The Lanka Sojourn : Part 1

*** A long long travelogue up ahead.Tread with caution πŸ˜‰ ***

More than a month has passed since our trip to this beautiful country… yet it brightens my whole being, even now, when I think of our days spent here.

The land where cool breeze of air brushed our cheeks, where the wet muddy smell of earth awakened our senses early in the morning, as soon as we stepped out of the airport, where the grey clouds smiled at us invitingly, where vast spread mountainous greenery mesmerized us with their lushness, was a welcome change from the torrid land we were coming from.

Sri Lanka, with an apt alias of ‘The Resplendent Isle’, an island so rich and resplendent in nature was a joy to explore.

It was after much discussion and pondering that we zeroed in on this destination as our probable holiday spot. Now most of the odds were in favour of us going to SL…

Its close proximity to India, being one. We anyway had plans to go to India for summer, so making a stopever in Sri Lanka on the way would only add to the fun quotient.

The second reason was that the island, we had heard, was very much like India, more specifically Kerala. And Kerala was one place I was yearning to go back to but kept pushing it away, for that would have taken up most of our time shuttling between relatives’ houses back and forth and given us very little time to enjoy the real beauty of the place. Hence Lanka which would give us a very homely feel to our stay and at the same time let us enjoy nature in its own beautiful way.

And the third reason was that I always had a desire to visit this little tear-drop shaped island tucked cozily off the coast of India at some point in my life.

And this year the time seemed just right.

The only thing that held us back, if at all, was the country’s long drawn battle with terrorism and climatic challenges like Tsunami. But a general read through various websites and checking up with some friends and tour operators gave us a clear idea of how the country was well past its turbulent phase and looking up again.

Our fears quashed and we geared ourselves up to plan our vacation further.

The very prospect of planning a holiday, browsing through all possible travel sites, looking up hotels, reading their reviews, chalking out the things we could do, the places we could go to was as exciting to me as the holiday itself πŸ˜€

After some massive research and calls to our travel agent I chose a 6nights 7 days package for us. Although a couple of weather sites had warned about the monsoon season peaking at the time of our travel, we still decided to go ahead with our plans. Whats vacation if not laden with some uncertainties and adventure on the way, isnt it?

So off we set out for our journey ahead…

We arrived at Colombo airport in the early morning of 10 July and one of the first things to appeal to me was the smiling faces of the people of Sri Lanka. From the air-hostesses with their hands folded, welcoming us ‘Ayubowan’, a Sinhalese way of greeting which has a wider meaning roughly translating to “May you live long and healthy” to the immigration staff to the guide who greeted us at the arrival desk to the hotel staff to practically any random stranger we came across through our journey, everyone had a warm smile on their faces. It made us realize how much of a positive difference it can make to your holiday if the people of the country you are trying to explore are warm and courteous and are willing to make you feel welcome.

From the airport we headed towards Kandy, the second largest city in the country after Colombo.

Enroute we visited the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, a nursery housing a large herd of orphaned elephants.

A little trivia about this nursery…

***Please feel free to doze off or take a stroll and come back fresh to view the pictures I have shared below πŸ˜€ This is purely to keep a record of this wonderful place we visited :).***

As per Wikipedia, Pinnawala village is known for having the largest herd of captive elephants in the world. This orphanage, established in 1975, was founded to provide care and protection to these wild elephants found straying in and around the forests of Sri Lanka. The orphanage started off with seven orphaned elephants. Today, however, some of the orphans have the good fortune of seeing their grandchildren being born in the same area. With the help of some local and some foreign elephant experts, the nursery successfully started a captive breeding programme through which the first baby elephant was born in 1984.

After a four hour flight, I was not sure how well Namnam would enjoy the trip to this nursery. But it was endearing to see her elated face as she spotted so many elephants from close quarters.

The oldest Tusker

We had oodles of fun watching these elephants move about freely with no fear or threat, particularly adorable was to see baby elephants run around trumpeting mischievously.

We got a chance to feed one of the elephants too. Namnam was a bit hesitant to feed the tusker herself, so she chose to stand by me and watch instead πŸ™‚

From one elephant to another πŸ˜€

What made our experience even better was the amazing view of the mountains surrounding the park majestically

God how I can never have enough of greenery!

Our next halt was the spice garden where we got to see some of the plantations like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, pepper, etc. that Sri Lanka was famous for.

Bay leaves/ Tej-patta

We were greeted by the garden-representative who, very enthusiastically, took us around for a tour of the garden. So charged up was he to make us buy all the spices and herbs that he ensured to show us every possible corner. And finally succeeded in convincing us to buy a bottle of mosquito repellent made with citronella grass produced there! Must say that the repellent was quite effective though.

We were also greeted by a bunch of touch-me-nots who particularly amused Namnam :).

