Friday, 9 August 2013 – 9th day in Sri Lanka – lst day in Colombo

Friday, 9 August 2013 – 9th Day in Sri Lanka – lst day in Colombo
We were woken up early with what we believe may have been the Muslim Call to Worship which went on for what seemed like for ever.  We think it may have been from the Sambodhi Chaithya Dagoba. In the north west corner of Colombo Fort on the Chaithya Road, it is an amazing site. On top of a huge yellow arch is a giant dazzling white Buddhist bell shaped Dagoba also known as a stupa. One of the arches straddles the Chaithya Road where it forms a bend just before the entrance to the Sri Lankan Navy base. It was built  this high near to Colombo Port so that it could be seen and act as a landmark to all ocean going ships. The temple grounds are known as the Sambodhi Chaitya.  We passed this stupa later and Mary and I  could see this structure from our bedroom window. We had breakfast at 8.00am – there was a lovely sculpture hand made in butter. The Harbor Room restaurant looks out over the docks.

We then walked next door to St Peter’s Anglican church (Mission to Seamen) – a lovely small church almost hidden from view.  Two services in English are held each week on a Wednesday and Sunday with approx 200 people attending on a Sunday.  The church has served as a sanctuary of prayer and solitude since 1821.  Its origins can be traced back to the Dutch era of Ceylon when it served as the seat of the governor, after which it served intermittently as a garrison church during the British colonial time and was consecrated for divine service on 22 May 1821.  It continues to be an integral part of Colombo and a haven for city workers and weary travellers. We then had a walk up the nearby street before it was time for Neil to pick us up.

Neil collected us at 10.00am and took us on a city sight-seeing tour.  This day was a holiday and holy day for Hindus and around the corner from the hotel we saw long lines of Hindu ladies carrying pots of milk on their heads to pour on the shrine of their gods.  They also had leaves on their heads as decoration.

We drove to a Buddhist Temple (Dunga Ramya) where there were many worshippers and special events happening in the grounds.  I went inside but the rest waited outside watching what was happening.  There was a large elephant tethered in the yard for this special day.  We gave lollies to the children close by.

We then travelled on, seeing the Town Hall (a very impressive white building), Victoria Gardens, the Prime Minister’s statue and drove through the luxurious area of Cinnamon Gardens where the various embassies are situated including the Australian Embassy.   Next we saw the International Congress Hall and stopped to watch some children playing cricket.IMG_9640A

At the Independent Memorial Museum building and gardens we took photos of brides and a statue of Don Stephen Senanayake, First Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon, 1948-1952.  On the way back into the city we passed a large Catholic Church at the Clock Tower roundabout.   Neil dropped us at the ODEL shopping centre where we were to spend 2 hours.  It was very hot so we had a cool drink with our lunch at Roots Cafe –  then wandered around the shops buying gifts.

Neil returned and drove us along the seafront called Galle Face Green (main beach area), past the old Parliament House, the President’s House and along the street where the Old Dutch Hospital Complex is which is now a restaurant and shopping area. We were taken back to our hotel at 3.30pm.

The Old Colombo Dutch Hospital (known as The Dutch Hospital ) is considered to be the oldest building in the Colombo Fort area dating back to the Dutch colonial era in Sri Lanka. It is now a heritage building and a shopping and dining precinct.

Built as a hospital by the Dutch, it has been used for several different purposes, over the years. It is believed to have existed since 1681, as recorded by German Christoper Schweitzer. The Dutch established the Colombo hospital to look after the health of the officers and other staff serving under the Dutch East India Company. The hospital’s close proximity to the harbour allowed it to serve Dutch seafarers

The building reflects seventeenth-century Dutch colonial architecture.  The building has five wings forming two courtyards. It is designed to keep out the heat and humidity and provide a comfortable environment within. Like many Colombo Dutch buildings of the era, the walls are 50 cm thick. The structure features massive teak beams

President’s House is the official residence of the President of Sri Lanka, located in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It used to be the Queen’s House until Sri Lanka became a Republic in 1972.

After the British gained control of Sri Lanka from the Dutch, in 1804 the private house in the Colombo Fort, of the last Dutch Governor of Ceylon, Johan Gerard van Angelbeek, was taken over by the British and became the official residence of the  Governor of Ceylon  known as Government House but most commonly referred to as the King’s House or the Queen’s House depending on the monarch of that time.

Since independence in 1948 the house became the official residence of the Governor General of Ceylon.

Back at the hotel  Mary and I discovered the air conditioner in our room was not working and after waiting for it be fixed, Mary requested we be moved to another room.IMG_9704  The new room was like a suite but the beds were set up two steps in an alcove.  However, I tripped down the two steps and sprained my ankle.  We all rested for a while and then set off to walk/hobble back to the Dutch Hospital area for dinner.  We enjoyed a lovely dinner in Semondu – a silver service restaurant – I had a beautiful grill seafood trioIMG_9707.IMG_9705A   We then strolled back to the hotel and to bed.  Yes, another interesting and varied day.

 

Thursday, 8 August 2013 – 8th Day in Sri Lanka – Yala to Colombo

Thursday, 8 August 2013 – Day 8 in Sri Lanka – Yala to Colombo

Up early and packed ready for breakfast at 7.30am so we could be on the road at 8.00am. Left our lovely accommodation at Elephant Reach.

In and around Tissamaharama we noticed many stupas.  Soon we were in the country area again travelling through rice crops (rice takes 3 months to ripen after planting) and is one of Sri Lanka’s main export crops.  There seem to be lots of Army/Air Force bases in the southern part of Sri Lanka  – we passed another one at  Weerawila.

 

 

 

We were interested to see some roadside stalls selling basketware and clay pots containing cow’s curd and terracotta rice cooking pots.  These products seem to be particular to this area.  As we drove along Neil explained the colours of the SL flag – Blue – confidence, Yellow – holiness, Red – wisdom, White – purity and Orange – less desire .  Around Hambantota we saw salt lakes and a refinery and also a wind farm.  The roadside stalls around this area were selling mostly packets of salt.  We stopped in Hambantota for Neil to refuel our vehicle.

