A Travellerspoint blog

Ayubowan Sri Lanka


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We decided to visit Sri Lanka at the last minute. After an hour flight, visa processing was delayed due to a new system for 2012. Upon hearing glowing accounts of this up-and-coming destination, we planned to circle the teardrop shaped island north in a clockwise direction, opposite to the popular route of heading south towards the beaches.

The hospitable and forward approach of Sri Lankans saw us invited to a birthday party on our very first night. Our tuktuk driver Sevinda and his family introduced us to delicious local cuisine (we especially enjoyed the spicy fish balls) and we also savoured the local Lion Strong beer (8.5% alc.).

There were no tourists in Chilaw and locals were upfront with their curiosity. Throughout Sri Lanka we always felt welcome and were continually offered assistance. Sevinda went beyond his fare and took us to beautiful religious sites that weren’t in the guidebook, demonstrating his pride for his hometown.

Big smiles all around as Adam towers over our hosts in Chilaw

Big smiles all around as Adam towers over our hosts in Chilaw

A Buddha attitude encircled by a cobra at dusk in Chilaw

A Buddha attitude encircled by a cobra at dusk in Chilaw

One of the few Hindu temples in the predominantly Buddhist country

One of the few Hindu temples in the predominantly Buddhist country

At our next destination Anuradhapura, our driver Janna conscientiously spent the day covering the vast ruins of the old capital, providing explanations and local trivia. In between sites and additional photography stops (we were quite excited to find fanning peacocks and tortoises in the open), he even brought us home to meet his family over morning tea.

During our stay, we made friends who provided useful local insights and protected us from inflated tourist prices. We are forever grateful to Amila and Subash, who spent entire days with us in Dambulla, taking us to local hangouts, sourcing cheap accommodation, recommending beautiful sights to see (Pidurangala was a tourist free alternative to Sigiriya) and even arranging VIP treatment for Adam at the barber.

Two overly friendly dogs guarding a dagoba in Anuradhapura

Two overly friendly dogs guarding a dagoba in Anuradhapura

Highly preserved guardian carving at a footstep of one of the ruins in Anuradhapura

Highly preserved guardian carving at a footstep of one of the ruins in Anuradhapura

We never realised how much monkeys love to jump

We never realised how much monkeys love to jump

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”She loves me, she loves me not”

”She loves me, she loves me not”

A snake charmer with his cobra beside the path on the way to the Dambulla caves, which are filled with Buddhist cave art paintings and carvings

A snake charmer with his cobra beside the path on the way to the Dambulla caves, which are filled with Buddhist cave art paintings and carvings

Adam being subjected to snake holding, again!

Adam being subjected to snake holding, again!

The Thinker

The Thinker

Our friend Amila

Our friend Amila

$1.50 for a beard trim and shave, as well as a head, shoulder and arm massage. No, I didn’t get a haircut

$1.50 for a beard trim and shave, as well as a head, shoulder and arm massage. No, I didn’t get a haircut

To further add to the hospitality we received, our guides through the (practically named) Knuckles Mountain Range were also very kind and personally made sure that we enjoyed the three day trek, with the owner joining us on the lake one evening for drinks and a sing-along. This was after a night of live traditional music, specially arranged for us by Raja, owner of the Thilini homestay in Kandy.

It was during this time that we met up with Kylie and Vince. Spending Vince’s 30th birthday in Kandy, we got to know the city well after a few days. One evening Rina even convinced a tuk tuk driver to allow her to take the wheel, much to the horror of the other passengers!

Our Thilini homestay included free backyard entertainment from the very retro owner Raja (on the right), his sister and a few friends

Our Thilini homestay included free backyard entertainment from the very retro owner Raja (on the right), his sister and a few friends

Stocking up on the 8.5% Lon Strong beers and $7 bottles of apple arrack (local rum). Liquor vendors are often discreetly located; this one was tucked in the supermarket carpark

Stocking up on the 8.5% Lion Strong beers and $7 bottles of apple arrack (local rum). Liquor vendors are often discreetly located; this one was tucked in the supermarket carpark

On the trek, we found the first of the 3 days challenging. The ascent of the Knuckles Mountain Range was not without incident, with Vince flattening Adam after losing his footing. We were compensated with spectacular views - our local guide gushing that there had not been a clearer day in recent times. Unfortunately the descent was even more difficult than the climb, with knees suffering the impact of the steep and slippery route to the camp. We were thankful the remaining two days were less taxing, and enjoyed the relaxed pace of the jeep safari, lake camping and waterfall walk. Once again, we were blessed with ideal conditions. There was little traffic at the national park, and we were able to get up close to wild elephants with a newborn.

