U reader Áine Cullen gets up close and personal with elephants in the jungle

Sri Lanka is a country full of natural beauty still relatively undiscovered by the Western world. Myself, and four of my friends, were very fortunate to spend an incredible five days there. Having scoured The Lonely Planet for tips and advice we had our route set and a jam-packed five days ahead. After a quick walk on the beach in Negombo, we went elephant riding in Sigiriya. We paired up and rode bare back on elephants through a little jungle trail they had set up. Following the trail, we were given the opportunity to help wash the elephants. So we all hopped into the water with these massive creatures!   Kandy was our day of culture. Here we saw Sri Dalada Maligawa, or better known as The Temple of the Tooth. This old Buddhist temple is said to house the relic of the tooth of Buddha. There’s a large complex of buildings on the grounds, and they are really spectacular to see with all their ornate detail. We were on a strict schedule however, so time to keep moving!   The next part of the trip was probably my favourite. We decided to join a local Buddhist tradition and climb to the top of Adam’s Peak, or Sri Pada, a large mountain where there is a rock formation at the top, said to be shaped like Buddha’s foot. The Buddhist pilgrimage set out at 2am or 3am (depending on how fast you can climb!) so as to reach the temple at the top by sunrise. The climb was pretty tough but very worthwhile once you reached the summit. There were whole families there right from grandparents down to toddlers, and everyone completely quiet and still while we waited for sunrise. The only sound was the monks chanting until the sun rose over the neighbouring mountain, and cast its light across the valley.   Full of aches and pains after our night time hike, we headed for Nuwara Eliya, the tea leaf province. There we stopped in a lovely little café overlooking the tea plantations and recovered in true Irish style with a good cup of fresh tea! The final part of the trip was a safari trek in Yala National Park. We had a guide who drove us around the massive park in an open sided jeep. It was really amazing to see all the animals up close in their natural habitat and roaming free. Although the reality of being in an open sided jeep, and being so close to such large wild animals, was slightly disconcerting at times! We packed a lot into the five days but Sri Lanka for me really was the trip of a lifetime