browed Bulbul, Yellow-billed Babbler, Plain Prinia, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Purple Sunbird, Black-headed Munia, House Sparrow, Common Myna, House Crow, Jungle Crow.

Wednesday, 16th January
Fine sunny morning.  Breakfast at 0630 – fried eggs, fresh fruit, toast, jam.  Away in van at 0705.  White-throated Kingfisher 3 – 4 ft. away on post bordering track from hotel to main road.  Headed westwards to Pannegarauwa & then north-westwards on A2 road via Lunugamvehera & Kotakumbukka to Ranawarawawewa & Tanamalwila.  At the latter at 0750 we turned left off the A2 towards Uduwalawa (the name of a National Park).  Good smooth road surface.  At ~ 0810 we were driving alongside the Uduwalawa National Park on our right which particularly noted for elephants & with a continuous electric fence running for a few miles which said to be very largely effective in keeping elephants & other animals within the National Park.  Saw one male elephant by the fence with park rangers on the other side trying to get it to retreat away from the fence further into the National Park.  Road then crossed + 2 mile-long wall of a very large dam & near end passed associated hydro-electric plant.  Pretty mountain backdrop to the lake to the north & north-west.  Another elephant between electric fence bordering road & water’s edge.  Arrived at Udewalewa Elephant Transit Home at 0830.  Two Collared Scops Owls roosting together in a niche/fork of a tree in the car park.  Spent an interesting hour on the observation platform of the Transit Home (founded in the 1990’s) observing the total of ~ 25 young orphaned elephants ranging from babies (one with the bottom of one of its hind legs in a brace) up to a maximum of 10 y.o. coming up to be fed on milk from bottles.  After raising the elephants are released never singly but always in small groups back into the wild.  The occupants are all young elephants that have been orphaned or abandoned soon after birth.  When such animals are found by villagers they report to the transit home rangers who then go out, catch them & bring them back to the ‘home’.  Visitors are allowed only on the viewing platform & only for ~ ½ hr. per day so that the animals don’t get too accustomed to humans before they are released back into the wild.  The home has a small bare-earth internal compound were the animals come several times per day for feeding with milk via a funnel & tube; this is also where they come to rest at night.  Outside the internal compound the home has a much more extensive outer grassy natural country area extending some hundreds of metres away from the compound but ultimately enclosed by another electric fence which separates it from the Udewalewa Reserve proper.  This outer captive area is where the young animals range & feed on vegetation during the day.  The animals show an impressively disciplined feeding regime in the inner compound with no jostling or fighting but progressing up peacefully in turns to be fed with milk.  Gave the ‘Home’ a donation for buying milk powder before we left.  Away again in van at 0930 continuing through still lush green jungle on both sides – road mildly undulating in places.  Usual roadside ribbon development but particularly neat & tidy.  The area is noted for kapok collection & processing.  We had left Udewalewa National Park just as we reached the elephant transit home.  A statistic….. 20% of Sri Lanka is designated National Park or Protected Area.  We continued westwards from the transit home to Timbolketiya where we joined the A18 road & headed N.W. through Pallebedda & Godalkawela (1005) to Madampe (1020).  [Quiz Question! many tuk-tuks in all Sri Lanka???].  Popular around here – small Massey-Ferguson tractors pulling flat low wooden trucks.  At Madampe we continued N.W. on A18 via Kahawatta where we crossed the Wey Ganga (river).  This area famous for gems – particularly sapphires & rubies.  Then to Pelmadulla approaching which road undulated more steeply with green vegetation-clad hills to either side although, altitude-wise, we were still in the Lowlands.  Reached Pelmadulla at 1040 where our road joined the A4 connecting the E. coast with Colombo at a T-junction.  Stopped briefly in Pelmadulla for money from bank then away again at 1115 & headed WNW on A4 through Ganegama & Lellopitiya to Tiruwanaketiya.  Here, from when we left Pelmadulla & as we drove up the valley, ‘huts’ on the flat grassy land adjacent to the road & extending away to the foot of the hills – around these huts is where local people dig to find gemstones.  