Staff Review – Cycle the Backroads of Sri Lanka by our local leader Peter Bluck
My cycling career with Exodus began back in 1995 with designing and leading mountain biking trips in Sri Lanka. Having discovered the charm and vibrancy of Southern India in the late 90’s we put together our hugely popular Kerala and Tropical India cycling trip covering the three colourful southern states. But having lived in Sri Lanka since 1993 it was a natural progression to design a brand new exciting road ride here.
Ayubowan (meaning welcome): a heartfelt greeting from Sri Lanka, Asia’s best-kept secret! Sri Lanka is the latest ‘in’ travel destination and now is the time to visit before hordes of less discerning tourists crowd the pristine beaches and alter the taste of our piquet curries. Exodus’ new ‘Cycle the Backroads of Sri Lanka’ trip combines the highlights you would find in any travel guidebook, linked by quiet backroads, with pleasant hotels, great food and cold beer. Spending the first two nights at Sigiriya, a spectacular rock fortress, you can unwind by the pool before a leisurely warm up ride around the surrounding countryside.
The cycling begins in earnest along flat irrigation canal paths, linking scenic man-made lakes to verdant rice fields and ending at Dambulla cave temple, built in the 2nd century. Now a World Heritage site, its history is literally carved in stone along with thousands of painted Buddhas adorning the ceiling.
Jungle-covered forest roads take you to Polonnaruwa, the best preserved of the ancient cities, where you spend the night on the shores of the giant lake known as the sea of Parukuda. From here you head to Nalanda in the heart of the spice growing region, where you stay overnight on an old pepper estate and sample some tasty home cooking with freshly ground spices and richly flavoured curries. This is a truly Sri Lankan experience! A half-day’s ride takes you on to Kandy, the cultural and spiritual capital of the hill country where there is a relaxing free day to explore the town.
Next up is Nuwara Eliya, the highest and most favoured of the hill stations and former summer capital of the Raj, famed for its high grown tea and cool mountain air. You can either ride up the stunning Dumbara Valley or take the easy option and jump on the train. Surrounded by tea fields you drop 1000m, riding down spectacular winding mountain roads to Ella with magnificent views en route and the chance to visit one of the tea factories for a refreshing cuppa.
Cycling down the Ella gap you descend another 1000m to Tissa on the boarder of Yala National Park. Two nights are spent in the old southern kingdom capital with time to visit the nearby game park and Kataragama, a powerful Hindu temple famous for its healing rituals and colourful night poojas. The final ride follows the old coast road to Bundula bird sanctuary where thousands of flamingos gather, all watched closely by hungry mugger crocodiles. With the cycling completed, you are rewarded with a day to chill out at the beach before heading back to Colombo for a walk around the old rampart and streets.
I never miss a chance to praise the country I love and am very much looking forward to leading these new trips, introducing you to Sri Lanka’s charming people, endearing smiles, enchanting ruins and varied countryside. If you have enjoyed Southern India you will love Sri Lanka, and if you have yet to experience a cycling holiday in Asia then this is the trip for you!
Exodus Local operator Peter Bluck