gb Travelogue Sri Lanka - November 2009

When reading the travel report: click at a picture and it will be increased. After clicking the photos can also be viewed as a slideshow. If you see a link, like: Namasté click on the link and it will be opened. When referring to the map of Sri Lanka, the map can be accessed by clicking on the link: Map of Sri Lanka The clips that are included are HD recordings and can best be viewed full screen.

English is not our native language, so we apologize in advance for translation- spelling- and grammar errors

Week 2

Day 8: Saturday, November 14, 2009

At breakfast we had a lot of fun. Out of nowhere a monkey appeared at the table, he grabbed a handful of bread from the basket and disappeared again in a flash. The monkey was really rude so he tried it again. Without success, the staff of the hotel chased him away. They too had to laugh because of the audacity of this monkey.

This morning around 7.45 am we leave for Hiriwadunna, a place nearby. The rain was pouring down, unfortunately. We are told that a Belgian couple is joining us on tour this day. First we'll walk some miles on a dyke between the rice fields and a river. Then we board a traditional narrow boat (a oruwa) and floating between beautiful lotus flowers and water lilies with those big leaves, we cross the river/lake. Very nice, despite the tropical rainstorm.

We go ashore and walk to a hut in the jungle. We get a coconut prepared for drinking by a professional. The jungle is beautiful, with many different trees and tropical plants. We see a lot of different birds. Even an osprey!

After some more walking through the jungle we arrive at an open space in the jungle where 2 ox carts are waiting for us. And so we go for a bumping ride through the jungle in a ox cart. Very nice and sometimes spectacular. The weather has been refurbished! You see a lot of the land life because you follow small country paths. Beautiful rectangular rice fields, people leaving the village towards the fields to work and women who bring a meal to their husbands on the field. We also see a fox or a wolf and a large water dragon. Very nice varied trip. Definitely recommended!

After the tour we have an hour's rest at the hotel before we're picked up again by Satrath. We are going to eat at a farmer's family home in a village near. The family has made great food for us. Different dishes with papadan and rice are served in 5 large pots. There are four women from four different generations. We eat with our hands of a leaf. The kind of leaf which we saw previously floating in the water. We give the junior of the family some toys. She is very happy with the toys. Slowly, she gets less shy, and when we leave for Kandy she gave us some self picked flowers as a gift.

En route to Kandy we stop at Dambulla (Map of Sri Lanka).

We ascend the stairs to the holy cave temples. Outside there are many statues of monks. In the five caves are together 150 Buddha statues from different periods. On our way to the caves Ingrid bought two lotus flowers for sacrifice. We see a cute monkey arrive, say hello monkey and ...... oops, suddenly, the monkey runs forward to Ingrid, pulls flowers out of her hands, runs away and sits a little farther munching on the flowers. What a crook! Ingrid is standing there pretty silly, with 2 long steal without flowers in her hand!

The Buddhas are very beautiful and old. Each cave is a little different. We hear that a while ago, a foreign woman has dishonored the Buddha by sitting on his knee. This action was really considered to be an insult, and so the old Buddha was cleaned and
repainted again.

You can indeed see a new and different colour paint on one of the
antique Buddhas . Very beautiful frescoes too!!

At the same time that we visit the cave temples there is also a group of woman monks on pilgrimage at the temple grounds. All in orange. We meet a young man with his grandmother. The boy is very affectionate, and likes to speak English with us. He is a bit shy and afraid to make errors, but he speaks his English very well. We have a nice conversation. He wants us to make a photo from him with his grandmother, so they take position on the stairs near the temple. More and more women join them. In now time the stairs are crowded. Very nice. We will certainly send the pictures!

After our visit to Dambulla we drive to our next stop: a herb garden. When we arrive we both ask ourselves if we want to stop or not, because it's raining cats and dogs! But Sarath has nothing against rain and before we know the umbrellas are out and so are we. Our visit to the garden is interesting. We get an explanation of various spices, plants and trees and all the ayurvedic medicine and ointments that are made from the herbs. Eventually we both are offered a foot massage. Very nice. For us .... we apologize for our dirty feet, because after the rain and the bullock cart etc. our feet are not exactly clean anymore! But that seems to be no problem. Eventually we buy some ointments in the shop.


We drive to Kandy. (Map of Sri Lanka).The description of the journey says: rest of the day is at leisure, but for us there is not much more time left. By six o'clock we drive a very narrow road, upstairs. Would it be here somewhere? And yes, there is Villa Rosa. We are very warmly welcomed and get a beautiful room. The room is adjacent to a flat terrace, which overlooks the river far below us. This should be a beautiful view, but we will see it better in the morning when there it is light. Sarath is completely happy. He has never been in this hotel before and thinks it is a great hotel. Luckily for him, there is a spot for him too in the hotel.