These are then sent to Colombo or Kandy for cutting & polishing.  Stopped at a cake/pastry shop in Lellopitiya with excellent selection cakes … & also curry.  Had tea & cake here & also bought for our picnic lunch.  Away again at 1155.  Reached Tiruwanaketiya at 1205 where we turned left on road No. 8 to head first southwards towards Agalawatta ~ 68 kms. to the S.W.  As we headed southwards the road became very twisty passing through lush green forest in the hills although the road surface was initially very good – rubber plantation with closely planted trees off to our left on the hillside.  A few kms. further on, after Dela, encountered major roadworks which extended for several kms. past the Peenakande Rubber Estates.  From then on the quality of the road surface deteriorated markedly!  Reached Niwitigalle at 1225 where the road turned to head westwards for a while as far as Karawita which we reached at 1245.  Here our road turned southwards again for ~ 10 kms. until it headed westwards again towards Kalawana – by now the roadworks had ended but the quality of the road surface still atrocious!  Still, however, lovely green countryside in the hills.  Bailey bridges across the rivers.  School kids, as usual, immaculately dressed in whites, +/- ties, white shoes, boys in short blue trousers & girls with small, usually pink, hats.  Arrived at Kalawala 1325  - traffic jam in road works – seems too like school turn-out time.  Away again at 1400 but only temporarily!  Turned around at 1425, after being more-or-less stationary in a line of traffic, & tried another route around the back of the town – this became a single-track rough road through jungle, tea gardens etc.  Passed lorries carrying sacks of fresh-plucked tea leaves.  In the event, we had to do two long sides of an isosceles triangle – a 10 – 15 kms. detour - to get to the turn-off that we wanted which was only 1 – 2 kms past Kalawala on the road we were on originally!  More tea bushes closely planted on the hillsides with frequently spaced leguminosae trees (to provide natural nitrogen fertiliser) amongst them.  We eventually reached the turn we wanted just to the west of Kalawala at 1540!  Passed the Dawalaguri Tea factory & its associated plantations (lowland tea) at 1555.  Road quality had improved slightly since we ‘d turned off south just to the west of Kalawala.  Usual varied vegetation besides tea – bananas, coconuts, other palms etc., etc.  Stopped awhile to look at a grey (male) Sri Lanka Frogmouth sleeping in trees just up a hillside by the road which had been found by a local, an acquaintance of Jith.  More small pick-up lorries with bags of fresh-plucked tea leaves passed us.  Then though Weddegala & short distance further to village of Kudawa where, at ~ 1705, we all, including Jith & Dilan, started to transfer ourselves & luggage to an old Willys Jeep pick-up.  Left at ~ 1725 for the rough, mainly steep 3 -4 km. journey with several hairpins & only the odd short downhill or level stretch on a track up to Martin’s Lodge in the Sinharaja Rain Forest; Jeep driven by one of Martin’s sons.  Saw Red-vented Bulbul on the journey up & arrived at ~ 1755 after ~ ½ hr. journey at the Lodge high up in the rain forest.  The Lodge was started by Sri Lankan, Martin Wijesin who formerly worked in the surrounding rain forest.  He together with his wife, daughter (who does the cooking) & grand-daughter now run the Lodge & live permanently on site.  They own a small acreage of rain forest surrounding the property.  Rooms were Spartan but clean & comfortable with en suite toilet & shower & plenty of hot water from the solar heater.  Door to our room made from stencilled timber from a large transformer shipping crate.  A group of ~ 12 Austrian/German people were there when we arrived – they had walked up to the Lodge & had spent ~ 3 hrs. exploring the tracks around it.  Jan chatted to an Austrian lady from Salzburg whilst Ginny & I chatted to a German lady from near Mannheim.  After they had left we sat in the open-air restaurant area & enjoyed an excellent local Ceylon tea.  Dinner at ~ 1930 in the same location.  V. good chicken curry with dahl & usual side dishes, water, & fresh pineapple & banana to finish.  Chatted with Jith over & after dinner re. politics/corruption problems in the Third World & problems associated with acceptance of foreign aid etc. Then Jith advised us of the programme for tomorrow after which all turned in after another interesting day.  Nice weather all day.

