A Travellerspoint blog

Sigiriya

Lion Rock

After a night in a beautiful hotel, we transitted some 45 minutes to visit the World Heritage Site Sigiriya - otherwise known as Lion Rock.

Shortly before we arrived at Sigiriya, we encountered a traditional Sri Lankan wedding party.

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Sigiraya

Sigiraya well deserves its place within the family of World Heritage sites. Sigiraya is a massive column of rock nearly 200 meters high. According to the ancient Sri Lankan chronicle the Culavamsa, the site was selected by King Kasyapa (477–495 AD) for his new capital. He built his palace on the top of this rock and decorated its sides with colourful frescoes. On a small plateau about halfway up the side of this rock, he built a gateway in the form of an enormous lion. The capital and the royal palace were abandoned after the king's death. It was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.

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Once down from Sigiraya, we encountered a local snake charmer and some of the group enjoyed being draped in a large python and to watch a cobra being seranaded. It was interesting to note that for at least one of our travellers, the python appeared to be doing a little reconnaisance of his own with the end of his tail....

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Henry's Batik Shop

Once we departed Sigiraya, we visited a local batik shop and the opportunity was taken to dress members of our group in traditional attire.

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Posted by Chris White 13:03 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Arrival Sri Lanka - Negombo Beach and Beyond

After an hours flight from Kochi in India, we reached Colombo in Sri Lanka. It was quite a strange feeling leaving Mother India after a six week epic visit, but it was time to move out to a new destination ahead of us returning home.

Our first evening in Sri Lanka was at the seaside town of Negombo at a lovely hotel on the beachfront. On arrival at our hotel we were all asked to light the welcome candle which was very special for the group. The following morning, it was fascinating to see the local fishing boats out at sea plying their trade.

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After our departure from our hotel, we visited a tile making factory, which like our earlier visit to a brick making factory in India was very interesting.

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Polonnaruwa

We then drove for five hours to visit the ancient city of Polonnaruwa, declared as the second capital city of Sri Lanka in 1070 by King Vijayabahu I, who defeated the Chola invaders from Southern India in 1070 to reunite the country under a local leader. This was a city which had supported some 200,000 inhabitants and was very interesting to visit with palace ruins and Buddhist temple remains.

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Beside the Buddhist temples is Gal-Potha, a massive stone slab which is 8.2 metres in length and 1.4 metres wide in which Sri Lankan King Nissanka Malla (1187-1196) describes himself, his rule and the eligibility for being a king of Sri Lanka. There are over 4300 characters in 72 lines carved into the slab.

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Within the bounds of the ruins is Gal Vihara, a Buddhist temple with images carved from a solid Granite rock face. This was constructed in the late 12th Century.

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After our short visit to this fascinating historical site, we drove to Minneriya National Park for a late afternoon safari.

Minneriya National Park

Minneriya National Park is located in central Sri Lanka. It is reknown for the elephant "Gathering" which occurs between June and October in which up to 700 elephants gather to the water reserves of Minneriya Tank, a large man man made lake.

We had an enjoyable drive within the park and spotted water buffalo, elephants, monkeys, peacock and other birds including the jungle fowl, the national bird of Sri Lanka.

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A rushed but really interesting first view of Sri Lanka - a different country in many ways to nearby India.

Posted by Chris White 11:11 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

Kerala Backwaters

The Final Stopover in India

Our final stay in India (after six weeks) was the beautiful waterways of the Kerala Backwaters. This area, shaped by man for over a 1000 years contain some 900 kilometers of waterways and produce many different crops - but particularly rice for which they have two harvests a year. The waterways are full of homestay boats which were constantly passing by our homestay during daylight hours - they moor alongside the waterways in the evening. Many of the boats were quite substantial and fully equipped for their guests.

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We stayed between two lovely homes known as Green Palms where a family and some neighbours provide a homestay experience.

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There was a 300 year old boat which had belonged to the family for generations which was freshly soaked with fish oil awaiting its launch. The boat was quite substantial and beautifully built - really wonderful to see something with such obvious heritage still in use and in very good shape.

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After a beautiful lunch, Thomas, the senior member of the family who farms the property at which we we had the homestay took us for a long walk around the island they live on and through some rice paddys, explaining the way in which the rice is harvested. It was a lovely introduction to the area.

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We returned to the homestay by canoe and arrived back after dark.

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The following morning a number of our group had a walk around the village to have another opportunity to see around the local village on the island and to look for birdlife.

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In the afternoon, the group boarded three boats for a look around the backwaters which was very beautiful. The late afternoon light was robbed by an approaching front and we experienced thunder and lightening and rain at the conclusion of the trip.

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All in all, the Kerala Backwaters served as a wonderful final stop on our Indian trip.

