Sri Lanka is a natural and cultural treasure-chest, spilling over with scenic landscapes, exotic wildlife, birds and flowers, colourful festivals and customs, delicious ethnic food and much more. At Uga Escapes, we deliver a more intense, rewarding experience of this rich variety by moving aside the barriers of culture and commerce and immersing our guests in the life of the country and its people.
The village bicycle tour at Ulagalla, our luxury hideaway near Anuradhapura, offers a good example of how we do this. Our staff, who have close ties to the local community, act as interpreters and guides, explaining customs and rituals, advising guests on how to get the best out of the experience in countless little ways. This begins with advice on what to wear, for clothes must be suitable for a temple visit as well as to the practical demands of a morning in the saddle.
The focus of the tour is the nearby village of Veheragalla, a typical Sinhalese farming village where folkways and customs have changed little in over two thousand years. The itinerary includes an introduction to seasonal agricultural practices and a visit to the community’s Buddhist temple. Along the way, the scenic Ulagalla reservoir or ‘tank’ provides the focus of an introduction to the ancient system of irrigation that has watered these lands since the time of the ancient kings. Local residents, met along the way, exchange greetings are happy to point out local beauty spots or explain how, for example, crops are protected from wild animals. At the village, the visitors are welcomed by the local headman and treated to the hospitality of the community.
Before moving on to the temple, guests are instructed in the usual courtesies, such as the removal of footwear and the procedure for greeting the head monk. The purposes of the various buildings and shrines at the temple are made clear, together with the rituals conducted there. Also explained are the stories illustrated by the temple murals, and the unexpected presence of a shrine to the Hindu god Ganesh at the temple.
On the return journey, the tour party halts briefly at the scenic ‘meditation rock’ where Buddhist monks and devout villagers come to fulfil the contemplative part of their spiritual discipline.
Throughout the expedition, we make every effort to ensure that contacts between local people and our guests are friendly. We are equally careful to ensure that no environmental damage occurs, and to preserve the natural harmony of man and nature on which we all depend. The result is Sri Lanka with the barriers down: something those who experience it will remember with pleasure and longing for the rest of their lives.