Little Egret, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Painted Stork, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Indian Scops Owl, Ceylon Frogmouth, White-throated Kingfisher, Green Bee-eater, Barn Swallow, Red-vented Bulbul, Common Myna, White-bellied Drongo, House Crow.

Thursday, 17th January
Nice morning, cool at first.  Up at ~ 0600.  Ceylon Blue Magpie flew onto fence of eating area at the Lodge literally 3’ away & staring knowingly at Jith & me.  Jan & Ginny emerged a bit too late to see it, even though it stayed for ~ 3 mins., occasionally flying up to the underside of the roof of the restaurant area to pick off insects.  Then saw very large water monitor crawling over concrete between eating area & our room & then down bank into the jungle.  Breakfast at ~ 0700 – fried eggs, toast, jam, bananas.  Spot-winged thrush on ground & later on chairs & even my binoculars in eating area.  Brown-breasted Flycatcher behaving like a Spotted Flycatcher on tree branches just a few yards into the jungle from the eating area; also Sri Lanka Jungle-fowl in same area.  Abundance of Anthurium – scarlet flowers with erect central yellow ‘spike’ in the middle – by the eating area too.  At ~ 0745 we walked with Jith on an alternative reserve-owned track down towards the village where our van was parked but reached ~ 1 km. before there the Reserve office buildings where Jith bought tickets for our later access this p.m. & tomorrow onto the Reserve tracks.  On our walk there & back some more excellent sightings – Yellow-fronted Barbet, Scarlet Minivet, Bar-winged Flycatcher Shrike, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Black-necked Monarch, Malabar Trogon, Black Eagle (soaring at altitude), Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher &, on the way back, Emerald Dove & Grey Hornbill.  On our outward walk we reached the Reserve Lodge at ~ 1015.  Left at 1050 to walk uphill the same way back.  Met Sena who will be our local guide this p.m. & tomorrow.  Also saw on our walk on the way out a very large Tree Snail with a giant shell &, on our way back, a Green Garden Lizard.  When we were nearly back at the Lodge I & Jith, who were at the back, met some men at a forest building who offered us Jak fruits – one has first to peel off the outer skin to get to the edible chestnut-like (in taste) fruit which has a soft nutty texture & flavour rather like potato.  Lunch at base – curried canned fish & usual side dishes.  Relaxed on veranda from 1300 – 1500 & then off again with Jith & Sena on the Reserve tracks – a few mild climbs but mainly on the level through the rain forest.  As in most if not all of the areas of Sri Lanka that we’d visited , geology of ochre-red & deep red rocks, the same as Horton Plains National Park etc., etc. – apparently of Pre-Cambrian origin!  See list for all of birds seen this p.m. in jungle/rain forest to each side of the track.  Various good new spots e.g. Red-faced Malkoha, Scimitar Babbler, Ashy-headed Laughing-thrush, Sri Lanka Frogmouth (only Jan & Ginny), Lesser Yellownape etc.  Also saw Pitcher Plant, Tree Ants’ nest, Blue Morman butterfly, Sri Lanka tree Nymph butterfly (E), Leaf Monkeys larger than Toque Monkeys & frogs of unidentified sp. making squealing noises.  Back at the Lodge at ~ 1800.  Sat outside in the failing light & looked at some local bird books & an Asian Bird magazine provided by Martin.  Then went for a welcome shower.  Dinner on the open patio at ~ 1930.  Chicken curry incorporating smoked paprika & the usual side dishes incl. veg. noodles & white rice.  Water to drink.  Fresh pineapple for dessert.  Turned in at 2045.  Nice day, dry, warm, not too hot.

a.m. Ceylon Blue Magpie, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl, Spot-winged Thrush, Black Eagle, Changeable Hawk-eagle, Emerald Dove, Malabar Trogon, Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Grey Wagtail, Scarlet Minivet, Bar-winged Flycatcher-shrike, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Black-naped Monarch, White-browed Bulbul, Black Bulbul, Spot-winged Thrush, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Green Warbler, Legge’s  Flowerpecker (E), Sri Lanka Drongo;  p.m. Purple-rumped Sunbird, Pale-billed Flowerpecker, Greater Flameback (alias Crimson-backed Goldenback), Dark-fronted Babbler, Sri Lanka (alias Crested) Drongo, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Ashy-headed Laughing-thrush, Red-faced Malkoha, Scimitar Babbler, Orange-billed Babbler, Lesser Yellownape (alias Yellow-naped Woodpecker). 