We take an hour rest, and then go out for dinner. This hotel is owned by a German. He welcomes us very friendly. There are 6 guest rooms. 4 are in use at the moment. The food is very chic and tasty. We enjoy the fact that the temperature is a few degrees cooler because of the altitude. You can just sit outside without a jacket, it's exactly good. And no humidity here! We enjoy the food and sit outside without being bothered by mosquitoes. This place will be like paradise for us the next 3 days!

Day 9: Sunday, November 15 2009up

Delicious breakfast. Fresh fruit, nice sitting outside with view on the mountains and river in the valley.

We leave for the city of Kandy (this hotel is a bit beyond Kandy). We take tuk tuk for a tour around. We drive to a point where we see the lake lying down. At the lake is the temple of the tooth (Dalada Maligawa) with its golden roof. It is thought that the tooth of lord Buddha was rescued from the fire and removed from the cremation place after his cremation in 543 BC. The tooth is smuggled to Sri Lanka in the 4th century AD, hidden in the hair of a princess. The relic was first brought to Anuradhapura, but eventually, the relic is kept in Kandy. After our tour we visit this temple.

The temple is impressive. Many pilgrims. Only 3 times a day there is an short opportunity to see and worship the tooth, or rather the sacred golden reliquary. At other times the hatch is closed, but until 1815 the only one that had access to the tooth was the king so compared with that time you can speak of extended opening hours. We follow the people and had a quick glance at the reliquary. Still, very nice. Everything is richly decorated. People with flowers to sacrifice. Bowls full, or just 1 single flower. Outside lot of oil lamps being lit. Many monkeys too.

After our visit to the temple we go to a café for some coffee and cupcakes. Then we visit a batik factory and a gemstone store. Very touristic, not special.

Sarath is a great guide, but he has learned that he must always be polite; the customer is king and he should be very caring. He explains a lot about Sri Lanka history, culture and monuments. Sometimes he explains a little more than necessary. When he notices that Jan is not listening, he starts the whole story again as Jan looks at him. Funny. He runs to the door of the car when Ingrid wants to get out and holds an umbrella above her head as he is afraid that Ingrid will get wet. The fact that we explained him that we are not afraid for rain and that we are used to rain in the Netherlands doesn't help.

We are ready for a nice walk together. Sarath doesn't like the idea of leaving us alone, but we persist. We visit the marketplace. A lot of fresh fruit and vegetables stalls. It all looks good. Somewhere along the way we see a field where much laundry was hanging to dry. It turns out to be the laundry from the local hospital. Funny how everything hangs out here while it is still raining.

Around 5 o'clock we meet Sarath again and go back with him to the hotel. The hotel is really nice. The views are fantastic. Vila Rosa is clearly the best hotel so far. The gate next to our room is closed in the night because there are many porcupines in the woods nearby. At the end of the day we had a delicious open air meal again.

Day 10: Monday, November 16 2009up

We take our time to enjoy our toast, scrambled egg and fresh fruit (juice) at our heavenly balcony. The weather is beautiful. The view is great today. The river is still covered by fog, but we see the clouds move up until everything is bright and sunny.

At 9 a.m. we leave for a tour to the Gadaladeniya, Lankathilaka and Embekke temples. The temples are situated within walking distance from each other in the green hilly surroundings of Kandy. We skip the first temple and start at Lankathilaka temple , because there will be a puja at 10.30 a.m.

When we arrive the punja appears to be at a later time, but meanwhile there is enough to see and we enjoy the surroundings of this peaceful temple. No tourists, only some Sri Lankan people. As we go inside the temple we are accompanied by men in white. They pull away the curtains at the altars explaining us the meaning of the statues behind.

Taking pictures is no problem. Eventually, a man with a drum announces the beginning of the punja. He beats for minutes on his drum, until a student monk opens the door to a part of the temple that was closed before. Not much more happens. The newly opened section of the temple is old, beautiful and very serene.After the punja we walk to the Embekke temple, it's a nice walk through villages and rice fields. Everyone we meet is friendly. We give some kids toys. The laundry is drying on ropes and hedges. Yesterday it was raining so there is some catching up to do! When we arrive at Embekke temple, Sarath is already waiting for us. We talk with some old men at the entrance of the temple. This is also a very ancient temple. It contains many old carvings.

