INDIA AND SRI LANKA
ITINERARY & HIGHLIGHTS
HYDERABAD – December 26, 2010
Totally unexpected stop when we were diverted due to impenetrable fog in Delhi that prevented us from landing there. Due to a customs and immigration issue, we were allowed to go to a hotel but not to leave the hotel except to return to the airport, so no sightseeing. Lowlights – the most terrifying taxi ride ever! Chaos reclaiming our passports at the airport. Wasted day.
Accommodations: Taj Krishna – attractive hotel with good food and gym. We had a nice brunch in the garden.
DELHI – December 26-27 Stopover only, no sightseeing.
Accommodations: Trident Gurgaon – This is astonishing for an airport hotel (not located at the airport, but only 10 km away). Dramatic décor and grounds, lovely rooms, cordial and efficient service and a fabulous breakfast buffet (one of the best anywhere). Wish we had stayed longer to explore the facilities. Recommend.
KHAJURAHO – December 27-28
Accommodations and Meals: Lalit Temple View Hotel – Clean and modern, good décor, terrific staff. Our room had a view of the pool and partial temple view. They put on a fun little puppet show in the garden in the evening. Excellent traditional Indian dishes and adorable personnel. Breakfast was adequate. Recommend.
BANDAVGARH NATIONAL PARK – December 28, 2010 – January 01, 2011
Wildlife safari, 7 game drives – 7 Bengal Tigers (male and female), Chital (spotted deer), Sambar deer, Barking Deer, Grey Langurs, Macaques, Jungle Cat, Wild Boar, Elephant ride to see tigers, gray Indian foxes, Indian Rollers, vultures, Bee-eaters, Black-Shouldered Kites, Jungle Owlet, Hoopoe, Lapwings,Hornbills, Green Parakeets, New Year’s Eve celebration with local music and dancing at Mahua Kothi.
Accommodations and Meals: Taj Mahua Kothi Safari Lodge – charming, spacious cottages with private patios and all modern conveniences, beautiful indigenous art and décor in cottages and public areas. Staff goes out of their way to please. Very luxe for a national park lodge. Our cottage had unobstructed field and forest views. All meals, snacks and drinks (except premium wines) included at Mahua Kothi. Excellent, plentiful food and good wine. Highly recommend.
CHENNAI – January 01-02 stopover only, no sightseeing.
Accommodations: Trident Hotel – Adequate hotel for a stopover, conveniently close to the airport (across the road). Room and breakfast were ok, nothing special. http://www.tridenthotels.com/chennai/index.asp
MUMBAI January 20-22
City Tour: Elephanta Island, Markets, City architecture
Accommodations: Taj Mahal Palace – opulent décor and exceptional service in historic property. Be sure to get a room in the newly renovated Heritage wing, ours had a view of the India Gate and harbour and was spacious and gorgeous. Highly recommend.
Copper Chimney – very good buffet of fresh traditional Indian specialties. Not a tourist trap
Masala Kraft – in Taj hotel. Scrumptious Indian cuisine with modern influences. Faultless service.
Breakfast at the Taj is a fabulous buffet with wide selection of delicious Western and Indian dishes, excellent fruit selection. Service is so attentive they practically feed you.
ALANKUDA BEACH – Jan 02 - 03
Boat excursion to see thousands of spinner dolphins
Accommodations and Meals: Bar Reef Resort – Cabana set in large palm-studded garden which includes a bedroom and porch-sitting room with couch; shower room and toilet/sink room are in separate areas in the courtyard. Lacking amenities, like hot water, but cool rustic beach style. Very laid back. Two pools, fresh and saltwater, plus beach. All meals included at the Bar Reef Resort. Food is fairly good, nothing special, but they feed you constantly, bringing around snacks between meals. Meals in open-air pavilions called Ambalamas. Good family place.
