CHRISTMAS IN THE TROPICS
It seems rather unbelievable to say that Christmas is peeking around the corner again… it probably feels as though you just polished off that last piece of cake, settling into the New Year. This also means that Sri Lanka’s ‘Festive Season’ is here which is hands-down, one of the best times to be in the country. As any local will tell you, this time is eagerly anticipated, when everyone decides that they have worked quite hard enough all year round and deserve a break, taking off in all different directions to enjoy a much-needed holiday. What is more, for those of you used to a ‘Winter Wonderland’ type of Christmas, our tropical festivities are a true delight and a completely new experience to soak in with concerts, events and Christmas themed parties galore. Colombo is buzzing with activity during the month of December and has a lot to offer in celebrations which you can immerse in with Residence by Uga Escapes.
Every corner is decorated with something be they lavishly designed and elegantly crafted Christmas trees, elves, Santa Clauses, and hundreds upon hundreds of blinking, colourful lights. Even though the percentage of people who celebrate Christmas in the island amounts to a mere 7% which is a cinch in this dominantly Buddhist country, the spirit of the season is embraced with gusto and enjoyed by everyone regardless of religion, caste or creed. Much like the rest of the world, preparations begin weeks in advance, with stores morphing into Christmas themes launching sales and promotions, people scurrying about like ants shopping for gifts and food. Adding to it all, radio stations begin playing old and new carols.
The country’s Portuguese, Dutch and British roots are generally on display through infrastructure and architecture present in the country. A few examples include the Dutch hospital in Colombo now converted to quaint restaurants and shops (whilst keeping its original design intact), the Colombo Museum, the Galle Fort and Galle in general. These cultural influences also strongly manifest themselves when Christmas rolls around, mostly obvious through the cuisine. It is believed that Christmas was first celebrated back in the 1500s when the Portuguese embarked, the first of many civilisations to change the landscape forever. Today, these traditions are still strong and you will always find a hearty roast complemented with a soft, aromatic Breudher doused in butter on a Sri Lankan Christmas table without fail.
Enhance your holiday with rare, the main restaurant at Residence by Uga Escapes, which is an elegant, up-scale restaurant situated in the heart of Colombo with a delectable menu for you to indulge in. As they will also be preparing a special menu especially for Christmas Eve, you can look forward to enjoying a cosy, close-knit Christmas with friends and family. Make sure you snap some pictures with the exquisitely decorated, expansive Christmas tree, a regular feature at the hotel.
As you draw 2016 to a close, relax and look back on the year gone by at Ulagalla, Jungle Beach, Uga Bay, Residence or Chena Huts. Whether you want to bid adieu by the ocean or in the middle of the jungle, there is always an option for you. Treat yourself this season with Uga Escapes.
EXPLORE YALA – THE HEART OF SRI LANKAN WILDLIFE
Tucked away in the expansive South-Eastern coast of Sri Lanka is one of the island’s most prominent features and global attractions… Yala National Park. Rich in intriguing and vibrant biodiversity, it is easy to see why the area is visited by swarms of tourists every year. The park also acts as a solid study ground for both scientists and researchers who travel quite far to study the life within first-hand, sometimes for months on end. Although Yala was only declared a national park officially in 1938, it is primarily a wildlife sanctuary, a title it has borne since 1900.
Visitors to Yala are encouraged to drop in between the months of February to July, when the park is thriving and abuzz with its 44 different varieties of mammals and 215 odd species of birds. Seeing as how this is the dry season and water is scarce, it brings the animals out in an array of colours, shapes and sizes. The spectacle is truly a sight to behold not to mention awe-inspiring especially in the company of majestic, stately elephants, elusive yet graceful leopards and spritely spotted deer amongst lazy sloth bears that are easily the heartbeat of the sanctuary. Some stunning images and footage have been gathered over the years by wildlife enthusiasts and photographers alike, documenting behavioural patterns typically difficult to see.
What is perhaps most interesting and little known about Yala, is the fact that even though today it is a bustling nature reserve with plenty to see and do including embarking on thrilling safari rides, it has also once been home to bygone civilisations whose presence is kept alive through the surrounding monuments erected and maintained over time. Amongst the many archaic temples around the area, Sithulpawwa stands out as a principal point for pilgrims. Furthermore, the complex infrastructure reminiscent of Sigiriya is evident in the remnants of ruins which obviously once served as fully-functioning integral cogs in the system. Most of these include vast tanks which were responsible for water storage and are still quite useful for the delicate ecosystem that depend on them for their survival during the dry season.
Yala is one of the best spots to intricately observe the unavoidable Circle of Life and the inter-dependence of the animal kingdom that makes it both an emotional and rewarding experience at the same time. Its landscape is a mix of luxurious greenery in some parts, which then eases into rather arid and dry zones that still provide the ideal camouflage for its wary residents. A study of this habitat makes it easier to track the animals and understand their foraging habits which consequently leads to some impressive finds. Chena Huts the latest addition of Uga Escapes is in fact a favourite location set right in the midst of the action offering morning and evening game drives to the park, and yet distant enough to soak up the luxury of fine dining and cocktails.