We drive back to Kandy. En route we see a procession of monks. We stop and the monks invite us to accompany them to a small monastery up the rocks. We accept their invitation and bring them a visit. We get a plate of fruit. They are all very friendly and curious. They ask a lot of questions and clearly enjoy our visit. The monks live here with about 15 men, among them a number of young boys. Later we will encounter more of these monasteries. It is normal here, but for us communities like this are a bit strange.

The weather is still very good. We don't want to return to the hustle and bustle of the city center. So we decide to go for a walk in the famous Botanical Garden in Kandy. It is beautiful garden with impressive trees. The flowers though are put a bit too neatly on lawns .

Schoolchildren walk around the park in groups. They have an assignment from school. They must try to start a conversation with tourists in English. They speak pretty good English! They also want a picture with us. Few tourists and many children who want to talk ....... after the 3rd swarm we try to avoid them, sorry.

We return to the hotel at 4 pm. Nice day today! Ingrid takes a bath and Jan will go for an ayurvedic massage.

Day 11: Tuesday, November 17up

The day starts with breakfast outside. At 9 a.m. we leave Villa Rosa to continue our journey. Today we will make a wonderful trip to Nuwara Eliya (Map of Sri Lanka) at 1889 meter altitude! The weather is cooperating: radiantly beautiful! Sarath says that it is very exceptional because 9 out of 10 times it rains here. We drive past lovely lakes and beautiful trees! We see more and more mountains and tea plantations.

We stop at a tea factory and see the process from leaf to tea. Many hard working people at the factory. Women come walking with bags tealeaves from the field on their heads. Heavy! They disappear in the factory.

We stop a few times en route to admire the landscape and the plucking women in the field. We are lucky; on one spot the women come down the mountain to the road. They have the bags of tea leaves they have picked weighed. They stand in line. The weight of their harvest is noted in a notebook they carry with them.

The landscape of Sri Lanka we saw today was beautiful and various.

We arrive in time in Nuwara Eliya. We stay at the St Andrews Hotel, a old English grand hotel. We have a very special room. Seems a bit like a hut. A very large room, a very large bed and even a sort of mezzanine / second floor in the room. There are coffee and tea facilities in the room, so we make a cup of tea and take a nap.

Late afternoon we walk through the town. Funny town. Not big and not lively. The cities are certainly not the most charming aspect of the Sri Lanka we have seen till now.

After the "city tour" we drink a glass of wine we've just obtained from the local store in our sitting room and (try to) read a book. A huge storm erupts and the light is lost. Pitch dark; the only light we see comes from our laptop ... Well it is cozy. We do not need to get out. Jan has bruises from his massage yesterday, which was very good and original but also very ruthless ! Tomorrow at 5.45 a.m. we will be picked up for a jeep safari tour to Horton Plains. The highest plateau of Sri Lanka with a beautiful landscape which consists of grassland, forest and high mountain peaks.

At 5.45 a.m. a very old but still functioning jeep stops in front of the hotel entrance. We leave with Sarath and the jeep driver to Horton Plains. It's a long ride. About 1 hour and 20 minutes drive on extremely rough roads. We enjoy the ride. Despite the pelting rain and the storm last night it's now beautiful weather.

All of a sudden we stop. The driver has sharp eyes! He makes us aware of a colony of gray-bearded monkeys. The monkeys jump from tree to tree. We also see deer in the distance. Very nice and green environment here. We drive through vegetables fields, and a evergreen forest.

Eventually we arrive at the starting point of our walk to World's End. We eat from the breakfast package we got from the hotel and then we walk. Very few hikers only a few Germans.
is quite a climb, sometimes on clay paths with many tree roots, sometimes on nice rocky paths. Occasionally it is very slippery. Nice walk.

Glad the weather is so good, really exceptional for here. Everyone knows; after 9.30 a.m. the clouds will come in. Similarly today. At World's End, the spot where the plain suddenly stops and you look in a 700 meter deep abyss it is misty. When we walk back it is starting to rain but .... Sarath never leaves without an umbrella; problem solved. We had a nice, sometimes difficult walk. Very interesting and satisfactory. After the walk we wobble back to the hotel in our old jeep .

We are really tired. Back at the hotel, we decide to plan no further action for today. We take a nap, listen to music and read. At 5 o'clock we go to the lobby downstairs for a drink. In the lobby is Wi-Fi so we can check our mail. Despite the fact that fire is burning in a old fashion English fireplace it is quite cold downstairs, so we quickly return to our room. This is a nice place to recover.

