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Cricket legend Ian Botham takes his grandchildren to Sri Lanka
- England’s leading wicket taker first visited Sri Lanka to play cricket in 1982
- This time, he took his grandchildren for a sunshine holiday of beach fishing
- He has a particular fondness for Kandy, with its famous Buddhist temple
My initial impression of Sri Lanka? Hot.
I first visited in 1982 – when England played their first test match against Sri Lanka in Colombo.
Then we went and played in Kandy, in the central province, and it has become one of my favourite places in the whole country. It’s home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa), and is the most important spot for Sri Lanka’s Buddhist community.
The whole town is steeped in history. It’s always been one of the country’s major trading places, and there are beautiful temples and tea plantations. It must be part of your itinerary.
A family favourite: Ian Botham has spent time with his grandchildren in Sri Lanka – and has long found Kandy (right), where the Temple of the Tooth Relic is an important Buddhist landmark – to be one of its greatest cities
I only really started to fall in love with the country on coming back to commentate. As a player we were never in one place long enough.
I visited the south at the start of 2004, just after the tsunami. It was horrendous, with bodies still being pulled from the rubble. Since then, Laureus Sport for Good Foundation (I’m an ambassador for the organisation) has worked with the Sri Lanka-based Foundation of Goodness and built the Southern Project in Seenigama, an area which was devastated by the huge wave.
There’s a brand new school, a cricket oval and an Olympic-sized pool. The pool was paid for by rock singer Bryan Adams, who offered to help fund the sports complex after reading about the destruction wreaked by the tsunami, and locals have named it the Bryan Adams Pool in his honour.
It’s hard to believe that when I first visited, the railway line – and a train – were 400 yards away in a coconut tree.
It was this project which inspired me to undertake last year’s sponsored walk. I managed 160 miles, from the north to the south of the island, in eight days. The aim was to raise money and mirror what’s been done in the south – because the north was devastated by the civil war and has suffered terribly.
The north has so much to offer – it’s Sri Lanka’s next booming tourism centre. The main draw are the beaches – they’re sensational.
There are new hotels and railways being built and the airport at Jaffna, the capital city of the northern province, is being renovated. It should establish itself within five years. Anuradhapura – the capital of the north central province – and Mihintale, which is the birthplace of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, have beautiful stupas and temples which put Angkor Wat to shame – well, almost.
They are within what’s known as Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle.
Splendid: The south coast of Sri Lanka has glorious beaches – and has recovered from the tsunami of 2004
This area’s most spectacular landmark is the Sigiriya rock fortress – an enormous, 200-metre-high lump of stone. In 480 AD, a Sri Lankan king built his castle atop the rock. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and Sri Lankans call it the eighth wonder of the world.
I climbed it on my first cricket tour and was amazed. So much that, while taking a photo, I accidentally knocked over the bottle of water I’d diligently carried to the top. I remember watching in horror as it rolled over the edge and tumbled out of sight.
I’ve visited Sri Lanka with my family several times. Some of the most memorable trips have been with my wife and the grandchildren.
It’s incredibly child-friendly – as child-friendly as destinations like Spain or the Caribbean. We wanted to show the grandchildren that life isn’t easy, that terrible things happen but you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and carry on.
The Sri Lankans are the best example of this – they’re always smiling and there’s no bitterness about the unfair hand they’ve been dealt, with the civil war and tsunami.
They are the reason my wife Kath and I keep returning.
We’ve spent a lot of time in the capital, Colombo, which is a fantastic, progressive city, with great hotels and restaurants. We like Lagoon, the restaurant at the Cinnamon Grand hotel, where you choose your seafood from a huge display and the chefs cook it however you want.
The grandchildren loved it – they would compete to find the biggest fish.
Other great restaurants in the capital are the Ministry of Crab, which is owned by Sri Lankan cricketers Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, and the Park Street Mews restaurant, which blends Sri Lankan and European cuisine.
I’ve probably spent most time in the south, in coastal towns like Galle and Weligama. In Weligama, we rented a villa and just chill out – I love watching the stilt fishermen balancing on their poles.
Inviting: Kandy, at the very heart of this tropical island, is Sri Lanka at its most intriguing
I’ve spent hours walking around Galle fort, which is a walled city. The locals have incredible stories to tell about the day the tsunami hit – how they could see the wave coming and ran inside the fort, emerging hours later to find the rest of the city in ruins.
