TikaWeeks #28/2023: Sri Lanka update

Posted by John on 14th July 2023

Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka

Sustainability has rightly taken centre stage as we strive to combat climate change, but what does it really mean? By today’s common definition, to be sustainable we must balance how we meet human needs with our ability to continue to do so for the foreseeable future without degrading the natural environment. This update outlines the core principles of sustainability with regard to travel and Tikalanka.

Climate Action

Flying is not a sustainable mode of transport and if we could take the train to Sri Lanka and Maldives we would encourage it! Without a magic wand, we will need to fly to most destinations around the world for the foreseeable future but we can mitigate the carbon footprint of the flight by staying for a longer period in Sri Lanka and Maldives, travelling in economy class (business class emissions are three times higher), flying direct where possible, and when you do fly, make it count by choosing a holiday that benefits local communities and wildlife like Tikalanka’s do.

Driving around Sri Lanka in a combustion engine vehicle is also not sustainable, although we do have guides with hybrid EV vehicles which potentially reduce emissions. Fully EV vehicles are basically non-existent in Sri Lanka currently and there is no national network of charging points at the present time in any case. Until there is a sea change in thinking on the island we have no option but to continue to use petrol- or diesel-engine vehicles as our principal means of transport.

We do offer the option of various railway journeys in Sri Lanka, from Colombo to Badulla in the Hill Country via Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Ella, from Colombo to Jaffna in the far north via Anuradhapura, and from Colombo to Galle on the south coast. These train routes reduce our customers’ carbon footprint on the island.

Preservation of Biodiversity

I know from personal experience how biodiversity is essential for nature. When we took over our derelict farmstead in 2011, there was very little in our paddock previously used by the neighbouring hill country sheep farm for grazing except pasture grasses. Since we planted a hedgerow, cultivated the paddock as a wildflower meadow, and built dry stone wall terraces and planting beds, the flora and fauna have burgeoned. We now have four red squirrels coming to eat at our feeder, mountain hares nibbling the clover lawn out front  (one of this year’s youngsters called “Kenny Leveret”!), badgers foraging and red foxes stalking in the paddock, and voles, field mice, shrews and stoats living within our curtilage – not to mention the invertebrates. In late May/early June, there is a perceptive hum from our gnarled old holly tree as a multitude of busy bees harvest the nectar from the blossom, and a kaleidoscope of different butterflies flutter through the wildflowers, including the peacock, red admiral, painted lady, orange-tip, large and small white, holly blue,  meadow brown, and small copper. The variety of birds is also amazing: buzzards and kestrels now hunt in the paddock, greater-spotted woodpeckers bring their young to the revitalised plum tree near the house to feed, and we have house martins and swallows (both with four nests this year), wrens, wagtails and blackbirds nesting in the outbuildings, and well over 30 other bird species resident or passing through – including the odd jay, a pair of redstarts and reed buntings, and an annual frenetic banditry of long-tailed tits. Last year we had a tawny owl feeding its owlet (“hootlet”, as we called it) in the attached barn. What a pleasure to offer such surroundings to our wonderful wildlife. Nurture nature and biodiversity will come.

And this goes for the environment in Sri Lanka and Maldives, too. Much still needs to be done in Sri Lanka to preserve the biodiversity – dynamite fishing, poaching and agriculture all take their toll on vital habitats – but there is a healthy respect for nature on the island and sufficient interest to sustain the environment and wildlife with the right resources and encouragement.

Recycling and Zero Plastics

The lack of proper recycling facilities in Sri Lanka is a concern and the country is still developing recycling strategies – the same goes for the island resorts in Maldives, which have an even greater problem with recycling and disposing of waste as you may imagine. The number of plastic water bottles consumed is particularly alarming and we can help by taking our own reusable water bottles. Please take a look at our Responsible Travel policy for some ideas of how to be more sustainable when travelling in Sri Lanka and Maldives.

Renewable Energy Solutions

Sri Lanka is gradually turning to non-carbon-based power sources. You may see coastal wind turbine farms around the Kalpitiya peninsula as well as solar arrays at enlightened hotels like Uga Ulagalla and Jetwing Yala. However, there is still much to do to reduce the country’s reliance on oil- and coal-fired power stations. In the meantime, the best thing to do is to reduce your power demand when visiting by turning off or up the air-conditioning (when available), routinely turning off lights and other electrical sources in your room (if it doesn’t have a power-saving key entry system), and limiting the time you spend in the shower (this also saves on the island’s precious water supply).

Fostering Inclusivity and Diversity

Tikalanka likes to promote a variety of different styles of accommodation to enhance your travel experience as well as offer you a choice of places to stay that will satisfy most people’s preferences and budgets. This enables a wide section of the local population to get the most from inbound tourism, and encourages cultural exchange, social awareness, employment opportunities and self-development within the country. The various sightseeing trips and activities you enjoy while on holiday will also enrich your time on the island by engaging with local people on a personal level.

 Industry Collaboration

We work within the travel industry to raise awareness of social responsibility and environmental sustainability, which are core values of Tikalanka included as central tenets of our Responsible Travel policy. We are recommended by ResponsibleTravel.com, the pioneer of responsible travel since 2001, support Travellers Animal Alert, the global animal welfare campaign of the Born Free Foundation, and we are a member of the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance.