Hambantota was a nice boat harbor with fishing boats bringing in their catch for market.  Just outside the city a new highway diversion is being constructed.  Passing through Ambalantola we saw rice and coconut plantations and took photos of street scenes.  We managed to get a photo of one of the peculiar long tractors – looked like a long rotary hoe.  Some of the loads on the tractors were huge mounds of bagged rice.  Further along the road we were amused to see a truck with a load of new tuk tuks on board!

 

 

 

Neil stopped at a roadside vegetable and fruit stall to buy pomegranates to take home.  Even his baby boy (aged 1 year 6 months) likes pomegranates.  We were curious about some of the other vegetables so Neil explained what they were.  We tasted sweet cucumber but we didn’t really like it.  A little further along the road we had to slow down for bullocks on the road – the only time we have had to slow down for cows.  From here we were travelling along the coast which was quite spectacular.  In the built up areas we were impressed by the lush foliage in gardens.  As we passed through Dondra Heads many people were going to the temple with a huge Buddha statue.

 

 

 

 

This is the southern most point of Sri Lanka and is 2,740 kms north to the northern most point of the island.  From Colombo eastwards is the widest part of the island – 277km wide.

 Along the side of the road there were fish drying on tables.  Nearby was a coconut stall.  Neil bought coconuts for us to drink the milk from – Chris didn’t particularly like it but the others did. We also ate some of the coconut flesh.  We took photos of the colourful boats coming in and of a small island just offshore.IMG_9377

 

 

 

 

 

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On the way to Galle we saw pole fishing at Weligama.  They were keen for us to take their photos and for us to pay them!

 

 

We continued on passing more roadside stalls – all brightly coloured pots and even passed a Beer Shop!!!! There was a little cemetery on the foreshore. You wonder just who is buried there.  More roadside markets selling the fish that had just been caught.

Arrived at GALLE at 12.45pm  – the Southern Seaport city which has a Dutch and Portuguese Colonial heritage of nearly four centuries. An imposing 17th century fort (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), ramparts and churches are among fascinating relics of the past

Galle (pronounced Gaul) has grown from its ancient origins into Sri Lanka’s fourth largest city..

The most interesting part of Galle is the old Dutch quarter, known as the Fort.  The Fort is enclosed within a chain of huge bastions which now guard the area from modernization as effectively as they once protected Dutch trading interests.  The Fort comprises streets lined with old churches and Dutch colonial villas, many white plastered.  It’s a great place to wander through the narrow streets, visiting the museums, churches and various touristy shops in a quiet town area.  Historically in 1589 the Portuguese established a presence in Galle and was then captured by the Dutch in 1640.  They expanded the original Portuguese fortifications to enclose the whole of Galle’s sea-facing promontory, establishing the street plan and system of bastians which survive to this day.  The British took Galle in 1796 and the city continued to serve as Ceylon’s principal harbor for much of the 18th Century.  By the early 20th century Galle had become the economic backwater, retaining the old colonial townscape and building a new city adjacent.

We went to the Rampart hotel for a lunch – I had some great jumbo prawns and they were delicious. The waiter entertained us for a short time by folding our serviettes into various shapes – quite talented.

We were overlooking the fort and there was a snake charmer sitting on the pavement.IMG_9456A

After lunch, we wandered around the various alleys and visited the Galle Museum for a short visit. There were many rooms full of artefacts that an old resident of Galle has been collecting for over 45 years –  and then donated to the town  He was a prominent jeweller by trade and still lives locally.   We bought a few postcards, an icecream and took some photos.

Soon it was time to meet Neil and be on our way at 3.30pm. – (119 kms to Colombo).

Neil headed out of the town and onto a freeway away from the coast which enabled us to reach Colombo much quicker than if we had travelled along the coast.  In this area rubber tree plantations grow well, given the altitude and climate.  Also rice and tea, although the tea bushes have other small trees growing amongst them to protect them from the heat.  The elevation here is 400 feet above sea level.  Also saw cinnamon plantations and banana plantations.  Mackwoods Clyde have huger rubber tree plantations along the freeway.  Also noticed that Aitken Spencer (our tour company) have rubber tree plantations in this area.  Rubber was introduced to Ceylon by Sir Henry Wickham who collected seeds from Brazil in 1867 and planted them in Kew Gardens, UK.  He experimented with the rubber using it for cricket balls.  He then transported some plants/seeds to Ceylon – this area of Kalutara is the best climate for growing rubber trees.  Other crops we saw were tapioca (yam) and root vegetables used for curries (Monyoka).

We arrived at COLOMBO about 6.00  with Neil brilliantly negotiating heavy peak hour traffic to reach our hotel.  Colombo is a coastal sprawling north and south city of approx 1,500,000 people.  We passed the new parliament (now the capital city) about 7km from central Colombo.  The area of the new capital is called Sri Jayawardenepura-Kotte (built in 1982), one of 15 districts in the city.  As far back as the 5th century Colombo served as a sea port for trade between Asia and the West.  During the 8th century Arab traders settled near the port, and in 1505 the Portuguese arrived.  By the mid 17th century the Dutch had taken over, growing cinnamon in the area now known as Cinnamon Gardens, but it wasn’t until the British arrived that the town became a city.  In 1815 Colombo was proclaimed the capital of Ceylon.  During the 1870s the breakwaters were built and Fort was created by flooding surrounding wetlands.  Colombo was peacefully handed over when Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948.  The population of Sri Lanka is approx 21,000,000 – consisting of 74% Singalese, 18% Tamil and English and 7% Muslims.  The national tree of SL is the Ceylon Ironwood tree (with long narrow leaves – some of which are pink).

We were impressed with the look of the palatial Grand Oriental Hotel in York Street near the docks where we were to stay for two nights.IMG_9835B  This old hotel was very grand in the British occupation.  Rooms were quite OK.  Once again, I  was not well and so later we just went to a small restaurant in the hotel foyer for a light meal – Christine had spring rolls, Mary and Jan had cake and tea, and I had coffee. After dinner, I went to bed quite early as my sciatic nerve was really painful.  I was now sharing a room with Mary.  The others stayed talking for a while.  We had seen a wedding party come in earlier and they were celebrating on the 2nd floor – our rooms were on the 4th floor.  It was quite noisy for a while with the wedding music and a regular nightclub in the hotel.

