The SLA & LSR Adventure; Day 15 to 17, Cycling from Glencairn to Koslanda

During 2014 the Trek and Run team joined others to cycle and trek over 650kms, coast to coast across Sri Lanka. We were supported on our journey by the following companies, who provided the resources we needed to make the best of our time there.

A soft mist hung over the lake below the bungalow; I rose early and tried to make some pinholes photos, aware and honored that Julia Margaret Cameron had probably been engulfed in these same scenes over 100 years ago. Had been overcome with the same sense of melancholy, isolation, joy, inspiration. The heavy air reminded me that the day was to be a hot one, again; I was lucky to be on a bike moving through this country, the cool breeze created as we went made days spent in 30 degree heat and 85% humidity bearable, much more so than if we’d have been hiking all the time.

The water level was low, brown banks and a fine red dust told tales of the dry season. A hint of woodsmoke and women’s voices singing lingered among the tea bushes.

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Immediately we began cycling we were among the tea fields, labouring the uphills and freewheeling the down. What scenes we passed, the growing and weighing of tea, the iridescent green blanket covering every spare piece of mountainside, the busy collection points, the smiling women. Like an Orientalists fantasy of how life is in the East, except here is actually is like this.

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After an hour we passed Julia Margaret Cameron’s grave. The Reverend of the church didn’t know of her reputation as a Victorian photography great yet mentioned that many tourists visited it, the previous month there’d been a couple from England and the month before a man from Australia. The grave was unkempt…

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…and as I took artistamp photos a swarm of bees descended and chased me into the church, where the Reverend and LH, my guide, had been waiting.

We cycled on, up past more tea pickers and beautiful views, before hitting out first large descent of the day, a 25km blast down a clear, tarmacked road, often cutting through Euyalyptus forest noisy with cicada.

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The road was traffic free, except for a single bus. There were dramatic views off to our right, and a lunch stop spent among a group of lads who were drumming and singing in a shady roadside pagoda, and then the highlight of the day, another 2 hours of descent on a mix of trail shrouded in pine trees and a fast, rural tar road, weaving among kids in bright white shirts and blue shorts on their way home from school and firewood carrying ladies with the landmark known as World’s End towering over the left hand fields, leading us all the way into Belihuloya.

Two days later, having rested and enjoyed a day off exploring a tea estate village, we set off on another ride that would involve another long, winding descent, taking us from the hot highlands to the even hotter eastern lowlands. The first 20k was slightly uphill, however, on a smooth road with light traffic…

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…passing a University that exists purely for teaching Japanese students, the site of a recent devastating landslide, a few classic old English cars…

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…and also a lady who was something of a local landmark. She sat by the roadside every day, LH explained, and buses stop by her to allow the conductors to get off and offer her 10 rupees to receive her blessings. Ten minutes after we’d seen the lady we stopped for flower tea at one of the numerous roadside tea, snacks and fruit stalls that we came across constantly. Refueling whilst cycling in Sri Lanka is certainly an easy and pleasant thing to do!

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A kettle was boiling over a clay oven, the shy daughter of the lady owner cut bananas for us and then we were off once again, enjoying the breeze.

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I saw a fine view – they were all around – and I stopped the bike and our team van and asked to get my camera out. Ahead was a police road block, where the officers were busy extracting money from random motorists. They saw our van parked on a corner, waiting for me to take a photo, and when we passed them minutes later they demanded a bribe, for stopping on a corner. We sat nearby as our driver bargained. Another officer continued to pull over other motorists, demanding money for nothing at all. It was terrible to see, life is tough enough here for people when it comes to earning a living, they don’t need these official vultures preying on them to make it all the more difficult.

Our driver came away from the officer smiling, he was experienced in dealing with such matters and had got off with just offering the police a bottle of Arak, the local coconut spirit alcohol.

“I told them you were a writer,” he said, “who was going to publish the story in the foreign papers, they lowered their demands when they heard that…”

Then came a glorious 25km of downhill, through the most beautiful countryside.

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The road used to be the main route in the time of British rule, people would pass here on horseback and to make this more pleasant often the road was shaded with huge, overhanging trees. It was such a fullfilling ride, made all the more special by our end destination, the eco lodge as Koslanda.

When I’d heard we were staying as Koslanda I had tried to google the town. No joy. I had tried to find out more about the place we were due to stay, no luck at all. So when we turned off the shady road onto a very rutted dirt track that led us past tumbledown shacks, I had low expectations. They were about to be destroyed.

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Hidden among the forest was a traditionally built lodge, paradise to the eyes. The manager and two assistants were waiting for us by an open sided reception room, it’s distant roof held up by massive wooden pillars. They bore cool towels to wipe away the dirt of the ride from our faces and fresh melon juices. Then they led me to my room. It was like a scene from an epic movie!

I had a door bell instead of a key, and an entrance chamber…

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…an outside shower (as well as a huge walk-in indoors shower) and the biggest, most comfortable bed with the word ‘Welcome’ spelled out in flowers upon it’s fresh cotton duvet.

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I enjoyed the view from the veranda, and had a late lunch prepared by my own personal chef…

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…and then the manager asked if he might take me to the outdoors pool, it was a little far, a ten minute walk through the gardens, if I felt up to it after the day’s cycling? I did…

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For sure, Koslanda Lodge was among the most luxurious hotels I’ve ever enjoyed. It was grand in a way many fancier looking hotels couldn’t match. The buildings were constructed using huge pieces of wood, the steps leading to them made using massive blocks of stone, as if it’d all been made by giants of a past age. There was true silence, and storm clouds gathered over the mountains, and I knew to take it all in, to sit and really absorb it, for this was a little piece of a perfect life, for me.

To discover more about Koslanda, please visit http://www.livingheritagekoslanda.com/

If you’d like to know more about LSR, please visit www.lsr-srilanka.com

If you’d like to discover more about the service offered by Sri Lankan Airlines - www.srilankan.com

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