Friday, 18th January
Nice morning again – same sunny weather as previous days; usual clouds against a blue sky, quite high humidity, not much breeze.   Breakfast on patio at ~ 0715 – same as yesterday.  While we were waiting for our same reserve guide, Sena, as yesterday p.m. (a farmer who lives ~ 6 kms. away & has ½ acre of land growing mainly tea) we looked at birds around Martin’s Lodge & chatted with Martin himself, a genial 72 y.o. ex forestry worker within the Reserve.  Good sighting of Legge’s Flowerpecker at the top of a bare vertical branch of a large tree; also Spot-winged Thrush, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Jungle Fowl, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie & White-rumped Munia around the Lodge.  Left on walk with Jith & Sena at ~ 0845 to & through entrance gate to reserve, walking on same track as yesterday p.m. but we went ~ 1 km. further to a small group of ‘Research Buildings’.  Various observations en route – a flower ~ 6cm. in diameter of a Creeper Vine (Liana) with central orange stamens surrounded by an inner black ring & then an outer yellow concentric ring.  Then a Fishtail Palm tree with a makeshift rope-ladder up the trunk.  This tree flowers twice per year producing large horn-like flowers.  Twice daily, morning & night, for ~ 2 months, sugary liquid nectar is taken from the flower.  One flower yields in toto 5 – 6 litres of liquid nectar & this is boiled to produce ~ 2 ½ kgs. of palm syrup.  A single tree produces a harvest for about 20 years.  Syrup is similarly obtained from the long horn-like flowers of the coconut trees but the Fishtail Palm syrup has, according to Sena, a somewhat better flavour.  Also saw an attractive Osbeckia shrub with pink flowers.  On the walk we crossed two streams running under the track with sizeable rock pools on their downstream sides – lots of small fish, Black-headed Barle & Comb-tailed fish (with a red/bluish tail) in both pools & also slightly larger Sri Lanka Catfish (endemic) in the second of them.  Also saw a spiky/thorny long-stalked Rattan from which mats etc. are made; then Terrestrial Orchid plants called Bamboo Orchid with lovely light & dark pink flowers.  Passed a relatively open hillside extensively covered with a lot of quite delicate-leaved ferns growing closely together like bushes.  Saw also various butterflies – Grass Yellow Butterfly, a small blue unidentified butterfly, a large black-and-white patterned Tree Nymph Butterfly & a medium-sized black & white Glassy Tiger Butterfly. Also saw a couple of tiny lizard-like skinks running across the track.  Heard several Leaf Monkeys & at one point saw one clearly up in the trees.  See later for birds seen this a.m. – only the ‘definites’ are recorded but at one point had a fleeting sight of a vivid red-orange medium-sized bird flying out of a bush & then quickly out of sight.  Back at the Lodge at ~ 1230.  Ginny & Jan had curry for lunch including curried banana flowers.  I not so hungry & content with tasting the banana flowers, a biscuit, a banana & H₂O.  Relaxed at eating area until 1600 chatting & reading – Jan went for a brief snooze at 1445.  The three of us then set off with Jith at 1600 down the steps between our bedroom & the dining patio to reach the track we had come up to the Lodge on in the Jeep.  Walked mainly downhill on the track for + 1 km. & saw Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, White-bellied Drongo, Green Imperial Pigeon, & other birds we’d not seen before; Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Hanging Parrot & Golden-fronted Leafbird – I & Ginny missed the latter as we a bit behind & seen only by Jith & Jan.  At the outward extremity of our walk we met Martin’s son who’d driven us up to the Lodge in the Jeep & who’ll be taking us back down tomorrow.  Whilst there we saw a man climbing a Fishtail Palm almost to the top with great agility & removing the large plastic sap collection container from under the flower; he then trimmed, & sliced back a little, the juice-exuding flower & put a new collection container in place.  A little later we met this man carrying an orange squash-type bottle half-full with milky appearance toddy – fermented sap.  Had a sniff & smelt very alcoholic!  Soon afterwards a woman followed him balancing expertly on her head the large plastic collection container about ¾-full with the collected juice.  They kindly poured a little into the cap of the container for me to taste after which the woman lifted with ease the heavy container – it must have weighed 15 – 20 lbs. – back onto her head & continued walking down the track.  The juice/sap was quite mild-flavoured & distinctly sweet – we were informed that it is essential to boil & concentrate it within a few hours otherwise natural fermentation starts & converts the juice first into toddy; also if the toddy is kept too long, aceto-bacter take over & convert the toddy into vinegar!  The similar juice tapped from the flowers of the Coconut tree is often deliberately fermented into toddy (rather than concentrated into syrup – which is less fine flavoured than the syrup derived from Fishtail Palm sap) & the toddy is then distilled to produce the local spirit, Arak.  On our walk back we saw an 8” long black Giant Millipede (apparently this was a baby!) crawling across the track.  Back at the Lodge at 1810 – tea on the patio eating area then a shower before dinner.  Dinner at 1930 – white rice, vegetable noodles, spicy dahl, ground coconut & chilli mixture, spicy green beans, poppadums, curried canned fish.  Discovered at dinner that my trousers around the lower half of my left leg were literally soaked in blood – I had been bitten by a leech!  Evidently, leeches when they bite secrete an anti-coagulant which keeps the wound bleeding quite some time after they are satiated & have dropped off.  We had all been wearing leech stockings on the walks in the rain forest but unwisely I’d taken mine off after this morning’s walk & this one must have got me sometime during the afternoon walk – it might even have latched on to me right at the end & still been at work when I showered as I hadn’t then noticed any blood.  I later found in the shower a dead-looking object that might have been a dead leech that the soap had finished off!?  Chatted awhile with Jith after dinner & turned in at ~ 2100.