Meals: SIGIRIYA – Jan 04 - 08
We visited the ancient capitals of Polonnaruwa, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Dambulla. Most enjoyed the Buddha statues at Gal Vihara in Polonnaruwa, Lion Rock Sigiriya with its magnificent frescoes of the King's wives, and the holy caves crammed with paintings and statues at Dambulla . Beautiful area.
Accommodations: Jetwing Vil Uyana Sigiriya. Landscaping is breathtaking with luxurious villas built over the lake, in rice paddies, or in the forest, all connected by boardwalks. We had a duplex Forest Villa with a private pool. Bedroom and powder room upstairs, balcony overlooking pool and scenery, downstairs a huge bathroom with sunken tub, shower area, dual sinks, seating area. Well-equipped gym and tranquil spa. Wildlife is quite good right on property with a great variety of birds, a couple of non-threatening crocodiles in the lake and huge monitor lizards. Service doesn’t always match the housing standards, but the staff is so eager to please and sweet that we had to give them a pass if efficiency wasn’t quite up to snuff. Highly recommend unless you don’t enjoy yourself if service is not flawless.
Vil Uyana – Beautiful dining room with a view of the property and Lion Rock in the distance. Breakfast and dinner were very good with decent wine selection. Terrific seafood especially considering that it’s inland, including lobster and humongous prawns.
Hotel Diyadahara – had lunch here on the drive to Sigiriya. Seated outdoors on patio next to lake. Good Sri Lankan fish curry.
Unfortunately, I didn’t note the name of the place where we had lunch near Polonnoruwa, it was very simple, but it served one of the better Sri Lankan curry buffets with lots of delicious vegetables.
Tissawewa – Run-down hotel in a colonial British Governor’s house that would be lovely if fixed up, handsome grounds. Food was only ok and least friendly staff we met anywhere in Sri Lanka.
KANDY – Jan 08 - 10
Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa), indigenous dance performance including fire-breathing and fire-walking, family business using all parts of the coconut (rope-making, etc.), and batik making.
Accommodations: Clingendael – Elegant Dutch manor converted into a boutique hotel with beautiful grounds. We had the Red room, which was a duplex with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and lake from the upstairs sitting room. Excellent service from your personal butler. Recommended (though only about 20 km out of town, traffic and bad roads mean that it takes almost an hour to reach)
Clingendael - Breakfast was good, but dinners were even better, both the Western dishes and Sri Lankan curry.
DJ’s – Probably the worst food we had on the trip including the airlines. Not recommended.
Sinani – Wonderful view of the temple and town. Good Chinese food, eclectic menu.
HATTON – Jan 10 - 12
Accommodations and Meals: Ceylon Tea Trails – 4 colonial tea planters’ bungalows set among the tea fields, each with a manager, chef and butler to attend to guests as if you were in a private home. We were in the Garnet suite in Summerville Bungalow, with stunning views of the lake and mountains. Warm and helpful staff, lovely décor. Only small inconvenience was only a handheld shower in the tub, but the tub was deep and delicious. All meals and drinks were included and you really wouldn’t want to eat anywhere else, the food was among the very best of the trip. Hated to leave this place – Very Highly Recommend.
Meals: UDAWALAWE NATIONAL PARK – Jan 12 - 14
Camping wildlife safari – herds of Sri Lankan elephants including young (3 months old) and rare Tusker, Water buffalo, Jackals, Peacocks displaying, Peahens and chicks, rare Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher, Common, Pied, White-Throated and Stork-Billed Kingfishers, Pelicans, Painted Storks, Brahminy Kites, Monitor Lizards, Turtles, Langurs, Macaques, Cormorants ingesting fish, Serpent Eagles, Eagle Hawks, Pond Herons, Chital, Green Bee-eaters, Darters, Honey Buzzards, Crocodiles (one swallowing a cormorant), Mother Buffalo guarding dead calf from pack of jackals, Indian Nightjar, Malabar Pied Hornbill couples, Mongoose, mating Parakeets, Brown Fish Owl, Grey Herons, Egrets, Swallows, Terns, Lapwings, Doves, Orange-Breasted Green Pigeon, Green Imperial Pigeon, Giant or Rock Squirrels, Palm Squirrels, Hares, Black-Rumped Flameback Woodpecker, Grey-Headed Fish Eagles, Black-winged Stilts, Yellow Bitterns
Accommodations and Meals: Kulu Safaris – Very basic tents with somewhat uncomfortable bed, seating area. Private facilities (bucket shower and camp toilet) a short walk from the tent and poorly arranged, nowhere in shower to hang clothes or towel. Food was hearty basic stuff like spaghetti, just adequate. Staff was very helpful. Wonderful wildlife experience that was worth any minor discomfort. Recommend for wildlife lovers.