 

 

 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013 – 7th day in Sri Lanka – Nuwara Ellya – Yala National Park

Wednesday, 7 August 2013 – 7th Day in Sri Lanka – Nuwara Ellya – Yala National Park

We were up early, packed, breakfasted and ready to meet Neil at 8.00am for a long day’s drive.  Left NUWARA ELLYA and soon we were descending from the mountain top.  We were amazed at the number of Australian eucalypts and pines planted on the hillsides.  It is a very agricultural area with market gardens of vegetables and fruits as well as tea plantations.  The vegetable plots and garden nurseries reminded Christine and I of Da Lat in Vietnam.  The road around the mountains was very circuitous as we went down and down.  Lovely countryside looking down onto crops planted on every inch of the hillsides. Saw the workers in the fields.

At KEPPETI POLA, a nondescript place and hot –  about 40 minutes from Nuwara Ellya –  I realised I had left my purse in the hotel in Nuwara Ellya. Neil got in touch with the hotel and then arranged for a friend to bring it for me. My purse, glasses and the 20 I owed Mary was all wrapped up securely with about a roll of sticky tape. I was so thankful that I realised my error when I did. While waiting, we wandered along the sidewalk stores. Saw lots of school children and tuk tuks being repaired. We took off again at 9.45. Passed through the nice little village of Wilemada with lots of busy people. We also passed lots more plant nurseries and more fields of vegetables.

We passed through many large agricultural towns – one – Bandarawela had a lovely median strip of flowering roses.  Once outside this town we had to drive over a very bumpy section of road for some time, but eventually reached Ella  where we stopped for morning tea in lovely grounds at GRAND ELLA MOTEL. We were 1041 metres above sea level overlooking a steep ravine down through Ella Gap. Took some photos before we were served tea and coffee and then told that a special train would pass over the bridge that we could see in the distance. There was a huge boa tree on the premises  It was a very pleasant stopping place.

 

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About 6km down the road we came to RAWANA ELLA WATERFALL, a substantial waterfall.  We stopped for photos and of course were pressed into buying some souvenirs from the stalls.  The hawkers were trying very hard to sell us worthless stones from the waterfall.  We did manage to buy a number of “sun” hats the same as those Mary had previously bought at the Botanic Gardens in Kandy.  There were several lovely little waterfalls to be seen in between the lush vegetation.

In Tissamaharama we found a funny little place to have a light lunch – I had a huge plate of chicken noodles.  Then it was on to our lovely accommodation at ELEPHANT REACH – lovely little separate bungalows and a nice big swimming pool.

 

Our cases were brought to our room and at 3.00pm we were picked up for our SAFARI in the YALA NATIONAL PARK.

We piled into  an open topped jeep  and started our ride. Was an extremely bumpy ride  over really rough roads about 15km to the Yala National Park Headquarters. We saw lots of jeeps and tuk tuks.  We bumped over very rough roads looking for wild animals but only saw pelicans, peacocks, monkies, crocodiles, water buffalo, deer, ibis, mongeese  and spotted deer for the first half to three quarters of an hour.  We drove round and round and did see in the far distance a tusked elephant which excited the driver.  There are only seven tusked elephants in the park.  It was very very hot and dusty.  There were lots of little waterholes where the birds and animals congregated.  We saw Elephant Rock in the distance.

Eventually we came to the INDIAN OCEAN – all dipped our feet in the cool water for a short while to revive ourselves – there were lots of school children and other tourists on the beach.IMG_9164 Back on the jeep and we started our way back. We were keeping our eyes peeled for a spotted leopard. We saw more spotted deer and had almost given up hope of seeing any other wild animals.  A lot of the jeeps had parked near the large lake waiting for dusk in the hope of seeing the animals come down to drink.  Our driver decided to move on and to our delight a little way down the road, we saw THE spotted leopard cross in front of us about 100 metres away.  Mary and I were sort of able to take photos. (Not very clear unfortunately, but we know what we saw) Everyone was very excited

IMG_9171You have to look really hard to see the leopard- just in the second little gap from the right hand side   –  !!!!!!!!!

Back in the jeep for a  short distance we came upon a small lake on the side of the road and to our joy we saw a small herd of elephants who had come down for a drink and bathe – various sizes from babies to large males. A couple of them had a little fight. It was wonderful to see them in their natural habitat so close to us. Saw some peacocks and foxes along the way here.

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It was a lovely sunset by the time we got back to Elephant Reach.  My neck, shoulders and back were very painful so I did not go for a swim or dinner. Christine went for her obligatory swim when there is a swimming pool.

After dinner, the girls brought me back a nice plate of chicken and vegies, a little bread loaf and banana and I enjoyed it as by this stage felt hungry.

We then packed and went to bed after a very long exhausting day – but a super day.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013 – 6th day in Sri Lanka – Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

Tuesday, 6th August 2013 – 6th day in Sri Lanka – Kandy – Nuwara Eliya

I got up late this morning but made it to breakfast. Got postcards and two little handpainted elephant material pieces. We left at 9.00 and called into the Lakrini Jewellery store again so as Jan could buy her ring she admired yesterday. We then went to the Peradeniya (KANDY) BOTANICAL GARDENS –   mooted to be the finest botanical gardens in Sri Lanka. They were just magnificent and it was lovely just wandering around leisurely.   Was funny watching a little fellow taking photos – the camera was nearly as big as he was.

The park and gardens were established in the 18th century by the King of the time to serve as a pleasure garden for the Kandyan nobility.  It was transformed into a botanical garden by the British in 1821 during the enterprising governorship of Edward Barnes who had Sri Lanka’s first tea trees planted here in 1824.  We saw trees from every country with some memorial trees planted by world dignitaries during visits to Sri Lanka.  Even saw some Queensland kauri pines.  Several avenues of various palms provided shade and beauty to the garden.  In a more natural part of the garden we saw the colony of fruit bats that call this area home.  Christine and I walked across the swing bridge forging the Mahaweli Ganga river.IMG_8949QIMG_8949P

After an hour and a half we set off for Nuwara Eliya.  Neil stopped for us to photograph a fruited coconut palm and a breadfruit tree.  We then commenced to climb higher and higher through tea plantations – huge plantations belonging to Rothschild and Mackwoods.  Along the edge of the plantations and the road there were flowering cannas and golden privet bushes.  We stopped to photograph tea pickers at Pussellawa – they weren’t particularly happy about us taking photos, so we didn’t stop long.