The fort was built by the Portuguese in the 14th century and it split the wave and saved thousands of lives. Nobody inside died – you can walk around inside and see these old shops and restaurants which weren’t even affected.
The grandchildren also adored Weligama, where they fished, rode in tuk-tuks, played on the beaches and spotted turtles.
One day was spent just fishing on the beach.
One of my grandchildren, James, is extremely competitive – he simply has to beat his younger sister at everything.
James had spent all day waiting for a bite. He put down the rod while he nipped to the loo and his sister Imani-Jayne picked up the rod and caught a fish within seconds. James was livid.
My advice for anyone considering a visit to Sri Lanka? Do it. It is all there to be explored.
Tourism on the south coast is well-established. The east and west coasts are becoming more established, and the north will soon be the next big tourism destination.
What’s more, you don’t have to walk everywhere – like I did.
Travel Facts: Plan your own tour of Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan Airlines (www.srilankan.com, 020 8538 2000) flies daily (apart from Saturdays and Sundays, when there are two flights a day) to Colombo from London Heathrow. Prices from £613.
Find more about the work of Laureus Sport for Good Foundation at www.laureus.com
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is situated northwest of the town of Kegalle, halfway between the present capital Colombo and the ancient royal residence in Kandy. It was established in 1975 by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Department in a 25 acre coconut property adjoining the Maha Oya River.
The orphanage was originally founded in order to afford care and protection to the many orphaned Elephants found in the jungles of Sri Lanka.
In 1978 the orphanage was taken over by the National Zoological Gardens from the Department of Wildlife. A captive breeding program was launched in 1982. Since the inception of the program over 20 elephants have been bred here. The aim of the orphanage is to simulate a natural habitat to these elephants. However, there are some exceptions: the elephants are taken to the river twice a day for a bath, and all the babies less than three years of age are still bottle fed by the mahouts and volunteers.
Each animal is also given around 76 kg of green matter a day and around 2 kg from a food bag containing rice bran and maize. The orphanage which boasts to have the largest herd of captive elephants in the world is very popular and visited daily by many Sri Lankan and foreign tourists. The main attraction is clearly to observe the elephants bathing which is quite a spectacle.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage Sri Lanka Location
Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage is located in the village Pinnawala in the district of Kegalle at a distance of 90km from Colombo.
Reaching Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage
Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage can be reached via the A1 Colombo – Kandy main road. A turn off at the 82 km post at Kegalle leads you to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. The closest railway station is at Rambukkana 2km away from the village of Pinnawala.
History of the Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage
In the very beginning, in 1972, the orphanage was located at the Wilpattu National Park. Subsequently, the orphanage was shifted to the National Holiday Resort at Bentota Beach in the south-western coastal belt and then to the Dehiwala Zoo, 11km south of Colombo. In the year 1975, the Department of Wildlife of Sri Lanka set up its present home: Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala, Kegalle. Since then it never turned back on an orphaned elephant: it welcomed all and expanded from 4 orphaned elephants to a gang of no less than 109.
The purpose of Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
The primary purpose of the orphanage has been to provide a lifeline to the orphaned baby elephants and adult elephants lost in the wilderness. In many occasions, the mother of the orphaned baby elephant had been killed or there have been accidents of baby elephants falling into pits and losing out to the herd. There were also instances the mother elephant had fallen into a pit and died leaving the baby elephant lost in the jungle. There are instances of adult elephants being killed by farmers to protect their paddy fields and crops resulting in baby elephants being orphaned.
The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was launched to provide the best possible opportunity to the sad victims of such situations. Captive breeding at Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage
The elephants at the Orphanage aren’t subjected to any form of stress, abuse or threat at all and are supported by a team of employees numbering to over 100 including a group of mahouts.
The free movement of the herd within the enclosed land of the orphanage affords the elephants opportunities to mate. In 1984, the first baby elephant of Pinnawela was born. Today some of these orphans enjoy the good fortune of seeing their third generation too born at the orphanage.
Moreover, today, with the help of local and foreign elephant experts, the Orphanage has commenced a scientific captive-breeding programme for Elephants. Since then the orphanage has become one of the most successful captive breeding programmes for Asian elephants.
The decimation of the Elephant Population by the British Colonialists
Prior to the invasion of the British in Sri Lanka in 1815, an estimated 30,000 elephants lived on the island. In the 1960s, following nearly a century of game hunting and jolly slaughter by the British colonialists, the elephant population was close to extinction. The tragedy of decimation of the elephant population prompted the Government of Sri Lanka to initiate the Pinnawala (Pinnawela) Elephant Orphanage. The good news is elephants are still not extinct and the number of elephants living in Sri Lankan wilderness exceeds 3,000.
