Posts Tagged ‘adventure in Sri Lanka’

Tales from Sri Pada


The season of worshipping Sri Pada came to an end for this year with the dawn of ‘Vesak Poya’. Being highly regarded owing to the sacred foot print of the Buddha placed on top of the hill, devotees from all over the country keep visiting the place for five months at a stretch starting from December every year. It is not only the religious significance of the mountain that attracts the visitors there but the very enjoyment derived from the spectacular climb through the jungle around.

The sensational view gained as one ascends the winding path uphill with the vast panorama of the thick jungle and the hilly terrain around interspersed with a few rustic hamlets appearing as mere dots almost keep the viewers spellbound throughout the journey up and down. This is the fact that no doubt drives away the fatigue of climbing the sharp ascent except in the case of the elderly who invariably venture to take the trouble for the sheer devotion and so are naturally helped by their friends or relatives. It is also a very common sight to see how even strangers promptly come forward to help such weak ones, particularly the enthusiastic youth who happen to be in an overjoyed mentality enhanced by the fantastic surroundings.


How the worshipping of the Sri Pada started is a story in the folk lore that goes back to Polonnaruwa era in the history of Sri Lanka nearly 11 centuries ago. This was during the reign of the celebrated king Nissankmalla and the occasion occurred when the flowers in the royal garden began to disappear during the night.

It was a guard with a limp on his foot who was deployed to keep watch and one night he noticed the thieves, a posse of female angels who were picking a large amount of flowers to be carried away. When asked what the flowers were for, they declared that it was to worship the sacred foot print of the Buddha placed on the hill.

Asked whether he too could be shown the way to the place as the king too wished to find it, the angels took the man there on their trail. It is said that this thoughtful man dropped flowers on the way climbing the hill and it was by this that the king subsequently found the way to the peak, which had been hidden in the thick jungle unknown to the devotees.

The angels

Such stories abound related to monks meditating in the wilderness surrounding the hill recorded in many volumes written on their adventurous life. In one of these two monks living in this jungle had received an offering (dana) by a visitor after having survived only by eating leaves of trees and biscuits for three years. When the monks started chanting ‘Dhammaachakkapavaththana sutta’ in order to offer merits to the devotee, one of the two monks saw an amazing spectacle of about twenty female angels clad in multi-coloured dresses sitting around listening to the Pirith. This was a common occurrence as deities normally very much respected this particular sutta containing some most important fact of the Buddha’s dhamma (preaching).

‘Only I saw them. They are transient beings who can travel anywhere in a trice and do whatever they wish. ‘Dhammachcakka sutta’ is one that the deities like very much and that’s why they were present there’ said the monk.

The Lonely visitor

In another instance a monk living in a rock cave in the Sri Pada jungle saw one morning a darkish little man clad in a loin cloth coming into the cave and lying down to sleep. He did not speak to the monk nor did the latter venture to do so. He never batted an eyelid and this revealed that he was a demon. This happened for three month at a stretch and at last he brought an ola-leaf book and offered it to the monk saying. “I brought this to you as a present’. When the monk queried ‘why a present for me?’ his reply was: ‘I live in this jungle and other demons harass me. So I can’t sleep there and came here to sleep peacefully…. They can’t come here because of your mentality of kindness (Maithree) you gain a lot of merit for allowing me to sleep here and that’s why I brought this book for you…. reverend Sir…’ The book contained ‘manthra’ (verses) chanted to dispel demons) and the monk said he had no use for it. The demon disappeared and was never seen thereafter.

The beauty

A gang of young men and women were one day climbing the peak on the Kuruwita road. They were enjoying the trip taking liquor and smoking, and also singing and dancing. They even dared to crack jokes at the devotees climbing down after worshipping and suddenly a pretty young girl among them fell in a faint and this stopped all their fun-making.

As several minutes passed with the group of youth wondering in consternation as to what to do,a monk emerged from the thicket close by and was walking slowly on to the path. The young people worshipped him and pleaded with him to do something about their predicament.