Afterwards we headed south for the pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak. Supposedly the point where Buddha laid one foot (and the other in India), we journeyed the 4,500 step climb after two long and windy buses and only 2 hours sleep. Beginning at 2.30 am, adrenalin propelled us and we raced to the peak in under 2 hours. It was freezing, and we were also two hours early for sunrise. But the wait was worth it as we found ourselves above the clouds at first light. We also witnessed the perfect triangular shadow that is mysteriously cast by the irregular shaped peak. It is difficult to say which was the highlight of the trip, but this was definitely on the list.

Our first rest stop on the treacherous ascent of the Knuckles Mountain Range

Our first rest stop on the treacherous ascent of the Knuckles Mountain Range

Adam’s first leech on the challenging hike up the Knuckles Mountain Range. Except for Rina, we would all fall victim by the end of the day

Adam’s first leech on the challenging hike up the Knuckles Mountain Range. Except for Rina, we would all fall victim by the end of the day

One of the treehouses which the farmers live in.  Protecting the crops from elephants and other predators is a never-ending task

One of the treehouses which the farmers live in. Protecting the crops from elephants and other predators is a never-ending task

A mother and grandmother charging at our jeep to defend their three-day-old baby. Scary stuff!

A mother and grandmother charging at our jeep to defend their three-day-old baby. Scary stuff!

Nothing makes you feel small like an elephant skull or two

Nothing makes you feel small like an elephant skull or two

One of many tea pickers at the tea plantations surrounding Kandy

One of many tea pickers at the tea plantations surrounding Kandy

With a water supply running beside the main road it was common seeing locals carrying out their morning routine!

With a water supply running beside the main road it was common seeing locals carrying out their morning routine!

The beautiful waterfall we had to ourselves after climbing and rock hopping through a hidden path

The beautiful waterfall we had to ourselves after climbing and rock hopping through a hidden path

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Waking up nice and early to catch the sunrise at the top of Adam’s Peak

Waking up nice and early to catch the sunrise at the top of Adam’s Peak

Buddhist pilgrims would tie a piece of string to a branch and lead it to the top of the mountain

Buddhist pilgrims would tie a piece of string to a branch and lead it to the top of the mountain

Our lucky day - the enigmatic shadow cast by Adam’s Peak is a perfect triangle for only a short time in the morning

Our lucky day - the enigmatic shadow cast by Adam’s Peak is a perfect triangle for only a short time in the morning

The busiest hike we are ever likely to do, with the descent taking longer than the climb due to traffic congestion

The busiest hike we are ever likely to do, with the descent taking longer than the climb due to traffic congestion

Exhausted after our stint of physical activity, we were ready to hit the beaches. Frustratingly, the logistics of reaching the coast in the southeast involved us returning to the capital in the west before following the coastline. This was one exasperating aspect of travelling in Sri Lanka – for a small island getting anywhere is painfully slow (a bus can take 3 hours to cover just 50 kilometres) and the indirect routes to towns (especially from north to south) seem illogical at times. The train offers a more scenic experience, however services few routes and can be even slower than the bus. We collapsed for the night in South Kalutara, before continuing on to Galle then Mirissa Beach.

Galle is a blissfully quiet fort town whose Dutch heritage has been completely restored. We could have stayed longer, the streets of the small fort area were easily covered by foot and the buildings possess a romantic elegance. Moving an hour east, Mirissa was the ideal place to wind up our stay in Sri Lanka. We indulged in seafood platters and umbrella topped beverages that are necessary on tropical holidays.

Selecting our dinner at Mirissa Beach – this is the life!

