In an effort to take advantage of the high tourist interest in Sri Lanka, Taj Group has launched a package that lets tourists take a close look at the nature, culture and people of the island nation famed as 'Serindip' for centuries.
'Best of Sri Lanka,' calendared from April to September, is structured to take visitors in the shortest possible time to sandy beaches, hilly and verdant middle country and religious places mainly connected with Buddhism.
The tour also gives tourists an idea of the island's colonial past. The itinerary includes forts, palaces, manor houses and churches that represent the Portuguese, Dutch and English influence on Sri Lanka's past.
The package has four plans -- ranging from four days to seven days. The scheme includes accommodation in standard hotels -- mostly Taj properties around the country -- buffet breakfast and dinner, transportation and an English speaking guide, said Praveen Nair, general manager, Taj Samudra, Colombo.
Places covered by the circuit include the West Coast beach resort Bentota; ancient port town Galle down south, now a world heritage; and the middle country Kandy, the last Sinhalese royal seat famed worldwide for the temple that treasures the tooth relic of the Buddha.
The plan covers such never-to-forget spots like the elephant orphanage at Pinnewala which looks after 60 odd pachyderms; Kandalama, known for rare medicinal plants and visited by a variety of birds; and the Sigirya fort built by the fifth century king Kashyapa.
"The advantage of Sri Lanka is that it offers all that holiday-makers look forward to --nature, culture and adventure," said T Damu, vice-president, corporate affairs, Taj Group.
A keen student of the cultural history of the island and thr author of 'A Journey through Serendweep,' Damu held that Sri Lanka would never fail Indian tourists because of its close historical and cultural ties with India.
Taj's get-away package takes visitors to the turtle hatchery in Kosgoda, mask-carvers' hamlet at Ambalangoda, city tours of Galle and Colombo and the island nation's popular hill resort Nuwara Eliya.
Ambalangoda is a charming seaside village where craftsmen have preserved centuries old mask-making art, retaining the traditional purity and quality.
Ambalangoda masks are painstakingly carved in wood and carry natural colours; they were once used for folk dances -- closely resembling the Theyyam ritual of north Kerala -- and exorcistic rituals.
Kosgoda turtle hatchery has helped preserve millions of turtles including such endangered breeds as Hawks bill.
Nestled in verdant hills and blessed with streams and rivers, Kandy bears the imprint of legends, traditions and folklore with the tooth relic temple being the focus of the destination.
Besides the scheduled destinations, vast stretches of paddy fields, coconut groves, mango gardens, blooming flower plants, rivers and streams represent a never-ending feast for the eyes.
Of late, there has been a steady increase in Indian tourists to Sri Lanka with the total number of visitors touching 66,000 in 2002-03 and 78,000 in 2003-04, Nair told a team of visiting journalists from Kerala.
Having tied up with leading carriers including Sri Lankan Airlines, 'Best of Sri Lanka' has received encouraging response in the initial month itself, Nair said.