a.m. Legge’s Flowerpecker, Spot-winged Thrush, Brown-breasted Flycatcher, Sri Lanka Junglefowl, Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, White-rumped Munia, Black-capped Bulbul, Yellow-browed Bulbul, Yellow-fronted Barbet, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Layard’s Parakeet, ?Scarlet Minivet?   p.m. Sri Lanka Green Pigeon, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Golden-fronted Leafbird (Jan & Jith only), Hanging Parrot, White-bellied Drongo, Green Imperial Pigeon.

Saturday, 19th January
Up at 0615 & breakfast at ~ 0700.  Same good, clear warm weather as previous days.  Usual eggs, pineapple etc. for breakfast & also ‘rotti’ – small thick-ish rounds of flat ‘bread’ made with bread flour & coconut then deep fried & eaten with spicy fried onions.  Cooked for & waited on as usual by Martin’s daughter, Chamali.  Usual visit from Sri Lanka Blue Magpie – two in fact – during breakfast.  Gift from Martin & Chamali before we left of a bottle of Fishtail Palm syrup.  Goodbyes & thanks to Martin & Chamali then away from Lodge (350m. altitude) in Jeep at 0810 driven by Martin’s son, Gunasoma.  Ingenious starting procedure for the diesel-engined vintage Willys Jeep – many loose wires under dashboard & metal part of starter key first placed for a few seconds between two bare hanging contacts; then start-button quickly pressed & when engine starts the key is placed in a conventional ignition socket which is turned through 90˚ without apparent further effect!.....but  it works!  On the way down the lovely tree-clad Lowland hills seem similar in aspect to the Mid- & Highlands but the higher temperature in the Lowlands for the time of day gives the game away. 

Jan Kirman, Ginny Smith, and John Kirman
Jan Kirman, Ginny Smith, and John Kirman

When we were about 80% of the way down we stopped at 0835 at a new part-built bungalow with some rooms lived in & occupied by some acquaintances of Jith.  They live off farming a small acreage of tea adjacent to the bungalow.  They proudly & generously laid on a spread of cakes with bananas & tea.  One of the cakes which was particularly good was made from rice flour, wheat flour, palm syrup & coconut cream & then deep-fried.  The other cakes were sweet & delicious but we didn’t have very much room so soon after breakfast to indulge very much.  The tea – their own Lowland production – was refreshing, mild & very slightly smoky.  The old lady of the family seemed particularly gracious & moved that we had stopped to sample her cooking;  nearly all of the rest of the family were clutching their ubiquitous mobile phones!