Selecting our dinner at Mirissa Beach – this is the life!

We can’t help but compare Sri Lanka to India. It’s much cleaner, there’s less honking, less traffic and less pollution. There seems to be less congestion in general, but as population density is lower the island is perhaps less burdened. Despite the geographic proximity to India, Sri Lanka remains strongly Buddhist, with Hindu influences concentrated in the north where the Tamils of South India introduced it.

Though the sites were spectacular, our stay in Sri Lanka was truly enriched by our engagement with the people. We had seen many temples, beaches and hill landscapes before, but the warmth and openness of the locals allowed us to feel more connected to the land and we were able to learn and experience more of their culture.

Taking recycling to a new level with old algebra notes used as takeaway packaging

Taking recycling to a new level with old algebra notes used as takeaway packaging

Thank you, come again

Thank you, come again

Posted by adamandrina 01:47 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (3)

India Part One


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Ah, where to begin with India?

Although our experience here so far has paralleled others before us, the impact has been no less profound. In our case, we were first struck by the pollution. Just one consequence of supporting a billion people, pollution on the streets, in the air and in the form of ear piercing vehicle honking is impossible to ignore.

Landing in Chennai - a suffocating jungle of chaos – we fled to Mamallapuram after just one night. Here, the Dravidian monolith carvings of Shore Temple and the Five Rathas rewarded us with a spectacular insight into the rich history of India, and we fell in love.

Colourful chaos of buildings in Trichy, viewed from the top of Rock Fort Temple

Colourful chaos of buildings in Trichy, viewed from the top of Rock Fort Temple

Dravidian carvings, from the earliest civilised era of India

Dravidian carvings, from the earliest civilised era of India

A constant assault on the senses, our days typically involve a lot of ugly (dirty smells, head piercing noise, traffic) and a lot of beautiful. It is not uncommon to stumble upon a temple festival or celebration every few days! Affordability is exceptional, with 1 AUD converting to 54 INR and meals never more than $2. Around two weeks is essential to adapt the nerves from a constant panic. However, after a month here we are still on our toes with love/hate moments each day!

India exists paradoxically – amongst the filth are the sacred and holy. Our journey through the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala has been filled with wonderful experiences. Surrounding the religious and cultural sites are jumbled streets lined with colourful shops, with different aromas enveloping you with each step. The food is spectacular, especially the smorgasboard presentation of the thali meal. Flavours are complex and every bite is a pleasant surprise.

The Indian thali

The Indian thali

The modern city flanks the historic Rock Fort Temple in Trichy

The modern city flanks the historic Rock Fort Temple in Trichy

Intricate plaster façade of main temple in Trichy depicting stories of the many Hindu gods. These are meticulously maintained and repainted every decade

Intricate plaster façade of main temple in Trichy depicting stories of the many Hindu gods. These are meticulously maintained and repainted every decade

Close up of the façade, complete with moustached gods and scenes of Hindu stories

Close up of the façade, complete with moustached gods and scenes of Hindu stories

Psychadelic frescoes of Madurai temple

Psychadelic frescoes of Madurai temple

Locals both young and old stare unself-consciously, and return a smile with enthusiastic head wobbling. Enquiries about marital status, profession, income and religion are common, as well as the typical:

“What is your good name?”
“You are coming from sir?”
“How long in India?”

Many will also invite you to photograph them and are happy to pose like their favourite Bollywood stars. Despite the less than tidy streets, Indians themselves are impeccably groomed, with crisp, clean clothes and well-maintained hairstyles, beards and moustaches. The colour kaleidoscope of the sari and salwar khameez are still popular for women, whilst men combine the traditional lungi with smart collared shirts.

Commuting between towns is at first intimidating, and the Indian Railway system is renowned for its cryptic ticketing system. When unsure of the answer to a question, we often received agreeable responses from locals that left us heading in the wrong direction!

Although usually polite and well mannered, the Indian is transformed into an obnoxious beast when in a ticket queue, abruptly cutting in lines at every opportunity despite the swiftness of service. In contrast, once a ticket is arranged and the stampede to board passes, Indians are exceptionally considerate to other passengers. Often in second-class, 7 passengers occupying one bench will share food, chai and sing along to tinny speakers of a Nokia phone.