 

We came out of the gardens and then drove through Galioya. Stopped to take some photos of coconuts and breadfruit, green ramadams and jackfruits. Saw little waterfalls as we continued to drive higher up into the mountains. Plants were all along the side of the road – golden privot and cannas.

We were still passing through many tea plantations. The countryside was so green and lush.

As we continued to climb we passed many waterfalls and were pleased to  stop at the beautiful TEA BUSH RESTAURANT AND MOTEL where we had lunch. I had Prawns Fried Noodles and Banana Fritters. Yum . Was magnificent views of RAMBODA WATERFALL and a lake from the viewing platform.

Back into the van and continued on our way – still through magnificent tea plantations.

On the way to Nuwara Eliya we stopped at Mackwoods Labookellie Tea Centre where we enjoyed a tour of the factory hearing about the process from picking of the tips of the tea bush to the packaging of the tea leaves.  This Centre was established by William Mackwood in 1841 and the bushes live for 45-50 years, being pruned every 5 months.  But for misfortune, the world might be drinking “Ceylon Coffee” instead of tea.  Tea came to Sri Lanka when extensive coffee plantations were decimated by disease in the 19th century.  The first Sri Lankan tea was grown in 1867 south east of Kandy, by James Taylor.  Plantation owners discovered that the hill country combines warm climate, altitude and sloping terrain, perfect for growing tea.  5kg of tea leaves makes a final product of 1 kg of tea.  Larger leaves make weaker tea, whilst smaller leaves make stronger tea.  The three top leaf tips are collected from each bush for processing by the 600 female pickers at this plantation.  The whole process of picking, drying, sorting, processing and bagging for shipment takes only 24 hours.

We then moved into the show room and bought up on tea, after which we enjoyed a cup of tea and piece of chocolate cake in the café attached to the centre.

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At 4.45pm we arrived at Nuware Eliya – Neil drove us around to various sites, including a prestigious hotel which has a world class golf course attached which is popular with many visitors.  We saw the lovely Queen Victoria Park and gardens with huge Cook Spider Pine Trees.  We then drove on to our accommodation, quite a way out of the town at Galway Forest Hotel.  Another disaster with bedrooms awaited us.  Each room had just one double bed, so we suggested that they might bring an extra bed into each room, which they did.  The whole place was old and dated and not one of our favourite experiences.  The weather was quite cool up here, only 17 degrees so we donned a cardigan for dinner, the only time we needed a warm jacket.  Food in the dining room quite good and we enjoyed the marimba band which serenaded us through dinner.  Hooray at last we were able to log onto email and Christine found our booking for Raffles High Tea was confirmed for Sunday next.

Was another interesting and very enjoyable day.  Off to bed reasonably early.

 

 

 

 

Monday, 5th August 2013 – 5th Day in Sri Lanka – Habarana – Kandy

Monday, 5 August 2013 – 5th day in Sri Lanka – Habarana – Kandy

Got up early and packed.  A last lovely breakfast here  and it was goodbye to Kassapa Hotel after three great nights. Was a lovely place to stay – like an oasis in the heat.

IMG_8644 We left at 8.00 and back on the highway once more We travelled to Dambulla (which means “rock” and “water spring”).  Along the way we saw forests of teak and other trees, inc. Australian imported eucalypts and plantations of mangoes and jackfruits.  Dambulla is an agricultural town.  The town has little of interest apart from its ancient cave temples.  At the bottom of the steps up to the cave temples stands the Golden Temple topped by a 30m seated golden Buddha.  Here Neil showed us the wild almond trees and we tasted the nuts.  There was a profusion of flowering bouganvilleas in the courtyard here.  The climb to the cave temples starts here.

Magnificent views of the surrounding areas can be seen from the caves cut out of an enormous granite outcrop which rises over 160m (and lots of steps!) above the surrounding countryside.  As we were climbing up we saw many monkeys, lots of mothers with babies too.  There were the usual hawkers along the way trying to sell us their merchandise.  At the entrance to the cave area we had to take off our shoes again.  The cave faces in the rock are all painted white and appear quite startling.  We visited each cave and photographed many of the 150 life size statues of gods and Buddha and fresco ceiling paintings depicting the traditions and history of the Sinhalese people.  In one temple were three Buddhas whose hands indicated gratitude, teaching and peace.  In the courtyard was a small pond with pink and purple water lilies flowering.  The purple water lilly is Sri Lanka’s national emblem. The temples’ origins date back to the days of Vattagamini Abhaya who reigned 103BC and 89-77BC).  He lost his throne to a group of Tamil invaders and was forced into hiding for fourteen years , during which time he found refuge in these caves.  After reclaiming his throne the temples were created.  They were further embellished in 1187 -96 by the reigning king.  Further restoration and remodeling occurred in the mid 1700s.   We agreed it was worth the steep climb up the 300 steps to visit the cave temples

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At 10.30am we left Dambulla heading for Kandy (73 kms).    Along the way we saw lovely pink flowering trees called Tubuea Rose and magnificent Golden Shower flowering trees.  As we approached Matale along the edges of the roads were rain trees, huge trees providing shade for travelers.  They were planted by the British over 100 years ago.  As this was the main route north between Kandy and Jaffna in olden times bullock wagons were used for transport and so the trees provided welcome shade for both the animals and the travellers.

In Matale we visited Baba and Island Batik Factory where we watched the batik process.  Very interesting to see how the pattern emerges from a simple piece of 100% cotton.  We tried on some clothes and I bought a little dress for Alicia.

We enjoyed lunch in Matale and then proceeded to climb higher and higher passing through several mainly Muslim towns and villages.  More logging and timber treating in this area.

As we arrived at Kandy we crossed the large Mahaweli Ganga river we had previously seen.  Kandy is situated 500 metres above sea level and is a very mountainous city of 1,000,000 people and is surrounded by the river in a horseshoe shape.  Kandy’s unique cultural heritage is in its music, dance and architecture as well as the home of the country’s most important religious shrine, the Temple of the Tooth and the ten-day Esala Perahera the most spectacular of Sri Lanka’s festivals – a colourful religious pageant and procession.  Our hotel was on a steep hill – the Topaz Hotel.  When shown to our rooms we were dismayed to find that one had a double bed and a single bed, but the other had only a king size double bed, so Jan and Christine shared that, with a sheet each.   Once settled into the hotel, Neil drove us down to Lakrini Jewellers where we saw a display of mining for sapphires in the area – all still done by manual labour.  We all tried on sapphire rings, Christine and I bought rings, but Jan wavered and wanted to speak to John first.