 Left at 0855 & reached our van at the bottom of the hill in Kudawa village at ~ 0900.  Transferred our luggage then away at 0915.  Through Weddegala at 0930.  A mix of tea terraces, forest, small roadside rice paddies, vegetable plots & banana trees.  Through Dilgoda at 0945 & reached Kalawana at 0955-1000.  Here we headed N. on a minor road – twisty & bumpy! – to reach Pimbura at 1015.  Then drove part-way up one side of a long valley continuing N. along the valley to reach Ayagama at 1030 & Sinhalagoda at 1050.  Passed the Galatura Tea estate access road on our left & reached the main A8 road at 1055 just after crossing a wide river, the Kalu Ganga.  Here we turned right & passed, as we had commonly seen before, mainly middle-aged to old ladies walking beside the road carrying umbrellas as sun shades.  After only ~ 5 mins. on the A8 road we turned sharp left onto a more minor road heading northwards again, eventually through Erepola to reach another main road, the A4, at Eheliyagoda at 1120.  Here we turned left through this quite sizeable town & continued N.W.  Shortly afterwards, brief stop for toilets at a roadside restaurant & away again at 1140.  Through Gettahetta at 1145 & reached another v. sizeable town, Avissawella, at 1155.  Here we turned right off the A4 onto the A7 heading N.E. but after only ~ 2 kms., still on the outer edges of Avissawella, we took a left turn onto a minor road heading northwards & through Gurugalla at 1210.  Still the same red sandstone soil & rocks as we’d seen previously throughout Sri Lanka.  Extensive pineapple plantations on both sides of the road.  Soon after we’d passed through the village of Pingomuwa we stopped at 1230 on the same minor road at a roadside fruit stall where a fairly old lady was selling pineapples, lychees & bananas.  Jith kindly treated us to some lychees which were refreshingly very enjoyable.  Soon after this we arrived at a junction with the secondary road No. 18.  Here we completed our circuit as our we had headed S.E. on this road on our outward route nearly 2 weeks ago to Kitulgala.  We turned left, however, onto road No. 18 in the direction of Colombo airport & soon passed through Urapola.  Then on via Attangalla & Wathupitiwala (1245) to reach Nittambuwa at 1255.  Here we crossed the main A1 Colombo to Kandy road & continued WNW through Veyangoda at 1300 where we crossed the Colombo-Kandy railway at a level-crossing.  Continued W. to Naiwala where we stopped at 1305 at a roadside restaurant for lunch.  Excellent curry – chicken, spicy dahl, artichoke, cooked banana flowers, a potato/bacon mixture & chutney – quite hot but we had become inured….or even addicted!  Away again at 1345.  Through Minuwangoda at 1405 & then Andiambalama at 1410.  Road then soon passed along perimeter fencing on our left of Colombo airport after which we entered the sizeable coastal conurbation of Negombo (where Dilan lives) to the north of a large coastal lagoon at 1425.  Continued N. through & after Negombo on same main road ~ 1 km. inland from the coast to reach Kochchikade at 1435 & then northwards further for another ~ 10 mins. until we turned left for Waikkal coastal resort.  Soon passed a roofing clay pantile factory & arrived at 1450 at the bank of a lagoon on the opposite side to our destination today, the Ranweli Village Hotel.  Loaded luggage & ourselves into a boat which was pole-punted across the lagoon.  Very nice modern hotel with pool & our rooms only ~ 40m. from the shore/beach.  Directly out from our room was a rocky breakwater out into the ocean with waves breaking onto it & sandy beach to either side a few yards from a slightly raised wall to the hotel lawns & gardens.  Jan & Ginny went for a swim in & subsequent lounge around the hotel pool where I joined them after exploring around the hotel precincts & beach areas.  Dinner in a large roofed but otherwise open dining area looking out over the lawned area to the nearby Indian Ocean.  Wide-ranging buffet choice of both starters , main courses & desserts including fresh hotplate-cooked fish, fish kebabs, which included cuttle-fish & veg., & meat.  Away from the hot-plate area many dishes to choose from – pork, chicken, vegetable curries, various other vegetable dishes with spices etc. etc. – we found that when chilli was used the dishes were quite mild compared with what we’d become used to previously!  Jan & I shared a bottle of Chilean 2010 Carmen Sauv. Blanc.  College pudding & fresh fruit for dessert.  Turned in at 2100 – 2130.

Sri Lanka Blue Magpie, White-bellied Drongo, Spot-winged Thrush, Grey Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret

Sunday, 20th January
Up at 0645 – lovely clear, sunny, warm morning.  Jan & I went for walk along beach extending between two large block-stone breakwaters.  Bird-watched from the far breakwater.  Plenty of birds well out at sea where boats fishing – saw closer in Brown-headed Gull, Indian Cormorant, Gull-billed Tern, Greater-crested Tern, Whimbrel, Terek sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover, Large-billed (Jungle) Crow, House Crow.  Breakfast at 0845 with Ginny in open dining area.  Bacon/egg etc., fruit juice, fresh fruit & tea.  Ginny & Jan went for a swim after breakfast.  I met in dining area v. friendly Scottish couple, Alistair & Carol, from near Stockton who on Jith’s next tour together with an American lady immediately after ours.  They’d arrived at Colombo airport this morning & went off to catch up on sleep immediately after our chat but were joining us on boat trip this afternoon.  Joined Jan & Ginny by pool for rest of morning until about mid-day when I summoned up courage to go back to our room & pack for our departure early tomorrow a.m.   Then watched cricket on T.V. until ~ 1400.  Lunch by swimming pool with Jan & Ginny – I had a beef hamburger with chips, coleslaw, salad & H₂O. Stayed chatting by swimming pool until past 1530 then back to room briefly before congregating for 1600 boat trip in mangrove swamps by hotel.  Excellent boat trip until ~ 1815; sailed quite some distance, first up a short dead-end arm & then up a much larger canalised arm of water for quite a way before turning around & heading back to base.  Saw a few water monitors, one the largest we’d seen on the entire trip.  Good views of many birds- many Bee-eaters & Kingfishers, each of various species & also Indian Thick-knee, White-breasted Waterhen, Common Myna, White-breasted Drongo, Brown-headed Barbet, various spp Herons, Yellow Bittern, Swallows, Sunbirds, Koel etc.  Also saw a cashew tree overhanging the water with many flowers & the odd fruit – apparently the outer covering of the fresh nut has a very acidic character & can cause serious burns of the lips & mouth.  Back just after sundown at 1820.  Dinner at 1930 – Ginny, Jan & me plus Jith, Alistair & Carol.  As yesterday, extensive buffet of starters, main courses & desserts – Sri Lankan, Japanese, Chinese, European styles.  Turned in ~ 2145.  Fell asleep watching Man. Utd. v. Tottenham.

 Brown-headed Gull, Indian Cormorant, Gull-billed Tern, Greater-crested Tern, Whimbrel, Terek Sandpiper, Lesser Sand Plover, Large-bellied (Indian) Crow, House Crow, Blue-tailed Bee-eater, Pied Kingfisher, Grey Heron, Yellow Bittern, Purple Heron, Common Sandpiper, Red-wattled Lapwing, Little Egret, Barn Swallow, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Pond Heron, Striated Heron, White-throated Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Indian Thick-knee, Spotted Dove, White-breasted Waterhen, Little Cormorant, Loten’s Sunbird, Common Myna, Collared Scops Owl, Greater Coucal, White-bellied Drongo, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Asian Koel, Cattle Egret, Brown-headed Barbet.

Monday, 21st January
Up at 0500.  Met Dilan at punt station by lagoon & also, on the far side, Jith & the American lady from Rhode Island doing his next trip who’d just arrived at the airport.  Good-bye & thanks again to Jith for an excellent trip, luggage loaded & Dilan drove us on the ~ ½ hr. journey to the airport.  Easy efficient passage through check-in & in departure lounge by shortly after 0700.  Our Qatar Airways flight to Doha due to depart at 0910.  Took off spot on time, Airbus 321, and smooth flight over tip of India & then over Indian Ocean to cross the S.E.-facing Gulf coast & thence over the desert to Doha.  Landed at Doha 1200 local time (2 ½ hours behind Sri Lanka time), local temp. 82˚F.  Boarded Qatar Airways flight to London at 1245 local time, A330 Airbus, scheduled departure 1250.  Took off at ~ 1315 local time (UK time 3 hours behind Qatar time) – flight took us E. of Bahrein, over Kuwait, Iraq, N. Turkey, Black Sea, to the S. of Constanta, Romania, Bucharest, Hungary, N. of Vienna, Czech Republic to the S. of Prague, Frankfurt-Germany, Brussels-Belgium, London.  Nice lamb dish for lunch accompanied by pleasant Languedoc Syrah/Merlot blend wine; cheese, coffee & a Janneau Armagnac.  Generally smooth flight, no circling at Heathrow & landed ahead of schedule at ~ 1700.  Distance Doha to London = 3350 miles.  Met Mike at “Departures” drop-off as pre-arranged (having phoned him on his mobile when we got our luggage) at 1800.  Cold in London – light snow on ground & significantly more in N. Beds. than at Heathrow.  Home at ~ 1915 after a clear journey with no hold-ups.  Cynthia, who’d been looking after Roo while we were away, left in a taxi for home at ~ 1945.

Cost of holiday p.p. :- £1300 (Jith), ~£100 (Sundry expenses), ~ £600? air fare  

Author/s of the report: 
John Kirman
Group size: 
Members of the group (clients): 
John Kirman
Jan Kirman
Ginny Smith