We stepped on to the aeroplane, braced for a long flight, and were greeted by a member of the Sri Lankan Airways cabin crew.
She was making a gracious gesture of greeting – one with which we were to become familiar – and she and her female colleagues were wearing long, green skirts patterned with a peacock motif. Sri Lanka is an island where myth and history intermingle, as they do in Scotland, but it is also a place of abundant vegetation and thriving wildlife.
As a guest of Jetwing, I set out to explore this tear-shaped island in the company of three other media professionals.
Day one found us bedded down in luxurious cabins within the environs of a spectacular nature reserve at Jetwing Vil Uyana, and the next morning, we saw tiger butterflies in ragged flight, small agile tree squirrels and sleepy crocodiles. A monitor lizard crossed our path on some leisurely reptilian mission before being dazzled by our guide’s white shirt and hastening away.
Of course, there was always the possibility of meeting with a snake, but they usually bypass human byways. So-called dangerous wildlife is alert to the threat posed by people and will keep its distance, especially when well fed. Besides which, there was plenty for all to eat.
Even the crocodiles were much too relaxed and replete to bother targeting unwitting tourists. For the first time in my life, I was allocated a personal butler at each hotel. And, as might be expected at this luxurious end of the market, our food was spectacular throughout the trip. Grilled seafood flavoured with subtle traces of sauce and peppery vegetable curries – which could always be tamed for the western palate – were particular highlights. So too were the platters of fresh tropical fruits with which I chose to start and finish most days.
Then I booked a traditional ayurvedic massage, which was soothing beyond words. There is something quintessentially relaxing about being outside next door to a lily pond whilst being soothed with aromatic oils. Our second destination was Jetwing Kaduruketha, a hotel perched on the edge of a 60-acre paddy field, which provides rice for all Sri Lankan Jetwing hotels.
A leisurely stroll with the in-house ecologist introduced me to many wonders I may not otherwise have seen. There was a small plant that closed its fernlike fronds when touched, and a waterfall that fed a vigorous river whose granite rocks assumed the shapes of crocodiles. Jetwing Surf in the south-east capitalises on its proximity to the Indian Ocean.
We were served platefuls of fish that tasted so fresh, it was as if they had leapt from boat to plate with just a bit of cutting and light cooking along the way. We even got to try surfing in deliciously warm waves. The architecture here is stylish yet simple. We each had separate, single-storey, round dwellings for the duration of our stay.
Mine had two bathrooms: one housed a warm indoor shower; the other was a screened outdoor area, where I could shower whilst also stargazing. Then it was time to seek out my favourite animal, so we set out on a tuk-tuk safari and saw many other incredible creatures before drinking in the sight of water buffalo swimming their way homeward. Finally, with lumbering elegance, a wild elephant made itself visible to our wonder-filled eyes.
Of course, right now, visitor numbers in Sri Lanka have plummeted, as people are besieged by fear for the worst in terms of random violence. Personally, I felt safe at all times. In fact, Egypt and indeed London have posed a much greater challenge to my peace of mind in times past. Service at each of the Jetwing properties was gracious to a fault.
A sense of hospitality and concern for the happiness of guests fits with the spirit of this immensely open-hearted land, and it served as a refreshing reminder as to the currency of caring and giving, which supersedes measurable fiscal metrics – not just in the land of elephants but in all parts of the globe. Sri Lankans are endowed with an awareness of this reality.
My dream now is to return to Sri Lanka in the company of my son and daughter-in-law. I’d love to witness my three-year-old grandson, Sverre, seeing monkeys in the wild. The particulars as to how that will happen will sort themselves out. After all, this is a culture where love of life and indeed happiness carve their own path – like a waterfall in full flow.
Audley Travel offers tailor-made trips to Sri Lanka. A 10-night trip costs from £3,115 per person (based on two sharing) and includes one night at Jetwing Beach, two nights at Vil Uyana, two nights at Jetwing Surf, two nights at Jetwing Kaduruketha, and two nights at Jetwing Lighthouse, all on a B&B basis.
The price also includes return (economy) flights, transfers and excursions with private chauffeur guide.
Visit www.audleytravel.com/sri-lanka or call 01993 838335.