From there Neil hurried us across town to a Cultural Dancing Show (traditional Kandian and Low Country dancing) which we enjoyed very much.  Drumming is a major part of all the dances we saw but not very musical.  The most striking dance was probably the VES Dance by the Kandian dancers.  Sixty-four ornaments comprise the complete dress.  It takes years of rigorous training before a Dancer can attain the status of a VES dancer.  The final show was Fire Walking which we westerners find quite amazing.

We then walked around to the Temple of the Tooth so we could see this supposedly marvellous site.  The current temple was badly damaged in 1998 when a truck bomb was detonated outside the entrance and many people were killed.  We had to pass through stringent security checks to enter the temple grounds.  It had been raining and again we had to take our shoes off and walk through the mud and water into the temple.  We were greeted by very loud drumming and so made our way through to another level and eventually up another level to where the tooth relic is encased in a golden egg shaped casket.  Legend has it that when the Buddha was cremated in 543 BC at Kushinagar in North India various parts of his remains were rescued from the fire, including one his teeth.  In the 4th century AD the tooth was smuggled into Sri Lanka hidden in the hair of an Orissan princess.  Over the succeeding years with political uprisings and successive kingdoms knowledge of the tooth was lost, until it magically arrived in Kandy in 1592 and was installed in a specially constructed temple next to the palace.  It has become an object of supreme devotion for many Sri Lankans and was taken out for special parades, but now is only put on display for a couple of weeks once or twice a year.  We must have been fortunate to be there in one of those weeks!  It is held in a golden dome shaped egg casket (with 16 inner shells) and can only be viewed from a distance in the small opening where it is kept.  Hence the number of people trying to see it and put forward offerings and take photos.  It was very congested and difficult to get a photo.  Neil ferried us through to the front as soon as he could but we were urged by the temple staff to move along quickly.

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Back at the hotel we enjoyed a lovely dinner in the restaurant.  Sleeping was difficult as there was a noisy piece of metal flapping outside all night.

 

Sunday, 4 August 2013 – 4th day in Sri Lanka – Habarana-Sigiriya-Polonnaruwa-Habarana

Sunday, 4th August 2013 – 4th day in Sri Lanka – Habarana – Sigiriya-Polonnaruwa- Habarana

Early sumptuous breakfast and at 8.30 Neil picked us up. Is a bit cooler this morning.  Travelled south to SIGIRIYA fortress, (Lion Rock) arriving at 9.30. Built in the 5th century AD atop a sheer rock rising 200 meteres from the jungle. This hardened magma plug of an extinct volcano has natural cave shelters and rock overhangs and in more recent years some modifications.  In the 3rd century BC a Buddhist monastery had been established at Sigiriya.  It is believed to have served royal and military functions during the reign of King Kassapa (AD 477 – 495) who allegedly built a garden and palace on the summit.  The king sought an unassailable new residence after overthrowing and murdering his own father, King Dhatusena of Anuradhapura.  In the 6th and 7th centuries AD Sigirya ceased to be of political importance and once again became the abode of Buddhist monks.  The 14th century monastery complex was abandoned and remained so until the 19th century when it was used as a military out-post of the kings of Kandy.  Later in 1898 a British Archaeologist discovered the ruins and further excavations were uncovered by British Explorer in 1907.

UNESCO declared Sigiriya a World Heritage Site in 1982.

We no sooner walked through the entry when four guides decided we needed their assistance on the way up the rockWe commenced walking towards the rock, crossing two moats, then the lovely remains of the symmetrical water gardens.  Next the fountain gardens with lovely shady trees inc. sandalwood, mahogany and teak and then the Terrace Gardens with remains of brick and limestone terraces right up to the rock.  .  Plenty of monkeys in this area.  We were approached by hawkers selling their wares and Christine and I purchased some little ebony and rosewood “secret” boxes (will we ever get them open???) and Jan and Mary an elephant shaped box each. On we went through the lovely tree lined avenues.

We came to where we had to attempt the climb up the rock face (370m ascent  of over 1000 steps).  We just took our time and had lots of stops.  Had a stop about three quarters of the way up and took photo of us with the Mirror Wall behind. The wall with its superbly polished inner surface is on the one hand an exquisite architectural creation. It is also the medium of a literary composition of a high order, containing a wealth of graffiti verses scratched on its surface over numerous periods of Sigiriya’s history. These verses date from 7th to post 13th centuries. Amazing views were had as we climbed.

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There were hundreds of people making the climb. The final ascent to the royal palace atop Sigiriya rock lies through the LION STAIRCASE, which faces north and has two huge paws of a lion in front . These lion paws, made of brick and covered with plaster, are the remnants of a fore-part of a lion figure that must have once stood there.   We decided not to go into the Sigiriya Damsels – fresco paintings of the 5th century, but continued our climb to a further plateau where we rested for a short while.

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Here we are – yes, we ALL DID reach the summit (AND VERY PROUD OF OURSELVES FOR HAVING ACHIEVED THE CLIMB!!!!) which was the site of Kassapa’s palace. The ruins still show the swimming pool – water was channeled to the summit using an ingenious hydraulic system powered by windmills.  Seems incredible to us now that a large number of people lived on this mountain. we made it to the top and stayed up for awhile taking in the breathtaking views. The Palace Complex on the top of the Sigiriya rock is around 1.5 hectares in extent. The palace garden consisting of a large artificial pool and other garden features are located to the east.

We started to make our way down via Cobra Rock  and had several stops along the way. Our guides were really good fun and enjoyed having their photos taken.

Back in the van with Neil we travelled north towards Habarana and then east to Minneyah NP. On the way we had a short stop at a wood carving shop (Nishantha Wood Carving Pty Ltd) – huge display of wooden products in many rooms. Elephants, Buddha statues and furniture galore here – Mary eventually bartered for a lovely small modern ebony elephant.  No-one else bought anything.  At the township of Minneyah we enjoyed a nice light lunch at the Gunners Club – part of the town’s large military base. Neil stopped and bought me some jackfruit (ramadams) once more. I am an addict where this fruit is concerned.