Watching her playfully fiddling with them made me reminisce about my own childhood when I used to have a field fingering touch me nots grown in my grand-parents’ garden in Kerala :).

While R & Namnam were giving a bored patient hearing to the representative’s briefing, I meandered away to indulge myself in a far more interesting activity- click some photos..

No I am not going ask you to guess the fruit! I know you all are smart enough to know it to be a red pineapple!! I clicked this because it was the first time I had spotted one raw in a garden! Now go ahead laugh all you want! πŸ˜› πŸ˜›
Yep that’s lime! And you get 100 points πŸ˜€
The rep engaging his young client by giving her some of the garden-produced cinnamon powder to smell. Hmmm what aroma!

So..after a lot of photo clicks and an energy-sapping garden tour we finally rode our way up to Kandy, a beautiful city situated in the midst of hills.

Journey continued..

**I heard your squeal of dread**

Auto-rickshaw wala

The bus stops in front of Bikaner House.

Its almost midnight.

Way past the ‘decent hour’ for any woman to be out in the city.

I alight after a thoroughly enjoyable 7 hours of journey from Jaipur. Right behind follow my almost-6-year-old daughter and my mother.

We walk a few steps looking around for the best mode of transportation that would safely take us home. We have barely made it to the exit-gate, in comes a herd of auto-rickshaw drivers encircling us..offering us to drop us home. “Madam, kahan jaana hai?” “Auto mei baith jao”

We have another 20-25 kms of travel yet to cover to finally reach home.

Each of them has his eyes firmly fixed on us.

Right then, a flurry of thoughts come hitting me like a curse,“So which one of them would end up molesting us tonight?”…

“What if one of them drags us to a deserted land and rapes us?”..

“Which one of them would eventually succeed in looting us..and killing us?”

No sooner do these thoughts creep into my mind than I clutch my child tightly and hold on to my mother protectively.

I look around to see whether I can find a cab for us instead. Yet again the crippling thought seeps in.

‘What if the cab-driver ends up knocking us off?’

“Dont be crazy”, I tell myself. There has been no untoward action by any of the auto-rick drivers that drives me towards such thoughts.

None whatsoever.

Each one is merely doing his job of convincing us, persuading us to sit in his vehicle so he can earn his bread & butter.

Then why worry?

Brushing those thoughts away, I, along-with my mother and daughter get into an auto. My mother, the firebrand that she is begins to argue with the driver about the outrageous fare he quotes.

Paranoia hits me yet again and I urge her to stop provoking him lest he harms us in any way. I keep chiding her,” Stop it Ma, this is not a safe time and place for two women to get into scuffle with a man. We still have a long way to reach home”. Of course I tell her this in Malayalam. I dont want his ears to get what I am saying lest he thinks we are helpless and an easy prey.

All through the auto-ride I am alert.

The auto-driver is driving at the perfect speed. He is cautious and minds his own business.

Yet. Every time there is a sharp turn or a delay in taking a turn my heart skips a beat.

Every time we reach a dimly lit road my heart skips a beat.

In my own crazy head I prepare and plan to fight him in case he brings the auto to a stand still in those unlit roads and tries to come at us.

Nothing of that sort happens.

We, then, reach a well lit road. Vehicles plying either side continuously. But not a single soul in sight.

I wonder out loud to my mother about cities like Mumbai where people freely move around till past midnight with no fear of safety. Or so I have heard, correct me if I am wrong.

Wistfully, I wonder if I can even imagine a similar scenario in my own city. I wonder if I ever will get to associate my city with safety and security without a shudder or cringe.

On the way I spot two girls standing at the side of a road, perhaps waiting for a cab.

Our auto-driver swiftly turns to give them a look.

And my scary thoughts go on an over-drive again.

“What did that look convey?” “Did he see prospective passengers in them?”. “Did he hope to fetch them and earn some more money and retire for the day with a content heart?”. Or. “Did he have any lustful intentions brewing in his mind?”

As these thoughts play havoc in my mind, I realize that the auto-wala has safely brought us home. I pay him and walk in to the safe confines of home with my daughter and mother.

All of this sets me thinking….

Is this what my city has come to mean? Is this the city where I was born? The city that brought me up, made me stand up on my feet? The city where I didnt care what I wore, but today I stand the risk of being blamed for my dressing if I get attacked? The city where I didnt have to think twice before venturing out, irrespective of the time or day, but today I have to keep my guard up even in broad daylight? Is this MY city where I stand the risk of being blamed for getting molested because I went to the bar? Because I wore a skimpy dress? Is this MY city where I am forbidden to move around after 8 PM lest I get raped?

Is this MY city where I dont even have the freedom to walk freely as I please?

Never have I felt so helpless and unsafe in my own city.

Happy Independence Day BTW