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Splendours of Sri Lanka!

Members from the Probus club of Gladesville and District spent 14 days in Sri Lanka arriving home tired but happy at 9pm on 22 October 2015 after 11 hours in the air, plus a three hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur.

Looking after us throughout were Gerard McManus, a principal of Trade Travel from Australia, and three Sri Lankan locals, our excellent and knowledgeable tour guide Mario, bus driver Sumandra, in whose hands we felt safe all the way despite the crazy things other drivers were doing, and Maesh, who efficiently looked after us getting on and off the bus and loading and packing our luggage at stops along the way.

Sri Lanka is a small, third world country of 22 million people. It is developing, but has been held back by the 40 year war waged by Tamil terrorists, then further set back when it was hit by the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in which 50,000 lost their lives. The economy is based on fishing and agriculture, with tourism growing quickly and becoming a major contributor. Like many such countries most people are poor and infrastructure, particularly the roads, are poor. This meant slow travel around the many places we visited criss-crossing the southern two thirds of the island, but that did not matter as it gave us time to take in the variety of scenery and features along the way. Fortunately our small bus had good air-conditioning, as did our accommodation, as the conditions were almost always unpleasantly hot and humid outside.

Trade Travel is to be congratulated for the complete package they had put together. They took us to many interesting and historic, world heritage sites; from ancient Buddhist temples dating from 300 BC; to well preserved ruins of the home of kings dating from 1200 AD. We also visited nature parks where wild animals and birds could be seen; the sea where we stayed in resorts directly fronting the beach; three major cities, Colombo, Kandy and Galle, where we were shown all the interesting buildings, places and parks; and to the pretty town of Nuwara Eliya nestled in a valley between the highest mountains on the island. These rise to over 2,500 metres. Here we stayed in somewhat cooler conditions as the town itself is 2,460m above sea level but never has snow as its latitude is only 7 degrees north of the equator.

Along the way we were taken to shops; craft centres; spice centres; tea cultivation and manufacturing areas; and to spectacular waterfalls in the mountains. We drove through terraced tea and vegetable gardens which were most attractive. On the west coast we saw remains of homes damaged by the tsunami. Some had been restored and others abandoned, possibly because the owners had lost their lives in the event.

In Kandy we visited the tooth relic temple, a very significant Buddhist temple where the remains of a tooth believed to be Budda’s is kept. It attracts huge numbers wishing to pay homage. As we passed through we mingled with the crowds queued up for the ceremonies and they were very tolerant of us intruding in their prayers. We also did a 90 minute walk through magnificent botanic gardens and saw a performance of traditional dances and firewalking.

Galle was interesting as it featured a promontory between the harbour and the sea where there were buildings and ramparts of a fort dating from periods of Dutch, Portuguese and British occupation. Signage on the walls of a building beside the harbour indicated that the maximum height the water had reached when the tsunami hit the area was 4.3 metres above where we were standing.

Colombo was not a particularly attractive city but had some nicer parts. Many new buildings were under construction, some over 40 storeys high. Traffic was heavy all day with some streets and intersections near gridlock.

The highlights for most were seeing the animals ranging free in the nature reserves and the best was in the Yala National Park on the southeast coast. We stayed on the edge of this park in a resort and went into it for three hours on jeeps set up with tiered seats from which all could get a good view. We saw, from fairly close quarters, water buffalo; elephants; deer; wild boars; an eagle; peacocks; cranes; hornbills; lots of small birds; crocodiles and a cobra snake slithering across the ground only metres away. Best of all we saw the rarely sighted leopard, which we were able to watch for half an hour. First one came out into open ground in front of a small pond where we were able to park on top of an embankment on the opposite side. Just like your domestic cat it sniffed tentatively around then climbed a tree to survey its surrounds. While there a second emerged and did much the same thing, without climbing the tree, but it left after ten minutes. The first then came down and gingerly approached the pond where it eventually got down on its haunches and had a drink. It was watched all the while by a huge crocodile sunning itself on the edge of the pond some 20 m away but, in the event, the croc barely moved.

To summarise; our trip exceeded our expectations in lots of ways, and could be one of the best trips you could make in terms of variety of things to do and see. We also concluded that Sri Lanka is best visited as part of an organised tour, where everything is planned and arranged beforehand, and you really have nothing to worry about while there.

Thanks must go to Wayne for his work in organising the tour and for assuming the group leader role in the course of our travels.

Gladesville and District Probus Club

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    • Our "FAMIL" program is an excellent way for Group and Tour leaders to go and experience a destination first hand. You get to sample the airline, meet the accommodation and touring providers and sample the local cuisine. It is a WIN/WIN situation and a lot of fun!Mark O'Brien
      Trade Travel Director

    • The girls in res are brilliant, when I need a quote or booking I go straight to them, knowing they’ll give us the best possible price and they know exactly what we need.”Val Henry
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    • Our recent Trade Travel “A Big Week Outback” trip with the Probus Club of Breakfast Point showed us how important it is to look at the country in greater depth. Travelling with the Probus group enabled us to delve beneath the surface and see real outback families and experience the outback in all its many and varied facets. We would recommend the Trade Travel “A Big Week Outback” to all.Client of Trade Travel
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    • Our recent Trade Travel “A Big Week Outback” trip with the Probus Club of Breakfast Point showed us how important it is to look at the country in greater depth. Travelling with the Probus group enabled us to delve beneath the surface and see real outback families and experience the outback in all its many and varied facets. We would recommend the Trade Travel “A Big Week Outback” to all.Client of Trade Travel
      Longreach Tour

    • The girls in res are brilliant, when I need a quote or booking I go straight to them, knowing they’ll give us the best possible price and they know exactly what we need.”Val Henry
      Tour Coordinator for Donald Simpson Centre

    • Our "FAMIL" program is an excellent way for Group and Tour leaders to go and experience a destination first hand. You get to sample the airline, meet the accommodation and touring providers and sample the local cuisine. It is a WIN/WIN situation and a lot of fun!Mark O'Brien
      Trade Travel Director

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