In our first month, we explored temples in Mamallapuram, Trichy and Madurai, whet our appetite for New Age spirituality in Pondicherry, lived it up on the Kerala backwaters aboard a royal houseboat, rode elephants and wandered the tea plantations in Munnar, trekked in Periyar National Park and indulged on seafood and fresh fruit on the red cliffs at Varkala beach. In addition to accidentally being swept up in Indian festivities and the occasional bout of illness, the time has passed far too quickly and we look forward to the next few months in India.

Learning the true meaning of sharing in second class on the train, where reserving a seat is useless in reality. Taken from above, wedged between the luggage

Learning the true meaning of sharing in second class on the train, where reserving a seat is useless in reality. Taken from above, wedged between the luggage

Driving our houseboat from Alleppey on the Kerala backwaters, complete with Indian RnB hits at full volume

Driving our houseboat from Alleppey on the Kerala backwaters, complete with Indian RnB hits at full volume

Exploring the smaller canals of the backwaters on canoe

Exploring the smaller canals of the backwaters on canoe

Expert posing by young Indian men at Fort Kochi. The boat ride across from the mainland is only 5 cents

Expert posing by young Indian men at Fort Kochi. The boat ride across from the mainland is only 5 cents

Chinese fishing nets, who now hold more nostalgic value than commercial purpose

Chinese fishing nets, who now hold more nostalgic value than commercial purpose

Breathtaking landscape of one Munnar tea plantation. Only 30% o the fertile land in Munnar is used to harvest tea, the rest is left relatively untouched

Breathtaking landscape of one Munnar tea plantation. Only 30% of the fertile land in Munnar is used to harvest tea, the rest is left relatively untouched

Munnar

Munnar

It’s hard to believe this is India! Another facet of the rich subcontinent, with scenic mountains and lakes

It’s hard to believe this is India! Another facet of the rich subcontinent, with scenic mountains and lakes

The healthy and well cared for elephants in Munnar. Here we are feeding our “Beautiful Girl” a basket of pineapples, part of our day trip around the photogenic hill station town of Munnar

The healthy and well cared for elephants in Munnar. Here we are feeding our “Beautiful Girl” a basket of pineapples, part of our day trip around the photogenic hill station town of Munnar

Trespassing in a private tea plantation with a small bribe, tourism India style!

Trespassing in a private tea plantation with a small bribe, tourism India style!

A very lucky shot with this shy baby calf

A very lucky shot with this shy baby calf

At the tea museum at the end of the day, with tea processing beginning in what appears to be a coffin

At the tea museum at the end of the day, with tea processing beginning in what appears to be a coffin

Communism is alive and well in Kerala, where the ruling elected CPI party enforces laws such as minimum hygiene standards, fines for littering and use of motorcycle helmets. This state also boasts the highest literacy rates in the country

Communism is alive and well in Kerala, where the ruling elected CPI party enforces laws such as minimum hygiene standards, fines for littering and use of motorcycle helmets. This state also boasts the highest literacy rates in the country

Do the right thing philosophy

Do the right thing philosophy

On stage with the actors of a Kathakali drama show in Kumily, where all parts are performed by men only

On stage with the actors of a Kathakali drama show in Kumily, where all parts are performed by men only

Sky Land guest house in Varkala, where the days melt into weeks and everybody knows your name

Sky Land guest house in Varkala, where the days melt into weeks and everybody knows your name

Colour is everywhere at the Tibetan Market near the North Cliffs of Varkala

Colour is everywhere at the Tibetan Market near the North Cliffs of Varkala

Overlooking the cliffs before the impending rain

Overlooking the cliffs before the impending rain

The coast guard on Varkala beach. Here, the flags indicate where not to swim, the opposite message to Australian beaches

The coast guard on Varkala beach. Here, the flags indicate where not to swim, the opposite message to Australian beaches

The glorious daily catch at the restaurants lining the cliff, simply unforgettable

The glorious daily catch at the restaurants lining the cliff, simply unforgettable

Posted by adamandrina 00:55 Archived in India Comments (8)

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