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Heart of India 2014

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Pre-trip: Sri Lanka: Mystical Temples & Tropical Landscapes

Sri Lanka is home to a range of landscapes, each more exotic than the next. Its predominantly Buddhist spirituality mingles with the remnants of its history in the spice trade. This tear-shaped island’s natural bounty is a cornucopia of treasures, from the tea fields to the coconut plantations. Come discover the land that inspired Mark Twain to exclaim: “Dear me, it is beautiful. And most sumptuously tropical.”

It's Included:
International airfare from Colombo to Delhi
Accommodations for 1 night in Colombo, 3 nights in Kandy, 2 nights in Morawaka, 2 nights in Tissamaharama, and 1 night in Galle
22 meals—9 breakfasts, 8 lunches, and 5 dinners
14 small group activities
All land transportation
Services of our own resident OAT Trip Leader
NEW for 2015: Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and luggage porters
All transfers

    Fly overnight to Delhi.

    • Accommodations:

    You’ll arrive in Delhi on Day 2 and have a layover in the airport before your evening departure to Colombo, Sri Lanka. We’ll board one more short flight to Sri Lanka early this evening. Later this evening, at the airport in Colombo, you’ll be met by your Trip Leader and transfer to our hotel. 

    Colombo is Sri Lanka’s bustling commercial capital—with diverse neighborhoods from the Fort district in the north, with its unusual combination of modern financial intuitions (like the World Trade Center) and colonial buildings, to the fashionable and evocatively named Cinnamon Gardens neighborhood in the south.

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    After breakfast, we’ll take a city tour of Colombo, featuring some of the bustling city’s most vibrant attractions, like Gangaramaya Temple. Then we’ll continue to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage. This sanctuary, operated by the Sri Lankan government, cares for orphaned and injured elephants in their natural surroundings. We’ll observe these fascinating creatures at work and play, and have the chance to speak with the mahouts (elephant-minders) who care for them.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll depart for Kandy, a city encircled by mountains and the Mahaweli River. This was the last capital of the Sri Lankan kings, now designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. During the imperialist scramble of the 17th and 18th centuries, several European countries tried to scoop up beautiful Kandy to add to their burgeoning empires. But neither Portuguese, nor Dutch, nor British navy could break through Kandy’s natural mountain fortress; after the Portuguese succeeded in their coastal conquests, Kandy became the last independent kingdom on the island.

    Upon arrival in Kandy, we’ll check in to our hotel and enjoy some time at leisure. This evening, enjoy a Welcome Dinner with your fellow travelers.

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    After breakfast at our hotel this morning, we visit the Temple of the Tooth, which lies deep within the royal palace complex. Here lies a sacred tooth of the Buddha, which has been revered throughout the ages as a good luck charm of sorts—it’s believed that whoever holds the tooth holds the country in his hands as well, and ancient kings fought over it as they did over their land.

    Later we explore the Royal Botanic Gardens at Peradeniya. The locale that comprises the gardens has been a royal site since 1371, when King Wickramabahu III held court here. Now, 4,000 species—including more than 300 varieties of orchids—thrive on the lush 147-acre grounds, which also boast a suspension bridge, a lake, spice beds, and a pavilion-sized fig tree. We’ll have lunch together here, then free time at leisure.

    This evening we’ll enjoy a special traditional dance performance, followed by dinner at our hotel.

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    Today we visit the immense Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Rising high above the jungle that surrounds it, this monolith is visible from miles away. Dubbed “The Lion Rock” because bricks and stucco were originally added to form the shape of a giant lion, we’ll see all that remains of this façade as we enter: two enormous clawed, feline feet flanking the 1,001 steps to the top. We’ll have time to explore the terraced gardens of the fortress, as well as the lush Water Garden and the ancient Boulder Garden. And we’ll climb the spiral staircase to see the Mirror Wall and the colorful frescoes of the sensual Cloud Maidens, whose beauty inspired visitors from long ago to scribble graffiti on the polished lime wall.

