From taking tea at Sir Thomas Lipton’s first factory to paying respects to the Buddha’s tooth, four unique tourist experiences on the island nation of Sri Lanka.
By Nell McShane Wulfhart
Tea tasting at Lipton’s first factory Dominic Sansoni for The Wall Street Journal
SRI LANKA SEEMS to be at a tipping point. Five years after the end of its quarter-century-long civil war, tourists are being lured back to Sri Lanka by friendly locals and an abundance of natural and man-made beauty. This petite island nation—totaling just 25,000 square miles but including the 4.5 million-resident city of Colombo—offers everything from leopard safaris and surfing to ancient temples and complex curries. Here, four experiences that would be challenging, if not impossible, to find anywhere else.
1. See where Lipton started. Sir Thomas Lipton ’s Ceylon tea company has its roots in Haputale, a town in Sri Lanka’s misty Hill Country. In 1890 the Scottish entrepreneur bought plantations there and began shipping the leaves that fueled an empire back to England. Day tours by Colombo-based company Trekurious begin with a Champagne brunch in a historic planter’s bungalow, followed by a visit to Lipton’s first factory, still in use.
Lamprais from the Dutch Burgher Union Dominic Sansoni for The Wall Street Journal
Using a woven cane basket called a nambuwa, visitors (and prospectors) sift water by hand. Dominic Sansoni for The Wall Street Journal
2. Feast on curry with Dutch Burghers. A legacy of Sri Lanka’s Dutch colonists and their descendants (known as Dutch Burghers), lamprais is a uniquely Sri Lankan dish. Wrapped in a banana leaf, this aromatic combination of rice, pork and beef curry, shrimp paste, sweet-onion relish and meatballs is served around the country. But the Dutch Burgher Union, a dusty, atmospheric members club built a century ago, dishes up Colombo’s best in its modern cafe. Ordering a day in advance is advised. 114 Reid Ave., Colombo, dutchburgherunion.org
3. Pan for sapphires. Sri Lanka is a well-known source of high-quality precious stones. Hidden in the bottom of the Ellawala River near the town of Eheliyagoda, 50 miles from Colombo, are blue sapphires, rubies, garnets and aquamarines. Using a woven cane basket called a nambuwa, visitors (and prospectors) sift water by hand. Alternatively, climb into a 10-meter-deep mud pit to extract some (hopefully) jewel-studded dirt. From $270 for two people, including a stay at a local agriturismo, ampersandtravel.com
4. Visit the Buddha’s tooth. Traveling to the Kandy Kingdom to find the Buddha’s tooth sounds like a children’s fantasy adventure, but it’s a trip every Sri Lankan Buddhist hopes to make at least once. The relic is kept in a guarded temple complex in Kandy, a central city that was the capital of the last Sinhalese kingdom. The tooth is said to have been seized from the Buddha’s funeral pyre in 543 B.C., and, according to Buddhist tradition, its possessor has the divine right to rule Sri Lanka. Palace Square, Kandy
[Via The Wall Street Journal]