My journey had taken me to the ultimate treasure island: Sri Lanka. I would see chests full of jewels, swaying palm trees on white sandy beaches, and all manner of wildlife, but nothing would prepare me for what I would see in Kandy...
I had already visited Dambulla, and after a climb had entered the first of five natural caves. Inside, every available surface is covered in beautiful frescoes of Buddha's life and of the festival, the Perahera. And now here I was in Kandy, in late August, to witness the actual event. Many thousands had sat waiting on the pavement all day to see it. The Esala Perahera,which takes place once a year, was a spectacle beyond words. As night fell, a cast of thousands of exotically costumed dancers and acrobats,skilled musicians, fire breathers and drummers, danced, sung and contorted their way past me. Two hundred elephants, cloaked in velvet and brocade, bejewelled and highly illuminated, ridden by their mahouts carrying fringed parasols, swayed to the hypnotic rhythm of the thumping, chanting, trumpeted march. The crescendo, three dazzling elephants abreast, lit in gold. In the centre a giant 12 foot tusker carrying aloft the golden casket. The thousands of onlookers taking to their feet in excitement. A moment that is indelibly etched in my mind, and one I feel lucky to have experienced.
Sri Lanka is a land of brilliant colour. On the road, trucks and buses are made unique with flamboyant decorations. Roadside stalls are piled high with brightly coloured fruits, and little houses painted saffron yellow and shell pink seem to spring out from the lush green jungle. The aquamarine seas are home to brightly hand-painted fishing boats and high up in the cool hills of the interior, colourfully dressed village woman balance like mountain goats on steep emerald green tea plantations. Dazzling colours are at their most intense in the gemstones of Sri Lanka. Ceylon blue sapphires, moonstones, rubies, amethysts, garnets, alexandrites, which change colour, and topaz and sapphires of every colour. It was the rare pink-orange sapphire, the padparadscha, that most intrigued me and became my own treasure hunt. A Sri Lankan treasure of a different kind was the world famous architect, the late Geoffrey Bawa. A guided visit to his all white home and studio in Colombo was a wonderful insight into his work. He was a pioneer of modern tropical minimalism,and as such is a lure for architects from all over the world.
Colombo is a fast growing, bustling city which has some great sophisticated hotels shops and restaurants. I enjoyed the last two days of my tour exploring these venues and know I will be back to this exciting destination where the people are friendly and there is something here for everyone.