Respecting the laws of the terrain is of utmost importance and advised to any and all visitors to the park. These regulations extend to both flora and fauna and include no excessive sound, smoking, littering and of course aggravating the animals. There are various packages that are catered to those interested in a Yala excursion, which can be chosen based on one’s individual preferences.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: SIGIRIYA
Sri Lanka is no doubt well-known and renowned for its many marvels all contained within a comparatively tiny space. Of these, there is but one that is famously admired and visited in droves for many reasons, even dubbed to be the Eighth Wonder of the World. Perched 200 metres high in the Matale district, is Sigiriya, to-date one of the most baffling masterpieces in both the ancient and modern world. Although it was built as a result of one of the island’s most blood-thirstiest acts, it is undisputedly a crowning icon. Not for the faint of heart, the rock offers one of the most stupendous and challenging hikes in the world.
Its origins can be traced as far back as the 05th century, when greed for power and wealth took over Prince Kasyapa son of King Dhathusena of Anuradhapura and brother of Prince Mogallana. Prince Kasyapa went on to murder the king in an attempt to claim the throne, which saw his brother flee the country to India fearing for his own life. However, Prince Mogallana did not waste his time there, all the while gathering an army both fearsome in skill and numbers so that he could one day return to his homeland to exact revenge and defeat his brother. This is exactly what he did, successfully ending Kasyapa’s short reign.
As the king of Sri Lanka at the time, there was nothing that was out of reach for Kasyapa and this meant that he was able to employ the most skillful labourers and architects of the time for the project. He therefore began work on the formidable rock we have come to know as Sigiriya, along with an entire kingdom in its own right. With intricate engineering systems incorporated into complex architecture without compromising on beauty, it is clear that Kasyapa was a king with a mastermind. To-date, researchers and experts are deeply studying its entire system structure as its fountains and pools still gurgle water even though it has been well over 1,000 years since its construction.
Sigiriya is also famous for its frescoes, adorned upon its rock walls which can be found halfway up the ascent. These delicate paintings are of bare-breasted damsels, believed to be Kasyapa’s consorts. Although they had deteriorated considerably over time, more recently they were restored by artists to ensure their preservation in the future. Furthermore, Sigiriya’s life-sized lion paws signal the entrance to Kasyapa’s palace where one can picture what it must have once contained.
Excursions to Sigiriya are organised by Ulagalla by Uga Escapes. Due to the hotel’s close proximity to the site, it is able to offer comfortable tours for guests.
Time of departure – Best time is in the morning, after 7am
Duration – 6- 7 hours depending on the guest
Distance – 41 km from Ulagalla and transportation up & down around 82 km
Click here for more information.
THE VIBRANT BUDDHIST TEMPLE IN THE HEART OF COLOMBO – GANGARAMAYA TEMPLE
Nestled in the heart of Colombo offering a quiet sanctuary in the midst of a concrete jungle, is Gangaramaya Temple. Dating back to the 1800s with inspiration drawn from Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and China for its stunning architecture, it is easy to see why the temple is a point of attraction for tourists. Perched on the border of the famous Beira Lake where hundreds of pelicans can be seen wandering around, it is more than a place of worship. It is a place many visit to get a quiet moment to themselves; something which is a rarity today.
Over the years, the temple has churned out many a scholar being a centre of learning which it still is today. Under the guidance of Galboda Gnanissara Thera, the temple also houses an expansive library, actively contributes to welfare work, runs an orphanage and welcomes individuals from all religions within its premises. As you stroll around, you will encounter a range of interesting artefacts which are in fact offerings and gifts from worshippers received over a long period of time. Together, they contribute to an eclectic environment (one of the many reasons this temple stands out), although it’s most precious and significant treasure is without a doubt, a hair relic of the Lord Buddha which was a gift from Bangladesh.
Gangaramaya Temple is also known for its spectacular Perahera, known specifically as the Navam Perahera which is held in February of every year having commenced in the year 1979. As with all Peraheras in Sri Lanka, this too is a dazzling affair with beautifully adorned elephants, over 1,000 spritely dancers, larger than life structures and a range of storyboards depicting the timeline of Buddhism. This is considered to be one of the temple’s most important religious and cultural rituals. You can also hang out with the temple elephant, Ganga who is a shy, wary creature although gentle, popular and very much loved by visitors.
The location of the temple is considered to be extremely sacred, as it is positioned next to a Bo tree which is believed to be the sapling of the revered Sri Maha Bodhi, under which records claim the Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment. Complete with a museum and an awe-inspiring range of statues amongst which the smallest Buddha statue in the island is also present, it is safe to say that Gangaramaya Temple is one-of-a-kind.
Residence by Uga Escapes, can be found nestled between the temple and leafy Park Street in Colombo. With the tranquility of the environment contributing to its rich and elegant ambience, it is easy to see why the once grand Victorian townhouse was frequented with society’s best hailing from Britain, Europe and India in the nineteenth century. The property is now equipped with eleven suites, all decked out with tasteful, florid furnishings in-keeping with the luxurious themes of its halls, gardens, private courtyards and swimming pool. Despite its placement in an urban area, it is conveniently tucked away with attention to local design and heritage which is what sets it apart.