Holidays: DREAMS Do Come True; from an Elephant Orphanage to One of the World's Most Cultural Cities, Sri Lanka Has It All. and, as STUART JAMIESON Discovers, There's a Distinctly Green Theme to the Latest Tourism Initiatives

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THE memories, as they say, will last you a lifetime. For once it's not the usual holiday hotspot hyperbole, but a simple truth in this natural paradise. Sri Lanka is one of the most varied places you can imagine, and all compacted into a country roughly the size of Ireland.

Situated just off the south-east coast of India, it is a 10-and-a-half hour flight from Heathrow to the capital, Colombo. The tropical temperature was a welcome reprieve from the January blues, as our driver took us to our overnight stop on the beach resort in Negombo.

Within an hour we were at the hotel, checked in and lying on the golden sands, surrounded by the lush palm trees on the Indian Ocean coastline.

Indika was our driver for the rst 10 days of our trip, and while that might sound extravagant, it is by far the best way to make the most of the island.

He delved into his country's Buddhist roots as we left the following morning for the Cultural Triangle. Buddhism is the primary way of life in Sri Lanka, with a history dating back more than 2,000 years.

From the rst ancient cities of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, to the intricate cave temples of Dambulla, the wealth of history demands days to spent in awe of the sacred sites.

On our next day we were up at the crack of dawn to travel to Sigiriya, colloquially known as the Lion Rock. Climbing Sigiriya is a must, as this 1,500 year-old floating citadel in the sky evolves into the one of the most dramatic stories in Sri Lankan history.

The sibling rivalry at the heart of this tale is told through the visible frescos to ancient engineering, topped with a view from the top of the rock which is unforgettable.

From Sigiriya we travelled south to Kandy, one of the most popular destinations for tourists, and situated in the heart of the island, in the hill country.

Here, the climate changes from the dry heat of Sigiriya to a more tropical feel.

On ourway to Kandy, we visited what is probably Sri Lanka's most famous tourist destination, the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage.

Set up in 1975 to look after seven orphaned elephants, the sanctuary is now home to around 65 of the magnicent animals. You can engage with the tame elephants on the river bank or even help at feeding time with oversized baby bottles.

Arriving in Kandy to a hive of activity, we witnessed the sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic, where many Buddhists make their pilgrimage. …