Times to visit the Orphanage The centre opens at 8.30 in the morning and closes at 6pm daily. Bottle feeding is at 9.15am, 1.15pm & 5pm and bathing times at the river is at 10am and 2pm.
The bathing hours are followed up by the feeding hour at the main center of the orphanage. Baby elephants are bottle fed. Selected visitors have a chance of bottle feeding milk to the baby elephants.
The Success Story of Pinnawala
The success story of Pinnawala has drawn the attention of animal activists and scientists from all over the world. A considerable number of books and research articles on Pinnawala have been published in several languages. The elephants of the Pinnawala herd have been filmed, videoed and photographed thousands of times by professionals, and millions of times by amateurs. The message of conservation from Pinnawala has been passed on to thousands, if not millions of people, after their visit to the orphanage.
Daily features of Interest at the Pinnawala Orphanage
08.30 hours – Open to visitors
09.15 hours – Bottle feeding
10.00 hours – Herd leaving to the river
12.00 hours – Return from the river
13.15 hours – Bottle feeding
14.00 hours – Herd leaving to the river
16.00 hours – Return from the river
17.00 hours – Bottle feeding
17.30 hours – Ticket counters close
18.00 hours – Close to public
Pinnawala Entrance Ticket Fees
Foreign Adult – approx USD 16
Foreign Child – approx USD 8
Sri Lanka Weather, Climate and Customs
Si Lanka has two main seasons with about a month “change over” between them.
Summer sees the prominent wind coming from the south west which makes the east coast ideal for surfing and watersports holidays. This leaves the south west coast more “tourist free” and you can have some great deals especially with the coastal river safaris and taking your time to explore the coastal towns – each with their own character and attractions.
Winter sees the prevailing wind from the north east, which allows the south west coast to shine with watersports and beach activities. Hikkaduwa’s famous party season is on the beach for all of the winter!. The offshore winds clear the under ocean viability making for some great diving.
The northern hemisphere summer “Yala monsoon” brings onshore winds to the south west coast of the island from April through to September.
The winter “maha monsoon” blows on the east side of the island from November through to March.
The south west coast usually sees the rainy season for a few weeks between mid October and mid November. This is a great time to see thunder storms in between sun bathing sessions.
The religious calendar has a part to play on some of the country’s attractions. Adam’s Peak, for example, becomes the site of a massive pilgrimage between December to May. At this time you can visit one of Sri Lanka’s most important religious sites at its most atmospheric, as well as embark on a pretty impressive climb, with awesome photography opportunities.
Each month there are special days called “poya days” where various religious ceremonies can be experienced. Otherwise, the tourist hotels carry on as normal.
Mihintale is a must see in Sri Lanka. The temples, caves and water tanks are all fascinating and the views incredible. There are areas adjacent to the main temple which are often missed and deserve exploring
Mihintale is a mountain peak near Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. It is believed by Sri Lankans to be the site of a meeting between the Buddhist monk Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa which inaugurated the presence of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. It is now a pilgrimage site, and the site of several religious monuments and abandoned structures.
The main shrine of Mihintale is located in the Relic House, a climb of 1,840 cut steps. Of special interest is The Vedahala or ‘medical hall’ – an ancient hospital. It has been restored and visitors are allowed to view the premises consisting of four rooms: the consulting room, room for preparations and storage and a room for hot water baths. There are several stupas in the area creating an atmosphere of reverence as well as ancient ponds and sculptures.
Eight miles east of Anuradhapura, close to the Anuradhapura – Trincomalee Road is situated the “Missaka Pabbata” which is 1,000 feet (300 m) in height and is one of the peaks of a mountainous range.
According to Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, Thera Mahinda came to Sri Lanka from India on the full moon day of the month of Poson (June) and met King Devanampiyatissa and the people, and preached the doctrine. The traditional spot where this meeting took place is revered by the Buddhists of Sri Lanka.
in the month of Poson, Buddhists make their pilgrimage to Anuradhapura and Mihintale.