    After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll travel to a nearby spice garden where we can learn about local spices. Then we’ll return to our hotel and enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure in Kandy.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast this morning, we’ll depart for the Ruhuna region of Sri Lanka, stopping en route to take in the local scenery. We’ll enjoy lunch in Hikkaduwa and visit local moonstone mines, where the gray, glowing gems are found in high concentrations.

    Then we’ll continue toward Morawaka Tea Estate, arriving in the afternoon. Our destination for the next two nights, Morawaka is situated on 160 acres of rolling, fertile land. Once solely used as a rubber plantation, the site has also been home to a family-owned tea plantation since 1908. Today, the estate produces more than 65 tons of tea per month, varieties known for their distinctive flavors attributed to the plantation’s location near the coast.

    We’ll check into our accommodations, a lodge on the plantation, and enjoy time at leisure before dinner this evening.

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    Morawaka Tea Estate is devoted to using environmentally and socially responsible methods in their tea production. Today, we’ll learn about these practices—and much more—as we pluck tea and tour the on-site factory. We’ll also visit the rubber field and watch as workers tap rubber trees.

    After returning to the lodge for some time to relax, we’ll head to a nearby village for a Home-Hosted Lunch and a chance to get to know welcoming locals. We’ll recharge with an afternoon cup of tea—and a chance to taste more of the local specialty—before a visit to nearby Getabaruwa Temple, where travelers who are feeling energetic can climb to the top.

    This evening, we’ll enjoy a cooking demonstration, featuring local dishes, before dinner at our lodge.

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    After breakfast at our lodge, we’ll depart for Tissamaharama, former capital of the Sinhalese Kingdom of Ruhuna of the third century BC. A few buildings of that period still exist in the area. Tissamaharama is situated on a large manmade lake known as Tissa Wewa, part of an irrigation system that also dates to that ancient time.

    In the early afternoon, we’ll arrive at our hotel overlooking Tissa Wewa and enjoy a scenic lakeside lunch. Then we’ll have time at leisure to relax before visiting Kataragama Temple in the nearby pilgrimage town of the same name. Until recent history, the temple was almost impossible to reach because of its jungle surroundings; now a well-maintained road leads to the temple and its shrines. Declared a holy place by the Sri Lankan government in the 1950s, today Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and the indigenous Vedda people all worship at Kataragama.

    Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    This morning, we’ll enjoy breakfast at our hotel before heading to Tissamaharama Temple, among the most sacred Buddhist sites in Sri Lanka. Built in the third century by King Kavantissa, it was the largest dagoba on the island at that time. We’ll explore the temple and admire a statue to Queen Vihara Maha Devi before returning to our hotel.

    Later, after lunch at a local restaurant, we'll visit Yala National Park, the second-largest national park in Sri Lanka. Yala is known for its conservation of Sri Lankan Elephants, as well as its diverse aquatic birds, but it’s also home to a number of other unique creatures. We’ll spot some of these when we embark upon a three-hour safari in the park, keeping our eyes peeled for leopards, crocodiles, buffalo, wild boar, and more.

    We’ll return to the hotel early this evening for some time to unwind before dinner on our own.

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    After breakfast this morning, we’ll bid farewell to Tissamaharama and head toward Unawatuna on the coast. After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll check into our hotel early afternoon.

    Then we'll head toward nearby Galle, an ancient fortified city that was once the main port on the island. The city experienced its heyday in the 18th century, during Dutch colonial rule. We’ll visit a local museum dedicated to the thousands of residents who perished in the infamous tsunami of 2004. We’ll learn about how Galle was devastated by the natural disaster but also showed remarkable resilience in its rebuilding efforts. We’ll then explore Galle Fort, built by the Dutch in the 1660s. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Galle Fort is the largest fortress in Asia built by Europeans, and has been remarkably well-preserved over the centuries.

    We’ll return to our hotel before a Farewell Dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

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    We’ll rise this morning for breakfast and our transfer to the airport. This afternoon, we’ll fly to Delhi, where we’ll meet our Indian Trip Leader and check into our hotel.