I had two trips round the country in 1980, taking advantage of the visits of friends not only to see established tourist sites, but also to explore routes off the beaten track. We had, I felt, ‘the greatest compass of beauty in a small space” to use a phrase that figured in one of the Diaries I wrote a few years later for the New Lankan Review. I am sorry that such a description is not used in our tourist literature, for it is certainly true, in terms of both landscape as well as man’s creations. The dagobas of Anuradhapura at twilight, the grace of the Gal Vihara even at the hottest time of the day, Sigiriya’s looming mass at dawn are only the highlights of a set of extraordinary constructions, the superbly preserved Dutch forts, the multi-religious structure of Lankatilleke and its neighbours, the exquisite wooden bridge in Badulla.
And then, to be able to move from both luscious and bleak plains in a few hours to hills piling up on each other in a myriad different ways, the sharp climb from Mahiyanaga, the regal sudden rise up Kadugannawa, the slow placid ascent through Balana, the dramatic drive from Wellawaya to Ella, the relentless curves on the Ginigathena route, provides a range of pleasures which elsewhere would require much more time and effort.
In my childhood we had not seen much of the countryside, for my father was not a great traveler, and I suppose with a family of young children, it made sense to get to one’s destination as quickly as possible, on the rare occasions we went on holiday together. We flew on my father’s warrants to both Jaffna and Amparai, and occasionally took the night mail, in the days when one could travel in berths in great comfort. Otherwise there were just a few excursions I remember from the sixties, one to the ancient cities with an Indian friend, one to Jaffna with Hope Todd when he worked for the Tourist Board.