Day 13: Thursday, November 19 2009up

. At 11.30 a.m. we leave for the station. The distance to Ella is not far, but it will take 2.5 hours by train, because the train runs very slowly and stops often. We start with half hour delay, but that is normal here.

Always fun to watch the incoming and outgoing people at such a small station. When we finally leave, we enjoy an impressive tour by green mountains and tea plantations. Particularly beautiful views. The train costs only 1 euro. Our guide drives the car to Ella while we are on the train. Regular we have a little chat with the people on the train. They ask us how we feel, whether we like Sri Lanka, where we have been and if we know that the war really ended.

Most time during the trip we sit at an open window. The door to the outside is open too; the door flapping open and close by the movement. When we arrive in Ella Sarath picks us up at the station and drives us to our hotel Ambiente. The accommodation is basic, but the view is breathtaking! The room is very simple, with some moth holes in the sheets, but everything is very clean.

Funny the difference between all the different hotels. This morning the old English hotel with all the servants, and now this basic accommodation. Because we are not traveling in a group most hotels we visit a small and located on exclusive spots. Nice! We invite Sarath to join us at diner. The food is tasty and complete.

Day 14: Friday, November 20 2009up

This morning before leaving to our next destination Tissamaharama (Map of Sri Lanka) we took our time to enjoy the beautiful view . The trip went very smoothly and we enjoyed everything we saw. People at work, cycling, walking, animals, cows and of course many many dogs on the street. We stop at a waterfall, and later near a very nice lake. We stopped because we saw a beautiful tree in the lake. When we look better we discover that a whole herd of water buffalo is dipping under the tree in the water. Only their snout is above the water. What a sight! At their head is often a black crow picking insects. Even in the nostrils! Fun.

We drive down to Tissamaharama. In Tissamaharama we drink coffee in a hotel on a beautiful lake. Beautiful view, but the rooms are faded glory. They were busy refurbishing.
Our hotel the Priyankara hotel is located a little further and looks good.
Nice room with balcony again and coffee / tea making facilities.
After settling in and eating a little snack we leave again.

We go to the temples of Kataragama (Map of Sri Lanka) for a punja.

Kataragama is nearby. The place is with Kandy one of the holiest places in Sri Lanka. Central figure is the Hindu war god Skanda or Kataragama Deviyo. Remarkably is that this god is offered fruits and flowers by adherents of various religions. Buddhists visit this sacred place to visit to the Kirivehara, a large dagoba at 1 km from the main temple and Muslims pray in the Masjad-ul-Khizr Mosque. The puja started a bit later today because it is Friday. It was already dark when we arrived and partly because of bad weather, there were less than normal people and activities.

A pity but there was still morethan enough to do and see. It it reminded us of the chaos we have experienced in Tanjore Tanjore in South India. We see a Hindu priest in orange. He is happy that Ingrid makes a picture of him, and even invites Ingrid to take him along on the picture. We make a donation and a blessing at a temple which yields us a bracelet.

We had one in Anuradhapura and we still wear that one. Sarath explained that he power of the blessing only holds for 30 hours, so the Anuradhapura-band should be removed.

We succeed to get inside the main temple, the Maha Devala. It is pretty busy. Many people with offerings. Some with very little, others with large baskets of fruit. Usually, there is also some money in the baskets. We see that the people hand their basket over to a priests to get it blessed behind a curtain in a room accessible only to priests. After a while the basket returned and is given back without the money. A boy sacrifices a chicken. It is unclear whether the chicken will be slaughtered but we fear the worst for the chicken! It is a special experience.

At one point a man danced back and forth the temple. We thought he was part of the ceremony, but Sarath looked very doubtful, and indeed, it proved a mentally disturbed man. He is removed from the temple with gentle pressure. It is very warm in the temple, and we have to wait quite some time. We have a bindi (dot) on our forehead, but soon the dot is blotted by the transpiration. Quite a lot of priests are walking around in the temple and the central corridor of the temple is well cleaned.

The punja is initiated with a lot of drumming. After the drumming the faithful grabbed a bell hanging over their head with a lot of loud bell pulling as a result.

At first we like it so we join enthusiastically, but it took more than 10 minutes, and it was a incredible noise! About 25 clocks, quite big, and then everyone puling on his hardest! Deafening! After a short silence period this process repeated. Again and again! In short, a lot of noise, but also very special.

Eventually we go back to the hotel, and have a nice diner for very little money! Tomorrow we leave direction Yala park.

Week 3