The following morning, after our farewells, we drove by bus to Kochi where we had a harbour cruise before departing for the airport and our flight to Sri Lanka.

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Charles our guide had a cunning plan and our boat pulled up to a harbourside pub to stock us with a final beer - top skills Charles...!!

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India provided some wonderful experiences and priceless memories during our lengthy tour and we trust Sri Lanka is as gracious as our final leg of the journey.

Posted by Chris White 10:57 Archived in India Comments (2)

Thekkary

Our drive from Madurai to Thakkary was quite uneventful - a four hour drive on good roads with a climb up the Western Ghat.

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On the way, we stopped and briefly visited a local brick factory, one of many along the way. It was very interesting to get an understanding of how the bricks are manufactured by hand. The team (one woman and one man) making the bricks produced 1000 per day. The bricks dry in the sun for four days are then baked in the kiln. There were a number of such brick factories seen along the way - a hard living.

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Once done, we had lunch and then drove to a local Tea Factory to see the manufacture of tea from the fresh leaf to the processed tea. The tea factory had been built in 1941. We were not able to photograph the tea manufacture process for reasons only known to the factory. Essentially, the tea is withered (dried for a period), then shredded and pulped and dried into tea leaves. The machinery was a mix of old and fairly new. What was interesting was that the kiln that provides the heat to dry the leaves was produced by a fire powered by wood.

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We visited Abraham's Garden once we got to Thekkady, a local garden full of fruits and spices which had featured in the BBC documentary series "Around the World in 80 Gardens".

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From that point, some of the group went to ride and wash elephants. Others of us watched a Kalaripayattu martial arts demonstration close to the hotel which was fascinating. This is one of the oldest styles of martial art in the world and is practiced in Southern India and Sri Lanka. Some great skills were demonstrated using various weapons and culmimated in some fairly spectacular gymnastics using hoops of fire.

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The following morning, we left for the Kerala Backwaters for our final stay in India.

Posted by Chris White 16:08 Archived in India Comments (0)

Madurai

After a very restful break at Mammallapuram, we drove to Madurai.

The rural scenery was again very pleasant with various crops including rice being cultivated.

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We drove past a salt evaporation factory where pools of salty water were left for four days (in summer) to evaporate leaving the salty residue. We stopped briefly to see the operation up close.

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Enroute to Madurai, we stopped for a walk around part of Pondicherry, a former French colony. On arrival, we paid a brief visit to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a spiritual community in Pondicherry. Strict silence and no photography were the order of the day.

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Once we had been to the ashram, we walked down to the waterfront and then to a cafe where we had coffee and pastries before resuming our trip to Madurai.

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On arrival in Madurai, we spent a little time to find the serviced apartments that we would be housed in for our visit which were owned by Zafar, a 41 Club member. The accommodation was very comfortable and we all enjoyed our stay. We were hosted by various Round Table and 41ers for the evening at different locations which was very pleasant.

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The following morning we did a city tour, stopping at Thirumalai Nayak Palace, built in 1636 AD and was designed by an Italian architect. Only a quarter of the palace still remains as much of it was either pulled down or incorporated into other buildings in the 18th century. What does remain is the public courtyard which is very grand along with an adjoining theatre.

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After our visit to the palace, we went to the Meenakshi Amman Temple, a very large complex which is the central Hindu temple complex within 2,500 year old Madurai. Across the road was an incomplete temple which houses a number of tailors and other shops. As we left the Temple, we found a small child who's parents had just sacrificed his hair - not particularly happy.

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In the early afternoon while we were waiting to board our bicycle rickshaws for a ride around the local area, an Elephant appeared at the end of the road. It turned out that the elephant from a local temple is taken around the neighbourhood on a daily basis to raise money by giving blessings to pay for it's food and upkeep. The elephant accepted money in it's trunk and then placed it's trunk on the person's head as a blessing.

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Once done, Charles our guide took us for a bicycle rickshaw ride around the local area and into the poor quarter of Madurai. The Vaigai River is the main river in Madurai and is virtually devoid of water due to the lack of monsoon rains in the past year. Whilst in a poorer area, the opportunity was taken to visit local businesses including the manufacturers of stainless steel waterpots, a printshop and a weaving factory. A disturbing sight was the local creek which was very polluted and is the source of disease and infections.

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Once we had completed our tour, we returned to our apartments.

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That evening were were kindly hosted by a local 41 Club member Suresh and his wife Davi at their lovely home. It was a wonderful evening and the bonus for all of the ex Tabler's amongst us was to attend a Round Table meeting held during the evening. It was wonderful to hear the range of activities being undertaken to better the local community - clearly a very active and committed club. A fantastic conclusion to our interaction with 41ers and Round Tablers during the tour of India.

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The following morning, we departed Madurai bound for Thekkary for one evening.

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Posted by Chris White 02:19 Archived in India Comments (3)

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