 

 

 

After lunch, we then made our way to POLONNARUWA whose extensive and well preserved remains offer a fascinating snapshot of medieval Sri Lanka (during the 3rd century).  Polonnaruwa came to prominence with the creation of the Minneriya Tank which boosted the district’s agricultural importance.  The huge Parakrama Samundra is a great artificial lake which provides a lovely backdrop to the town. Now a World Heritage Site Polonnaruwa became the royal capital of Sri Lanka during the 11th century capital.  Its position was of strategic importance for the defence of the Anuradhapura kingdom from foreign invaders and came to be called the FORTRESS CITY.  It was well placed for foreign trade with Sri Lanka’s longest river, the Mahaweli Ganga flowing across the area to the sea at the great natural harbor of Trincomalee.   We first visited the Polonnaruwa Museum – a respite from the intense heat where we could view many historic archaeological remants from the original Citadel and scale models showing how the city’s buildings might have looked in their prime.  Eventually we reached the gift shop and were able to purchase a small brochures on Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa and some postcards.  Outside in the heat again, we were pleased to have the shade of some old trees, but were pestered by hawkers.  A cooling iceblock was very welcome before we then drove around Polonnaruwa visiting the various ruins of the Citadel – this town boasts a very fine irrigation system using water from the huge lake.  We found the heat quite oppressive as we walked around the various ruins.  There were lots of buses of women visiting that day in their white saris (Sunday – worship day).  We saw the ruins of the Royal Palace and Royal Baths and many other interesting building ruins.  Once again we saw many monkeys in this area also.  Neil then drove us to another site called Gal Vihara where there are several huge Buddha statues – one standing 7 m, one reclining  14m long and two seated Buddhas – all carved out of a single rock.  We left the city at approx 4.30pm and had a long drive back to Kassapa.  We were hoping to see elephants feeding in the lake in Minneriya NP but none sighted this afternoon.

Finally got back to our accommodation and went into a nice meal once more.  When we got back to our room, Jan’s bed had all little frangipani petals on it. Mine had too much stuff on it. Messy Brenda. After chatting we went to bed after another wonderful full and exhausting day. We travelled about 130 kms today.

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Saturday, 3 August 2013 – 3rd day in Sri Lanka – Habarana-Anuradhapura-Habarana

Saturday 3rd August 2013 – 3rd Day in Sri Lanka – Habarana – Anuradhapura – Habarana

We got up and down to our normal sumptuous breakfast.  Neil then drove us to Cinnamon Lodge resort for an ELEPHANT RIDE on Ceta, a 26 year old  elephant. Plodded along a dirt road next to a lovely lake. Saw some goannas and termite mounds. We went into the lake for us to take a quick photo and then came back. Along the way we stopped and bought some bananas to feed the elephant. It knew, as up went the trunk. Was a nice relaxing ride.

At 10.15am Neil picked us up and we went through a couple more villages and Neil stopped to purchase me some Rambutan fruit (jackfruit) for me (outer covering is red and spiky, then another shell to remove inside to get to the opaque fruit which is sweet and quite tasty like lychees – I became quite addictive to these while in Vietnam – yum).

We reached ANURADHAPURA,Ancient City (60kms from Habarana).   Had a long hot walk to see  the Sri Maha Bodhi sacred tree which is central in both a spiritual and physical sense.  The huge tree was grown from a cutting brought from Bodhgaya in India by the Princess Sangamitta, sister of Mahinda (who introduced the Buddha’s teachings to Sri Lanka).  The sacred bodhi tree is the oldest historically authenticated tree in the world.  It has been tended by an uninterrupted succession of guardians for over 2,200 years even during the periods of Indian occupation.  The oldest tree (there are many younger bodhi trees here) is held together by steel girders.  Thousands of devotees come to make offerings at weekends.  We had to take our shoes off and walk over burning asphalt and then very hot sand to view the tree.  Inside the enclosure were many devotees standing contemplating the tree, giving offerings (mostly lotus flowers) and praying.  The women all dress in white for this occasion. We were glad to head back down the avenue, seeking as much shade as we could along the way. The weather was quite hot (35-37 degrees C) and there were many pilgrims visiting this area.  Anuradhapura is Sri Lanka’s first capital founded about the 4th century BC.  The 1st century and 3rd century dagobas (dome shaped Buddhist relic-shrines) are UNESCO world heritage sites, second in size only to Egypt’s great pyramids.  The ruins of Anuradhapura are one of South Asia’s most evocative sights.  The sprawling complex contains a rich collection of archaeological and architectural wonders – enormous dagobas, soaring brick towers and crumbling temples built during Anuradhapura’s thousand years of rule over Sri Lanka.

I was the only one who wanted to do the Ruvanvelisaya Dagoba – a fine white dagoba which is guarded by a wall with a frieze of hundreds of elephants standing shoulder to shoulder. The original freize was from 140 BC but most have been replaced now.  On the terrace surrounding the dagoba visitors flock to see the Buddha statues (five standing), but did not realise you could not go in so just did a circle of it and came back and joined the others.  Around the Ancient City park we saw lots of monkeys and along the road water buffalo feeding. There are many lakes in this area with lotus plants and waterlillies, not all flowering at the moment. There are not many cars in this area, mostly tuk tuks, motor bikes, buses or people just walk.

After this visit we were ready for lunch – at the Grand Hotel – smorgasbord offering, but we selected from the a la carte menu.  Mary and I ate baby prawns and Jan and I had a cheese omelet and I had a refreshing beer with my meal.

At 4.20pm Christine and I headed back to Cinnamon Grove Elephant Park and did a safari tour. We first went for another relaxing ride on a BULLOCK DRAY. Passed through the fields, (mostly onions) to a lagoon. Saw some locals bathing and doing their washing.  We then transferred to a little canoe and was rowed along on the lake. There were lovely large patches of lilac flowers, waterlilles and water growing trees along the lake. Just lovely scenery.  

