Sri Lanka: Land of Serendipity

with Michael Yamashita and Jock Montgomery

  • October 31 – November 13, 2015: 14 day exploration of Sri Lanka’s complex historical, cultural, and wilderness treasures


Professional photographers, instructors and workshop leaders Michael Yamashita and Jock Montgomery

Professional photographers, instructors and workshop leaders Michael Yamashita and Jock Montgomery

Join renowned National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita and adventure travel guide and photographer Jock Montgomery on an exploration of Sri Lanka, a place where the breadth of human history, cultural complexity, and biodiversity is more concentrated than anywhere else in the world.

This pendant shaped island, just south of India, contains eight UNESCO world heritage sites: including the ruins of one of antiquity’s most complex civilizations, temples and paintings built approximately a century after the advent of Buddhism, the most well-preserved example of a colonial fortified city, and a concentration of biological diversity that includes elephants, leopards, bears, jackals, and over 200 species of birds all in breath taking locations.

If you want to visit a land where people and place blend together in a complex, syncretic life that spans over two millennia, where each leaf of tea is handpicked by Tamil women, a place known to travelers since the time of ancient Rome and Egypt as exotic and extraordinary, grab your cameras and let’s go.

(NOTE: Trip Deposit due by April 1st)

Personal Invitation from
Michael Yamashita
National Geographic Photographer

Documentary about Michael Yamashita’s work: Art of the Photographer


This photography tour concentrates first and foremost on helping you see and shoot in new and exciting ways. Michael Yamashita and Jock Montgomery will personally help you define your composition, create compelling content, and help you see the light. As you work towards nurturing your shooting style, you will learn how to personalize breathtaking moments that range from sweeping natural scenery to colorful human activities.

Every other day, we will gather to review each other’s work. Michael and Jock will personally critique your photos and provide expert advice for improvement and growth. Upon conclusion of the trip, each participant will receive a certificate of completion signed by Michael and Jock.

Trip Highlights


  • Receive personal guidance from National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita and adventure travel photographer Jock Montgomery.
  • Learn about one of Sri Lanka’s and Asia’s most influential contemporary architects, Geoffrey Bawa, from one of his most famous students.
  • Meet Dominic Sansoni, one of Sri Lanka most well-known photographers. He has a particular interest in the sacred space of Sri Lanka.
  • Take a safari with one of Sri Lanka’s best known, award winning, wildlife photographers, Chitral Jayatilake.


  • Sigiriya: ancient ruins on the summit of a 180 meter rock prominence accessible by a metal staircase bolted into vertical rock, a UNESCO world heritage site.
  • Dambulla: cave temple, continually occupied since the 3rd century BCE, contains paintings from the first century BCE. (UNESCO)
  • Anuradhapura: world’s tallest stupa and the remains of the first ruling empire of Sri Lanka, lasting 1400 years. (UNESCO)
  • Polonnaruwa: second capital of Sri Lanka known for monumental rock structures carved into bedrock. (UNESCO)
  • Kandy: religious capital of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and sacred to millions of believers. (UNESCO).
  • Galle: fortified Dutch colonial city with walls 6-20 meters high. (UNESCO)
  • Central Highlands: largest and least disturbed remaining area of the submontane and montane rain forests of Sri Lanka. (UNESCO)
  • Yala National Park: home to 44 species of mammals and an area with the highest densities of leopards in the world.
Train station master, for the mountain train line in Sri Lanka

Train station master, Nuwara Eliya mountain train

A Tamil woman’s hands, holding tea leaves

A Tamil woman’s hands, holding tea leaves

A Kandayan fire dancer, Kandy, Sri Lankan

A Kandayan fire dancer, Kandy, Sri Lankan

Buddha images in Dambulla temple cave, Sri Lanka

Buddha images in Dambulla Temple

Recommended Reading

by Michael Yamashita

Zheng He: Tracing the Epic Voyages of China’s Greatest Explorer

Marco Polo: a Photographer’s Journey


Sri Lanka

Compass Rose Expeditions’ Reading Lists

Trip Detail

Ruwanwelisaya Stupa in Sri Lanka

Ruwanwelisaya Stupa

Being flexible and open to new opportunities is the cornerstone to seeking out and shooting compelling photographs. We will make every effort to keep our plans flexible so we can take full advantage of photographic opportunities as they arise.