“Mahinda” was the son of Emperor Ashoka of India. King Ashoka embraced Buddhism after he was inspired by a very small monk named “Nigrodha.” The King who was in great misery after seeing the loss of life caused by his waging wars to expand his empire, was struck by the peaceful countenance of such a young monk. Meeting this young monk made a turning point in his life and he thereafter, renounced wars. He was determined to spread the message of peace, to neutralize the effects from the damages caused by him through his warfare. As a result, both his son and daughter were ordained as Buddha disciples, and became enlightened as Arahats. In his quest to spread the message of peace instead of war, he sent his son Mahinda, to the island of Lanka, which was also known as “Sinhalé”.
This island was being ruled by his pen friend King Devanampiyatissa. Thus, “Mahinda” was the exclusive Indian name which in Sinhalé, became commonly known as “Mihindu” in the local vernacular “Sinhala”.
In Sinhala Mihin-Thalé literally means the “plateau of Mihindu”. This plateau is the flat terrain on top of a hill from where Arahat Mihindu was supposed to have called King Devanampiyatissa, by the King’s first name to stop him shooting a deer in flight.
“Mihin Thalé” is a specifically Sinhala term. This is how the place has been called and still is, in the local vernacular “Sinhala”. A study of the local vernacular will give ample proof for this.
It is said have been called Cetiyagiri or Sagiri, even though it was more popularly known as Mihintale – the cradle of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
From ancient times a large number of large steps were constructed to climb Mihintale. It is stated that King Devanampiyatissa constructed a vihara and 68 caves for the bhikkhus to reside in. At Mihintale there gradually grew a number of Buddhist viharas with all the dependent buildings characteristic of monasteries of that period.
A view toward entrance from top.
At the foot of the mountain are the ruins of a hospital, medical bath (or stone canoe in which patients were immersed in medicinal oil) a stone inscription and urns belonging to the ancient period have been unearthed. Between the hospital and the steps leading to the rock are the ruins of a large monastery. On the floors of the square building which is 125 feet (38 m) on one side, are beautiful carvings and also are stone balustrades and guard stones. As this side is precipitous, the steps are on the eastern side of the slope, spacious and in 4 sections. The stairway has 1840 steps made of granite, leading to the summit. At the end of the first set of steps on the right side of the plain, is a small mountain peak. On this is situated the most famous Kantaka Cetiya.
Kantaka Cetiya Vaahalkada.
Kantaka Cetiya is a circular stupa having a base circumference of about 425 feet. It has three stepped rims. It has four frontispieces in the four cardinal directions. The frontispiece is called Vaahalkada. All the Vaahalkadas are decorated with sculptures of dwarfs, animals, human, divine figures and floral motifs. One of the most important of the sculptures on the Kantaka Cethiya Vaahalkada is the elephant headed God with two arms. The Saivites call it Ganapati or Ganeesaa. The Ganapati sculptures in the Vaahalkadas of the Kantaka Cetiya have created confusion among the archaeologists and historians. No one could not explain the connection between Ganapati God and Buddhism. Thus, the Sinhalese historians and archaeologists have tried to give some imaginary interpretation.
The four vahaalkadas facing the four cardinal points have different animals on the top of the square pillars – the elephant on the east, the lion on the north, the horse on the west and the bull on the south.
Most of the Indian and Sri Lankan archaeologists believe that there is a symbolic relationship between these animals and the four cardinal directions. But, they differ in associating a particular animal with a particular direction.
In a moonstone of Sri Lanka and the Lion Capital of Saranath, we find these four animals sculptured in the moving position. At the same time, in the coins collected in the Northern mainland of Sri Lanka, Jaffna peninsula and Akurugoda of Rununa, we find the following symbols marked on them:
- the Lion on one side, and a group of four dots placed in the form of a square at the centre of a circle on the other side
- the Horse on one side and a group of four dots placed in the form of a square at the centre of a circle on the other side
- the Bull on one side and a group of four dots placed in the form of a square at the centre of a circle on the other side.
In the Northern and southern Sri Lanka, coins having a bull on one side and an elephant on the other side have been discovered. In India coins with a bull on one side and a lion on the other side have been discovered.
The animals lion, horse and bull are associated with the very same group of four things. Therefore, the animals lion, horse and bull must symbolize a human who is associated with a group of four things.
One could come to the conclusion that the four animals lion, horse, elephant and bull symbolize Lord Buddha who is associated with the Four Noble Truths.
The Sinhalese archaeologists and historians say that King Suratissa built this Stupa. The Pesavalalu and the frontispiece have been preserved to a great extent. There are ruins of the stupa which are 40 ft (12 m) in height. The monks would have resided in the caves close to the stupa. As this stupa was renovated by King Lajjitissa. There is no doubt that this belongs to the 1st century B.C.
