It’s only 6 a.m. on this barmy Sunday morning. Our drive up and down the Mannar causeway in search of flamingos was futile. Except for some waders and an awesome sunrise reflecting off the water, there was nothing much to see. 

Since the day was still young, we decided to drive into the Mannar Fort, which is located right off the causeway.

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Galle is famous for its ancient historical Fort, sunny beaches, blue-green sea and kitsch temples. But I discovered another fascinating place to visit, the Handunugoda Tea Estate, home of the rare and real virgin white teas.

Located less than 30 minutes from the Galle Fort, the road to the estate is winding and circuitous, and if not for trusted Google Maps I would very well have got lost!  

Herman Gunaratne

But I make it in time to meet with an old friend and owner of this estate, the inimitable Herman Gunaratne, fondly referred to as the Prince of Ruhunu. 

After a chat over a perfectly brewed cup of Oolong tea, I follow Herman on a tour of the tea plantation that gained worldwide attention with the launch of the Virgin White Tea factory. As we walk across the tea fields, Herman starts by narrating the history behind the virgin white teas. 

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Colombo is like a throbbing pulse. Busy, bustling, and bursting at its seams. Nevertheless, this capital city is full of surprises; breathtaking, mysterious and fascinating.

Colombo is also home to four of the oldest and intriguing places of worship belonging to the four main religions in Sri Lanka, and I am on a journey with Arshad, my most learned guide, to discover the history and evolution that make these places so revered.

Seema Malaka

I start at Seema Malaka, the floating Buddhist monastery on one of Colombo’s oldest waterways, the Beira Lake. It is a sublime and serene surrounding where Buddhists come to meditate, offer flowers and light incense sticks.

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Vastly ignored and hardly appreciated, the Nalanda Gedige, once the most central point in ancient Ceylon is a remarkable archaeological site with an interesting story, some fascinating carvings and historical significance.  

According to former Commissioner of Archaeology, Prof. Senerath Paranavitana, there is inscriptional evidence that this was built during the 8th and 9th centuries as an ancient Hindu temple. The Dravidian-style (Pallava) architecture is dedicated to a Mahayana cult with Tantric learning. Subsequently, it is believed to have been used by Buddhist monks. 

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“Epic”. “Stunning”. “Awesome”. “Scenic”. “Asia’s Best”

These are just some of the adjectives used to describe the train ride from Colombo to Ella and a reason to find out for myself.

It is 5.55 a.m on this Friday morning when 35 like-minded friends and adventurers meet (and greet) at Colombo’s Fort Railway Station to catch the “Podimenike” train heading towards Badulla. The railway station is abuzz with activity as travelers’ scramble to get on board this ten-carriage train.

Three hours later we reach Kandy, and hereon, for the next six hours, is where the scenery changes into some of the most stunning sights one can experience on a train ride. At Rambukkana, the train begins its steep climb into the hills.

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