Most of hotels are award-winning 4-star hotels, the rest are high-end 3-star hotels.

Please note: three meals a day are included in the cost except for first and last days as noted in the itinerary.

Map of our Journey

Day 1: Arrive in Colombo

You should plan to arrive at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo by early afternoon (c. 13:00). Check in at the Cinnamon Red Colombo hotel in the center of town. You will be responsible for lunch.

In the late afternoon, we begin our photographic adventure at the Pettah market by observing and capturing the lifestyles of sellers and buyers. Around dusk, we  arrive at Gangaramaya Temple and explore the first of many unique architectural structures. Parts of this temple were created by the Geoffrey Bawa, the most renowned architect in Sri Lanka. We will also meet the head priest and learn about Buddhist culture.

In the early evening Michael and Jock will give a tour briefing, followed by a welcome dinner at the hotel. (This will be our first meal together.)

Day 2: Colombo

We  head out early to view the sunrise at Independence Memorial Hall where the country declared it’s independence from British rule in 1948. Many people now come here to jog, cycle and exercise. We  visit a nearby school to observe and photograph children and later visit the New Parliament building, another structure designed by Geoffrey Bawa.

We have breakfast at the Barefoot art cafe along with a discussion with Dominic Sansoni, one of Sri Lanka’s most respected photographers. His interests include vernacular architecture and the sacred space of Sri Lanka.

Afterward lunch, we will  meet one of Sri Lanka’s most prominent architects Channa Das Watte, a student of Geofōfrey Bawa. Mr. Das Watte will give us an insightful tour of contemporary Bawa Architecture. Before returning to the hotel, we will stop at Pilawoos street restaurant for a snack–a popular place with the locals.

Day 3: Anuradhapura

We take the train from Colombo to Puttlam where a bus will drive us  to Kalpitiya Peninsula. We will take boats around several fishing villages, which offer many photographic opportunities. We will stop for a simple village lunch at Gange Wadiya.

From Gange Wadiya we drive to Wilpattu National Park for a game drive in 4×4 vehicles. Wilpattu is the oldest and largest national park in Sri Lanka, known for biodiversity around its rain fed lakes as well as its large leopard population.

In the evening, we will check in to Palm Gardens Village for dinner and our overnight stay.

Day 4: Sigiriya

We  pack a breakfast and leave early to photograph the majestic Ruwanweliseya Stupa in the morning light. This 102 meter structure was built by King Gamunu in honor of Lord Buddha. In the ancient world, this brick stupa was the third tallest structure behind the pyramids of Giza.

A short distance away we  visit Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka’s first kingdom, now a UNESCO world heritage site. We  visit the sacred Sri Maha Bodhi tree, a descendent of a sapling brought from the original Bodhi tree in India under which Lord Buddha once sat and attained enlightenment. We have lunch at Nuwara Wewa Rest House.

Late afternoon, we visit Kaudulla National Park for a game drive. Because of the dry season, elephants will be gathered in large herds around watering holes.

In the evening will we check into the Hotel Sigiriya.

Day 5: Sigiriya

We drive to the Sigiriya rock fortress of King Kassappa built in 377 B.C.E.,  now a UNESCO world heritage site. Sigiriya is known for its frescoes, ancient Sinhalese writing, carved cisterns, rock sculptures, and water gardens.

In the afternoon we visit Polonnaruwa, another UNESCO site. This garden-city and second capital of Sri Lanka, which dates from the 12th century, is known for monumental rock structures carved into bedrock.

In the evening we return to our hotel, which has a view of the Sigiriya rock fortress and offers the chance to photograph the landscape in the evening light.

Day 6: Kandy

We drive to the cave temple of Dambulla, another UNESCO site, which consists of 5 caves containing 157 statues. The temple upon a mountain has been continually occupied since the 3rd century BCE.