The monk went up to the unconscious girl and looking at her made this vow: (sathyacriya). ‘Looking at this person I get no carnal feelings and by the power of its truth let her recover…’ in no time the girl began to breathe and started talking to her mates.

The Power of dana

Prof J.B. Disanayaka relates the story as to how the name ‘Palabaddala’ on the Ratnapura road came into being. A villager set out to worship the sacred mountain taking a pack of food also. He met a monk on the way with the empty begging bawl and offered the rice in his parcel to him keeping only the rest. As he felt hungry at noon, wishing to have only the remaining part of curries he opened it, and to his amazement found there a complete rice and curry lunch which he was sure happened by he power of god Saman for his merit of offering dana to the monk. As the ‘pala’ (Vegetables) turned into ‘bath’ (rice) the place thereafter became known as ‘palabathdala’.

The floating monk

I another episode I have read in a Sinhala newspaper some years back the young son of a caretaker at the peak happened to be quite alone there one monrning during off-season. As his father had gone home to bring foods stuffs he was preparing some ‘rotis’ for his breakfast suddeny he happened to hear a sound of pirith chanting and coming outside saw a monk sitting on a rock close to the sacred footprint chanting Pirith.

The boy waited until the Pirith was over and went up to the monk to ask him if he could get him the breakfast. The monk agreed and the boy gladly ran back and brought two of his favourite and offered it to his strange visitor. The monk ate the ‘dana’ and offered merit to the boy who then took the plates back to the kitchen.

When he came back after washing the plates, however, there was no sign of the monk, and when he ran up to the edge of the rock what he saw astounded him. The monk was floating down the hill on the air and it was only then that he realized that it was an ‘arahant’ (a monk with mystic powers).

The lone hermit

My personal experience of witnessing a person with psychic powers also relates to one of our trips to Sri Pada during our teenage days. Our team consisted of about five of us and we travelled during one season starting from Colombo by train.

While travelling in the train all of us gathered near a door in order to see the breathtaking view of the hilly landscape around while chattering away on various topics. When we turned to discuss religion Wimal, who was a well-known cynic not believing anything but modern science which he was studying criticised the very journey as a waste of time.

While the train was taking a sharp bend ascending a hill Wimal who was gaily sitting on the footboard of the carriage hit his knee on a rock jutting on to the track as the carriage lurched to that side. He got up with a loud scream and when arrived at Hatton station his knee had swollen like a football.

We were wondering as to what to do and even as the crowd of devotees travelling to Sri Pada were dwindling with the darkfall waited helplessly. Only the station master gave us some ointment to apply on Wimal’s leg which did not produce any relief immediately.

It was at this point a strange looking person with a long grey beard and wearing a white sarong and only a white cloth covering the upper part of his body suddenly appeared out of the darkness and approached our friend saying: Talking nonsense … no … ‘ He then kept his palm on the boy’s head and whispered something in a faint voice.

Wimal fell asleep on the station bench itself and the stranger disappeared walking away among the pilgrims watching the incident in wide-eyed disbelief. The ‘patient’ got up after about half an hour and smiled and said to our amazement, ‘I’m Ok … ‘Let’s go’. And we climbed the peak in the dark fall and Wimal showed no sing of weakness while his swollen leg had become normal when we reached the top of the mountain.



Essential Experiences launches ‘Gourmet Rails’ on Viceroy II

All-new railway tourism concept featuring gastronomic delights, iconic properties and unmatched luxury

By Marianne David

Going beyond sun, sea and sand to offer a high-end gourmet experience on rails in luxurious comfort, Essential Experiences recently launched a concept that is guaranteed to meet the expectations of the most discerning traveller. Adding a new dimension to railway tourism, Essential Experiences’ ‘Gourmet Rails’ is introducing a first-of-its-kind adventure in Sri Lanka where people can discover the country via rail while indulging in gastronomic delights on board the Viceroy II.

This experimental gourmet wine and spirit tour is the brainchild of Essential Experiences Founder/CEO Venushe Wickramarathne, a Sri Lankan born entrepreneur who has made his way back from Switzerland with dreams of setting up shop where he says he heart belongs.