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We stopped at a landing and walked across a wood strip bridge up to a very primitive house where the lady made us some tasty coconut curry served on raffia plates which she covered with banana leaves to keep the flies out.  We also ate roti bread.  She then made us herbal tea with coconut sugar lumps.  Very nice.  Alongside the cooking and eating room was a high sleeping platform – we were invited to climb the steps to have a look but declined.  We had a look behind the house at the large garden patch where mostly onions were growing.  Also some corn and other vegetables.  Back in the canoe we were paddled around the lagoon edge.  Along the way our guide picked and made us waterlilly stem necklace and a lotus leaf hat.  We looked a real pair of dills in these but it was good fun.  Once back on the other side of the lagoon we walked along the levee bank watching more people bathing and washing on the edge of the lagoon – would have loved a swim right then!  Finally said goodbye to our guide with a large tip and were taken by tuktuk back to Cinnamon Lodge.  Neil wasn’t there to collect us and after about half an hour and darkness settling in we did get a bit worried.  We rang Mary to see if Neil was at Kassapa, after much confusion, Neil came along – he had been waiting where the safari started which was a couple of kilometers down the road.

We got back to our accommodation and went into dinner and then back to our rooms after another very full, but pleasant day. Drove about 120kms today.

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Friday – 2 August 2013 – 2nd day in Sri Lanka – Colombo – Habarana

Friday 2 August, 2013 – 2nd day in Sri Lanka – Colombo – Habarana

We got up – Was cloudy and overcast, but warm. In for another sumptuous breakfast. Neil picked us up at 8.00 and headed off for Pinnawala.As we travelled north east we passed through many villages with large cement tile making factories and farming – pineapple plantations,  rice paddy fields and coconut plantations.  The busy town of Allawwa has a huge railway station – we saw trucks loading coconuts here.  Near Polgahawela we passed through forests of mahogany and teak.

At  10.30am we arrived at Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage – a huge commercialized organization to protect abandoned or orphaned elephants.  Set up in 1975 with five baby elephants it now has a population of over 80 elephants.  We started walking down a street lined with all the usual stores and hawkers trying to get us to purchase. Very persistent. At the end of the street was the beautiful MA OYA river with 73 elephants and the mahouts (their keepers) in it and the Hotel Pinnalanda (Neil arranged prime viewing seats for us on the edge of the covered terrace where we could have coffee or a cold drink whilst watching the elephants in the river).  Twice a day the elephants are driven across the road to bathe in the Ma Oya river.    We sat and had drinks and thoroughly enjoyed watching the elephants drinking and swimming and of course took hundreds of photos  – was very relaxing. I  made some purchases at the shop.

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At 1210 the elephants were all out of the river and stomped back up the street. We made some more purchases which included recycled “poo” products. Then it was over the road to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. We went down to see the elephants now roaming around the picturesque valley and had our photos taken with a 25 year old elephant.

We then wandered back to see 2 little one year old orphaned elephants strut around and play with each other and then it was time they were brought into another enclosure. The keepers brought in food which comprises mainly of Kitul palm of which elephants eat both leaves and the trunk, leaves of the coconut palm, foliage of the jak tree and a few other plants of the fig family. At 1315 we then each gave a baby a litre of bottled milk.  It all happened very fast as the little elephant gulped a litre of milk down in 5-8 seconds, just time to have a photo taken. There is a strict timetable here at the orphanage. 

It was now time to leave the park – Christine and I lost the others for awhile but then found them near the souvenir shop where of course we made some purchases, then took photos of us sitting on a little ornamental elephant before leaving the park after a lovely morning. The elephants are just so amazing.

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We ambled over the road to a cafe for lunch. I thought I had left my sunglasses back at the first restaurant we were in earlier so I went back. I had to plead with security to get entry again as they kept saying I did not have an entry ticket. Finally, the guard escorted me down to the restaurant but the sunglasses were not there so then into the other shop, but still no glasses so decided to buy another pair. Realised I had left my purse at the cafe, and as it had began to rain the storekeeper took me back to the cafe under the umbrella. So I paid him and then had my lunch. Of course, found my own sunglasses anyway.   After a nice lunch we left the Elephant Orphanage at 2.45pm and travelled on to Habarana through lush tropical foliage.  Some of the houses and shelters have coconut fibre roofs made from the coconut shell which is watertight once laid.  Roofs are replaced about every six months.  Nothing is wasted with the coconut shells. They are used for a variety of things like gruel (porridge) and upholstery filling.

We continued on very bumpy roads from Pinnewala to Kurunegala.  We took photos of this busy town which has a white Buddha statue high on a hill top (Elephant Rock) and the city centre plantation.  This long spread out city has many timber plants from logging and motor repair shops.

We still had a 3 hour drive to HABARANA via Dambulla (58 kms) – bumpy for awhile  (we will be passing through this city again in a few days) and it rained quite a bit through this area.  Once past Dambulla we travelled on a new highway which was much better and at 5.25 pm turned  off onto a dirt road (bumpy again) and travelled for a few kilometers to Kassapa (Lion Rock) Hotel where we will stay for 2 nights.  Beautiful place with small huts circling around pool and restaurant.  We arrived at our accommodation –  and I was sharing with Jan and we were in room 127. They have their own veggie garden.  It is very clean and tidy, with women sweeping constantly on the paths and lawns.  Each day we saw many little squirrels.

 

Chris and I went for a dip and then into an enormous buffet in the restaurant. We especially enjoyed the restaurant staff who were very friendly.  The men do room service and all serving in the restaurant.  This occurred everywhere we stayed.  Ate too much.  We looked in the jewellery shop and then back to our rooms. We all wanted some extra milk and Chris and Mary were asked to pay 200 but Jan and I were not billed.

I accidentally locked myself out of the room after Jan had gone to bed but after a lot of knocking on various parts of the unit, she finally heard me and let me in. So it was to bed after another full and lovely day. We travelled about 305kms today.

 

Thursday, 1 August 2013 – lst day in Sri Lanka

Thursday, 1 August 2013 – First day in Sri Lanka

Woke up at 645 to the noise of lots of crows.  Dressed and went down to breakfast at 8.30 for a huge smorgasbord – curries, egg dishes, fruit, cereals, danish pastries, fruit juices, tea and coffee.  I chose to have an omelette made specially for me as part of my breakfast.

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After breakfast, we went down onto the beach to see what wares the hawkers were selling.  We only looked and didn’t buy anything.