We then travel to the rural hamlet of Habarana for an easy trek to the village of Hiriwaduna. We will  visit the village, meet fishermen and chena farmers, and eat a lunch freshly prepared by the farmer’s wives. Later, we drive to Kandy, a place sacred to millions of Buddhists, and another UNESCO site. On the way, we stop and visit a variety of places offering interesting insights into the village life and culture of rural Sri Lanka.

We check into the spacious Cinnamon Citadel Kandy hotel, which sits on the banks of the Mahaweli river. After dinner there there will be a private show with six Kandian dancers. We will have the unique opportunity to photograph the dancers prior to the show as they put on their makeup and costumes.

Day 7: Kandy

In the early morning, we photograph the street life of Kandy, the commerce at local markets, and the antics children on their way to school. We then visit the Royal Botanical Gardens, renowned for its collection of orchids.

After lunch in the city, we have a private photo shoot at a brass carving center where senior craftsman will describe and show us the process of making sacred relics and household items.

In the evening, we visit Sri Lanka’s holiest Buddhist shrine, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth of Lord Buddha, once the abode of Sri Lanka’s last king. We will have the opportunity to photograph Brahmin priests lighting scared oil lamps. After dinner, your local guide Vimukthi will present a slide show on Sri Lanka’s natural world.

Day 8: Nuwara Eliya

We take an early morning train to Sri Lanka’s highest railway station Pattipola on the country’s most scenic rail track, climbing from 2000 to 6000 feet. This railway has an old management system along with suitably dressed station masters – great for narrative photography. On the way, we stop at one of the oldest post offices in Sri Lanka.

Our bus meets the group at Pattipola and drives us to Nuwara Eliya, a mountain town and a former British colony now known as little England.

We check in at Heaven Seven Hotel and have lunch. We leave to explore Victoria Gardens in search of some endemic birds and visit the Bambarakanda waterfall with an expert naturalist guide. We will also have a chance to visit the town of Nuwara Eliya to photograph the market and lifestyles of the people.

Day 9: Yala

In the morning, we drive to Cinnamon Wild Yala Resort located adjacent to Yala National Park. We will be met by Chitral Jayatilake, a senior wildlife photographer who has spent more than 30 years photographing Sri Lanka’s leopards.

After lunch, we embark on a game drive accompanied by Chitral and Vimukthi. These expert local guides will help us spot leopards, sloth bears, mugger crocodiles, elephants, jackals, and hundreds of bird species.

That evening, we stay near the park at Cinnamon Wild Yala. Chitral will give a presentation on wildlife conservation and the balance between the needs of the animals and the interests of the local population.

Day 10: Yala

We get up early for a morning drive through the game park, one of the optimal times for photographing wildlife.

We return to the resort for lunch where we will have time to edit and review our photos before heading out to view wildlife in the afternoon light.

In the evening, we return to the lodge.

Day 11: Yala

In the morning, we drive the Kala wewa, Debara wewa, and Tissa wewa. These are large, ancient holding tanks built hundreds of years ago that have now become habitats for a vast number of birds, wildlife, and insects.

After lunch we drive to the Situlpawwa archeological site and rock temple. This is a significant Buddhist site built in the 2nd century BCE.

In the evening, we return to the lodge.

Day 12: Galle

In the morning, we drive west along a scenic road to Galle.

Once in Galle, we will photograph the streets of this 16th century Portuguese and 18th century Dutch colonial town, now a UNESCO site known as the best preserved fortified city of its type in Asia. We check in to the Lady Hill Hotel.

In the evening, we will visit the maritime museum and Galle Fort, which illustrates the interaction of European architecture and South Asian traditions from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

Day 13: Galle

We drive to Mirissa, a port city filled colorful wooden fishing boats. We board a sight-seeing boat to view blue whales, the largest animal to ever have lived. This is one of the few places in the world where viewing these spectacular animals is possible as well as highly likely.

Later, we have the opportunity to view and photograph stilt fishermen at Koggala. Later we visit the buzzing tourist city of Hikkaduwa (Hikka) to walk shop-filled streets and have dinner at a well-known seafood restaurant by the beach. We might also visit a traditional roti-kade vendor for a snack.