The Courtyard is situated at the end of the third flight of steps. To the left of the courtyard is the refectory. The quadrangle is 62 feet (19 m) in length and 25 ft (7.6 m) in breadth and is surrounded by the storeroom. Since a part of a pipe line has been discovered here, it can be concluded that a systematic and well planned pipe borne scheme was provided. Two stone troughs can be seen here, which would have been used to store food close to the refectory.
Mihintale Slab Inscriptions.
On either side of the entrance to a building, are 2 inscriptions engraved on 2 large slabs of granite known as the Mihintale stone inscriptions. The rules and regulations pertaining to the administrative purposes of the monastery are engraved on these 2 stone slabs. This inscription installed by King Mihindu (956 – 976 AD) contains records of payments made to the service staff. In the vicinity on another plain is the meeting hall of the monks. Here the monks met, to discuss the Dhamma and the Vinaya. This is an open building which is 62 feet (19 m) square and was constructed on 48 stone pillars. In the middle of the hall is a platform with 4 entrances.
To the East of the refectory is a stupa, 88 feet (27 m) in circumference. It has not been identified so far.
Ambasthala Dagaba, a small stupa surrounded with stone pillars.
Is situated on the plain close to the peak of the mountain, and is said to have been built by King Makalantissa. The ruins show that there has been a house built encircling the stupa. The Dagaba itself is said to enshrine the relics of the great Apostle Mahinda. It is here that King Devanampiyatissa first met Arahant Mahinda. The traditional spot where this meeting took place is marked by the Ambasthala Dagaba.
The Cave of Arahant Mahinda
When proceeding from Ambastala dagaba along the narrow road, on the slope is the cave known as Mihindu Guhawa or the cave of Arahant Mahinda, where he resided. Out of the caves the most famous and incidentally the most sacred to Buddhists is this cave with its flattened slab on which Thera Mahinda was accustomed to rest.
This large stupa known as the Maha Seya is on the summit of the Mihintale hill, built by King Mahadathika Mahanaga (7-19 AD) the base of which is 136 ft (41 m) in diameter. The stupa which was in a dilapidated condition was completely restored.
Aradhana Gala, where the Arahant Mahinda landed.
Which faces Maha Seya is on a summit of a hill. Even during very windy weather pilgrims do not fail to visit this rock, which has iron railings to help them to climb. In the ancient books such as the Mahavamsa it is written that Mahinda came to Sri Lanka by travelling through the air. He came down and landed at Sri Lanka on the top of the Aradhana Gala.
Is also one of the famous ponds at Mihintale. The name is derived from the fact that the water in the pond appears to be black in colour. It is believed that on new moon day Kalu Buddha Rakkhita Thera sat under the Thimbiriya tree, close to the Kaludiya Pokuna, preached on sermon based on Kalakarama Sutta. The word “Kalu” means black. The word “diya” means water, and the word “pokuna” means pond.
Naga Pokuna Passing Ambasthalaya on the western side are a flight of steps. When going down the steps one could see the Naga Pokuna. Its name is derived as there are figures of snakes with their hoods spread out in the back ground and is one of the most famous ponds.
Mahavansa mentions a pond named Nagacatuska connected with the information regarding the arrival of Thera Mahinda in Sri Lanka. Also the chronicle record much later that king Aggabodhi I (575-608 AD) caused to have built a pond named Nagasondi. On this information it can be assumed that the natural pond known as Nagacatusca had been converted to a man made pond by king Aggabodhi. Filled by rain water, this pond has been supplying water to the Lion pond, Alms hall and for the daily needs of the Mihintala monks.
Since there is a statue of lion standing with two legs the name of Singha Pokuna has been in usage. This is the place that collected water for the use of bikkhus. Water had been supplied from Naga Pokuna through a tunnel.
Minhitale is a beautiful and serene place where Mahinda, son of the Indian King Asoka, converted King Devanampiya Tissa to Buddhism in 3rd century BC. This “sacred Hill of Mihintale” is less visited than the sites of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura, but should be a must see because of its history, scenery and serenity. Visit in the morning preferably as it gets very hot. No shoes allowed. The visit should take a couple of hours with a good guide. For the more daring, a climb to Aradhana Gala (Meditation Rock) is worth the effort From the top, the view over the plain, the Dagoba and the Buddha statue is breathtaking.