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21-Jul-2017 21:26

Consider staying at one of several Bawa-designed hotels, including Geoffrey’s own home at Lunuganga, which features a tour, as does Bevis’s idyllic Brief Garden.

Sri Lanka Airlines ( Yvonne Gordon We were standing in a mangrove forest, but in this world of wood and water, the tide had gone out, exposing a complete layer of gnarled roots; an intricate network, spread out like spiders' legs, intertwined and overlapping, reaching over and under each other for water, every root glistening and dark brown with mud.

And the only elephants we see are from the safety of four-wheeled vehicles, including the transfer vehicle that navigates the busier stretches of our route.

That evening at dusk, the eagle-eyed Sagara spots one family chewing up the habitat at the side of the road (elephants eat a whopping 200kg of vegetation in one average day) and another pair taking a romantic moment down by one of the hundreds of ancient man-made lakes or 'irrigation tanks' that give life to this dry interior.

We see them down at Minneriya National Park too, which, during the dry season of early autumn, is the setting for 'The Gathering', a pachyderm pool party of impressive proportions.

Hundreds of elephants gather here to graze, rehydrate, sling mud on each other's backs and laugh at the four-wheel drive jeeps that cluster around to watch.

Sri Lanka’s beaches are too good to miss altogether.

Choose between the flop-and-fry resorts of Negombo or the wilds of Tangalla, with in-between options including Bentota and Beruwala (good for water sports and ayurvedic retreats) or Unawatuna (for diving, cookery classes, yoga, great restaurants and proximity to Galle).

And there's the fifth-century rock fortress palace of Sigiriya Rock where, for a happy decade or so, the patricidal Kassapa frolicked in elaborate water gardens with his 500 concubines - until his brother (by another mother, and rightful heir to the throne) arrived to avenge their father's death.

Litfest Luvvies Run by Geoffrey Peter Dobbs, a distant relative of the Allen clan of Ballymaloe, Galle’s annual Literary Festival was the inspiration for the Ballymaloe Litfest.

Speakers last year included John Gimlette and our own Colm Tóibín, and highlights include literary lunches, workshops and screenings within the wonderful fort town of Galle.

Myself and the two English women that make up our small cycling tour are grinning like fools at the prospect, but Sagara is dead serious.

He knows the damage that can be done by 5,500kg of skin, bone and tusk: after all, 200 Sri Lankans are killed annually by elephants roaming age-old 'elephant corridors' in close-knit families of a dozen-plus.

All that remains of Kassapa's pool party days are the murals of topless concubines etched on to the 200m-high rock walls. But I take the long route, meandering by train up into tea country around the alpine 'Little England' town of Nuwara Eliya and climbing to the cloud forest of Horton's Plains to peek over the 2km drop at World's End.