TANGALLE – Jan 14 - 17
Beautiful beach – pure relaxation! Fabulous private dinner on the beach surrounded by candles and torches for our 24th wedding anniversary. The hotel filled our bathtub with flowers and ringed it with candles as an anniversary surprise.
Accommodations and Meals: Amanwella – Elegant and luxurious villa with private pool in backyard and view of beach from front balcony. The beach is beautiful, though there is a steep drop-off when entering the ocean, so entrance and exit can be tricky due to the waves and you cannot touch bottom unless you want to stand where the waves break. Excellent service and personable staff. As at all Aman resorts, you get little gifts, like straw beach hats. Limited spa services and no gym. Airy beachside café as well as an attractive bar lounge and a restaurant that overlooks the infinity pool and beach with in and outdoor seating. Food and wine are excellent, particularly the fish and seafood, and the patissier is a master, the morning croissants and pastries were exceptional. Try the exclusive Sri Lanka Silver Tips white tea. One of the few places on the trip where I was able to get delicious French-press decaf coffee. Highly Recommend.
GALLE – Jan 17 - 19
Accommodations and Meals: Amangalla – The historic Dutch colonial New Oriental Hotel remade into an exquisite Aman resort in the heart of the old Fort. Our chamber had a spacious sitting room with a view over the rooftops of the Galle Fort and the sea. Amans always feature fabulous bathrooms and this one included a deep old-fashioned tub plus rainfall shower room, double sinks. We were on the third floor and just outside our door was an intimate guests-only bar lounge with a perfect view of the spectacular sunsets. Beautiful pool in a peaceful courtyard with lounge chairs and private Ambalamas. Excellent spa which offers free private hydrotherapy chamber with steam room, sauna, whirlpool and cold plunge bath. Staff couldn’t be more helpful or lovely and the food was excellent. Pastries and coffee not as good as Amanwella, but the local egg hoppers were a delicious treat. Very Highly Recommend.
COLOMBO – Jan 19 – 20
Visit to Ambalangoda where traditional wooden dance masks are made, mask museum; visit to Lunuganga – country home of architect and designer Geoffrey Bawa; baby sea turtle sanctuary; driving tour of Colombo - our favorite spot was Independence Hall
Accommodations and Meals: Tintagel – Historic home of former Prime Minister Bandaranaike and his wife, the world’s first female PM, turned into a stylish boutique hotel in the embassy-rich Cinnamon Gardens neighborhood (district 7). Furnishings and public spaces are stunning. We were on the second floor in the SouthWest suite, with a large, comfortable sitting room and bedroom and balcony shared with the suite across the hall off the front of the building. Bathroom was a bit small for a suite of this size. Lacked an electrical outlet anywhere near a mirror, so hairstyling was a challenge. Service was variable, and in some cases appalling. Very nice gym. Lovely pool in a quiet inner courtyard. Food was exceptional. It was so good that we decided just to have all meals here. They have no liquor license, but will supply a menu in advance so you can order wine or booze from an offsite location that is delivered to the hotel, or bring your own. Gorgeous indoor and outdoor garden dining rooms with the same menu in both. Recommend with some reservations – overpriced considering the service flaws.