IMG_8025At 945 we got two tuk tuks (Anura was Christine’s and my driver) and went down to the Nogombo Fish Market.  There were dozens of fish stalls with every imaginable fish on display  swordfish, sardines, stingrays, schnapper and many many more. A chap, Joe, decided to give us a tour of the markets. He had a big concern and proudly showed us a photo of him with Rick Stein, TV chef. He explained the various stages of the marketing and what was happening – Joe was very interesting and told us all about the processes of drying the fish ready for sale – some fish sold straight from the day’s catch, some salted and dried.      We made our way down to the water where we saw the fishing boats come in with their catches and empty their nets. As we were leaving, there was a lady with a huge array of dried fish laid out on plastic in the paddock and she was turning each one over by hand. This occurs  with the fish being turned each 24 hours – by women generally.What a tedious and hot job.

Thought I'd sample a sardine !!!!!!

Thought I’d sample a sardine !!!!!!

We  then went and found our tuk tuk drivers and we went to St Mary’s Catholic Church  – a grandiose pink Neoclassical edifice, constructed over fifty years from 1874 , towering over the surrounding low-rise streets.  The interior shows an array of statues and tableaux showing the Stations of the Cross and ceiling paintings in the nave area.   There was a wedding taking place in another adjoining building.

Our next stop was at the Herbal Garden and Spice Grove which is Government owned and managed built 10 years ago. The different trees and plants were very prolific. We were taken around the garden by a very interesting chap, telling us about each of the different medicinal herbs and trees being cultivated there. After being shown around the gardens we were given some samples of many potions – there is something for all sorts of complaints. We were given a sheet and it had 25 different oils and creams listed. We were given massages on the different areas we wanted work on. Of course, we then went into the little shop and they hoped we would purchase some items which we did.

We were then taken back to our hotel and Christine and I went for a refreshing swim while Jan and Mary rested. When they came out, they saw a rat snake – evidently quite harmless. We were also amused by the antics of the little squirrels running around.

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At 1600 Neil picked us up in the van and drove us to the Fort. Was a bit disappointing as not much to see as the only part of the fort one can now see is the gateway inscribed with date 1687. We walked through an archway where there were several people waiting to visit the prison that was behind. We past the filthy “marina” where people were living in terrible squalid conditions.

Was then up to another church – St Stephen’s Anglican Church –  perched on a hill overlooking the prison, fort area and the stagnant lagoon and mud flats with numerous old fishing boats moored.  We did look inside the church and took some photos but there was no information available about the church. Neil drove us past the second fish market on the canal but after the smells of the first one none of us wanted to stop for a look.  This fish market supplies fish wholesale to restaurants and hotel.

Then it was up to the Nogombo Town Centre. Christine wanted to buy a pair of thongs and I bought some hankies. Took photo of the clock on corner of Greens Road and  Rajapakse Broadway. It was a very bustling centre with all the different shops and stalls and many people.

We came back to the hotel once more and Christine and I went for another dip in the pool before going into dinner at 1930.  The restaurant once more excelled itself with a magnificent array of food – especially the desserts. Done up in little glasses and there was a sculpture made of the pumpkin. There was a band playing while we were eating but not very melodious. After dinner, we bought some postcards in the jewellery shop and came back to our hotel room at 2100 – chatted and packed as we were leaving this place in the morning.

Christine told me  that during the night she was woken by a huge tropical light and sound monsoon storm. I snored through it all!!!!

 

Start of Singapore-Sri Lanka-Singapore trip – Singapore – Colombo – 31 July 2013

Wednesday – 31 July 2013 – Start of Singapore-Sri Lanka-Singapore trip – Singapore to Colombo

I got up at 5.15am and finished my packing. Peter picked me up at 7.30 to take me to the Canberra Airport.  Booked my case in – was 13Kgs – a record for me. Waited an hour and boarded my flight Virgin VA637 and took off at 9.05am. Arrived in Sydney at 10.00 and went to the transit bus to the International Airport. I set off an alarm as went through the wrong door. Boarded the bus and only had time to go through Immigration and onto flight Singapore Airlines VA5510 ready to leave at 11.15am.  We had to wait for clearance and was 8th in the queue. I had seat 79F which was on the upper deck! We got handed our hot towel, followed by drinks and then a meal at 12.00.  Had a little bit of sleep as it was an 8 hour+ flight.  We were served another meal before we arrived in Singapore on time at 17.40.  I cleared Immigration and was met by Christine, Janice and Mary who had arrived an hour earlier from Adelaide.  We went into the Ambassador Transit Lounge where we could eat and drink all we wanted. We had a look in the Butterfly Farm where we saw many butterflies.

Later in the evening we boarded the Skytrain, cleared Immigration once more and boarded flight Singapore Airlines VA5592 at 2230 for our flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. Was due to leave at 2305 but finally took off at 2330. The flight took about 3 hours 25 minutes. We arrived at 0015 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

After clearing the usual formalities, we went to collect our luggage. We realised my case was not on the carousel. A lovely lady came and asked whether we needed help. Told her about my missing case. After a few minutes, she came out with my case that had been sent on as “expedite baggage” as was not put on the same plane as I was from Sydney. So that was 3/4 hour delay.

Our guide, Neil was there to meet us and took us to the 9 seater van and we had a 1/2 hour drive to Negombo.

Negombo is of interest due to its proximity to the Bandaranaike International Airport.  Tourists arriving after long haul flights generally stay in one of the many hotels along the beach at Negombo, much easier than trying to get into Colombo immediately.  The town itself is a few kilometers south of the beach area and offers an interesting introduction to coastal Sri Lankan life, with a lively pair of fish markets and old colonial buildings.  The Dutch made the town an important commercial centre, building a canal (and a fort to guard it) on which spices – particularly valuable cinnamon which grew profusely in the surrounding areas – were transported from the interior to the coast prior to being shipped abroad.  It is also one of the most important fishing ports with a huge variety of fish provided by the ocean and plentiful supplies of prawns, crabs and lobsters are caught in the Negombo Lagoon.  The colourful fishing boats (oruwas) are distinctive catamarans fashioned from a hollowed out trunk with an enormous sail attached.

Our accommodation was at the  Goldi Sands Hotel, Negombo.  Our room was on lst level and in Room 2 sharing with Christine.  Still quite hot and humid, but OK in our rooms.  Finally got to bed at 245.IMG_8020A