A graduate in hotel and hospitality management (Switzerland), Wickramarathne asserts that ‘Gourmet Rails’ is an experience that will push the boundaries and open up a new dimension in travel experiences in Sri Lanka. “This is a new and unique experience that we can market to the world and it will help draw in high-end customers. We can’t keep saying we are focusing on high-end tourism without having high-end experiences to suit that clientele,” he emphasised. Once he had the experience clearly mapped in his mind, Wickramarathne approached JF Tours and Travels, which owns the Viceroy II – the most luxurious carriage in Sri Lanka at present.
“I have nothing but praise for JF Tours and Travels and its Managing Director Pavithra Fernando.

When I heard they were manufacturing the carriage, I approached them when it was still in the conceptual stage. When I proposed the concept, they backed me to the hilt,” he said. The vintage Viceroy II has been refurbished in period style to reflect an ancient charm compatible with the authentic ‘Viceroy Special’ that made its debut in 1986. The newly-refurbished Viceroy II has a bar, a galley kitchen, high-end sound systems and Wi-Fi facilities and is best described as a unique travel experience. Also on board with Wickramarathne extending support and friendship which has been invaluable is Martin Strauss, a professional wine and spirit educator with a career spanning 40 years. Wickramarathne also expressed his gratitude to some of the key partners on the project: Manoj Rasiah and Rockland Distilleries, Eric and Decanter Wine Holdings, Sujeewa Samarasekara and the Shift Solution team and Yudi   Kanagasabai, CEO of PWC who he terms an unsolicited mentor for backing him when he only had a vision and an idea in his pocket. While the ‘Gourmet Rails’ experience will evolve to feature different places and properties around the island in the months ahead, coming up is a journey to the Closenburg Hotel in Galle. The day tour will start at the Fort Railway Station in the morning, where participants will be served a ‘Regal Champagne’ breakfast as they enjoy the stunning views along Sri Lanka’s coastline on the way to Galle. In Galle, they will travel by luxury coach to the Closenburg Hotel. Here a four-course lunch with matching wines, carefully selected by Strauss, will be served on the Luna Terrace – the new addition to the iconic Closenburg Hotel offering an absolutely beautiful view of the southern seas. The hotel stay will last around five hours, ensuring there’s plenty of time to have a swim and do some exploring.

The best is always saved for the last, where participants will indulge in a whiskey tasting experience on the way back to Colombo on the carriage, which includes some of the finest single malts available in Sri Lanka presented by Strauss. “With ‘Gourmet Rails,’ we will be highlighting the Sri Lankan heritage and culture and discovering Sri Lanka’s iconic properties. Some people have never even travelled by train before and this is a unique way of delivering an experience,” he said. Wickramarathne, a Royalist, is among the young Sri Lankans championing change and introducing new concepts to the country, a man who doesn’t shy away from hard work and firmly believes nothing is impossible once you set your mind to it. “This is just the start and it’s about creating a whole new culture. Essential Experiences has plans in the pipeline to go big and capture the experiential market and show the outside world Sri Lanka is ready to handle high-end clients,” he affirmed.

The Essential Experiences CEO also believes in giving young people a fair chance in life and doing things the right way, which led him to hire the staff for the ‘Gourmet Rails’ operation from the Ceylon Hotel School and other hospitality schools by offering them internships along with work contracts – breaking away from the habit of paying daily wages and ensuring job security as a result of his approach. Outlining future plans, Wickramarathne revealed that apart from ‘Gourmet Rails,’ his hospitality consulting company has partnered up with  Damastrategy, a highly renowned F&B and hospitality consulting company based out of Genova, Italy, and will be opening up some restaurants and bars in the near future, bringing Foreign Direct Investment into the country. ‘Gourmet Rails’ is operational now and with hoteliers just as excited as Wickramarathne about the new railway tourism concept, bookings are flowing in for the experiences that have been lined up. Apart from Galle, other destinations that are on the cards right now include Kandy, Habarana, Nanu Oya, the tea trails and Passekudah, to name a few. Hop on board for scenic journeys featuring gastronomic delights, iconic properties and unmatched luxury.

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