Supply Chain Solutions

With our office being located in Kandy, our supply chain is short and intimate. Since our beginnings in 2004, we have made a concerted effort to nurture and maintain close relationships with all of our accommodation and activities providers. We only offer hotels and guesthouses that we have inspected personally, most of them many times, and only collaborate with trusted activities providers that have a wealth of expertise, knowledge and experience as well as sensibilities to nature.

Our valued chauffeur guides are fundamental to our tour operation, which are all trained and accredited by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. Most of our guides have worked with us for countless years and many trained alongside Pathi back in the days of yore! I know them all personally and meet up them on my near-annual research trip to Sri Lanka. They are all friendly, knowledgeable, professional and discrete, and definitely enhance your overall experience of the island – don’t take it from me, please take a look at our recent holiday feedback

Community Development

 As outlined above, our holidays are designed to bring you in close contact with local communities and thereby encourage cultural exchange, social awareness, employment opportunities and self-development. We also support community initiatives in the Kandy area through Pathi’s local Buddhist temple and the chief monk, Nandu sadhu, and in the past we have contributed to redevelopment projects in the south of the island following the Asian Tsunami in 2004. Please contact us for more details.

Preservation and Celebration of Culture

Sri Lanka’s potpourri of different religions and peoples as well as its varied colonial history and vital position on global trading routes over millennia makes the island a very special place to visit. The island’s rich and diverse culture is alive and well and the local population live it day in, day out be they Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Vedda or non-affiliated. Religious ceremonies and festivals take place throughout the year and most are public holidays, which means that Sri Lanka has a lot of them as all faiths are honoured. Please go to Festivals & Holidays for more information.

 Monitoring and Evaluation

As a small company, it is not feasible for us to buy in the expensive analytical tools necessary to monitor and evaluate our sustainability goals or to develop our own algorithms to document and interrogate these goals. Instead, we work with our team and suppliers to deliver our holidays in a more sustainable way through qualitative rather than quantitative metrics such as how our customers experience their holidays with us by completing a feedback form on their return from holiday. We also send out our Tikalanka Travel Troth to all customers on booking, which outlines ways of being more sustainable while travelling in Sri Lanka and Maldives. We are striving to become more sustainable in the future through improvements to our operation in Sri Lanka.  

The Pekoe Trail – Stage 14: St. Catherine’s to Makulella

This stage starts at St. Catherine’s, which is close to the renowned viewpoint of Lipton’s Seat, situated in the upper division of Nayabedda Tea Estate at an elevation of 1875 metres, the second-highest starting point of The Pekoe Trail. In contrast, the stage is the second shortest of the entire tea trail at 9.4 km, but it is full of magic moments: hill villages, places of worship, tea plantations, farms, historic bungalows, forests, and seemingly never-ending and breath-taking views of mountains and valleys as you descend towards Liyangahawela and then onto Makulella. The stage should take around 3 hours and ends at an altitude of 1262 metres.

The weather in the upper divisions of the Nayabedda Estate is unpredictable so make sure you are well equipped as temperatures can drop dramatically when the cloud comes in; conversely, when the tropical sun is shining, UV levels increase instantly and a hat and high-factor sun cream are recommended.

The initial 500 metres or so passes through the St. Catherine’s community, with its patchwork of vegetable plots full of carrots, beans, leaks and cabbages, much of which is sold in Haputale and Bandarawela markets. The trail then enters a small Eucalyptus forest before beginning a gradual zig-zag descent towards the edge of the plateau, passing by more village homes, cultivated fields and tea bushes.

After 1.5 km, leaving the last hamlet behind, turn right into another patch of forest before beholding one of the most spectacular views on the entire Pekoe Trail. The highest mountain in front of you, at 2036 metres elevation, is Namunukula, which means "Nine Peaks" in Sinhala. It is said that during the Ming Dynasty (15th century), the Chinese fleet led by Admiral Zheng navigated to Sri Lanka using the mountain as a landmark after sailing from Sumatra.

Descend carefully, as the first few hundred metres of the trail may be overgrown depending on the season you are hiking. You are walking on an old British planter-engineered estate road built for the transportation of tea leaves to the factory below. The gradient is gentle but there are countless switchbacks and sharp turns on the descent, which certainly gives the 18-bend road a run for its money!

After 4.6 km, pass by the entrance to a pear farm and continue for another 500 metres along the road before walking around the former Balagala Tea Planters Bungalow. The village of Balagala is close by, with its impressive Hindu kovil on the left as you pass through the village. You next traverse Liyangahawela village before re-joining the familiar tea trails heading north.

At the 6.9-km point, the trail dog-legs right and soon crosses the main road, continuing on a tea country trail off the main road to the left. After another kilometre, the trail peels off to the right and heads into an attractive forested area for just over a kilometre before you arrive at Makulella. The Allimale Bodhiya Buddhist temple marks the end of this stage.

Categories: Accommodation, Culture, Flights, Maldives, Sightseeing, Sri Lanka, Sustainability, Travel tips, Wildlife

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