In the evening, we return to our hotel and prepare our final slide show.

Day 14: Drive to Colombo

After breakfast, we will drive drive to Colombo. We stop for lunch. You should plan to fly out that night or stay at a hotel near the airport in the city of in Negombo. For an additional charge, hotel arrangements for the night can be made upon request.


Jock Montgomery

Jock Montgomery

Jock Montgomery

In 1983 Jock moved to Nepal to train raft guides and lead river expeditions and treks across much of the Himalayas. He was based in Kathmandu for twelve years and now makes his home in Bangkok, Thailand.

He has been leading trips in the United States since he was a teenager. He now leads river running, sea kayaking, trekking and mountain biking trips and expeditions across the Himalayas, and throughout Southeast Asia, North America, Greenland, Patagonia and Ecuador/Galapagos.

He is in demand as a commercial and editorial assignment photographer. He teaches and leads private photography workshops throughout Asia.

More about Jock Montgomery …

Michael Yamashita

Michael Yamashita

Michael Yamashita

Michael has been shooting for the National Geographic magazine for over three decades, combining his dual passions of photography and travel. His particular specialty is in retracing the paths of famous travelers, resulting in stories on Marco Polo, the Japanese poet Basho, and the Chinese explorer Zheng He.

Michael has been photographing this area since 1996 for National Geographic. Recently he has written and taken photographs for a book about this area entitile Shangri-La: Along the Tea Road to Lhasa

He has received numerous industry awards, including those from the Pictures of the Year, Photo District News, the New York Art Directors Club, and the Asian-American Journalists Association. Major exhibits of his work have opened throughout Asia, in Tokyo, Beijing, Seoul, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Taipei and Singapore, as well as in Rome, Venice, Frankfurt, and Perpignan, France. His work has been exhibited at galleries in Los Angeles and at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

Michael has published nine books (most inspired by his thirty National Geographic stories): The Great Wall From Beginning to End; New York: Flying High, an aerial portrait of Manhattan; Zheng He: Tracing the Epic Voyages of China’s Greatest Explorer; Japan: The Soul of a Nation; Marco Polo, A Photographer’s Journey; Mekong: A Journey on the Mother of Waters; In the Japanese Garden; A Pictorial Tribute to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; Lakes, Peaks and Prairies: Discovering the U.S. Canadian Border.

More about Michael Yamashita…

Seated Buddha carved into granite at Polunnaruwa, Sri Lanka

Land of Serendipity

A selection of images from he places we will visit.

A Tamil woman is harvesting tea leaves near Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Tea

Photographs of tea harvesting and processing.

Detail of a the rear wheel of a Sri Lankan bicycle and the generator for the bicycle’s light


Images of locals on vintage bicycles.


October 31 – November 13, 2015

Prices (in US$)

  • $8,950/person
  • $1,400/single supplement
  • Trip will have  8 – 12 participants.

Payment Schedule

  • Deposit due by April 1st: $1,500 (non-refundable)
  • Balance Due: 90 days prior to departure

What is Included

  • All ground transportation inside our destination(s)
  • All entrance and photography fees
  • Hotel porter tips
  • All meals except first and last day as noted in itinerary
  • Bottled water
  • Accommodation as specified

What is not included

  • Travel insurance is required for health and cancellation
  • Airfare
  • Customary and optional tips for local guides
  • Immunization
  • Personal expenses including laundry, snacks, drinks, alcohol, etcetera
  • Overweight luggage charges

1) Send Deposit

An invoice will be sent by email with instructions for payment. A non-refundable deposit is required to hold your place on a trip. If paying the full amount, an itemized invoice will be sent. (Same price for cash or credit.)

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2) Complete Trip Application Form

Download and complete the form below. Send it using the email on the form.

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3) Purchase Travel Health Insurance

Traveler’s health insurance is required for all Compass Rose Expedition trips.

We strongly recommend trip cancellation insurance.

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 4) Send Copy of Passport

We need a copy of your passport to make reservations. Send a copy of the main page (the one with your photo) to the same email as listed on the Trip Application Form.

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